In This Review

The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe
The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe
By William I. Hitchcock
Free Press, 2008, 464 pp

For most Americans, the liberation of Europe is the story of victorious Allied armies, heroic U.S. soldiers, and European civilians freed from Nazi tyranny by American grit and sacrifice. Hitchcock does not challenge the reality of this narrative but reminds readers that the road to freedom Americans rightly celebrate was -- in the experience of the liberated -- long, destructive, and bloody. By telling the story from the perspective of Norman farmers, German children, incarcerated Jews, and war refugees across Eastern Europe, he makes clear why for many Europeans liberation was tinged with ambiguity: they were delighted about their freedom but resented the price they had had to pay to get it. In the hands of a less deft historian, this project could have come across as a revisionist attempt to question the necessity, or at least the manner, of the liberation, but Hitchcock avoids that trap. The stories he tells of the Normandy invasion, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the occupation of Germany may be familiar, but the prose is gripping and the perspective of the liberated a fresh twist. This is a remarkable work of history that also sheds light on present-day debates about the merits and the costs of liberating people by force.