Out of the Darkness: The Germans, 1942-2022 by Frank Trentmann

Germany lies at the centre of The European Union both geographically and economically. Despite its recent slow growth it remains the third largest economy in the world by GDP. (List of countries by GDP (nominal) – Wikipedia) How did it get to this position after being shattered and defeated in 1945 at the end of The Second World War? Much has been written and discussed about the ‘Wirtschaftswunder’, the economic miracle that saw the country rebound to prosperity. (Wirtschaftswunder – Wikipedia) Historians have also asked how Germany descended into the darkness of the Nazis, but this book asks another vital question: how, and how far, have the Germans since reinvented themselves?

Frank Trentmann (Frank Trentmann – Wikipedia), currently Professor of History at Birkbeck College London, has offered a new account of the Germans taking the reader right up to 2022.

Trentmann tells the dramatic story of the Germans from the middle of the Second World War, through the Cold War and the division into East and West (‘Ossies’ and ‘Wessies’), to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunited nation’s search for a place in the world. The transition is marked by acute moral struggles: guilt, shame and limited amends; wealth versus welfare; tolerance versus racism; compassion and complicity. Through a range of voices – German soldiers and German Jews; environmentalists and coal miners; families and churches; volunteers, migrants and populists – the author paints a remarkable and surprising portrait over 80 years of the conflicted people at the centre of Europe.

In the early years after the war an awareness of the scale and horror of the crimes became unavoidable. A figure of 200,000 active participants in mass murder is given. Debate continues as to how many quietly collaborated in the atrocities. (Cf. Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary… by Goldhagen, Daniel (amazon.co.uk)) The need for expiation, offerings of explanation, compensation policy and amnesty followed. A State needed to be rebuilt, but as Max Brauer, the Social Democratic Mayor of Hamburg put it: “.. 95 per cent of the German people had worked in one way or another with the Nazi regime. With just 5 per cent, though, it is not possible to build a State”

Throughout the Adenauer period and The Cold War, Germans had to witness the assimilation of twelve million of their countrymen who had been expelled from their homes in Central and Eastern Europe. By the end of the twentieth century Germans had become used to the permanent presence of millions of foreign workers and immigrants. 17.3% of Germany’s population has immigrated since 1950, with Turkish, Romanian, Polish, and latterly Ukrainian nationals featuring highly (17.3% of Germany’s population has immigrated since 1950 – German Federal Statistical Office (destatis.de)). In 2015 Angela Merkel opened the door to a million refugees from conflict in the Middle East.

Aside from a weight of facts and statistics, Trentmann’s book is really about the moral reconstitution of Germany since The Second World War. It’s a rich and complex story. The country has re-entered the nasty world of international conflict by arming Ukraine against Putin. The latest foreign policy challenge is how to deal with the Gaza conflict. Germany feels it must uphold the right of the State of Israel to exist and also uphold rights of free speech and lawful protest in a country with 5 million Muslims.

Enquire at your local public library. Check if this important new history book is in stock by consulting the online catalogue at  Home | South Lanarkshire Libraries (sllclibrary.co.uk)

ISBN 978 0241 30349 8

837 pages in Allen Lane

First published 2023

Frank Trentmann
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