Seventy-five years ago, on May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany officially surrendered to Allied powers, marking the end of the Second World War in the European Theatre.
I know we’re currently in a time of global crisis, but our struggles pale in comparison to what went on between 1939 and 1945. More than 30 countries directly took part in that war. More than 70 million people died, though exact numbers are impossible to confirm.
That was an unspeakable situation, worse than most of what came before and worse than anything that has come after, but we did pull through.
My grandmother, who lived through the London Blitz, recently told me that Winston Churchill had a saying during the war, “K.B.O.”—“Keep Buggering On”—and that’s just what we have to do now.
A lot of people currently living through COVID-19 lived through World War II. The BBC has been dedicating a great deal of coverage to a 100-year-old WWII vet who raised more than £30 million for the U.K.’s National Health Service. They also recently reported the COVID-19 death of Auschwitz survivor Henri Kichka.
We take the good with the bad. The bad is being provided for us, so I’ll try to provide a little of the good with these recommendations.
Reading: Alan Furst’s Spy Novels
It turns out not much WWII literature makes for light reading, which I probably should have figured. If you do want something heavier that really puts things in perspective, I would recommend the memoir “With the Old Breed” by Eugene Sledge, who served in the Marine Corps on Peleliu and Okinawa.
For something a little lighter, I recommend the spy novels of Alan Furst. None of them are too heavy, but they are vastly entertaining page-turners full of great history. Furst has clearly done an absurd amount of research and has an eye for the minutia.
These novels focus on espionage and resistance in occupied Europe, but he frequently sets books in countries that tend to go overlooked: Hungary, Romania, Poland, the Balkans. It helps the reader appreciate that this war happened pretty much everywhere, and we’ve only scratched the surface of stories to tell.
Most of these are available for curbside pickup or online from The Community Library or the Hailey Public Library.
Viewing: “The Best Years of Our Lives”
This 1946 classic stars Fredric March, Myrna Loy and Dana Andrews; it’s directed by William Wyler; it won seven Oscars, including Best Picture; it is, quite simply, one of the best films ever made.
The story follows three soldiers coming home to the same small town in the aftermath of World War II—production began just seven months after the end of the war—and recounts the different joys and hardships each one faces.
One of its most noteworthy qualities is the Oscar-winning performance by non-actor Harold Russell, a real-life veteran who lost his hands during the war, replacing them with hooks. The Academy gave him an honorary award “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans,” figuring he had little chance of winning the actual acting award. Of course, he did, making it the only time in Oscar history that two awards have been given for the same performance.
“The Best Years of Our Lives” is currently available to watch for free on Archive.org. All 168 minutes of it.
Listening: Symphony No. 7, Beethoven (or “Autobahn” by Kraftwerk)
Beethoven composed this piece of true artistic genius as Europe—and because this was an age of empires, the entire world—teetered on the edge of disaster. Napoleon, like Hitler just over a century later, came so close to total conquest, but as they both learned the hard way, people tend not to take too kindly to being conquered.
Symphony No. 7 has to be one of the best compositions ever and—if you’ll forgive me the bad joke—easily ranks in my top 10 favorite Beethoven symphonies. Pieces like this remind us not only of our ability to create true art during times of crisis, but also of our strength to overcome such global catastrophes as war, plague, famine—anything the cosmos can throw at us.
Oh, and if you want to go in a slightly different direction, Kraftwerk founder Florian Schneider died earlier this week at the age of 73. A very long and diverse list of artists including David Bowie, Duran Duran, Daft Punk, Jay-Z, Coldplay and Depeche Mode listed this groundbreaking German synth group as an influence.
For the Kids: The Book Beat
Or, “For the Teens,” rather. The Community Library has been asking students in grades 6-12 to write book reviews for them, to be published and shared online.
The process is quite simple: pick a book, read it, write a short review of about 250 words, turn it in. Librarian DeAnn Campbell will review it, make a few edits and send it back. For students who then make the appropriate changes and resubmit, the review will not only be published, but The Community Library will pay the literary critics $25 a pop.
Since there’s a little uncertainty surrounding summer jobs at the moment (as there is uncertainty surrounding just about everything), the library sees this as an opportunity to cover some of that loss for its younger patrons.
Learn more at comlib.org/book-beat.