Tag Archives: World War II

  • Lest We Forget: UTP Titles for Remembering War History

    Tomorrow, University of Toronto Press will join Canada in thanking all who have served our country. We feel that it is important learn about our history so that we can properly honour the sacrifices made for us and so we can learn from the past. To that end, we would like to invite you to take a look at the following books.

    Winegard_FirstWorldOilWarThe First World Oil War

    By Timothy C. Winegard

    Oil is the source of wealth and economic opportunity. Oil is also the root source of global conflict, toxicity and economic disparity. When did oil become such a powerful commodity—during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the First World War.

    In his groundbreaking book, The First World Oil War, Timothy C. Winegard argues that beginning with the First World War, oil became the preeminent commodity to safeguard national security and promote domestic prosperity. For the first time in history, territory was specifically conquered to possess oil fields and resources; vital cogs in the continuation of the industrialized warfare of the twentieth century.

    This original and pioneering study analyzes the evolution of oil as a catalyst for both war and diplomacy, and connects the events of the First World War to contemporary petroleum geo-politics and international aggression.

    Celinscak_DistancefromBelsenHeapDistance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Nazi Concentration Camp

    By Mark Celinscak

    The Allied soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 were faced with scenes of horror and privation. With breathtaking thoroughness, Distance from the Belsen Heap documents what they saw and how they came to terms with those images over the course of the next seventy years. On the basis of research in more than seventy archives in four countries, Mark Celinscak analyses how these military personnel struggled with the intense experience of the camp; how they attempted to describe what they had seen, heard, and felt to those back home; and how their lives were transformed by that experience. He also brings to light the previously unacknowledged presence of hundreds of Canadians among the camp’s liberators, including noted painter Alex Colville.

    Distance from the Belsen Heap examines the experiences of hundreds of British and Canadian eyewitnesses to atrocity, including war artists, photographers, medical personnel, and chaplains. A study of the complicated encounter between these Allied soldiers and the horrors of the Holocaust, Distance from the Belsen Heap is a testament to their experience.

    Marrus_LessonsoftheHolocaustLessons of the Holocaust

    By Michael R. Marrus

    Although difficult to imagine, sixty years ago the Holocaust had practically no visibility in examinations of the Second World War. Yet today it is understood to be not only one of the defining moments of the twentieth century but also a touchstone in a quest for directions on how to avoid such catastrophes.

    In Lessons of the Holocaust, the distinguished historian Michael R. Marrus challenges the notion that there are definitive lessons to be deduced from the destruction of European Jewry. Instead, drawing on decades of studying, writing about, and teaching the Holocaust, he shows how its “lessons” are constantly challenged, debated, altered, and reinterpreted.

    A succinct, stimulating analysis by a world-renowned historian, Lessons of the Holocaust is the perfect guide for the general reader to the historical and moral controversies which infuse the interpretation of the Holocaust and its significance.


    covers3Living with War: Twentieth-Century Conflict in Canadian and American History and Memory

    By Robert Teigrob

    Canada and the United States: we think of one as a peaceable kingdom, the other as a warrior nation. But do our expectations about each country’s attitudes to war and peace match the realities?

    In Living with War, Robert Teigrob examines how war is experienced and remembered on both sides of the 49th parallel. Surveying popular and scholarly histories, films and literature, public memorials, and museum exhibits in both countries, he comes to some startling conclusions. Americans may seem more patriotic, even jingoistic, but they are also more willing to debate the pros and cons of their military actions. Canadians, though more diffident in their public displays of patriotism, are more willing than their southern neighbors to accept the official narrative that depicts just wars fought in the service of a righteous cause.

    A provocative book that complements critiques of contemporary Canadian militarism such as Warrior Nation, Living with War offers an intriguing look at the relationship with the military past on both sides of the border.

    For those local to Toronto, please find information about the Remembrance Day Ceremony at Queen’s Park here

  • Why Reading History Matters

    Since the beginning of the most recent Israeli/Palestinian crisis, my social media feeds have become a disheartening list of opinions. Many of these opinions are unbalanced, knee-jerk responses to whatever “side” the author or poster subscribes to at that particular moment. The hatred behind these postings is alarming.

    Assassination of EuropeThis past year, I had the privilege of working with one of the most prolific historians on European, Jewish, and Middle Eastern history: Howard M. Sachar. In his forthcoming book, The Assassination of Europe, Sachar explores how key assassinations between 1918 and 1942 hurled Europe into the maelstrom of World War II. When I initially read the manuscript, three thoughts crossed my mind: first, why is it so easy to hate? Second, why is hate so powerful? And lastly, I was reminded that hate can be very dangerous.

