Posts Tagged ‘best’

The 23 best war movies

April 9th, 2015

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) / Lewis Milestone

Winner of two Oscars in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front explored how the Great War affected young soldiers. With minimal dialogue the film focuses on acting and cinematography to portray the horrors of war. Allegedly, during the film’s showings in Germany, the Nazis interrupted screenings by shouting martial slogans and releasing rats into the theatres.

Picture: Everett Collection/REX

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Publishing Mein Kampf is the best way to undermine Hitler’s poison

February 25th, 2015

A manga version of the book was published in Japan

3) Mein Kampf is an important historical document. It is arguably invaluable reading for students who wish to understand the way that a significant minority of Germans thought in the 1920s and 1930s, thus helping contemporary readers to understand the social conditions that made the Third Reich possible.

4) Perversely, making Mein Kampf available in this format could be a useful weapon against the Far Right. The Far Right often try to whitewash the Nazi era by claiming that a) the Holocaust never happened, b) what little persecution of the Jews that did take place did so without Hitler’s direct order and c) the Third Reich was the victim of Western aggression and never wanted a world war. Reading Mein Kampf rubbishes all these claims. Hitler clearly states that Jews are part of a grand conspiracy to destroy Germany through Marxism and racial impurity, and that they have to be purged form society. He uses language that eerily predicts the horrors of Auschwitz when stating that the First World War could have been won: “If at the beginning of the War… twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas.” Likewise, he proposes that Germans require lebensraum in Europe – a living space that would become the goal of eastward expansion in 1939. In short, while Hitler was certainly an opportunist and his state surprisingly decentralised in structure, he operated by a clear ideological vision that is laid out in Mein Kampf.

5) Subjected to proper critical analysis, Mein Kampf reads like an absurd, paranoid, semi-illiterate pamphlet – it debunks itself. George Orwell’s scathing review nailed it: “The initial, personal cause of [Hitler’s] grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to.”

The challenge of reading Mein Kampf in hindsight is to try to understand how something so obviously wrong and so clearly the product of a broken, third-rate mind could bring about the Götterdämmerung of Europe.

The answer is partly that it didn’t. The Hitler of Mein Kampf, the Hitler of the 1920s, was quickly discredited and, as Weimar’s economy improved, looked like an irrelevance. Only when the Depression hit, and the German establishment was looking for a weapon to smash the Left with, was Hitler reluctantly invited into power. And what democratic support he enjoyed he enjoyed in part because he pledged peace and played down some of the rhetoric one wades through in Mein Kampf.

If Mein Kampf is presented in proper, scholarly fashion then it can be made clear that it is not a black bible – an unholy writ of immense, dark magical powers – but an important historical artifact that helps us understand what went so terribly wrong in an apparently civilised society. History understood is history conquered.

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Foyle’s War: Even for the best TV shows, there’s an ideal time to go

January 14th, 2015

So how do you know when your TV series has reached the end of its natural life? In some cases, the answer is obvious. Poirot, for example, was clearly over once it had adapted all the Poirot stories.

Elsewhere, though, the trick, as pulled off by Inspector Morse and now, I’d suggest, Foyle’s War, is surely to finish before – but only just before – the viewers realise that the scripts are starting to repeat themselves. Otherwise, you end up like Old Tricks.

But equally important as when is how. Get the final episode right, as Poirot triumphantly did, and you remind the viewers why they liked your programme so much. Get it wrong, and you could well resurrect all their long-buried reservations about it.

Even Seinfeld, one of the greatest sitcoms of them all, ended with such a stark reminder of the show’s only real flaw – a tendency to be a little too pleased with itself – that you began to wonder if it had really been so great all along. (It had, but you needed to watch several old episodes to prove it.) The conclusion of Miranda, for example, confirmed that the series – however enjoyable early on – had always been in danger of becoming an annoyingly smug celebration of itself.

Friends did exactly what was required, by stretching Ross and Rachel’s will-they-won’t-they? storyline almost to breaking point, but not beyond. Even so, for my money, the show with the best final episode of them all was Cheers. It, too, stretched the will-they-won’t-they? over Sam and Diane almost to breaking point, but not beyond. Instead of their walking off into the sunset, Sam was seen alone, tidying his bar one last time, as a would-be punter appeared at the door. “Sorry,” said Sam, “we’re closed.” Beat that, Mr Horowitz.

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Holocaust survivor: ‘I did my best acting during the war – it deserved an Oscar’

October 29th, 2014

Ruth, 84, is acting out the story of how she escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto.

She lived there with her parents, and tells me: “The unfortunate story is that my father wanted to save me.”

