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Savage Continent
Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

by Keith Lowe, Copyright 2013

Summary Copyright June 1, 2018 by
Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
The following summary is for fair use and educational purposes only.

Overview by Robert Atkins

In the United States of America most people's knowledge of the events of World War II is based on what they have been told by family members who survived World War II, or on what they have learned from history books written for American audiences. World War II continues to receive a decreasing amount of coverage in history books because other more recent events must be included in those history books, and a history book can only contain a fixed amount of information if that history book is going to be used to teach a history class in school.

History books written for American audiences usually focus on dates, places, high-ranking military people, and major battles. Since World War II was not fought on United States soil, most U.S. citizens do not appreciate that it took the continent of Europe approximately 10 years to begin recovering from the devastation caused by World War II.

The book, Savage Continent, discusses World War II from the perspective of its impact on the civilians of Europe. It presents information that most people in the USA have never been told but which could be of significant value to us if World War III is fought on United States soil. It is my opinion that anyone who is truly interested in the long-term survival of their family should seriously consider what happened in Europe after the end of World War II. The reason is because prior to World War II the living conditions in Europe were very similar to the living conditions we now enjoy in the USA. In other words, this is not a war story about what happened in some third-world country in some remote part of the world.

Less than two-percent of the book appears below. If you find the following excerpts enlightening, then I highly recommend that you purchase and read the entire book.


Savage Continent Imagine a world without institutions. It is a world where borders between countries seem to have dissolved, leaving a single, endless landscape over which people travel in search of communities that no longer exist. There are no governments any more, on either a national scale or even a local one. There are no schools or universities, no libraries or archives, no access to information whatsoever. There is no cinema or theatre, and certainly no television. The radio occasionally works, but the signal is distant, and almost always in a foreign language. No one has seen a newspaper for weeks. There are no railways or motor vehicles, no telephones or telegraphs, or post office, no communication at all except what is passed through word of mouth. (Page 7)

There are no banks, but that is no great hardship because money no longer has any worth. There are no shops, because no one has anything to sell. Nothing is made here: the great factories and businesses that used to exist have all been destroyed or dismantled, as have most of the other buildings. There are no tools, save what can be dug out of the rubble. There is no food.

Law and order are virtually non-existent, because there is no police force and no judiciary. In some areas there no longer seems to be any clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. People help themselves to whatever they want without regard to ownership - indeed, the sense of ownership itself has largely disappeared. Goods belong only to those who are strong enough to hold on to them, and those who are willing to guard them with their lives. Men with weapons roam the streets, taking all they want and threatening anyone who gets in their way. Women of all classes and ages prostitute themselves for food and protection. There is no shame. There is no morality. There is only survival.

For modern generations it is difficult to picture such a world existing outside the imaginations of Hollywood script-writers. However, there are still hundreds of thousands of people alive today who experienced exactly those conditions - not in far-flung corners of the globe, but at the heart of what has for decades been considered one of the most stable and developed regions on earth. In 1944 and 1945 large parts of Europe were left in chaos for months at a time. The Second World War - easily the most destructive war in history - had devastated not only the physical infrastructure, but also the institutions that held countries together. ... The deliberate fragmentation of communities had sown an irreversible mistrust between neighbors; and universal famine had made personal morality an irrelevance. 'Europe', claimed the New York Times in March 1945, 'is in a condition which no American can hope to understand.' It was 'The New Dark Continent.' (Pages 7-8)

Some of the worst vengeance was meted out on individuals. German civilians all over Europe where beaten, arrested, used as slave labour or simply murdered. Soldiers and policemen who had collaborated with the Nazis where arrested and tortured. Women who had slept with German soldiers were stripped, shaved and paraded through the streets covered in tar. German, Hungarian and Austrian women were raped in the millions. Far from wiping the slate clean, the aftermath of the war merely propagated grievances between communities and between nations, many of which are still alive today.

Neither did the end of the war signify the birth of a new era of ethnic harmony in Europe. Indeed, in some parts of Europe, ethnic tensions actually became worse. Jews continued to be victimized, just as they had been during the war itself. Minorities everywhere became political targets once again, and in some areas this led to atrocities that were just as repugnant as those committed by the Nazis. (Page 9)

The story of Europe in the immediate postwar period is therefore not primarily one of reconstruction and rehabilitation - it is firstly a story of the descent into anarchy. This is a history that has never properly been written. (Page 10)

One of my main aims in writing this book was to break away from the narrow Western view that tends to dominate most writing on the period. (Page 11)

(S)ome quite astonishing atrocities have been hushed up, or simply lost in the sweep of other historical events. While it might be impossible to unearth the exact truth behind some of these incidents, it is at least possible to remove some of the untruths. (Page 12)

