Synopses & Reviews
The "German question" haunts the modern world: How could so civilized a nation be responsible for the greatest horror in Western history? In this unusual fusion of personal memoir and history, the celebrated scholar Fritz Stern refracts the question through the prism of his own life. Born in the Weimar Republic, exposed to five years of National Socialism before being forced into exile in 1938 in America, he became a world-renowned historian whose work opened new perspectives on the German past.
Stern brings to life the five Germanys he has experienced: Weimar, the Third Reich, postwar West and East Germanys, and the unified country after 1990. Through his engagement with the nation from which he and his family fled, he shows that the tumultuous history of Germany, alternately the strength and the scourge of Europe, offers political lessons for citizens everywhere--especially those facing or escaping from tyranny. In this wise, tough-minded, and subtle book, Stern, himself a passionately engaged citizen, looks beyond Germany to issues of political responsibility that concern everyone. Five Germanys I Have Known vindicates his belief that, at its best, history is our most dramatic introduction to a moral civic life.
"In 1944, upon visiting the desolate ruins of Stalingrad, Gen. Charles de Gaulle reportedly said, with a touch of awe, 'Quel peuple!' He was referring not to the Russians but to France and Russia's mutual enemy, the Germans. According to Stern (Einstein's German World), former provost of Columbia University and among the most venerable of America's German historians, de Gaulle grasped the 'deep ambiguity that hovers around German greatness': Germans were not only the destroyers of historic Europe but also its creators. In this fascinating memoir, Stern looks back over the 'five Germanys' his generation has seen the Weimar Republic, Nazi tyranny, the post-1945 Federal Republic, the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic and, lastly, the reunited Germany of the present and explains how he came to reconcile himself with his birth country (which his Jewish family fled in 1938) as it has come to terms with its new place in today's more cohesive and peaceful Europe. His history, says Stern, can be read as 'a text for political and moral lessons, as a drama in dread and hope.' The book's intriguing structure makes it a wonderful combination of history, memoir, analysis and even poetry." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It is not an exaggeration to say that, for both Americans and Germans, Stern is a living national treasure--a revered historian whose historical masterworks have illuminated The German Question and helped us to understand that nation's complex and tortured soul. When he accompanied me to Germany as my Senior Advisor (I was then ambassador), he was treated like a rock star; people carried his books in their knapsacks for him to autograph. Now he sums up his life--as an American born in Germany. Through his own story, he illuminates again, this time in a deeply moving and personal light, two very different countries where he has left such an enduring mark. This is an important memoir, certain to become a classic." --Richard Holbrooke
"Though the 20th Century was the "American Century", Fritz Stern takes us on a journey that give us pause in that historical assessment. Behind most of the signal events of the last century--World Wars I and II, the Cold War, and even the founding of the state of Israel--you will find either a direct German hand or a compelling cause and effect. Fritz Sterns new book takes our understanding of Germany and its role in events that have affected mankind for the last hundred years to new levels. It is a must read!"
--Milt Bearden, former CIA official and author of The Main Enemy.
"Based on the experiences of his family and himself as well as on his long and distinguished career as a historian, Fritz Stern's Five Germanys I have Known is at once a deeply personally and a rigorously scholarly book. No one is better able to explain the complex blend of accomplishment and disaster that has characterized Germany's modern history." --James Sheehan, Stanford University "A wonderful book: an interpretation of modern Germany by its greatest living historian and a rare memoir of a twentieth-century life by a man superbly qualified to make sense of his own experiences. Fritz Stern's pointed reflections upon the fragility of democratic liberties and the unpredictable ease with which they can wither and die should be required reading for every informed citizen." --Tony Judt, author of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 "Professor Stern's memoir is a diary of reason, recording an unsentimental faith in freedom born of brutality and nurtured by the rigorous study of history. One of Germany's unwitting gifts to America, he continues to enrich both societies with scholarly and purposeful appeals to the better nature of each." --Max Frankel "This brilliant and insightful volume of memories and analyses of 'The Five Germanys' he has known is a treasure to teachers and students of contemporary history." --Elie Wiesel "From growing up in a vanished Germany to serving as Allen Ginsberg's college debating team partner to being apparently the first historian-in-residence at a U.S. embassy, Fritz Stern's has been a remarkable life. Readers of this intriguing book are extremely lucky that he disobeyed the advice given to him as a young man by Albert Einstein: to study medicine and not history."
--Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost "Five Germanys I Have Known is a fascinating memoir by a historian meditating on the changes he has witnessed in Germany and Europe. The book is filled with insight, drama, and wisdom."
--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
"This book demonstrates once again that Fritz Stern is a master historian of contemporary Germany, an 'involved spectator' of its cultural and political evolution and, at the same time, an enchanting narrator of the course of his own life with its manifold, scholarly, and public facets."
--Saul Friedlander, Professor of History, University of California, Los Angeles "Five Germanys I Have Known is a wise and deeply moving memoir by a human being and scholar of exceptional quality, as well as an astute guide to Germany of the last seventy-five years."
--Louis Begley Praise for Fritz Stern: "Fritz Stern is a living national treasure--in both Germany and the United States." --Ambassador Richard Holbrooke Praise for Gold and Iron:"An extraordinary book, an invaluable contribution to our understanding of Germany in the second half of the 19th century." --Stanley Hoffman, Washington Post Book World Praise for Einstein's German World:
"A fascinating portrayal of the ambiguities, contradictions and vicissitudes of German-Jewish scientists in the first decades of the century. Through the prism of their private lives, we come to understand something about the fabric of this world that no abstract social or cultural theory can provide. But it was a bright and shining moment, and we should thank Fritz Stern for bringing it back to life so vividly." --The Wall Street Journal
World-renowned historian Stern brings to life the five Germanys he has experienced: Weimar, the Third Reich, postwar West and East Germanys, and the unified country after 1990. He shows that the tumultuous history of Germany--alternately the strength and the scourge of Europe--offers political lessons for citizens everywhere.
About the Author
Fritz Stern, University Professor Emeritus and former provost at Columbia University, is the author of many works of European history, including Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder and the Building of the German Empire and Einstein’s German World.