Friday, December 27, 2013

Terror Before Dawn: A Child at War

Anne Raghnild Fagerberg was just a child when the Germans invaded Norway in 1940. Yet she never forgot those years of terror and oppression, and she documented them in a handwritten manuscript that her son later turned into the memoir, Terror Before Dawn: A Child at War.

Born into a family of privilege, Anne enjoyed life at her family's villa in a suburb of Oslo. Yet their peace was quickly shattered when the Nazis invaded. Life under German occupation was strange and terrifying for young Anne. She vividly recalls the times she and her mother would go to Oslo and see the German soldiers all around. Gestapo visits to houses in their neighborhood became routine. Food became scarce. And the German persecution of Jews became evident.

Anne's father, Karl Ragnar Fagerberg, was the vice president of a large electric company in Oslo. But he was fiercely loyal to Norway and he became involved in the underground and resistance movements. Even though she was only seven years old, Anne began to help, too, smuggling illegal papers to specific contacts in the Resistance.

As the war carried on and the family put up with bombings, ever-dwindling food rations, and increased Nazi persecution, Anne became mature beyond her years, developing an intense hatred of the Germans and everything they stood for. Her father was taken by the Gestapo, but thankfully released, though he'd been severely beaten. Her sister was raped by two German soldiers and was never again the same, eventually having to be admitted to a mental institution.

The family continued to fight, increasing their underground and resistance activities until finally, the Germans were ousted from Norway and freedom came to the country once more. When Winston Churchill later visited, he shook Anne's father's hand and thanked him for his part in the victory over the Nazis.

Terror Before Dawn is a gripping memoir, and a quick-paced read. It offers an intimate look at Occupied Norway and contains remarkable details about everyday life. At its heart, it shows the incredible lengths one family -- and one young girl -- took to reclaim their homeland.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013 International Conference on World War 2

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana (USA) is holding their annual World War II conference starting today, November 21, 2013, and running through Saturday, November 23. The theme is "1943: Victory in the Balance." A whole host of noted historians and speakers will deliver terrific talks on this theme and engage in lively discussions. Some featured speakers include Rick Atkinson, Donald Miller, and General (Ret.) David Petraeus.

But don't worry if you can't make it. You can watch the entire thing on your computer, LIVE, for FREE.

Next to attending in person, this is the next best thing!

For more information, visit the website at:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

A  few words of thanks...a smile...a handshake.

Little things can mean so much. So today, thank a veteran, smile, shake their hand. Remember those who have fallen. And most importantly, never forget.

God bless our veterans for their valor...their courage...and their sacrifice.

Friday, November 08, 2013

WW2 News Round-Up

WW2-Themed Christmas Cards

A friend on Twitter designed some WW2-themed Christmas cards. They are fun, lighthearted, and full of good cheer! I love them. To order these cards, visit her blog here:


I'm under contract with The History Press to write a book on the POW camps in Nebraska during World War II. I'm happy to say that I'm making good progress with it despite health challenges this year and other assorted obstacles.

The book will be out mid-2014.

New National WWII Memorial App

Wow. This is pretty cool.

"Discover the WWII Memorial on the National Mall with the first-of-its-kind free WWII Memorial Mobile app available for download on iTunes and Google Play.
The World War II Memorial app enables users to explore the history behind the memorial and the millions of Americans it honors. The app has straightforward navigation with easy-to-use features and breathtaking photography of the Memorial.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Scrappers: How the Heartland Won World War II

In early 1942, America was incredibly unprepared for the war. We needed to build tanks, airplanes, trucks, guns, and other war materials. President Roosevelt called for the production of these war materials and the goals were ambitious - so ambitious, in fact, that meeting the quota bordered on the impossible. Metal was in short supply and thus, the government decided to launch a campaign to encourage Americans to turn in their junk scrap metal.

Unfortunately, their campaign was a complete failure, and the scrap shortage bordered on the critical. Henry Doorly, the publisher of the Omaha World Herald, decided to do something about it. And that's what Scrappers: How the Heartland Won World War II is about.