Chapter 1
Physical Destruction

While the devastation was at its most dramatic in Europe's cities, rural communities suffered almost as badly. Across the continent farms were plundered, burned, flooded or simply neglected because of the war. ... Remoteness from the main theaters of war was no protection from such treatment. (Page 19)

The physical destruction of Europe was more than merely the loss of its buildings and its infrastructure. It was more, even, than the destruction of centuries of culture and architecture. The truly disturbing thing about the ruins was what they symbolized. The mountains of rubble, were, as one British serviceman put it, 'a monument to man's power of self-destruction.' For hundreds of millions of people they were a daily reminder of the viciousness that the continent had witnessed, and which might at any time resurface.

Primo Levi, who had survived Auschwitz, claimed that there was something almost supernatural about the way the Germans had destroyed everything in their wake. ... The destruction wreaked by the Allies was almost as bad: when Levi saw the ruins of Vienna he was overcome by a 'heavy, threatening sensation of an irreparable and definitive evil which was present everywhere, nestling in the gusts of Europe and the world, the seed of future harm.' (Page 21)

Chapter 2
Death Toll

If the physical devastation of Europe defies easy comprehension, then the human cost of the war does so to an even greater degree. Any description of such things is necessarily inadequate. (Page 23)

Today, as in 1945, it is almost impossible to grasp what such statistics mean in practice, and any attempt to bring the figures to life is doomed to fail. ... Even those who experienced the war, who witnessed massacres, who saw fields of dead bodies and mass graves brimming with corpses are unable to comprehend the true scale of the killing that took place across Europe during the war. ...

Almost everyone alive when the war ended had lost friends or relatives to it. Whole villages, whole towns, and even whole cities had been effectively erased, and with them their populations. Large areas of Europe that had once been home to thriving, bustling communities were now almost entirely empty of people. ...

From the distance of the twenty-first century, we tend to look back on the end of the war as a time of celebration. We have seen images of sailors kissing girls in New York's Times Square, or smiling troops of all nationalities linking arms along Paris's Champs Elysees. However, for all the celebration that took place at the end of the war, Europe was actually a place in mourning. The sense of loss was both personal and communal. Just as the continent's towns and cities had been replaced by a landscape of crumbling ruins, so too had families and communities been replaced by a series of gaping holes. (Page 27)

The Vanishing of the Jews

The most obvious absence, particularly in eastern Europe, was that of the Jews. (Page 28)

Jews also made up around a third of the population in Warsaw - some 393,950 people in total - and yet when the Red Army finally crossed the Vistula at Warsaw in January 1945 they found only 200 Jewish survivors in the city. Even by the end of 1945, when handfuls of survivors had trickled back to the city, there were never more than 5,000.

Jewish communities in rural areas fared just as badly. In the vast tracts of countryside around Minsk in Belarus the Jewish presence was reduced from about 13 per cent of the population to just 0.6 per cent. --- In all, at least 5,750,000 Jews were killed during the Second World War, making it the worst and most systematic genocide in history.

Alicia Adams, a survivor of Drohobycz in Poland, puts the events she witnessed in stark terms:
After the war had passed on, Jews began to emerge from hiding even in the most unlikely places. Thousands had survived in the forests and swamps of Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus. Thousands more had spent the war hidden in the basements and attics of sympathetic Gentiles. Even in destroyed Warsaw handfuls of Jews emerged from the ruins, like the biblical Noah stepping onto the shores of a changed world. They had weathered the flood of the Holocaust by hiding in sewers, tunnels and purpose-built bunkers - their own personal arks. (Pages 30-31)

Finally, there are some astonishing examples of individuals who were willing to risk their lives in order to save Jews. ... Some of these people sheltered Jews despite their own intense prejudices against them. One Dutch clergyman, for example, admitted to feeling an intense aversion towards Jews, whom he thought 'unbearable ... very different from us, another kind, typically of another race.' And yet he was still willing to be arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp for helping them to escape the Nazis. It is from such unlikely sources that hope sprang during and after the war, not only for Jews but for the European people as a whole. (Page 31)

Other Holocausts

In Croatia 592,000 Serbs, Muslims and Jews were killed by the Ustashe regime in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the entire country. In Volhynia, after the Jews had be exterminated, tens of thousands of Poles were killed by Ukrainian nationalists. Bulgarians massacred Greek communities in the areas they invaded along the northern edge of the Aegean, and Hungarians did the same to Serbians in the Vojvodina region of Yugoslavia.

