Berlin at War


By Roger Moorhouse

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The thrilling and definitive history of World War I in the Middle East

By 1914 the powers of Europe were sliding inexorably toward war, and they pulled the Middle East along with them into one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. In The Fall of the Ottomans, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan brings the First World War and its immediate aftermath in the Middle East to vivid life, uncovering the often ignored story of the region’s crucial role in the conflict. Unlike the static killing fields of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East was fast-moving and unpredictable, with the Turks inflicting decisive defeats on the Entente in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Gaza before the tide of battle turned in the Allies’ favor. The postwar settlement led to the partition of Ottoman lands, laying the groundwork for the ongoing conflicts that continue to plague the modern Arab world. A sweeping narrative of battles and political intrigue from Gallipoli to Arabia, The Fall of the Ottomans is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Great War and the making of the modern Middle East.


Portrait of a Central European City
(with Norman Davies)
Killing Hitler:
The Third Reich and the
Plots against the Führer

in the hope that she
will never have to experience
times such as these
and for her great-grandparents
Paul & Hildegard Schmidt
who did

For all its breezy modernity, Berlin is a city that positively reeks of history. If one were looking for a single location - a focal point - for the bloody trials and tribulations of the twentieth century, then one would have to look no further. From the bullet-scarred buildings to the lingering shadows of totalitarian regimes, Berlin experienced world events not as something remote or imperceptible, but rather as immediate, tangible and very real. Last year the city celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the fall of its hated Wall, the moment in which it became the crucible of the death spasms of communism. A generation earlier it had been the plaything of the squabbling superpowers, serving as the backdrop to earnest speechifying and sinister spy swaps. And a generation further back, the then capital of the Third Reich had been the very epicentre of Nazi power - the canvas upon which Speer's architectural dreams and Hitler's racial vision would be made real.
Berlin was one of the very few European capitals to experience the horror of the Second World War at first hand. Not only was the city subjected to the full wrath of the Soviet ground offensive and siege in 1945, but it also found itself in the very front rank of the air war. Its wartime military history, therefore, is a catalogue of superlatives. As the most important Allied target, Berlin attracted more air raids, more aircraft and more bombs than any other German city. It was the most aggressively defended target, employing the largest number of personnel in the most elaborate network of defences and costing the largest number of Allied airmen's lives. It also outstripped its rivals in its civilian death toll: with an estimated 200,000 casualties it suffered the largest non-military loss of life of any city of Western and Central Europe.
Yet though Nazi Germany and the Second World War are subjects that continue to occupy and fascinate historians, the story beneath those superlatives - the story of civilian life in Berlin during the war - is one that has remained curiously unwritten.
There are a number of reasons why this apparently obvious subject should have become one of the few remaining lacunae in the historical record of Nazi Germany. Historians have traditionally tended to pay comparatively little attention to the social history of Nazism, preferring the 'top-down' approach of analysing the role of Hitler, the Nazi elite or the military. The result is that few of the volumes in the ever-burgeoning canon of literature on the Third Reich shed any light on civilian life at all.
Other factors serve to reinforce this bias. Most important, perhaps, is the fact that those historians that do venture into the social sphere of the Third Reich often tend to concentrate their attentions on the persecution and destruction of the Jews. This is, of course, right and proper, but it has also led to a profound imbalance in our understanding of German society as a whole. We know little about the challenges posed to the German people by living in a dictatorship, the compromises demanded and the principles that, in some cases, had to be abandoned. We know little about the ways in which consent was engendered, how it was maintained and what happened when it broke down. In short, there are a plethora of books explaining how a minority died under Nazism, but there are very few that explain how the majority lived.
Happily, there are a number of factors that strongly encourage an examination of the social history of wartime Berlin. Historiography has been shifting in this direction in recent years, as historians look beyond the bare facts to discern popular reactions to events. Where once grand strategy and high politics were the dominant themes of history, nowadays much more humble everyday subjects and sources begin to proliferate. One might call this process the democratisation of history, marking as it does the shift away from 'the great and the good' in favour of the 'view from below'. This trend is also illustrated by the many published memoirs and diaries that now seem to be ubiquitous in the bookshops.
