Stoking the Fire

Jörg Friedrich’s horrifying account of the Allied bombing raids caused a stir on its first publication in Germany. Now it has been translated into English, and York Membery has canvassed some leading British historians for their views.

It’s perhaps the most controversial book to be published in Germany since the war – at least from the Allied point of view. The book in question, The Fire (originally published as Der Brand) by Jörg Friedrich, takes an unflinching look at the suffering inflicted by Allied bombers on the German civilian population during the Second World War.

Around 635,000 German civilians – men, women and children – died as a result of the bombing campaign: an appalling loss by any measure, but the topic has been surprisingly little discussed or researched. This is partly, says the book’s blurb, because it has been regarded as a largely ‘taboo subject – above all in Germany itself’, and partly because many Europeans felt ‘deeply uncomfortable’ reading a book that recounted the suffering of Germans, whether civilians or not, when it was Nazi Germany that had triggered the bloodiest conflict in history.

The book’s publication in Germany in 2002 sparked immediate controversy. Some British historians rushed to condemn it, among them Correlli Barnett who branded it ‘a historical travesty’ intended to justify Hitler’s actions. Opinion in Germany was equally mixed with one television channel calling it ‘a provocation’. But it was serialized in the tabloid Das Bild, and went on to sell 500,000 copies. Now that it has finally been published in English translation, British readers have a chance to read the book for themselves and come to their own conclusions.

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