In many areas of Europe, unwanted ethnic groups were simply driven out of their towns and villages. This occurred all over central and eastern Europe at the beginning of the war, as the old empires clawed back the territory they had lost in the aftermath of the First World War. (Page 32)

During the course of just six years, the demographics of Europe had changed irredeemably. ... Countries that had once been ethnically mixed had been 'cleansed' so extensively that, to all intents and purposes, they now included only a single ethnic group. ... : large areas of Europe had become homogeneous. This process would only accelerate in the months after the war. (Page 33)

Widows and Orphans

Photographs of provincial Britain on VE Day show street parties full of women and children ... apart from the old, or the occasional soldier on leave, men are mostly missing from the pictures. (Page 34)

The loss of men was felt most harshly in the countryside, where 80 per cent of the collective farm workers were women.

In the chaotic aftermath of the war, many children had been separated from their families and were living together in gangs for safety. (Page 35)

Psychological studies of orphans show that they are often, understandably, far more susceptible to anxiety and depression than other children. They are more prone to erratic and anti-social behavior, they are more likely to contemplate suicide, they have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, lower self-esteem and poorer health. For young children, parents represent the solidity of the world and the way it works: when their parents are suddenly removed, they lose the foundations on which their understanding of the world is built. (Page 37)

Chapter 3

One of the many aspects of the Second World War that made it unique among modern wars is the fact that vast numbers of civilians were taken prisoner along with their traditional military captives. Women and children, as well as men, were effectively treated as war booty. They were enslaved in a way that had not been seen in Europe since the time of the Roman Empire. (Page 38)

Later, according to US intelligence officer Saul Padover, 'Thousands, tens of thousands, finally millions of liberated slaves were coming out of the farms and the factories and the mines and pouring onto the highways.' ... For Padover, who had little time for Germans, it was 'perhaps the most tragic human migration in history,' and simply more evidence of German guilt. For the local population, who were understandably nervous of such large groups of disgruntled foreigners, they represented a threat. 'They looked like wild creatures,' wrote one German woman after the war, 'one could be afraid of them.' For those overwhelmed military government officers whose job was to gain some control over them, they were merely a 'swarming mass.' They filled the roads, which were already too damaged to accommodate them, and were only able to feed themselves by looting and robbing shops, stores and farmhouses along the way. In a country where the administrative systems had collapsed, where the local police force had all been killed or interned, where shelter was non-existent, and where food was no longer being distributed, they represented an impossible burden and an irresistible threat to the rule of law.

But this is to view these people from the outside. To the displaced themselves, they were simply people trying to find their way to safety. (Page 39)

Andrzej C. was just nine years old when the war came to end. ... He, his mother and his sister had been forced labourers on a farm in Bohemia. ... His mother decided to head westwards towards the American lines ... They spent several weeks walking ... Andrezej remembers this as an anxious time, far more stressful even than being a prisoner of the Germans.

At other times they were refused water, had dogs set on them, as Poles, were even blamed for starting the war ... (Page 40)

The dangers and difficulties that refugees like Andrzej had to overcome should not be underestimated. These might not have been immediately apparent to a nine-year-old boy, but they were all too obvious to the older generation. (Page 41)

The population displacements of the war had a profound effect on the psychology of Europe. On an individual level it was traumatic not only for those who were displaced, but also for those they left behind, who often spent years wondering what had happened to the loved ones snatched from their midst. On a communal level it had been devastating: the forced conscription of all the young people had deprived communities of their main breadwinners and left them vulnerable to starvation. ... The population of Europe was no longer a fixed constant. It was now unstable, volatile - transient. (Page 44)

Chapter 4

One of the few things that united Europe during the war was the ubiquitous presence of hunger. International trade in foodstuffs had faltered almost as soon as the war broke out, and ceased altogether when the various military blockades began to take hold of the continent. ... In Britain, the public attempted to take this with good humor. Signs began appearing in greengrocers' windows, claiming 'Yes, we have no bananas' ... On the continent one of the shortages that made itself most immediately felt was of coffee, which became so scarce that the population was forced to drink a variety of substitutes made from chicory, dandelion roots or acorns. (Page 45)

Other, more serious shortages soon followed. Sugar was one of the first things to become scarce, as well as perishable goods like milk, cream, eggs and fresh meat. In response to these shortages, rationing was introduced in Britain, across most of continental Europe, and even in the United States. Neither were the neutral countries immune to shortages: in Spain, for example, even staple foods such as potatoes and olive oil were rationed, and the huge drop in imported goods forced the people of Switzerland to make do with 28 per cent fewer calories in 1944 than they had before the war. ... The struggle to starve off famine was every bit as important as the military struggle, and was taken just as seriously.