The most urgent argument in favour of this approach, however, is that this is the final opportunity we have to allow those that experienced the war directly to tell their stories. Many of the 'voices' that I have used in this book are from published sources, but I also wanted to make use of the personal accounts of ordinary Berliners, which have never been recorded for posterity. To this end, I undertook a programme of interviews in the German capital, in which I crisscrossed the city to meet people for whom 'Berlin at War' forms part of their personal story.
Yet as time marches on - this spring saw the sixty-fifth anniversary of the end of the Second World War - those that experienced the war even as adolescents are now well into their seventies. Sadly, some of those elderly Berliners whom I interviewed have passed away in the interim. Many of them are still in rude health, a few quite astonishingly sprightly, but there are some, I fear, that will not see the publication of a German edition. The generation that experienced the war at first hand is gradually slipping away. And as the African saying runs: 'When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.'
Over coffee and cake in gemütlich surroundings, I would often hear the most hair-raising tales of personal pain, loss and survival; occasionally there were tears as long-suppressed memories were brought to light once again. Though it was never demanded or requested, I felt obliged to render such contributions anonymous, out of respect for the privacy of those who I interviewed and whose unpublished memoirs and diaries I have quoted.a
Needless to say, I gleaned far more material in this process than I could ever sensibly use in the writing of this book. Much of it was also very subjective, unverifiable, occasionally misremembered or accompanied by the whiff of self-exculpation. But in spite of those caveats, the experience demonstrated to me that eye-witness testimony has a vital role to play in history; personal accounts and anecdotes can bring a fresh perspective, colour or context to even the most hackneyed and well-trodden narrative. Some purists wax rather sanctimonious about this 'personalisation of history', which they perceive as the elevation of the personal above the political and empirical. But I would suggest that if it is done correctly and responsibly, then this personal approach not only has a role to play, it is an essential ingredient of the historian's art of bringing the past to life.
Of course, other primary sources are readily available. There is a wealth of published memoirs, ranging from the well-known works of Missie Vassiltchikov or William Shirer to the vast number of obscure volumes never translated into English. Countless unpublished diaries kept by ordinary Berliners during the war were subsequently bequeathed to relatives or donated to the archives. It is this mass of primary material that has been my constant companion in writing this book. Here too I have been able to incorporate only a fraction of those 'voices' into my narrative, but their words have shaped my understanding of the subject.
Yet even with the best possible research and the richest 'raw material', it is still a hugely complex task to tell the story of a city of five million souls over six years of warfare. In the circumstances, my approach has been necessarily pointillist, seeking to give a flavour of events, rather than make any grand claims to comprehensiveness. The book's structure also required a degree of ingenuity. Given the complexity of the story that I wanted to tell, I dispensed early on with the idea of a unified linear chronology and realised that some nod towards a thematic approach would be necessary. The result is an attempt to combine both the thematic and the chronological in a single narrative arc. I would willingly concede that this has sometimes been a difficult balance to strike and I beg the reader's indulgence if occasionally he or she has to rewind a little between chapters.
The result is something rather novel: a 'Berlin-eye view' of the Second World War, telling the story of that conflict as ordinary Berliners would have experienced it. It gives a flavour of everyday life in the German capital, charting the violent humbling of a once-proud metropolis - the fear, the cruelty, the petty heroism and the individual tragedy. What emerges most vividly, I believe, is the rich political diversity of Berlin society. The German capital was never a natural constituency for the Nazis: its left-wing traditions, vibrant Jewish community and cosmopolitan elite saw to that. Consequently, it witnessed more opposition to the Nazis - on every level - than any other German city; more Jews survived in the underground there - aided and abetted by ordinary Berliners - than anywhere else in Germany.
I hope the book will demonstrate that we are fundamentally missing the point if we imagine wartime Berliners to be an indoctrinated mass of Nazified automata, sleepwalking into catastrophe. As numerous interviewees made clear to me, Berlin was a city where minorities of active Nazis and active anti-Nazis flanked an ambivalent majority, who were often simply motivated by self-preservation, ambition and fear. In this respect, at least, it strikes me that wartime Berliners had much more in common with ourselves than we would care to concede. 'They' are really not so very different from 'us'.

