Having grown up with a father who fought in World War Two gave me an insight into that terrible conflict.
If I did an exam on European history from 1939 to ’45 I’d probably get quite a high score.
If I did an exam on European history from 1945-47 I’d be a total flop.
However that period, particularly the first year after the cessation of hostilities has held an increasing interest for me.
What happens when men stop shooting each other?
My dad wasn’t much use on this period as he was flying planes around India immediately after the war.
An old family friend who recently passed away was an officer in the British Army stationed in German during and immediately after the war. His photograph album was fascinating and horrifying.
As a man in his mid twenties he arrived at the gates of a camp somewhere in Germany and witnessed first hand a truly nightmarish vision of Fascism.
I will never forget the day he let me look at the pictures, I would have been 13 or 14 years old and it’s not something you can forget.
There is something far more personal seeing pictures taken by someone you know, small black and white Kodak images stuck in the classic 1950’s family album with the little red triangle stickers holding them in place.
Piles of bodies as high as a house, rows after rows of bodies on the ground, the shrunken forms of the emaciated living staring at the camera.
But he also had pictures of charming towns in rural Germany where the scars of war were barely in evidence, often towns quite close to the camps.
‘Surely they must have known it was happening?’ I asked
‘They all knew.’ He said grimly. ‘They claimed they didn’t, but of course they knew.’
Then I recently watched a wonderful German film on Netflix.
It’s called Lore and stars a very talented young German actress called Saskia Rosendahl.
It is set in May 1945 just after the fall of the Third Reich.
Her father is an SS officer, her mother is a fervent Nazi and the kids are all perfect Aryan specimens.
Lore is very much a young girl’s view of the obscenities of war, of a young soul emerging from the vile corruption of the Nazi mind-set.
The film gives a taste of the utter devastation, confusion and chaos that must have been experienced by the people of Europe in those first few months, terrible losses, chronic hunger, revenge killings, mass denial and the eyes of the world looking at you from such moral high ground you couldn’t hope to reach.
So when I visit Germany now, which I love to do, it is with enormous respect at what they have achieved since this hideous period of their history.
Although my generation of Brits seem still obsessed with the conflict, still making Heil Hitler salutes at the very mention of Germany, the German people have moved on.
No longer in denial but looking ahead and achieving amazing things.
I haven’t of course mentioned the Russians who made victory over the Third Reich possible, or the mind numbing cruelty of the Stalin regime, or the terrible crimes inflicted on the German population by Soviet forces, that’s a whole other story.
But if you get the chance to watch Lore, take it.