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Potsdam: The End of World War II and the…

Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe

by Michael Neiberg

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Generally, this is an informative and quite readable book. It contains more about the diplomatic, military, and political situations in which each of the big three powers found themselves, and less about what was actually said at the conference than one might expect.
One point puzzles me. On page 166, the author makes much of Stalin's advantage of being assured that Hitler was dead and that he kept that fact a secret. But in 1972 or 73 in the auditorium of the University of Chicago Law School, the great English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper told an audience that included this reviewer that he (Trevor-Roper) as a British intelligence officer was one of the first of the Allies to go into Hitler's bunker where the body, partially burned, was still awaiting removal. He assured us that the body was identifiable and anatomically normal. If British intelligence knew, then surely the Americans did as well and Stalin was fooling no one at Potsdam. ( )
  Illiniguy71 | Jan 19, 2016 |
Interesting recounting of a postwar episode that has been largely forgotten, namely the Potsdam conference of July 1945, where the Big Three of Stalin, Truman and Churchill (until he was replaced by Atlee), got together and decided the fate of postwar Europe. Neiberg relates the conference very closely to its ill-fated predecessor in WWI, which brought down the disastrous Versailles Treaty that virtually guaranteed the outbreak of WWII. The participants' awareness of this and determination not to repeat the mistakes of history very much coloured the outcome at Potsdam, as Neiberg reveals. He covers in depth all the key issues discussed, including the division of Germany, reparations, the fate of eastern Europe, particularly Poland, war crimes trials, and how to prosecute the continuing war with Japan. He also shows how the Cold war divisions were beginning to open up, although there was a surprising amount of good faith and common endeavour shown between the participants. The personalities of the leaders are also clearly shown, Churchill's moroseness and erratic behaviour, Truman's earnestness and his steep learning curve, and Stalin's cat & mouse game as he endeavoured to get exactly what he wanted. There are also surprising moments of humour, as for example when Truman ordered Chopin i played at dinner because he knew Churchill disliked that composer. All in all, a very interesting book, sometimes dry but never dull. Well worth reading. ( )
  drmaf | Jul 9, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465075258, Hardcover)

After Germany’s defeat in World War II, Europe lay in tatters. Millions of refugees were dispersed across the continent. Food and fuel were scarce. Britain was bankrupt, while Germany had been reduced to rubble. In July of 1945, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin gathered in a quiet suburb of Berlin to negotiate a lasting peace: a peace that would finally put an end to the conflagration that had started in 1914, a peace under which Europe could be rebuilt.

The award-winning historian Michael Neiberg brings the turbulent Potsdam conference to life, vividly capturing the delegates’ personalities: Truman, trying to escape from the shadow of Franklin Roosevelt, who had died only months before; Churchill, bombastic and seemingly out of touch; Stalin, cunning and meticulous. For the first week, negotiations progressed relatively smoothly. But when the delegates took a recess for the British elections, Churchill was replaced—both as prime minster and as Britain’s representative at the conference—in an unforeseen upset by Clement Attlee, a man Churchill disparagingly described as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” When the conference reconvened, the power dynamic had shifted dramatically, and the delegates struggled to find a new balance. Stalin took advantage of his strong position to demand control of Eastern Europe as recompense for the suffering experienced by the Soviet people and armies. The final resolutions of the Potsdam Conference, notably the division of Germany and the Soviet annexation of Poland, reflected the uneasy geopolitical equilibrium between East and West that would come to dominate the twentieth century.

As Neiberg expertly shows, the delegates arrived at Potsdam determined to learn from the mistakes their predecessors made in the Treaty of Versailles. But, riven by tensions and dramatic debates over how to end the most recent war, they only dimly understood that their discussions of peace were giving birth to a new global conflict.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 09 Jul 2015 19:15:00 -0400)

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