Her father helped Ruth and her aunt – whose two children had already been killed by the Nazis – get a job working at a leather factor outside the ghetto. He also managed to acquire false passports for the women, giving them Catholic names and identities.

The plan was for the pair to escape during one of their regular trips to the bathhouse, where workers were taken weekly.

“We were marched with guards on each side and marched back again,” explains Ruth. “On one of those events my aunt had the false passports. She explained to me, ‘this is my chance’.”

The two of them managed to run out of the bathhouse and on to the Aryan side of the road. “It was sheer luck. It was always, you might be lucky and you might not be. But it was worth taking that chance.

“Like a cat, I have many lives, I think.”

‘My life in Poland was finished’

Ruth aged nine

For the next year or so, Ruth and her aunt pretended to be Catholic. It wasn’t as challenging as it might have been for others. Ruth did not ‘look Jewish’ and her not particularly religious family had already assimilated to Polish life.

Ruth’s parents were tragically taken to Treblinka, the concentration camp, where they died. She believes that they always had plans to follow her, but were deported before they had a chance to put them into action.

The rest of her story is not told in the play.

When she was 13, Warsaw was evacuated and Ruth was moved to Germany.

“We were taken as prisoners of war to Germany, but not as Jews. As Christians,” she tells me.

“It was very very cold in the winter and we had to clean the snow away from a railway. This was kind of my school. It wasn’t as bad as being in a concentration camp like Auschwitz or Treblinka, where my parents died. But you know, it wasn’t a piece of cake. We weren’t tortured, we were not beaten. But the circumstances were not easy.”

When the war ended, she went to England and has lived here ever since. Her aunt eventually returned to Poland but Ruth decided not to follow.

“My life in Poland was finished,” she says. “There was no one left for me.

“I was asked what I wanted and I said that I wanted to be schooled. My schooling had been totally disrupted. Of course I didn’t speak a word of English. But I was still young so I learnt quite quickly.”

That was also when Ruth started to deal with everything that she had gone through.

“When I came to this country at the tender age of 16, one goes through different emotions. There’s a bit of, ‘I survived and I feel a bit guilty because everyone is gone’. But at that age you actually want to put the past away from you and move forward.

“I didn’t want to be a victim and I didn’t want to be different from anyone else.”

‘Your best acting? That was in the war’

Ruth dancing on a beach in Tel Aviv

“I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to learn the language as fast as I could and be a teenager like everyone else. The only thing that distinguished me from others was that I was a bit more serious.

“I wasn’t looking for boys and flirtations – but I made up for it later in life.”

Ruth went on to become one of the first members of the London Contemporary Dance Company, where she worked for 17 years. She met her husband Mike at a tea dance there and went on to have a son – who sadly died at the age of 37.

Then, during her forties, she made the switch from dance to drama.

She told her aunt about this decision. her reaction? “’I thought you already did your most wonderful performance, you’ll never match that.”

Ruth laughs: “She referred to the fact that I had to keep changing my character [during the war], and that was my best performance, my best acting, for which I should have got an Oscar.”

She went on to have a successful acting career, but this is the first time that Ruth is acting out her own story on stage. She has played Holocaust survivors before, but never herself.

So how does it feel to relive those memories in such a public way?

‘I didn’t want it to be a public confession’

“The idea was very strange and I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to do it,” she says.

“Initially I just thought ‘I’m not really interesting enough’. Give me a character I can hide inside of – it’s much more comfortable than revealing my own experiences. But actually it’s proving to be incredibly satisfying. It’s kind of getting rid of the onion skin and getting to the core of something.

“I didn’t want it to be a public confession and make people feel sorry for me because I was the victim of the second world war. I didn’t want that. You can’t recollect all the memories and indulge in them. It has become something that is your text and you’re dealing with it now as an actor. You know what you’re revealing but you sort of have to distance yourself from it, or it will be confessional self-indulgence.“

This refusal to be the victim seems to sum up much of Ruth’s survival instinct. She refuses to do so in her art, she hated doing it as a teenager coming to London, and she clearly differentiates between being a victim of a personal tragedy, and one of history.

“I often think about this. I was not a victim of personal family problem.

“I’m a product of the tragedy of history – I think it’s much more difficult when you’re the victim of a personal tragedy.

“I was part of six million others. It wasn’t happening only to me. The basis of my life that I remember was a happy childhood. That’s why I’m not bananas.”

‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ is on at the Southwark Playhouse from 29 October to 15 November

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The best remembrance and battlefield tours

August 6th, 2014

Travelling over 450 miles along the Western Front from the Belgian coast to the border of Switzerland, the seven- or nine-day itinerary includes the vestiges of several battlefields: memorials, cemeteries, trenches and museums. The seven-day tour, departing on August 25, is now reduced to £499 (from £620), while the nine-day tour (which allows more time in Nancy and Reims) departs on various dates between April and September 2015, from £799, including coach travel.

British troops go over the top during the Battle of the Somme

3. Corners of a Foreign Field
Titan (0800 988 5823;

With four nights in Lille, this tour focuses on the Flanders battlefields and Ypres and Passchendaele between 1914 and 1917. Two expert guides accompany the tour, Rhydian Vaughan (a former Welsh Guards officer and war historian) and Barrie Friend. Limited places are currently available on the September 18 tour, but there are plenty of other departures until October 2015. Prices start at £895 including coach travel.

4. First Ypres and the Christmas Truce
Holt Tours (01293 865000;

This wintertime itinerary is guided by an expert First World War lecturer, Simon Jones, who explains the gruelling, month-long First Battle of Ypres, including the Christmas Truce, examining the conflicting accounts of the famous football match and whether it really took place. The three-day tour departs on December 12 2014, and costs from £535 with Eurotunnel crossing.

5. Bruges and The Battlefields of Ypres
Great Rail Journeys (01904 891215;

A leisurely itinerary allows plenty of time to explore the sights of Bruges, however, the third day packs in the key monuments of Ypres, including Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Bayernwald trenches and the “In Flanders Fields” museum. The five-day tour departs on September 7, 14, 28 and October 19, 2014 (note that availability is limited for September 14 departure). Prices from £495 including travel by Eurostar.

6. Battlefield Weekend
Back Roads Touring (020 8987 0990;

An insight into the major involvement of British and Commonwealth forces is compressed into three days and aims to give participants an understanding of strategies at the Somme, Villers-Bretonneux and Vimy Ridge. The three-day tour departs on various dates from September to October 2014 and from April to October 2015. Prices from £595, excluding travel from the UK.

7. Western Front and Ypres
Bartletts Battlefield Journeys (01507 523128;

These all-inclusive, tailor-made tours to the Western Front and Ypres are planned around the requirements and interests of individual guests (outline itineraries are available), in groups of up to seven people. Tours depart regularly until mid-December 2014 and cost from £845 (for three days).

8. First World War Battlefields
Insight Vacations (0800 533 5622;

Starting in Paris, the itinerary includes a visit to Flanders and the Ypres Salient (including Hill 60, Polygon Wood, Tyne Cot Cemetery and the Last Post sounded at the Menin Gate). It continues to the Somme and a visit to the Franco-British memorial at Thiepval. The four-day tour departs on various dates until mid-October 2014, and costs from £685 per person, excluding travel to Paris.

9. First and Last Shots: Mons in the First World War
Battlefield Breaks (02920 761379;

This tour examines the beginning and end of the Great War, from the first shots fired by Corporal Thomas of the British Army to the canal and battlefield east of Mons where the final casualty fell. The four-day tour departs on September 19 and October 30, 2014, and costs from £279 including coach travel.

10. The Somme and Ypres
Somme Battlefield Tours (01202 880211;

Discover the battlefields at your own pace on a self-drive, tailor-made tour with a detailed guide of the key sites, road directions and historical information, including original trench maps, battlefield diagrams, panoramic and aerial photographs and descriptions. Hotels, sea crossing and local, English-speaking guides can also be arranged. The tours are available throughout the year and prices depend on individual requirements.

Britain declared war on Germany 100 years ago this week

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This article was first published on November 10, 2013, and updated in full, with new recommendations, on August 5, 2014.

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Best war and history books of all time

May 4th, 2014

Edward Gibbon (1776-1789)

“History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortune of mankind,” Gibbons wrote in this classic history tracing the Roman Empire from the 1st Century BC to the 15th AD. Vast, learned, opinionated, and witty, it is an absolute epic.

A Farewell to Arms

Ernest Hemingway (1929)

Set in the Italian theatre during the FirstWorldWar, Hemingway’s short, powerful, semiautobiographical novel is guaranteed to make any grown man cry, but it is also a penetrating study of camaraderie in the face of danger and is, as you’d expect, beautifully written in telling sentences.

1066 and All That

W C Sellar and R J Yeatman (1930)

Subtitled “A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates” 1066… is a tongue in cheek send-up of the way history used to be taught, and may yet be again.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque (1929)

“This book is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure”: so begins the remarkable semiautobiographical, humane and poignant novel about Remarque’s experiences in the trenches and back in Germany after the war.

