The world is so much clearer in hindsight. That’s why historians practice what’s called the “fifty-year rule”. The rule is a tacit acknowledgment that it is virtually impossible to judge history objectively until the consequences of historical events have played out and been realized. The downside to this however, is that many of those involved, who could provide first hand evidence and be considered primary sources, are dead. In this case though, fifty years may not be adequate to judge the ramifications of decisions made, policies enacted, and—perhaps more importantly—evidence denied.
Jay Winik in 1944: FDR And The Year That Changed History attempts to provide prospective for what is arguably the most complex and important event in the modern history of mankind—the Second World War. He does so in an engaging and readable history that skillfully presents Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a man as well as the leader of Allied efforts to prevent fascist domination of the entire globe.
While 1944, presents a history which includes damning evidence of Allied complicity—both active and passive—in the Nazi genocide against the Jews, Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz by Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev provides a much closer, more human face to the genocide. I must point out though that the dwarfs were atypical of the Jews interred at Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele, infamous for his medical experimentation, took a special interest in the dwarfs and made sure his “lab rats” survived, while others quickly went to the ovens.
In both books, the burning question on the tongues of the Auschwitz prisoners was, “When will the Allies come?” The answer to that question was that they did, but almost too late. Although there is compelling evidence that FDR and Churchill were aware that thousands of innocents were being exterminated daily, the bottom line of the Allied effort was beating fascism, not saving the Jews.
In many ways, the same policies and programs that condemned millions of Jews, Gypsies, LGBT, and mentally disabled to die in Nazi gas chambers, remote woods, and town squares are still being carried out today. The past, they say, is prologue, and these books—especially 1944—demonstrate that the world has little changed since the murder of millions during WWII.
And since we’re on the subject of death and murder, Hung, Drawn, and Quartered: The Story Of Execution Through The Ages by Johnathan J. Moore, is a delightful look into the history of murder in the name of justice. The good and bad, those that went well and those that didn’t—the search for the perfect way to kill those deemed by the state to be worthy of death.
This is the perfect read for the start of a brand new year.
© Copyright 2018 by Kevin Fraleigh