In This Review

The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath
The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath
Edited by Istvan Deak, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt
Princeton University Press, 2000, 326 pp
Under the Shadow of the Swastika: The Moral Dilemmas of Resistance and Collaboration in Hitler's Europe
Under the Shadow of the Swastika: The Moral Dilemmas of Resistance and Collaboration in Hitler's Europe
By Rab Bennett
New York University Press, 1999, 318 pp

Two books that take very different approaches in looking at collaboration and resistance in Europe under the Nazis. The first volume examines the experiences in both eastern and western Europe, underscoring that the goal of retribution invariably collided with other objectives such as restoring social order or settling political accounts. Practically nowhere was the public record deemed fair and satisfactory. In a provocative epilogue, Tony Judt accuses the Europeans of promoting myths (e.g., that "Nazism was a strictly German phenomenon" or that Vichy was a mere "aberration in the national history") as a way of repressing their ugly past in the drive toward integration. Although many of these fictions have unraveled in recent years, Judt believes that the new Europe remains in denial about its history -- especially the communist experience in eastern Europe. Above all, this volume shows that the debate between historians who seek the truth and politicians who promote national myths will not fade soon.

In contrast, Bennett probes the ethical aspects of collaboration and resistance in a daring effort at moral philosophy. He asks whether it was legitimate to resist Nazi terror if one knew that reprisals against innocent civilians would follow. Reviewing an impressive and depressing number of cases, many from the Jewish resistance, Bennett acknowledges how limited resistance would have been had it scrupulously avoided harming civilians. Nevertheless, he vigorously condemns much of the resistance activity -- one case in point being the assassination of Heinrich Himmler's deputy in Prague, Reinhard Heydrich, which was followed by the Nazi extermination of the Czech town of Lidice. Concluding that "the worst damage that the Nazis inflicted was to make their enemies resemble them," Bennett is sure to draw criticism from Nazi-era survivors. After all, the Nazis, not the resistance, committed the atrocities. Yet such moral issues require the very kind of candid and courageous discussion shown here.