Not since the end of the Roman Empire, almost fifteen hundred years earlier, is there a parallel, in Europe at least, to the fall of the German nation in 1945. Industrious and inventive, home over centuries to a disproportionate number of western civilization's greatest thinkers, writers, scientists and musicians, Germany had entered the twentieth century united, prosperous, and strong, admired by almost all humanity for its remarkable achievements. During the 1930s, embittered by one lost war and then scarred by mass unemployment, Germany embraced the dark cult of National Socialism. Within less than a generation, its great cities lay in ruins and its shattered industries and its cultural heritage seemed utterly beyond saving. The Germans themselves had come to be regarded as evil monsters. After six years of warfare how were the exhausted victors to handle the end of a horror that to most people seemed without precedent?
In Exorcising Hitler, Frederick Taylor tells the story of Germany's year zero and what came after. As he describes the final Allied campaign, the hunting down of the Nazi resistance, the vast displacement of peoples in central and eastern Europe, the attitudes of the conquerors, the competition between Soviet Russia and the West, the hunger and near starvation of a once proud people, the initially naive attempt at expunging Nazism from all aspects of German life and the later more pragmatic approach, we begin to understand that despite almost total destruction, a combination of conservatism, enterprise and pragmatism in relation to former Nazis enabled the economic miracle of the 1950s. And we see how it was only when the '60s generation (the children of the Nazi era) began to question their parents with increasing violence that Germany began to awake from its sleep cure'.
The complex, often contradictory project of ruling and defanging a defeated Germany is probed in this evocative but scattershot history. Starting with the apocalyptic close of WWII in Germany, its cities bombed to rubble and its population subjected to mass rape and other atrocities tongues were nailed to tables by the Red Army, British historian Taylor (The Berlin Wall) surveys the occupation policies of the Allied victors. His lucid narrative shows a variegated picture: brutal in the Soviet zone, relatively humane in the American, British, and French sectors, but everywhere a landscape of hunger, cold, and in German eyes humiliation. Lengthy chapters on efforts to bring to account millions of ex Nazi Party members shows these efforts to have been erratic, corrupt, and ineffective. Taylor makes excellent use of original sources to convey the occupation's psychological dimensions, but struggles with historical perspective. He overemphasizes sidelights, like the feeble Nazi Werwolf guerrilla resistance, but relegates crucial developments like currency reform and the resurrection of democratic politics to a sketchy epilogue. One gets the sense that it was the war itself that reconciled exhausted and disillusioned Germans to peace, and not the occupation, which emerges as a tense interlude between trauma and reconstruction. B&w inserts and maps.