Legion of the Damned

Sven Hassel (1953)

Written in highly suspicious circumstances by a highly suspicious author (or perhaps his wife, or editor) this is the first in a series of novels that became cartoonish, yet for all that it packs immense power, describing the misadventures of a group of German soldiers on the Eastern Front.

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples

Winston Churchill (1956-1958)

A magisterial, if patchy, four-part history of Britain from Anglo-Saxon times to 1914, it was begun in 1937 but subsequently much delayed. Subjective, erratic, with a romantic view of the world, it is full of character and incident, and is beautifully written.

Sword of Honour Trilogy

Evelyn Waugh (1952-1961)

Loosely autobiographical, this three-part meandering, tragic-comic farce paints a convincingly chaotic picture of the British muddling their way to winning the war. It is beautifully world weary and cynical, as the hapless hero is buffeted by the forces of class, waste, spite, cowardice and inefficiency.

A History of the Crusades

Steven Runciman (1951-1954)

A classic three-part history of the crusades written with such elegance and dash, one might think he was making it all up. Historians have since frowned on his technique, and recent research has revealed some factual flaws, yet Runciman remains required reading.

The Making of the Middle Ages

R W Southern (1953)

Written while the author thought he had only a short time left to live, this concise and unadorned primer has become a classic introduction to how Europeans lived in the early middle ages


Joseph Heller (1961)

The blackest and yet funniest book ever written on any subject. The “hero” is a bomber pilot flying sorties over Italy where thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him, but it is not them he’s most frightened of: it’s his own side who seem determined to do the job themselves.

The Guns of August

Barbara W Tuchman (1962)

Tuchman was awarded the first of two Pulitzer Prizes for this superb analysis of how and why the European powers went to war in 1914, and what could have been done to stop them. Tuchman enlivens the complex issue to make the book as compulsive as any thriller.


Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

A satire of more than just war, Slaughterhouse-5 mixes elements of science fiction with the novel’s central event: the bombing of Dresden in 1945. Vonnegut was there at the time, an American PoW, who survived the fire storm by sheltering in a slaughterhouse.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Dee Brown (1970)

Following the heartbreaking travails of the American Indians from their first contact with white settlers until the massacre atWounded Knee, Dee Brown’s book covers what was in effect their ethnic cleansing by the American Government.

The Face of Battle

John Keegan (1976)

The late John Keegan dissects the ordinary soldier’s experience in three key battles from English history: Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme and shows how, despite the technological changes, what is asked of a man in war remains fundamentally the same. An absolute classic of the genre.

Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village 1294-1324

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1978)

A ground-breaking micro-history of a small French village, researched from the records of a local inquisitor who went on to become Pope. Revelatory of the medieval mindset, as well as more general society.

A Bright Shining Lie

Neil Sheehan (1988)

The life and death of an American colonel who went to Vietnam in the 1960s, didn’t like what he saw – cowardice and incompetence, rather than a wrong war – and so went on to tell the world’s press about it. A fascinating study, not just of the war but of a man.

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

Christopher R Browning (1992)

Browning uses records to show how an ordinary group of men became involved in the Final Solution and how just as easily humanity in general might be perverted to evil.


Dava Sobel (1998)

Responsible for many copycat histories of previously overlooked trifles, Dava Sobel’s diminutive masterpiece describes 18th-century British clock maker John Harrison’s invention of a timepiece accurate enough to measure longitude at sea.

The Discovery of France

Graham Robb (2007)

A very different France to the one we think we know emerges from Graham Robb’s unconventional history: one that is impossibly rural, remote, and insular, where no two villages speak the same dialect and peasants hibernate through the winter. The shock is how recently this was the case.


Tacitus (100-110 AD)

The Good Soldier Svejk

Jaroslav Hašek (1923)

The Naked and the Dead

Norman Mailer (1948)


Michael Herr (1977)


Sebastian Faulks (1993)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Louis de Bernières (1994)

Regeneration Trilogy

Pat Barker (1991-1995)

Europe: A history

Norman Davies (1996)

Guns, Germs and Steel

Jared Diamond (1997)

The Siege

Helen Dunmore (2001)

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson (2003)


Ian Kershaw (2008)

The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War

Antony Beevor (1982)

Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire

David Cannadine (2001)

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Simon Schama (1989)

IN PICTURES: The most spectacular libraries in the world

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The 20 best war movies

April 29th, 2014

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) / Lewis Milestone

Winner of two Oscars in 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front explored how the Great War affected young soldiers. With minimal dialogue the film focuses on acting and cinematography to portray the horrors of war. Allegedly, during the film’s showings in Germany, the Nazis interrupted screenings by shouting martial slogans and releasing rats into the theatres.

Picture: PR

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