The best books on the Allied Occupation of Germany

Ellen Feldman Author Of The Living and the Lost
By Ellen Feldman

Who am I?

Surprisingly little has been written about the postwar Occupation of Germany by the US, UK, France, and USSR. Yet it was a crucial and colorful, one might say lurid, interval in recent history. Berlin, which is the setting of my novel, The Living and the Lost, was a latter day Wild West where drunken soldiers brawled; the desperate preyed on the unsuspecting; spies plied their trade; werewolves, as unrepentant Nazis were called, schemed to rise again; black markets peddled everything from drugs to sex; and forbidden fraternization between American G.Is and Frauleins was rampant. I did a great deal of research on the period and place. Here are five books that bring the world stunningly to life.

I wrote...

The Living and the Lost

By Ellen Feldman,

Book cover of The Living and the Lost

What is my book about?

Acclaimed by Publishers' Weekly as "exquisite…will stay with readers long after the final page is turned," The Living and the Lost is the story of Millie Mosbach and her brother David, who managed to escape to the States just before Kristallnacht, leaving their parents and little sister in Berlin. Now they are back in their former hometown, haunted by ghosts and hoping to find their family. Millie, works in the office responsible for rooting out the most dedicated Nazis from publishing. During the day, David labors trying to help displaced persons. His nightly activities are more radical, and dangerous. They and most of their German-born American colleagues suffer from conflicts of rage at the former enemy and guilt at their own good fortune, but Millie’s boss, Major Harry Sutton, seems strangely eager to be fair to the Germans. The Living and the Lost is a story of love, survival, and forgiveness of others and of self.

"A compelling novel…that resonates today with disturbing themes." - NPR The Living and the Lost, is a story of love, survival, and forgiveness of others and of self.

The books I picked & why

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Last of the Conquerors

By William Gardner Smith, James Avati (illustrator),

Book cover of Last of the Conquerors

Why this book?

The Last of the Conquerors by William Gardner Smith, a Black G.I. who served in Germany after the war, is a beautifully written, with a Hemingwayesque flair, look at the Occupation from someone who was there. This clear indictment of the segregated U.S. Army pretending to spread democracy and equality in a defeated nation that treats Blacks perhaps not well, but better than America does, is honest, painful, and especially relevant to our moment. An interesting footnote to the book is the difficulty of obtaining a copy these days. The one I read came from the New York Public Library, but a quick check of used books online reveals an old paperback that was originally 75 cents now selling for $35 and a hardcover for $475.

Out of the Shelter

By David Lodge,

Book cover of Out of the Shelter

Why this book?

Out of Shelter, David Lodge's first novel, is a lighter take on the Occupation in its later years. This autobiographical coming-of-age story, which he had trouble getting published, is a tale of a young British boy’s summer-long visit to his sister who’s working for the Americans in Germany. His awakening from a cossetted English childhood of rigid rules and postwar scarcity to a wider world of less certain moralities and astonishing American abundance is at once touching, funny, and written with Lodge’s usual grace and wit.

Deutschland - April 1945

By Margaret Bourke-White,

Book cover of Deutschland - April 1945

Why this book?

Deutschland by Margaret Bourke-White paints a raw and wrenching portrait of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war. The photographs of the suffering and destruction are shocking. The first-hand observations are immediate, occasionally wry, and cover everything from the black market; the relative appeal of American, British, and French soldiers to German girls; and social dancing classes.

In Search: An autobiography

By Meyer Levin,

Book cover of In Search: An autobiography

Why this book?

Meyer Levin’s memoir, In Search, ranges over the years before and after the occupation as well as the period itself. His observations are personal, often searing, and deeply affecting. He tells of Jewish G.I.s who, forbidden to fraternize with Germans, leave matzos on doorsteps of German Jewish organizations on the eve of Passover, of being snubbed by a German Jewish woman with whom he felt an instinctive connection but who found him socially inferior, and of his darkest thoughts about retribution and revenge. As the title of his memoir indicates, Levin was in search of the meaning of his Jewish identity. A few years later, his French wife gave him a copy of the French edition of The Diary of Anne Frank. Deeply moved, he was instrumental in its publication and success in the U.S.

The Smoking Mountain: Stories of Post-War Germany

By Kay Boyle,

Book cover of The Smoking Mountain: Stories of Post-War Germany

Why this book?

Perhaps the most sweeping view of the Occupation can be found in The Smoking Mountain by Kay Boyle. An editor at the New Yorker asked Boyle, who was in Germany under the Occupation, for a fictional account. While most of the short stories, except for the first which is clearly reportorial, work as fiction, they are grounded in her experiences in a fraught world where victors and vanquished, Germans and Americans, military and civilians struggle to find a way to coexist. In Boyle’s gimlet eye, few come out blameless.

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