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War In Europe: The Legacy : Good Vanquishes Evil : War Haunts, Still Shapes the World

The War in Europe: A 50-year Legacy. First in a series. NEXT: World War II's bitterest legacy to its losers: a divided Germany.

August 27, 1989|TYLER MARSHALL | Times Staff Writer

"These things happened gradually, and they might have happened anyway because European art was in a crisis during the 1930s," Rosenthal added. "But they were certainly speeded up by the war."

Much of Europe's brain drain was tied to the exodus of Jews fleeing a Nazi persecution that with the onset of war would become a systematic genocide.

The Holocaust not only decimated an intelligentsia but virtually wiped out one of Europe's most colorful, productive cultures.

Of the estimated 8.9 million Jews living in Europe when Hitler rose to power in 1933, roughly 6 million died before the war ended.

It is one of history's supreme ironies that among those forced to flee Nazi Europe were the men whose brilliance helped find the weapon of ultimate Allied victory: the atom bomb.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 30, 1989 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 5 Foreign Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Hitler Photograph--A photograph of Adolf Hitler that appeared in The Times on Sunday was incorrectly captioned. It showed the Nazi dictator reviewing German troops in Warsaw, in October, 1939, after the fall of the Polish capital.

The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war began a frightening new age, an age in which peace is kept as much by a balance of terror as by prudent diplomacy and the idea of "winning" a major war no longer applies.

The globe's nuclear arsenal that totaled three warheads in the early summer of 1945 today exceeds 20,000.

In addition to its Jews, Central Europe lost another important fountainhead of vitality, its aristocracies, which were also purged.

Statistics reflect, at least in part, the toll of these events on Europe's creative energies.

During the period between 1901 and 1938, citizens from 10 principal European nations (but excluding Britain) garnered 113 Nobel prizes, nearly five times the 23 such awards won by Americans.

During the 50 years since the outbreak of World War II, the ratio has been virtually reversed, with Americans awarded 150 Nobel prizes, compared to 64 won by the same 10 European countries.

In some areas, though, Europe retained its superiority.

The sensational New Look fashion unveiled on a cold February morning in 1947 by a daring but little-known French designer named Christian Dior shocked an impoverished Europe but instantly re-established Paris as a world fashion capital.

The level of Europe's austerity was reflected in the anger that there simply was not enough fabric available to emulate Dior's lavish creations.

Last month, when the Dior house presented a line with such striking similarities that it was dubbed the Nouveau New Look, one London newspaper noted only in passing that the average cost of an original creation was $17,000.

The end of war touched off a wave of idealism.

In Western Europe, it was socialism's hour, with Britain and France rejecting heroic wartime leaders Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle in favor of new welfare states advocated by their opponents. West Germany's Willy Brandt and Austria's Bruno Kreisky, who had fled the Nazis, returned to their shattered lands from Scandinavian exile, eventually instilling similar ideals in their lands.

For the first time in Europe's history, quality medical care, housing and education were within reach of the general population.

In the United States, President Harry S. Truman ordered the racial integration of military units, a pivotal step in a long march toward racial equality.

On a global scale, the desire to build a better world spawned such ideas as the United Nations, the World Bank, the Marshall Plan and the European Common Market--all of which have fulfilled their founders' first goal: preventing another world war.

This postwar spirit also sowed the seeds of ideas that today push much of Western Europe toward greater cooperation.

Pooling West German and French steel production in 1950 under a higher independent authority may seem a modest idea by current standards, but the plan, cooked up by a senior French administrator named Jean Monnet, was visionary.

It laid the foundation of today's European Community and began a reconciliation between France and Germany that stands as one of modern diplomacy's greatest triumphs--a reconciliation that has blessed France with enhanced status and security, West Germany with legitimacy and Western Europe with an unaccustomed stability.

Carefully nurtured by successive leaders, the Franco-German rapprochement remains the motor of European unity.

"For me, this reconciliation is the most important legacy of the war," said Simone Veil, who returned from Auschwitz as a young girl to eventually become a French Cabinet minister and, later, president of the European Parliament. "It has broken the cycle of hate."

For Veil and many of her generation, younger Europeans who argue the need for greater unity on grounds of economic and political strength miss the point.

"The most important reason is that France and Germany are reconciled," she said. "Even in Auschwitz, I knew it was the only way to peace."

Fifty years after fascism propelled the world to war, Europe's extreme political right has once again begun to stir, aroused in part by a nationalistic backlash to European unity and a racism awakened by the influx of mainly Muslim immigrants.

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