Prologue: 'Führerweather'
Unbroken sunshine was forecast for Thursday 20 April 1939, Führerwetter as it was known in Nazi Germany. Across the city, Berliners woke that morning in eager expectation of what promised to be one of the highlights of the year. It was the fiftieth birthday of the German Chancellor and Führer of the Greater German Reich, Adolf Hitler, and a series of events, parades and receptions would mark the occasion. A public holiday had been decreed, a grand spectacle was in the offing and the forecast of good weather would only have heightened the party mood.
Across the capital, therefore, thousands of ordinary Germans prepared for a day out. Veterans of the First World War would polish their medals and pin them proudly on their chests. The women would take care to select stout shoes and carry coats and some refreshments: bread rolls, perhaps, and cold meats. The better prepared among them would take folding chairs or stools. Some even packed a mirror periscope to ensure a good view of proceedings. The younger generation, meanwhile, mostly members of the various Hitler Youth organisations, would don their neatly pressed uniforms, shine their belt buckles and check their complement of badges. Boys would comb their hair; girls would wear plaits or neat 'German' braids. For all of them, the excitement of that morning would have been palpable.
Before setting off for the city centre, those attending the celebrations would have been wise to read the official directions that were published in every newspaper. They were advised not to stray too close to tracked vehicles during the parade and warned to stay well clear of horses. The instructions of police and Party officials, they were reminded, were to be heeded without delay and without contradiction. During the parade itself, photography was strictly forbidden.1
The official preparations for the day were no less thorough. The administrative centre of the city was closed to traffic from 7.00 in the morning. The Tiergarten railway station - close to the site of the parade - was also shut. Those travelling into the centre of Berlin to enjoy the festivities were advised to alight as close as possible to the restricted area and continue their journey on foot. Finally, due to a planned fly-past that afternoon, the airspace over central Berlin was to be closed to air traffic for the entire day.2
Large numbers of participants and visitors would require overnight accommodation in the capital. The majority of the 50,000 or so military personnel who were directly involved in the parade could be housed in the barracks at Lichterfelde and Potsdam, or at the various other military installations that surrounded the capital. VIPs and special guests, meanwhile, were given rooms in two of Berlin's best hotels; the Adlon and the Kaiserhof, where they were even afforded an SS guard.3 The many thousands of ordinary visitors, who had come from all over the Reich and abroad, found accommodation - if they were lucky - in Berlin's many less renowned hotels and guest houses. For the lowliest among them, the city's numerous parks offered ample opportunities for pitching a tent.
Hitler, meanwhile, had wanted for nothing that morning. He had risen unusually early. As his valet, Heinz Linge, later recalled, 'The Führer donned his brown Party uniform . . . [and] put on the golden dress belt of a German general as Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht. He stood before the mirror in his bedroom for ages, feasting his eyes on his own image like a peacock and repeatedly adjusting his jacket.'4 His staff, standing to attention in the marbled halls of the Reich Chancellery, had been similarly preened. 'Servants stood at the doors', Linge went on:
wearing magnificent uniforms with silver lanyards and medals on their chests . . . the adjutants and liaison officers were lined up, together with Hitler's bodyguard and the pilots from his own flight. Then there were the soldiers from the Leibstandarte in their black SS uniforms, their new belts made in imitation of Kaiser Wilhelm's guards. Officers from the Leibstandarte - like those from the Wehrmacht - wore silver lanyards and dress-uniform belts.5
At 8.00 that morning, the band of the SS-Leibstandarte performed a short recital in the garden of the Reich Chancellery, playing 'Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles' and the 'Horst Wessel Song'. Hitler, standing beneath the elegant classical portico, listened intently before thanking the performers and returning inside. There, he perused the vast accumulation of gifts that was presented on the long negotiating tables. He had received a selection of presents from his inner circle at midnight the previous evening, but most would be presented this morning. As his secretary Christa Schroeder wrote to a friend that week:
the number and value of the presents this year is staggering. Paintings (Defregger, Waldmüller, Lenbach, even a glorious Titian), then wonderful Meissen sculptures in porcelain, silver table- and centre-pieces, magnificent books, vases, drawings, carpets . . . aircraft and ship models and similar military items which give him the greatest pleasure.6
Yet, in addition to such treasures from his political colleagues and admirers, Hitler also received countless more modest gifts from ordinary Germans: pillows and blankets embroidered with swastikas, handicrafts, huge cakes, boxes of sweets and local delicacies. 'How many thoughts from fanatical, adoring women', Schroeder mused, 'had been woven into this handiwork!'7
