American s are justly proud of th e role their country played in liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny. For many years, we have celebrated the courage of Allied soldiers, sailors, and aircrews who defeated Hitler's regime and restored freedom to the continent. But in recounting the heroism of the "greatest generation," Americans often overlook the wartime experiences of European people themselves -- the very people for whom the war was fought.
In this brilliant new book, historian William I. Hitchcock surveys the European continent from D-Day to the final battles of the war and the first few months of the peace. Based on exhaustive research in five nations and dozens of archives, Hitchcock's groundbreaking account shows that the liberation of Europe was both a military triumph and a human tragedy of epic proportions.
Hitchcock gives voice to those who were on the receiving end of liberation, moving them from the edge of the story to the center. From France to Poland to Germany, from concentration-camp internees to refugees, farmers to shopkeepers, husbands and wives to children, the experience of liberation was often difficult and dangerous. Their gratitude was mixed with guilt or resentment. Their lives were difficult to reassemble.
This strikingly original, multinational history of liberation brings to light the interactions of soldiers and civilians, the experiences of noncombatants, and the trauma of displacement and loss amid unprecedented destruction. This book recounts a surprising story, often jarring and uncomfortable, and one that has never been told with such richness and depth.
Ranging from the ferocious battle for Normandy (where as many French civilians died on D-Day as U.S. servicemen) to the plains of Poland, from the icy ravines of the Ardennes to the shattered cities and refugee camps of occupied Germany, The Bitter Road to Freedom depicts in searing detail the shocking price that Europeans paid for their freedom.
Today, with American soldiers once again waging wars of liberation in faraway lands, this book serves as a timely and sharp reminder of the terrible human toll exacted by even the most righteous of wars.
Reading Group Guide for The Bitter Road to Freedom by William I. Hitchcock 1. The story of the liberation of Europe has been told many times. What new and surprising things did you learn from this book that you didn't know before? 2. The book makes use of so many primary sources: letters, diaries, old records, and, as a result, we hear many voices. Did these first-hand accounts change the way you previously perceived the liberation of Europe? Why or why not? 3. Americans remember the end of WWII as a time of triumph and universal celebration in Europe when the occupied countries were finally freed from Hitler's tyranny. What was life really like for Europeans during and after the Liberation? Why do you think Americans remember the Liberation so differently from Europeans? 4. The book discusses the violence and suffering that occur to the civilian population in even the most just of wars. Do you think what happened in Europe after the war has present-day applications, especially regarding the war in Iraq and our escalating campaign in Afghanistan? 5. Some might see this book as disparaging to the accomplishments of "The Greatest Generation." How do you think veterans of WWII will react to this book? 6. Americans were surprised to find that they got along well with the Germans upon entering their country. In what ways does Eisenhower's failed ban on American soldiers fraternizing with German civilians illustrate the differences between political ideology and basic human experience? How might these differences still be true today? 7. Were you surprised to find that survivors of the Holocaust faced such difficulties in the immediate aftermath of their liberation? How might that treatment influence their view of the end of the war? 8. Why do you think the large-scale relief effort that America led in Europe, through many charitable organizations and volunteer groups, is not better known in the United States? Should historians write as much about the humanitarian side of war as they do about battle-field history?
William I. Hitchcock is a professor of history at the University of Virginia and the Randolph Compton Professor at the Miller Center for Public Affairs. A graduate of Kenyon College and Yale University, he is the author most recently of The Bitter Road to Freedom: The Human Cost of Allied Victory in World War II Europe, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. For more about the book, visit AgeofEisenhower.com.
"[T]he first book I have read that explicitly addresses the plight of civilians during the 'crusade for Europe.'...[T]his tale vividly demonstrates that there was no cause for triumphalism in the condition of Europe following the defeat of Hitler." -- Max Hastings, Sunday Times
"Remarkable.... [U]nderlines that the liberation of Europe was both a major military triumph and a human tragedy of epic proportions." -- Irish Times
"A powerful and important new work of history.... [A] thorough, passionate corrective to any simple telling of the terrible last year of this war." -- Financial Times
"The Bitter Road to Freedom is an eloquent presentation of what are too often called war's 'collateral effects.' Chaos, destruction and suffering are not collateral. They are fundamental." -- History Book Club