The first country to topple over the brink was Greece. In the winter of 1941-2, just six months after being invaded by Axis troops, more than 100,000 people starved to death. ... Farmers began to hoard their foodstuffs, inflation spiraled out of control and unemployment soared. There was also a near complete breakdown of law and order. ... Of the 410,000 Greek deaths that occurred during the whole of the war, probably 250,000 were due to starvation and related problems. (Pages 45-46)

The average adult requires about 2,500 calories per day to keep themselves healthy, and more if they are doing heavy work. Crucially, this amount cannot be made up of carbohydrates alone if they are to avoid hunger-related illnesses like oedema - it must also contain vitamins supplied by fresh vegetables, protein and fat. ...

'Hunger knocks on every door,' wrote one German housewife in February 1945. ... 'We count out potatoes every day, five small ones each and bread is becoming more scarce. We are growing thinner and thinner, colder and colder and more ravenous.' (Page 47)

One might have expected the food situation in Europe to ease once the war was over, but in many places it actually got worse. In the months immediately following the declaration of peace, the Allies struggled desperately and unsuccessfully to feed Europe's starving millions. (Page 49)

After six years of war, Europe's transport infrastructure was shattered. Before food could travel efficiently into Europe's cities the railway had to be rebuilt, the roads patched up, and merchant shipping restored. Just as crucially, law and order had to be restored. In some parts of Europe food supplies were looted almost as soon as they arrived, leaving aid agencies unable to distribute vital supplies to the places where they were needed most. (Page 50)

Chapter 5
Moral Destruction

War correspondent Alan Moorehead:
What Moorehead recognized was that food was no longer just a physical issue but a moral one. Across Europe millions of starving people were willing to sacrifice all moral values for the sake of their next meal. (Page 54)

Looting and Theft

The search for food was also a factor in another phenomenon of the war and its aftermath, the huge surge in the crimes of theft and looting. ... However, it was not only necessity that drove the high rates of theft and looting during and after the war. One of the most important factors in the phenomenon was that the war provided greater opportunities to steal, and also greater temptations. (Page 55)

In the resulting chaos all semblance of law and order vanished: the crime wave that swept Europe dwarfed that which had occurred during the war, and has never been equaled since. ... According to a British medical officer stationed in the same city, 'Murder, rape, robbery with violence were so usual that nobody paid any attention.' (Page 56)

One Berlin woman recorded in her diary that 'all notions of ownership have been completely demolished. Everyone steals from everyone else, because everyone has been stolen from.' ... The whole concept of private property had become meaningless. (Page 57)

The Black Market

The most common misdemeanor after the war was buying and selling goods on the black market. ... without it, hundreds of thousands of Poles, Ukrainians and Balts would have starved. The problem with illegal trading was that it was an inherently unfair system. ... the black market catered only for those who could afford it. (Page 58)

By the autumn of 1946 black marketeering was so common that for most people it was not even regarded as a crime. ... It was impossible to maintain a respect for law and order when the entire population was flouting it on a daily basis. (Page 59)


If theft and illegal trading were a serious problem throughout Europe, the ubiquitous threat of violence was a crisis. ... extreme violence was for many an everyday occurrence. (Page 59)

For some of these people killing became an addiction, and they carried out their atrocities in ever more perverse ways. (Page 61)


Rape has always been associated with warfare: in general, the more brutal the war, the more likely it is to involve the rape of enemy women. (Page 62)

My Conclusion

The reason I decided to briefly review this book on my website is because I believe it is a book that deserves to be read. I stopped my review at Chapter 5 and on page 62 because I do not wish to discuss the entire book on my website.

My digital copy of the book "Savage Continent" contains 556 pages. If you wish to know the information in Chapters 6 through 28 then you should buy the book and read it yourself.

Comments on Some of the Information in this Book

The reason I think the above book is worth reading is because it presents a different perspective on survival than what is normally presented on survival websites that are read by people in the United States of America.

If a major war breaks out, or if transportation is significantly disrupted, then the following events are likely to occur:
  1. Things will probably change more quickly than most people expect. It will be similar to a fictitious Hollywood disaster movie where everything is normal when you wake up in the morning but before the sun sets the entire world will have changed before your very eyes. A real world comparison would be when hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast of the USA in 2005, or the riots in California over the verdict in the Rodney King trial in 1992.

  2. Law and order will disappear at the very beginning of a serious disaster. A significant number of people will be looting, and raping any woman they can catch, and it will not be safe to venture outside your primary residence. When the disaster is finally over it will take a long time for law and order to be restored. And there is no way the authorities will be able to prosecute everyone who broke the law while the disaster was taking place. Criminals and evil people already know this and they will destroy every area they pass through and, to the extent possible, they will leave no living witnesses.