An hour or so later, after a short breakfast, Hitler left the Chancellery to review a parade on the Wilhelmstrasse, where the Leibstandarte, the SS-Totenkopf and a battalion of Schutzpolizei marched past in perfect order, to the blare of a military band. The streets - festooned as they were with swastikas and thronged with well-wishers - gave an impressive foretaste of what was to follow.
The next hour was taken up receiving the congratulations of esteemed guests, delegations and the representatives of foreign powers. The first to attend was the Papal Nuncio, bringing the best wishes of the new Pope, Pius XII. He was followed by the President of Bohemia and Moravia, Emil Hácha, and the President of Slovakia, Jozef Tiso. Next, Hitler received the congratulations of the Reich Government, a delegation of senior Wehrmacht personnel, and a visit by the Lord Mayor of Berlin, Dr Julius Lippert. Telegrams were also delivered, among many others from King George VI and from Henry Ford. Lastly, at 10.20, Hitler was formally awarded the Freedom of the City of Danzig, presented by the city's Gauleiter, Albert Forster.
Then, shortly before 11.00 that morning, Hitler once again climbed into his Mercedes Tourer to be driven to the reviewing stand, located on the East-West Axis. For the duration of the short journey, as he passed the countless columns of troops mustered for the parade, he stood impassively in the footwell of the Mercedes, his right arm outstretched in salute.
The majority of Berliners, now thronging the route of the parade, had probably endured a rather less hectic morning. They might have listened to the radio, or taken the opportunity offered by the public holiday to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Those preparing to visit the city centre would have discussed which vantage points to head for. Those who planned to stay at home could listen to proceedings from the comfort of their armchair, as the entire occasion would be relayed by a team of radio commentators, with light music punctuating the action. Listeners with a trained ear would even notice the usual musical choreography at work; the jaunty 'Badenweiler March', for instance, which signalled the imminent arrival of the Führer.
Special editions of the news magazines were crammed with pictorial accounts of Hitler's life and achievements. The newspapers, too, published special editions to mark the occasion. All of them would have reproduced the text of the congratulatory speech given by Joseph Goebbels, who had exhorted the previous night that: 'no German at home or anywhere else in the world can fail to take the deepest and heartiest pleasure in participation. It is a holiday of the nation, and we want to celebrate it as such.'8
Most newspapers also carried a large selection of congratulatory letters and poems sent in by readers. The SS paper Das Schwarze Korps quoted readers expressing their 'eternal pride' in 'the miracle' of Hitler, or lauding Berlin as the 'epicentre of events at this momentous time'.9 Another paper followed suit, printing the dubious poetic musings of an eighty-year-old reader, who, it was claimed, was 'delighted to have experienced these times'.10 Goebbels' Berlin paper Der Angriff carried a saccharine piece expressing the congratulations of three 'unknown Berliners' - a policeman, a housewife and an SA man.11
For those who ventured into the city centre that morning, a genuine spectacle awaited. All Germans were obliged to hang out a swastika flag on such an important day, and it was an instruction that few dared to contravene. Nonetheless, many Berliners went beyond mere perfunctory compliance. In the suburbs, countless balconies and windows were adorned with flags, photographs or elaborate garlands. The city centre was extravagantly festooned. In the commercial districts, almost every shop and office building had photographs or busts of Hitler mounted in their windows, surrounded with flowers and wreaths. All ministries and state-owned enterprises, of course, competed with each other to demonstrate their devotion. Nazi Party offices cast restraint to the four winds and hung portraits and framed slogans on their outside walls. Central streets of the capital - especially in the main administrative district - were barely recognisable. Wilhelmstrasse, for instance, where the Reich Chancellery was located, was a sea of swastika banners, while Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse were also decked with flags, bunting and festive garlands. One publishing house even sought to outdo its rivals by erecting an enormous 25-foot portrait of Hitler, complete with floodlights and flags, bearing the words 'Our Loyalty: Our Thanks'.
The centrepiece of the celebrations was the East-West Axis; a newly-constructed boulevard running for seven kilometres west of the Brandenburg Gate. According to one eyewitness, on both sides of the carriageway stood 'dazzling white miniature temples of wood . . . ornamented with clusters of scarlet, white and black swastika flags . . . At other prominent points forests of masts displayed the devices of all the districts of Greater Germany.'12 The American correspondent William Shirer could not help but be impressed by the scene: 'I've never seen so many flags, standards, golden eagles and floodlit pylons in my life', he wrote, 'nor so many glittering uniforms, or soldiers, or guns. Nor so many people at a birthday party.'13
