Leon Uris does a masterful job of bringing to life Berlin during the four years between 1945-49, by combining complex and believable characters, precision research, and all the drama inherent to post-war Germany.
From the first arrival of Russian troops into Germany’s capital during the final days of World War II to the challenge of undertaking the Berlin airlift, Uris shows the behind-the-scenes political machinations that can now, in retrospect, be seen as the true origins of the Cold War. It’s the Americans, British and French (on one side) determined to rebuild a democratic Germany and Stalin and the Soviet Union (on the other side) equally intent on adding Germany to a growing list of Eastern block Communist allies.
To this mix, add a sprinkle of Nazi war criminals, a few Soviet collaborators, a guilt-ridden German population eager to redeem their world image, and some simple human beings trying to survive in a city decimated by American bombers. Everyday life is a challenge. Food is in short supply. Anti-fraternization laws get enacted, then ignored. Black market profiteers take advantage. Women are both brutally raped and freely trading their bodies for a little extra food or tobacco. Friendships between American and Soviet military personnel may blossom but lack of trust keeps them limited. Romances between Americans and Germans begin but lingering hatred and suspicion of Nazis remains deeply ingrained in even the best-intentioned American servicemen.
You will care deeply for what happens to these characters. Hansen, the crusty General, called back from retirement despite a serious heart condition. Sean, the super-efficient Major who loves a German girl but remains haunted by two brothers, both killed during the war. Scott – a womanizing pilot who gets much more than he expects when he bets a friend he can bed a certain beautiful Fraulein. And Ernestine, a German woman torn between a father who was a Nazi sympathizer and her uncle recently released from a concentration camp, who is just trying to build some kind of meaningful life among the rubble.
This is a great story. And, like all the Uris books I’ve read, he provides a rich telling of a critical historical moment. Personally, I found a little too much detail about the technical statistics of the Berlin airlift. But the story and the people kept me going. This is a long one. But worth the investment.