    The Assassination of Europe describes one particular act borne out of hate: political assassinations. Europe, after World War I, believed that it could fix itself. After all, it had the experience and the political and economic leadership to repair the racial, ethnic, and religious hatreds that tore it apart in the first place. However, as Sachar writes, hatred was more powerful than European arrogance:

    The glowering hatreds that engendered the late war—Germans against Slavs, Roman Catholics against Eastern Orthodox, Gentiles against Jews, poor against rich, conquerors against conquered—were neither trivial nor susceptible to assuagement either before or after the armistices of 1918. Rather, the demons survived and intensified. If they were incapable of wreaking their havoc in the immediate aftermath of the postwar “peace” conferences, there were other, equally functional paths to “rectification” and revenge.

    One of these “equally functional paths to rectification and revenge” was the silencing of moderate voices—often with bullets—by hate-filled extremists in Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Austria. Their removal from power led to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini among others. And we know where they led the world. Today, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, reflecting on this is crucial.

    We have all just lived through a summer filled with hate. A decade ago, students may have been able to avoid the minute-by-minute reports of devastation in Gaza, dead Israeli teenagers, or the beheadings of American journalists, but not today. Their Facebook and Twitter feeds don’t give them much respite. Many of them, just like many of us, have been overwhelmed by the opinions on social media and given in to their emotions. They have taken sides, and sometimes when people take sides, hate creeps in.

    Sachar’s book is a terrifying and violent lesson in what happens when hate creeps in. Given what has happened in the last few months and what is likely to keep happening, there is something of a moral obligation for educators to counter the often thoughtless opinions expressed on social media. If you are a professor teaching a course in modern European history and you assign a basic textbook, I would suggest that you replace the chapters in that textbook that deal with the years between 1918 and 1942 with Sachar’s book. Your students will appreciate the break from the conventional text. Or, if you frequently assign more popular histories by such authors as Robert Service, Ian Kershaw, Michael Marrus, Primo Levi, or Eli Wiesel, assign The Assassination of Europe as well.

    After your students have read the book, ask them what it has taught them. Although most of your students will not become professional historians, some will become lawyers, policy analysts, and community leaders. Most of them will become parents. The Assassination of Europe is a history lesson, and a necessary reminder that hate is not only powerful but also murderous.

    Reading books like The Assassination of Europe is a key first step in stopping the current side-taking that dominates discussion of current events on social media. I know personally of what I speak. Years ago, as an impressionable, Jewish female entrenched in the North American Reform Jewish community, I took sides, and my posts reflected that side. And I hated. But then I started to read books like The Assassination of Europe to remind myself of the power and dangers of hate. Today, I avoid extremist opinion on social media and when I do post, it is in support of peace. As Howard Sachar educated me, so can he educate your students.

    -Natalie Fingerhut, History Editor

  • Author Footnotes with Sean Kennedy

    Sean Kennedy discusses his new book, The Shock of War: Civilian Experiences, 1937-1945, now available from UTP.

    “Everything considered I wish I had ended up dying during the bombings. If only there weren’t a war, we wouldn’t have to pretend we were happy.” These words, written in the diary of an eighteen-year-old Japanese teenager on July 21, 1945, were among the many stirring passages written by ordinary people that I encountered as I wrote The Shock of War: Civilian Experiences, 1937-1945, the second book in the UTP / Canadian Historical Association short book series on “International Themes and Issues.” To me this particular passage is especially striking for two reasons. First, it highlights how many civilians faced great danger during the conflict and the despair which could ensue from trauma. Furthermore, it alludes to the fact that ordinary people sometimes faced intense pressure from their governments—in particular authoritarian governments—to display patriotic spirit regardless of the situation.

    Other individual stories I mention in the book are most positive in tone, stressing, for instance, the jubilation experienced in the Allied nations as the war came to an end. By noting the experiences of individuals from diverse backgrounds, and by situating those experiences within the political and social context of the time, I am hoping that The Shock of War will convey to general readers and students the profound yet complex impact of the Second World War upon civilians in a wide range of societies.

    I wrote this book because of my teaching experiences at the University of New Brunswick, in particular a third-year course entitled “The Generation of World War Two.” Over the years I have encountered many excellent books and articles on topics such as civilian experiences on the home front in different countries, what it was like for ordinary people to live under foreign military occupation, and the horrific cases of genocide and other atrocities during the war. I have tried to introduce my students to at least some of these admirable works, but over the course of time it seemed to me that a short book that compared the wartime experiences of different societies in a broad way, while trying to convey a variety of individual experiences, could make a useful contribution in the classroom, and for a wider audience.

    I’m very excited at the prospect of now seeing the book in print. I have tried to synthesize a variety of works by very talented scholars, and I am hoping that The Shock of War encourages readers to explore the subject in more depth. Some of these topics, such as the Holocaust, can be very difficult to read about, but it is vitally important that we understand the horrors of the past. We do not live in a peaceful world: there are many conflicts around the globe which shatter the lives of ordinary people in different ways. Mobilizing for, and fighting in, wars have complex and even contradictory effects: the process can bring citizens of a nation together, but it can also expose, and even intensify, existing tensions within a society. I hope that the book helps us to understand these processes today, in light of the tumultuous global conflict between 1937 and 1945.

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