Smolensk Under the Nazis: Everyday Life in Occupied Russia

Smolensk Under the Nazis:  Everyday Life in Occupied Russia (University of Rochester Press) by Laurie R. Cohen breaks new ground for World War II junkies and people interested in the Nazi occupation of Russia and how the Communists dealt with collaborators. 

Cohen, adjunct professor at the Universities of Innsbruck and Klagenfurt, examines life during the 26 month Nazi occupation of Smolensk, a provincial capital, 220 miles west-southwest of Moscow.  In 1939 it had 157,000 residents.

The is written in academic style, more like a sociological rather than an historical study.  It borrows heavily on interviews with five survivors of the occupation, plus official Nazi and Soviet reports and newspapers.  

Most interesting is Cohen’s description of the Russian language newspaper published during the occupation by turncoat Russian journalists.   The book discusses the Katyn Forest massacre of Polish officers and the controversy whether the killers were German or Soviet, the post-war reaction of Russian civilians to the liquidation of Smolensk’s small Jewish ghetto, Soviet post-war minimization of the Jewish nature of the Holocaust, and the Soviet discrimination against small-scale collaborators, Russians forced laborers (Ostarbeiter) sent to Germany, and persons who failed to flee the Nazis.

Smolensk Under the Nazis puts a human persona to standard history.  Highly recommended. 

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Russell Long: A Life in Politics

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Russell Long:  A Life in Politics (University Press of Mississippi) by Michael S. Martin is a good read for political junkies.  Martin is the Cheryl Courrégé Burguières/Board of Regents Professor of History and the director of the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The book is a political history, rather than a biography.  Thankfully, Martin reviews Long’s life superficially, avoiding unnecessary personal details, and restricting his account to events which molded Long’s career as United States Senator from Louisiana from 1948 to 1987.  As  chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Long exercised major influence in tax legislation.  

The book is especially useful for Northerners.   Martin gives a balanced view of Russell’s father, Huey Long.   In high school and college in Philadelphia, Huey Long was described as a demagogue, who dealt in class warfare, to become the corrupt dictator of Louisiana.  We were taught that Huey Long was getting ready to run for President on a “Share the Wealth” platform, until he was assassinated at the State Capitol.  

Martin defines Huey Long as a redistributionist, who sought to build a welfare state for the struggling poor and middle class in Louisiana, financed by high taxes on big business and filthy rich.  

Russell Long was 16 years old when his father was murdered.  Though Russell Long benefited from the last name and heritage of two governors (his father Huey and Huey’s brother Earl), Russell Long was his own man, with his own views, and his own policies.

Martin explains Long’s balancing game of being a post-New Deal liberal in Washington, while maintaining his conservative credibility in Louisiana.  Martin recounts Southern opposition to civil rights legislation, culminating in George Wallace’s campaigns for president and Richard Nixon’s Southern strategies.  

Oil is Louisiana’s biggest industry.  Martin justifies Long’s support for the oil industry through tax breaks which were opposed by liberals from the rest of the country.  Martin explains Southern support for military ventures, particularly the Vietnam conflict.  Finally, Martin reviews Long’s post-Senate career as a Washington lobbyist.

This book is a good overview of Washington from the Truman through the Reagan years.  I highly recommend it.

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Michael S. Martin