Kurt Blome was a minister of Hitler’s Reich, directed its biological warfare programme and oversaw experiments on prisoners. He was not one of the seven Nazi scientists sentenced to death at Nuremberg; instead he was enabled to continue his research for the benefit of US military intelligence.
A massive and erudite history of southeastern Europe from late antiquity to the present demonstrates that the region is properly part of the continent’s history and culture rather than a transitional place between ‘Western’ order and civilisation and the chaos of the Orient.
Sir John Harold Plumb was a prodigious historian and journalist. a tireless networker, a professor, master of Christ’s College, a member of the British Wine Standards Board. He collected porcelain, paintings, wine, acolytes, enemies, dowager duchesses and other people’s wives.
After initial attempts to simply forget the past and focus on economic reconstruction, Germany’s record of coming to terms with Nazi-era crimes has been impressive. The same, regrettably, cannot be said of the US with regard to the history of slavery and racism in the American South.
Does political democracy have a value in the absence of economic democracy? Should social distinctions be maintained? Ancient Athens largely practised a mixed system, with a modus vivendi between the classes that posed little threat to wealth and kept most public offices for the elite.
The popular cultures of many European societies remain transfixed by the evil of Nazism while looking away from the record of their own ancestors. Yet the rise to global prominence of Portugal, Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands rested largely on the horrific Caribbean slave trade.
When Poland was invaded in September 1939, the painter Jósef Czapski joined the cavalry reserve. Captured by the Russians, he escaped the fate of the officers murdered at Katyń and survived the camps, diverting his fellow prisoners with lectures on Proust reconstructed from his own memory.
In making the case that war is simply humanity’s natural lot, other causes of conflict, such as secret diplomacy, the arms trade, inequality, censorship to protect national security and industrial capitalism’s wish to profit from misery, perhaps get off rather lightly.