Shirer's excitement was understandable. With 50,000 troops poised to participate in the parade and as many as two million spectators ready to watch, it was to be the largest ceremonial event ever staged by the Nazis. The most fortunate, or best connected, would have secured a seat in one of the large grandstands surrounding Hitler's reviewing platform. On either side of the East-West Axis, close to the Technical High School, a pair of large tribunes had been constructed. The first, on the south side of the boulevard, was open to the public. The other, on the north, contained a VIP enclosure to accommodate Hitler's special guests and assorted representatives of the military and the Party. Each grandstand had been built to hold approximately five thousand spectators, and was flanked by enormous pillars, each topped with a gilded eagle clutching a swastika in its talons. Those who had managed to find a seat would have had every reason to feel extremely pleased with themselves. From there, they could watch the afternoon's proceedings in relative comfort.
One spectator who had done especially well was a young Wehrmacht lieutenant, Alexander Stahlberg. As he recalled in his memoirs, a simple ruse was all that was required to get a seat in one of the grandstands:
I learned that thousands of tickets were being issued solely to Party members and prominent personalities, so (quite without authority) I put on my new made-to-measure dress uniform, hung the sword of the Pasewalk Cuirassiers at my side and went down to the [grandstand]. There I simply followed the signs to the individual groups of seats on the stand. CD - Corps Diplomatique - seemed to me the best chance, and in the twinkling of an eye there I was amidst all the pomp and circumstance of the foreign military attachés.14
Most spectators, however, had no such luck. They lined the route of the parade dozens deep, waiting. There was much pushing and shoving, as ever more Berliners joined the throng and all had to be held back by the lines of smiling SS and SA men with their arms linked. Some children complained of tiredness and asked incessantly whether the Führer was there yet. Others wriggled through to the front rank of the crowd, where they could watch proceedings through the legs of the men in the police cordon. As the tension rose, some spectators fainted and had to be revived by the nurses of the Red Cross; a few - despite the imprecations and threats of the police - bravely perched on windowsills or climbed the still-bare trees of the Tiergarten to get a better view. Nonetheless, despite the strain and the excitement, the crowd was generally in excellent humour. William Shirer described it as 'a pure holiday mood . . . The Führer's birthday was a national holiday, with the result that all the youngsters of the city were in the front row . . . with the elders, usually the whole family - father, mother, uncle, aunt - grouped behind.'15
The crowd was a microcosm of Nazi Germany. Alongside Berliners, it included representatives of every district, province and Gau of the Reich. Regional accents and dialects proliferated; Rhinelanders rubbed shoulders with Saxons, Bavarians with Frisians and Sudeten Germans with East Prussians. Every uniform imaginable was represented, from the dark brown overalls of the Reichsarbeitsdienst to the short trousers of the Hitler Youth and the smart field-grey parade dress of the Wehrmacht. In the hours before the spectacle, the crowd entertained themselves listening to martial music piped through the network of loudspeakers. They would have swapped stories, compared notes perhaps on how many times they had seen their Führer in the flesh, or maybe tentatively expressed their concerns about the precarious international situation. Most, however, would have simply been happy to be there, to enjoy the holiday atmosphere and participate in such a memorable occasion. Then, as Hitler first appeared - making his way to the reviewing stand - the crowd was briefly hushed before erupting into a chorus of cheers and hurrahs.
Of course, there were also some present who did not support the Nazis and had turned out in the Tiergarten merely to witness what they had rightly expected would be an historic spectacle. One such Berliner recalled that, as the crowd roused itself to acclaim Hitler's arrival, she and her partner dived into a side street to avoid any accusation of recalcitrance. 'Behind us', she wrote:
the crowd stretched out the 'German Greeting'. 'Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!' we hear them shout. Those who don't raise their arm are arrested. Yet, as we look around, we see around fifteen or twenty people who, like us, have managed to extricate themselves from the crowd and have hastily disappeared into the calm of the side street. 'Good day', we say as we pass. 'Good day', they reply genially. One of them even raises his hat with a smile. 16
Some were not so cowed, however, and dared to register a protest. 'On a kitchen stepladder in the middle of the push sits a workman', one eyewitness wrote, 'lean, unshaven, in blue mechanic's overall. He looks pensively at the rolling trucks. "You take all that, and no gas," we hear him growl, "and it's just junk." People around look up at him, horrified. When they see that no one is protesting, they venture an approving smile.'17


