This is the second collection by the authors of weird stories gleaned from the events of the Second World War. Their first collection, Weird War Two, was published in 2018, and this title follows the same format: small chapters that outline a curious fact or tale. The second book doesn’t follow on from the first, it’s not imperative to have read the first title at all, and both can be enjoyed separately.
Like its predecessor, Weirder War Two doesn’t break new ground in the sense of revealing anything new. The authors have not spent hours studying archives or prising documents from governments through FOIA. But that is not what they set out to do and it’s not the value of this book. Rather, both titles seek to introduce the reader to little known, and yet fascinating, stories. Readers are then free if they like to search out more information on any they might be interested in.
A good example of this is the first story in the title, The Avengers, which details the efforts of Jewish resistance fighters and vigilantes to avenge the holocaust by killing Nazis after the war. The chapter gives a good overview, including recounting the plot to poison Nazi prisoners held in an American POW camp near Nuremberg. If anyone reading this wants to know more they can soon find books that cover the story in more detail (such as the excellent history of Israel’s targeted killings, Rise and Kill First, written by the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, while it mostly focuses on assassination by Mossad and other Israeli intelligence services and special forces, early chapters focus on The Avengers and similar groups). But that said, the overview in Weirder War Two is a good and concise introduction to the topic.
As with its predecessor, Weirder War Two contains a variety of topics that run the full gamut of the Second World War. Some are funny, some ridiculous, some fascinating, some heartrending, and some horrific. Bamse the Dog and Wojtek the Bear are heartwarming stories of animals that were adopted by fighting units and became mascots to their men. But I challenge anyone to read The Shrunken Heads of Buchenwald and not feel nauseous.
There are many chapters that span the emotions between these two extremes, but it is perhaps tales like the latter, challenging though they are to read, that explains the enduring fascination of World War II. No conflict before or since has produced so many books. Even the First World War, which rivalled the second in its carnage, has failed to produce the weight of pages dedicated to its chronicling. There’s a sentence in the chapter on The Shrunken Heads of Buchenwald that I think explains this: “A civilised western nation, a Christian state, had experimented and shrunk a man’s head.”
While this sentence refers to the moral outrage the Nazi’s atrocities provoked, it speaks to the Second World War as a whole. That a modern nation such as Germany had fallen into the grip of utter psychotic insanity is something the world is still trying to explain. All the tales in this book arise from that insanity – the heartwarming to the horrific – they all occurred due to that mass psychosis.
In conclusion, like the authors’ previous outing, Weirder War Two is a fascinating collection. It’s the kind of book you can dip into, and no matter one’s knowledge of the conflict readers are sure to find something surprising among its pages.
James Pierson 4/2
Weirder War Two by Richard Denham and Michael Jecks
9781071385333 pbk Jun 2019