World War II bombing: rethinking German experiences

November 2003


Introduction Initial Reviews Discussion Further Information



The publication last fall of Joerg Friedrich’s book, Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945 (Munich: Propylaeen, 2002) unleashed a heated public discussion within Germany of the (as a Spiegel series described it) Bombenkrieg gegen die Deutschen and allowed at least some in the German public to question the meaning of German "victimhood" under bombardment.  Only three years earlier, W. G. Sebald had described postwar German literature’s almost total silence on the air war (Luftkrieg und Literatur), a literary taboo that seemed to suggest that wartime destruction had become little more than a necessary staging ground for the postwar economic miracle.  Together, these two books have helped to delineate a shift in this public discussion but also to challenge historians to find a space for their own critical perspective, one that builds on forty years of increasingly nuanced examinations of war, violence, destruction, complicity, and resistance.

As international tensions increased in the run-up to the war in Iraq, the German debate crossed the Atlantic and interjected itself into American discussions as well.  Peter Schneider’s New York Times review of Friedrich’s book was entitled “The Germans are breaking an old taboo” (NYT 18 January 2003, B7).  National Public Radio even included an interview with Friedrich in a discussion of World War II memories and German opposition to the war in Iraq (available online).  Thus while World War II Anglo-American bombing campaigns have figured prominently in British and American historical accounts and memoirs from the period, these recent moments of publicity hint at the intellectual and political resonance that this ambiguous, German experience might enjoy beyond German borders.
Following the success of H-German’s spring forum on the miniseries, Hitler: the rise of evil, the editors are pleased to announce an upcoming forum that will use the books of Sebald and Friedrich as a starting point for a discussion of the historical and historiographical implications of this recently emerging debate.  In particular, the editors view this as an opportunity to maintain our commitment to both the intensive engagement with the theoretical and practical implications of recent scholarship and the analysis of the place available to German history and its scholars in the public intellectual arena.

The forum will launch on


The two books that will serve as the starting point for the forum are:

Winfried G. Sebald.  Luftkrieg und Literatur.
Hardcover:  Munich: Carl Hanser, 1999.  ISBN: 3446196617
Paperback:  Frankfurt: Fischer, 2001.  ISBN: 3596148634

On the Natural History of Destruction.  New York: Random House, 2003.  ISBN: 0375504842


  Joerg Friedrich.  Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945.  Munich: Propylaeen, 2002.  ISBN: 3549071655
As was the case in May, the forum will start with a series of commentaries/reviews to establish a foundation for discussion on the list.  A list of those scholars contributing initial reviews follows below.
We welcome any comments, criticism, or suggestions you may have and look forward to a productive exchange.

Susan Boettcher
David Imhoof
Paul Steege
H-German Editors

Initial Reviews


Friday, 14 November 2003
  Rob Leventhal FORUM: WWII Bombing: Maier Comment on Friedrich


  H-German Editors FORUM: Editor Comment view
Saturday, 15 November 2003
  Peter Hoffmann FORUM: WWII Bombing view
Wednesday, 19 November 2003
  Jean Marc Dreyfus FORUM: WWII Bombing view


Supplemental information

Bombenkrieg und Kriegsende 1939-1945
Bombenkrieg und Erinnerung
at the Historisches Centrum Hagen
  Air Battle of the Ruhr
Fotoarchiv-Hagen im Zweiten Weltkrieg
Online-Ressourcen zum Thema
Ralf Blank on Jörg Friedrich, Brandstätten
review posted to H-Soz-Kult (22 October 2003)
Sammelrezension: Bombenkrieg
review posted to H-Soz-u-Kult by Jörg Arnold (28 June 2004)
Der Bombenkrieg 1939-1945 und die rheinisch-westfälischen Städte
Conference report posted to H-Soz-u-Kult by Helmut Rönz (3 February 2005)

these links will be updated as merited

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