  3. In the year 2018 the number one reason why many people refuse to prepare for a potential future disaster is because they have already decided that they will simply locate and murder everyone in a family that is prepared, and they will take everything that family has without any fear of ever being punished by the authorities.

  4. There will be no concept of "right and wrong" or of "personal property" in the minds of anyone who does not already have what they need, or what they want. In order to survive a serious long-term disaster, people who were previously normal honest law-abiding citizens will quickly realize that they will perish if they are not able to acquire food and water, and they will do whatever it takes to get those things. Individuals who were already dishonest, or who already had criminal tendencies, will quickly become the scourge of any area they inhabit until they gradually kill one another off.

  5. Whatever you have in your possession when a major war begins will probably be all you will have until long after the war ends if the war is fought in your country. (Note: After a major natural disaster, the stories of relief supplies not reaching the areas where they were desperately needed has been repeated so many times in the last twenty years that nobody should believe that the government is going to come to their rescue.)

  6. If you can successfully defend yourself and your stuff during a serious long-term disaster, then you will be able to keep your stuff until someone stronger or smarter is able to take it away from you. No law enforcement personnel, or military personnel, or anyone else, will be coming to your aid to help you defend yourself or your stuff. Your family will be on your own. Families that have diversified flexible contingency plans will have a better chance of long-term survival than families that will be depending on brute force or bullets to defend themselves.

  7. The single most important item for long-term survival will be food. Absolutely nobody should know about your emergency food supplies. If anyone knows about your emergency food then that food will quickly become the property of your community and there will be nothing you can do about it. No family, or group of people, can defend itself against hundreds (or thousands) of armed hungry starving people. No family should have all their emergency food supplies stored in one location because something could go wrong at that location, such as a fire, and they could lose everything they have.

  8. Water will quickly become the next most important item for long-term survival. Unlike food, you cannot store enough water to last for very long. Every family must have a good quality portable water filter that can remove harmful pathogens from whatever water they may have access to. Every family should have the means to capture and store rainwater because water is very heavy and an intelligent family should have the ability to collect, store, and clarify the water that God rains down on their family.

  9. Any person who does not own a firearm and a reasonable supply of ammunition will quickly become a victim. This is because criminals and looters are not stupid and they have no desire to needlessly risk their lives by attacking a person, or a group of people, who are well-armed. There will be lots of helpless unarmed people for them to steal from, and to rape, and therefore criminals will generally avoid confronting people who have weapons at the beginning of a serious disaster event.

  10. No place will be safe during a war or during a long-term serious disaster. The cities will be the first areas that will self-destruct, or they will be targeted by enemy weapons. Then the rural communities and the farms will be destroyed, either by the enemy or by starving civilians who escaped from the cities. Any family that does not have a reasonable long-term contingency plan will have a very small chance of surviving. I thought it was interesting that many of the survivors of World War II were able to survive in places like sewers, tunnels, forests, and swamps, and that they frequently survived in bunkers they had hastily constructed and camouflaged for their survival.

  11. During World War II ethnic cleansing was initially begun by the Germans. Some people resisted the cleansing but many people betrayed individuals who were targeted as ethnically undesirable. As the war progressed, some people decided to help the Germans get rid of a variety of minority groups by killing those people themselves. Even after World War II was officially over, for several months a lot of people continued to exterminate the "undesirables" who had entered their country after World War I and who had legally taken their lands and businesses away from them. About one-year after World War II was over, several large geographical areas only consisted on one major ethnic group and that ethnic group had lived there for hundreds of years. In my opinion, if there is a major disruption in law and order in the USA then a lot of civilians in the USA may decide to rid their small geographical area of anyone they do not trust. This means that any white family living in a large neighborhood where there are very, very few white families may not have a very good chance of long-term survival. Any family that practices a minority religion in a specific geographical area may not have a very good chance for long-term survival.

  12. In the year 2018 most nations, including the USA, are not guided by Christian values and those nations have legalized behavior that is morally condemned in the Bible. Most people, especially most younger people, now believe that truth is relative. Today most people believe that if they can get away with something then it is okay to do it. The single most important issue is to simply not get caught. This will be what most people will believe at the very beginning of a serious long-term disaster and there will not be a gradual eroding of moral values similar to what happened during World War II. Instead we will begin World War III with the moral and ethical constructs that were prevalent at the end of World War II. Any family that is not prepared for this will not survive.

This concludes my observations about how World War III could impact the USA. My observations are based on how World War II actually impacted Europe as documented in detail in the above book.


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