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Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe

New York: St. Martin's Press, 2012. 400. . $30.00. ISBN: 1250000203.

In Savage Continent, Lowe brings us back to end of the Second World War, a time when most of Europe was almost literally in a state of anarchy, civil society and civilization itself seeming to have collapsed. 

Lowe, author the very well-received Inferno - the Devastation of Hamburg 1943, divides his work into four parts, each of which furthers his methodical examinaton of the desperate state of Europe in the aftermath of the war, and how this affected the emergence of the new post-war order.

In the first part, “Legacy of War”, Lowe looks at the effects of the war on the physical environment and its costs in lives and the displacement of millions.  This, in turn, sparked hunger and even famine that lingered into post-war years, and a general moral collapse, as desperate people did whatever they could to survive.

There follows “Vengeance”, as, amidst the virtual absence of civil government, people liberated from the Nazi tyranny, former slave laborers, and former concentration camp inmates, as well as Allied troops of all nations,  sought to settle scores with "enemy" civilians, “collaborators”, prisoners-of-war, displaced persons, and minorities. 

This disorganized violence was followed in some areas by systematic “Ethnic Cleansing”, as minorities were driven out or merely massacred in many areas, and that by “Civil War” in several countries, muted in some, such as France or Italy, but overt in others, such as Greece, and in some others insurgencies that lingered for many years, helping set the stage for the “Cold War” and European political life for the next forty years. 

A deep and thought-provoking work, Savage Continent reminds us of a time in European history that everyone prefers to forget.  It is essential reading for not only for those interested in the Second World War, but also for an understanding of the Cold War, and the problem of history and memory.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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