Published in September 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 by Ian Kershaw (Allen Lane, £30)
On 3rd September 1939, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stood in the House of Commons and admitted that “Everything I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for… has crashed into ruins.” Two days earlier, German troops had crossed into Poland. Adolf Hitler did not respond to an ultimatum to withdraw and Britain and France were at war. The conflict rapidly became global. By 1945, not only the hopes but also the lives of 40m people (including more than 25m in the Soviet Union alone) had been crushed.
This horror is at the heart of Ian Kershaw’s new history of Europe between 1914 and 1949. In 1914, David Lloyd George could claim that the nations of Europe simply “slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war without any trace of apprehension or dismay.” In September 1939, the terror of what lay ahead was palpable.