Doorly and his staff organized a scrap drive for the state of Nebraska. Each county would compete against each other, per capita, for three weeks to see which county could gather the most scrap metal. Prizes would be awarded at the end of the three weeks. Doorly went on the radio to announce the drive and information appeared in local and regional newspapers.

The response was overwhelming. In those three weeks, Nebraskans filled their town scrap heaps with thousands of pounds of scrap metal. Children went door to door to collect scrap. Farmers turned in old farm machinery. Even the Omaha World Herald found several old printing presses to donate to the cause.

By the end of the three week period, Nebraskans had contributed 67,000 tons of scrap. The success of the drive was noticed by others around the country, including the president. Doorly wrote a manual for how to conduct scrap drives called the Nebraska Plan and distributed it to newspaper publishers around the country. This led to a nation-wide scrap drive.

The documentary features numerous Nebraska residents - even Johnny Carson - who participated in the scrap drives. Their sense of pride and patriotism for contributing to the war effort is obvious, and indeed, their efforts made it possible for war production to stay on track and even surpass their quotas.

What is interesting, however, is how the documentary juxtaposes the World War II homefront to the homefront of today following the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The filmmakers ask an important question: would American citizens today respond in the same way if the government asked them to sacrifice for the nation? Would citizens do without?

In the film, historians and Nebraska scrap participants alike unanimously say that no, American citizens do not have the same type of unity that we experienced during World War II. And that's rather sad.

It did not surprise me to hear this point of view and I do, in fact, agree with it. As some historians pointed out in this documentary, many Nebraskans didn't like President Roosevelt, but it didn't matter when it came to supporting the war effort. They did what had to be done regardless of politics. Can we say the same today?

Scrappers is a terrific documentary, one that shows how, when people choose to come together for a common goal, they truly can make a difference.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Follow D-Day As It Unfolded

Tomorrow, June 6, is the 69th anniversary of D-Day. Thanks to the miracle of Twitter, you have a terrific opportunity to watch D-Day unfold in real time through the viewpoints of seven different 'characters.'

Check out the site here and relive history!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cook Tojo's Goose!

Apologies for the lack of posts here at The Best of World War II. Life has a way of shoving fun things like this to the back of the pile. I've been busy working on a lot of writing projects, including gathering research for my upcoming book on the POW camps in Nebraska during World War II.

So for today, I wanted to showcase a few of the funnier World War II propaganda posters. You have to love how completely entwined the advertising industry was with the war itself.

And, of course, a modern-day pun.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"The Ducktators" - 1942

Cartoon studios created some terrific propaganda pieces during World War II. Posters featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck urged people to get in the fight, buy war bonds, and keep their morale high.

Cartoons were also a great medium to get the message across. The one featured below, "The Ducktators", is from 1942 and tells the story of three "ducktators" - i.e. Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. The parody is spot on, and though by today's standards, some of it could be considered racist, it is definitely a product of its time.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

BBC Documentary: Nazis: A Warning from History

Though it was made in 1997, the six-part BBC documentary, Nazis: A Warning from History should be required viewing for not just World War II history buffs, but everyone. I don't say this lightly because "required" is a loaded word, and what one person believes should be required is another person's propaganda.

But I will make an exception for this.

Laurence Rees wrote and produced this series, and if you know who Rees is, you'll realize you're dealing with an expert in World War II history. In short, he's brilliant. In addition, Sir Ian Kershaw, one of the most noted historians on the Third Reich, was the historical consultant. What does this mean? It means you will get an objective, honest, no-holds-barred look at the Third Reich from two men who know its history inside and out.

Broken down into six parts, this documentary takes an in-depth look at how the Nazis came to power in Germany, the structure of their government (very disorganized), their relentless propaganda, Hitler's bizarre hold on everyone from children to high-ranking Nazi officials, the origins of the Final Solution, and how Germany became a racist state.

