The national psyche is the principal protagonist in Harald Jähner’s subtle, perceptive and beautifully written Aftermath ... a revelatory, remarkably wide-ranging book crammed with material, much of which will, I imagine, be new to an international audience ... Mr. Jähner...[notes] how Germans 'saw themselves as . . . victims, and thus had the dubious good fortune of not having to think about the real ones.' Additionally, battling 'for survival under anarchic everyday conditions kept many' from reflecting on the past. And so did the 'feverish, manic industriousness' that went into reconstruction and later came to characterize what became known (exaggeratedly, in Mr. Jähner’s somewhat harsh view) as West Germany’s economic 'miracle.'
... important, exemplary ... admirably unsentimental ... This is the kind of book few writers possess the clarity of vision to write, about the relatively recent past of their own societies. Most of the Germans who survived the Second World War never witnessed the crimes committed in their name or the miseries they had inflicted on the world. The dead were out of sight, out of mind. German civilians in the heimat (homeland) just saw their own tragedies, and considered these monstrously undeserved. Jahner thinks otherwise.
... a scholarly masterpiece which is also a good read ... The material is as grim as can be imagined, and Jähner pulls no punches. But he doesn’t allow his story to degenerate into a catalogue of horrors. Instead, we are offered anecdotes and incidents, each memorable, many illustrated by newly discovered photographs, which build into a history which reads like a prelude to Waiting for Godot, that great work of 1949. In vignette after vignette, people remain people, however apocalyptic the events they have just participated in or witnessed or had visited upon them.
The pointedness...is quintessential Jähner; he does double duty in this fascinating book (translated into English by the gifted Shaun Whiteside), elegantly marshaling a plethora of facts while also using his critical skills to wry effect ... Even though Aftermath covers historical ground, its narrative is intimate, filled with first-person accounts from articles and diaries ... Jähner trains his focus on such details because it’s through them that so much of the real transformation in postwar Germany first came about.
... particularly intriguing in the way that it undermines commonly held perceptions of this period ... provides a compendium of universally human tales that make for a moving read. Jähner is masterly in telling the tragic, despicable, comedic and uplifting stories of those who were there as he takes his readers on a fascinating tour through rubble-strewn postwar Germany.
Jähner constructs an innovative overall interpretation of German lives in the postwar years ... Aftermath is a quirky, sometimes humorous, and at times brilliant synthesis of a great deal of secondary literature, enlivened by quotations from published primary sources, extracts from works of creative literature and discussions of art and aesthetics ... This is a nuanced account, in which the shadow sides are always highlighted ... a thoughtful and highly readable account. But it has its limitations ... There are also odd emphases rooted in Jähner’s own scholarly interests and professional background, including the extensive discussions of Hans Habe or Alfred Döblin. But the resulting imbalances can be forgiven when the overall composite picture is highly stimulating and readily accessible ... deserve[s] a wide readership, not least because the questions...are so significant, and the answers...far from being final words on these issues.
... rich detail ... For most of its 416 pages, Aftermath could be about almost any vanquished nation in the industrial era. The details are the book’s strength, but the lack of context is its weakness ... The sharp descriptions are aided by Jahner’s conversational writing style ... However, the book sorely needs a clearer structure and thematic statement ... Even worse, the occasional references to the genocide against the Jews or ex-Nazi officials who worm their way into respectability are so casually dropped in, then forgotten, that the book seems as unforgivably callous as the postwar German mentality it eventually criticizes. This is an important addition to the library of Holocaust literature, but it should be read with other historical post-war texts that examine the perpetrators of the Holocaust more deeply.
... a lucid, exhaustively researched and compelling account of a Germany which rises much more rapidly from the rubble than we had previously imagined ... Jähner brings out well the paradoxes in many areas of life as Germans struggled to find their way back to what they had previously known ... Jähner’s book is replete with fascinating case studies of all kinds, thoroughly researched and offering much illumination on how Germany became the society it is today. My only reservation relates to the extent to which each of these studies can be said to support the book’s central thesis about the character of the 1945-55 period. While the accounts of, for example, artistic activity, media proliferation and entrepreneurship do indeed demonstrate the richness, diversity and originality of much creative endeavour in Germany in the first years after the war, some of the other material assembled seems less germane ... But this is a minor quibble. If the whole is slightly less than the sum of its parts, that does not take away from the magnitude of Jähner’s achievement. The range and volume of his research and the quality of his analysis are extraordinary. He brings to life a society struggling to survive amid, and beyond, the ruins of a cataclysmic defeat.
Jähner’s book attracted considerable praise in Germany for knitting a coherent narrative out of events previously viewed separately—or ignored entirely. Its English translation is even more welcome, filling the yawning gap on bookshop shelves between a growing number of modern German history and the oversupply of Nazi studies that end in Hitler’s bunker ... thoughtful.
Deeply researched while at the same time eminently readable, this book successfully presents an engrossing social, political, economic, and cultural perspective on an important era that is often overlooked in traditional history texts ... Highly recommended for readers of modern European political and cultural history, especially those with little knowledge of the period.
... illuminating ... engrossing ... The author presents an expansive yet sharply probing overview of the period, reaching across political, social, and geographical spheres to draw a lucid portrait of a country reeling from the stark consequences of being on the losing side of a horrendous war ... Jähner’s shrewdly balanced look at postwar Germany is sure to spark the interest of readers across the world ... An absorbing and well-documented history of postwar Germany.
... penetrating ... Elegantly written and translated, Jähner’s analysis deploys emotionally resonant detail to vividly recreate a vibrant, if morally haunted, historical watershed. This eye-opening study enthralls.