In This Review

Prisoners of History: What Monuments to World War II Tell Us About Our History and Ourselves
Prisoners of History: What Monuments to World War II Tell Us About Our History and Ourselves
By Keith Lowe
St. Martin's Press, 2020, 368 pp

In this fascinating and thoughtful book, Lowe studies 25 memorials related to World War II. He traces their origins, how they were received, and what they suggest not only about the war but also about the societies that created them. Russia’s many large monuments to the war, for example, reveal much about that country’s insecurities as a declining power. Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to its fallen soldiers, betrays a reluctance to reckon with its crimes during the war. China commemorates the infamous 1937 Japanese massacre in Nanjing with a statue of a mother and a dead child. South Koreans placed opposite Japan’s embassy in Seoul a representation of the so-called comfort women abused by Japanese soldiers during the war. The most moving memorials preserve the physical remains of earlier structures, such as the concentration camp at Auschwitz, the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, and the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, whose inhabitants were slaughtered by the Nazis. Some memorials to the war have risen far from its battlegrounds; Polish Americans in Jersey City remember the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets with a striking statue set against the skyline of New York City.