Archival footage, photographs, and recordings of Hitler's speeches sometimes make for hard viewing, but it is necessary. The series also draws on Nazi documents that were discovered in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union that offer further damning evidence to Nazi atrocities.

Survivors of the Nazis' brutality are interviewed, but it is the interviews with former Nazi party members, Wermacht soldiers, SS men, and even one of Hitler's secretaries that make this a truly original piece of documentary history. Though years have passed, many still justify their behavior, and it is fascinating to see how some skirt the question of responsibility.

One of the conclusions drawn from this documentary is that ordinary Germans were allowed to undertake and express sadistic fantasies against other human beings simply because the very morality of their government not only did nothing to stop it, but encouraged it. When the moral framework of a society disintegrates, those who wish to exercise their dark sides have free reign. Those who want to stand up against it must have incredible courage to do so.

But herein lies the question that continues to plague us all - how could such a cultured nation stoop to such horrors? My theory: Because they allowed the collapse. Indeed, it was easier to let the State do the thinking for them then to think and judge for themselves. Critical thinking skills disappeared as they allowed themselves to be swayed by propaganda and hero worship of a man who sought to control them. They voted to end their democracy, and that is exactly what happened.

What the series does is ask a very important, simple question: Could this happen again? The answer is an unequivocal yes. To this day, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, we have those who continue to deny the Holocaust happened, downplay its severity, point to ridiculous Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracies, or continue to harbor anti-Semitism. This is why the Nazis are a warning from history, as this documentary so ably shows, and this is why we can never forget how and why they were able to create hell on Earth.

For those interested in viewing this documentary, it is available on YouTube or on the website,

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

World War II Paperless Archives

To any historian, there's nothing quite like primary documents to get the heart pumping in excitement. Sometimes getting to those primary documents is a chore, especially when you're nowhere near any federal archive or library.

That's where it's handy to let someone else do the work. BACM Research - compiles a nice selection of World War II declassified government documents, all on a handy CD.

Here's just a small list of what you can find there:

  • FBI files on Adolph Hitler
  • Artwork done by U.S. Navy war artists for D-Day
  • Winston Churchill correspondence 
  • Military field manuals
  • German U-Boat captured documents 

Prices range from around $10 per CD, and you can also purchase complete sets at a discount. No matter which way you look at it, it's a heck of a deal, and just might save you a trip to the National Archives.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Antony Beevor's The Second World War

Throughout his career, noted British historian Antony Beevor has certainly done his best to capture the truth of war. He's extensively covered the European side of the war, including Stalingrad, Berlin, and Paris following its liberation.

With the massive scope of World War II, however, Beevor certainly had his work cut out for him, yet there is no doubt that he delivered with The Second World War. It's mammoth, coming in at nearly 800 pages, and has a bibliography that's a treasure trove for any historian of World War II.

This is mostly a military history of the war rather than a social one, though Beevor includes fascinating tidbits from numerous points of view. Beevor starts with the first few months before the war in 1939, when Hitler was planning his invasion of Poland, and takes us all the way through to September 1945 and Japan's defeat.

Make no mistake about it - this is a dense book. But its chock full of details, battle tactics, personalities, and just about everything in between. Beevor devotes nearly equal time to both the European and Pacific Theaters of war. His prose isn't heavy or plodding, but highly readable. His writes of the common soldier, the politician, and the generals, weaving a solid narrative filled with tidbits of information that truly make history come alive. For example, when Hitler heard of the German surrender at Stalingrad, he apparently stared into his vegetable soup. One wonders what he saw.

Beevor's discussion of the Soviet war with Finland is particularly jarring, shedding light on a conflict that tends to disappear within the larger narrative of World War II. Likewise, he doesn't blink in describing the gruesome atrocities committed by the Japanese, Soviets, and Germans alike.

Don't be dissuaded by the thickness of this book. It's well worth your time, and though this may be a cliche to say, it belongs on every World War II historian's book shelf.