Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Roger Moorhouse's "The Devils' Alliance"

Roger Moorhouse is a historian and author specializing in modern German and Central European history, with particular interest in Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and World War Two in Europe. He is the author of a number of books on modern German history, including Killing Hitler and Berlin at War, and is a regular commentator in the specialist and general press.

Moorhouse applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941, and reported the following:
I love the premise of the “Page 99 Test”; the idea that a single page of a book may, in either style or content, be indicative of the whole. The Devils' Alliance is about the much-overlooked Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939-1941, which saw the world’s two most barbarous totalitarian regimes find common cause and brought war to Europe.

Page 99 is the opening page of a chapter on the response of the world’s communists and fascists to the news of the Pact. It tells the story of Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the British Communist Party, who unwisely advocated the defence of Poland in 1939, before the propaganda line dictated to him by Moscow changed and he was deposed by his more ideologically-obedient comrades.

The page is – unsurprisingly perhaps – both representative of the remainder of the book, and it is not. On the one hand, given that the scene described on that page plays out in London, it is geographically distant from the epicentre of events in the rest of the book, which is broadly the area between Berlin and Moscow – what Tim Snyder aptly called the “Bloodlands” – a region in which countless thousands suffered persecution, deportation or death as a direct result of the Pact.

In a broader sense, however, the page is representative of the whole. It certainly demonstrates my overall approach to my writing, for instance that of seeking to ask questions that other historians have not addressed before. It also chimes with my desire to always tell the story in such a way that personal experiences and ‘human stories’, such as Pollitt’s, can be foregrounded so as to better engage the reader.

On reflection, I suppose Pollitt’s experience (from page 99) really isn’t so different from the rest of the book. Though geographically distant from events, he was nonetheless subjected to the same seismic shift that others were with the signature of the Pact. True, his life was never under direct threat, but beyond that his world was turned upside down, just as much as if he had been a Pole from Volhynia, or a Latvian, or a Bessarabian. The Devils' Alliance is the story of a forgotten political earthquake, and Harry Pollitt felt the tremors as much as anyone.
© Roger Moorhouse 2014
Visit Roger Moorhouse's website.

--Marshal Zeringue