  • Christian Science Monitor
    “[D]espite the voluminous literature about the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, there have been no books that analyzed what civilian life was like for those who lived in Berlin during the war. Given this, Berlin at War…is overdue and welcome.... [T]his carefully researched study is the story of ordinary civilians who were very much in the middle of the fighting for extended periods of time. There are fresh insights on every page and even readers very knowledgeable about World War II will learn a great deal from this important and insightful volume.”

    Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)
    “[R]iveting.... Berlin at War is a masterfully written and necessary addition to the ever-expanding shelf of books about World War II.”

    Washington Times
    Berlin at War is an extensively researched and absorbing account of the city that went from being the host of the 1936 Olympics to being a pile of rubble less than a decade later.”
    “[T]his remarkable book vividly shows what it was like to live in Berlin from 1939 through 1945. From the jubilant, extravagant celebrations for Hitler's 50th birthday in 1939 until the Soviet invasion six years later, this is historical reporting at its very best.”
  • Herald (Scotland)
    “Intelligent and absorbing.... This is very much a people's history where the backbone of the narrative has not been supplied by the wider military progress of the war but by the response of many ordinary Berliners. Moorhouse has dug deeply and diligently and, in so doing, he has provided a truly innovative history.”

    Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
    “[Moorhouse] tells the story of Berlin's war thoroughly and fairly. He focuses as much as possible on ordinary citizens rather than Nazi kingpins and apparatchiks, and he leaves little doubt that this was a war few Berliners had wanted and from which all of them suffered.... Now Berlin has regained its standing as one of the world's great cities. That it started at ground zero is made all too clear by this excellent book.”
  • Irish Times
    “The greatest achievement of Moorhouse's book is that it manages to capture the complexities and contradictions of life in Hitler's Germany, illuminating the experiences of those who were victims, perpetrators or both. In so doing it provides something rare: a popular- history account that will satisfy both general readers and professional historians.”

    Andrew Roberts, Financial Times
    “Few books on [World War II] genuinely increase the sum of our collective knowledge of this exhaustively covered period, but this one does.... Moorhouse is particularly good with the small-arms fire of history, those illuminating details or unknown life-stories that shed light on a phenomenon of Berlin life.... By trawling through the complex, often deeply morally compromised personal stories of many survivors, Moorhouse has produced new insights into the way ordinary Berliners tried to escape the disastrous ill-fortune of living in the belly of the beast.”

    The Christian Century
    “Hundreds of books have been written about the Nazi regime and what happened to the Jews under Hitler, but few books have been written about what life was like for ordinary Germans during that time. Using diaries, memoirs and interviews, Moorhouse gives an account of daily life in the capital, which despite the Nazis remained something of a liberal city.”
  • Kirkus, starred review
    “A superb addition to the social history of Nazi Germany.... An august contribution to the city-during-a-war genre, worthy to sit alongside such classics as Margaret Leech's Reveille in Washington (1941) and Ernest Furguson's Ashes of Glory (1996).”

    Publishers Weekly
    “British historian Moorhouse puts a human face on the capital city of a Reich at war.”

    The Independent (London)
    “Roger Moorhouse has marshalled an impressive range of primary sources including newspaper reports, official documents, memoirs, diaries and interviews with the dwindling band of survivors to create a gripping panorama of Berlin at war.... Moorhouse's meticulous and painstaking research is matched by his narrative verve, wide-ranging sympathy and eye for telling detail.”

