The best books on the Allied Occupation of Germany

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

The Books I Picked & Why

Last of the Conquerors

By William Gardner Smith, James Avati

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.


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Out of the Shelter

By David Lodge

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.


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Deutschland - April 1945

By Margaret Bourke-White

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.


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In Search: An autobiography

By Meyer Levin

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.


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The Smoking Mountain: Stories of Post-War Germany

By Kay Boyle

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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