    Daily Telegraph (London)
    “Evocative social history.... [Moorhouse] punctures a variety of myths. The Berlin he depicts is not the portrait of fanatical Nazis and hunted Jews that we are used to, although both groups are represented. Instead it is a city defined by apathy, filled with people who are content to pretend they cannot smell the unpleasant background odour until it becomes too overpowering to ignore.”

  • Mail on Sunday (London)
    “Roger Moorhouse's measured, sympathetic book offers a fascinating corrective.... It doesn't try to absolve the Germans altogether, but what he does do is help us understand them. A good many loathed Hitler and all he stood for; some risked torture and death to save Jews; the majority toed the line, not so much because they were ardent Nazis as because they were Germans who instinctively cleaved to the rule of law and just didn't like to rock the boat.”

    Max Hastings, Sunday Times (London)
    “Roger Moorhouse has deep knowledge of wartime Germany…[and] a nice eye for social detail.... Anyone who reads Moorhouse to the bitter end will agree that Berlin suffered titanic punishment for the titanic crimes of Germany.”

    Ian Thomson, Telegraph (London)
    “In Berlin at War, Roger Moorhouse provides a painstakingly detailed account of everyday life in Hitler's metropolis from 1939 to the conflict's end.... Using a variety of sources ranging from unpublished memoirs to interviews, Moorhouse builds an absorbing picture of hardship and despair in the nerve centre of Nazi Germany.... As a leading historian of modern Germany, Moorhouse has chronicled a largely unknown story with scholarship, narrative verve and, at times, an awful, harrowing immediacy.”

  • Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post, Best of 2010
    “Roger Moorhouse, a British writer of popular histories, describes life in the German capital from the confident and complacent (if also fearful) early months through the utter devastation ultimately wrought by Allied bombing and the ground attacks from east and west. Moorhouse is sympathetic to ordinary Berliners, especially as the bombing intensified and the city turned into an inferno, but he doesn't sentimentalize them.”

    Alfred S. Regnery, The American Spectator
    “There is no end to books about the Germans and World War II, the Holocaust, and the battles and the evils of Nazism, but very few that explain the life of German civilians during those awful years. Berlin at War, by historian Roger Moorhouse, reminds us that war is not only about the fighting men, but the civilians as well.... This fascinating and beautifully written book tells the heart-rending story of those who died and those who survived—a part of World War II history that we all should know.”

    Financial Times, holiday round-up
    “Berlin was the least fascist of any major German city yet it was among the most heavily bombed by Allies and its women suffered mass gang-rape by the Red Army. The searing experiences of Berliners are brought to life through often deeply morally compromised personal stories.”

  • Kansas City Star, Top 100 Books of the Year
    “It may be discomfiting for followers of World War II history to read about the air war over Berlin from the point of view of innocent German civilians on the ground, but English author Moorhouse provides stunning research and heartfelt interviews that never cease to fascinate.”

    History Today (UK)
    “[A]s readable as a first-rate novel, full of gripping stories of suffering, endurance, courage and cowardice. Moorhouse is a clear-eyed, sensible and balanced historian who has substantially added to our knowledge of what happens when a society falls apart.”

    The Bloomsbury Review
    “[A] detailed exploration of daily life in the sprawling capital of an enemy during wartime. Mundane activity…takes on a zestier level of interest as it unfolds within the grounds of a heavily targeted bomb zone.... More than a half century after this world war ended, Germany's former position as an enemy has faded. This significant new point of view does not attempt to excuse or diminish its well-documented excesses, but the approach puts a much different face on the enemy as a whole.”

    Wall Street Journal
    “[A] notable contribution to the study of the Nazis.”

On Sale
Apr 3, 2012
Page Count
480 pages
Basic Books

Roger Moorhouse

About the Author

Roger Moorhouse is a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Warsaw. The author of several books on World War II history, including Poland 1939 (winner of the Polish Foreign Ministry History Prize), Berlin at War (shortlisted for the Hessell-Tiltman Prize), and The Devils’ Alliance, he lives in the United Kingdom.  

Learn more about this author