The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book review

It Happened In Our Lifetime

  • It Happened In Our Lifetime, by John Phillips. N.Y. and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company, 1985, copyright by Time, Inc., 277 pp., illustrated with 445 black & white photos, $24.95, ISBN 0-316-70609-4.

Reviewed by H. Keith Thompson

In 1985 John Phillips published his It Happened In Our Lifetime: A Memoir in Words and Pictures. The former Life magazine photojournalist reports on his many assignments from 1936 into the post-war period.

As is, I suppose, to be expected with any establishment mass-media journalist or photo-journalist, Phillips is consistently anti- Nazi, and anti-German. Nevertheless, he does some small service by pointing out that there were large and articulate German minorities in Romania, and especially in that Frankensteinian-crafted country, Czechoslovakia, a significant plurality of whom advocated Anschluss by the Reich

For example, perhaps it’s too much to expect him to know that the German “Knödel” (dumplings) is the obvious parent of Czech “knödlike.” It’s also the less obvious parent of French “quenelle,” which, like “quiche” (from German “Kuchen"), entered French via German-speaking Alsace. Phillips relates an idiotic story of his Czech driver’s distress at the breakup of Czechoslovakia and the driver’s even greater distress at being able to find no “knödliki” as the German troops arrived to the delight and for the liberation of the Sudeten natives. Phillips seems to confuse “Sudeten” with “Southern” and frequently makes that error. Nevertheless, a careful perusal of his photos makes it abundantly clear that the Sudeten Germans were in fact expressing their right of “self-determination” and achieving it when they were incorporated into the Reich. That right had been cynically, viciously, and brutally denied them by the Allies when they concocted “Czechoslovakia.”

In another section of his book, “Retribution in Prague,” Phillips does some grisly gloating and shows ghoulish photos he took of “war criminal” Dr. Josef Pfitzner’s sentencing and hanging in the fall of 1945.

Pfitzner, a former professor of History at Prague’s German University, as Phillips points out, had been deputy mayor of Prague during the war.

Pfitzner was accused of having affirmed that Prague was founded and built by Germans. The Karlsuniversitat was in fact the first German University, older even than Heidelberg. The outcome of the “trial” was a foregone conclusion although Phillips seems to think it was a legal model. After defending himself (in Czech), Pfitzner, when taken to the gallows, moments before his judicial murder, cried out, “Ich sterbe für Deutschland” (I die for Germany).

Another Pfitzner, the composer Hans, left another German borderland, Alsace, when the Americans reconquered it for France in 1918. After the Second World War, the Americans having reconquered Alsace for France once again, the Allies put Hans Pfitzner into one of their concentration camps. He died not long after release. Yet Hans Pfitzner fared better than Josef Pfitzner in Prague.

Another composer, Mozart, was very popular in Prague. Mozart danced to his own Deutsche Tänze (German Dances) at the Breitenfeldhall in Prague. Prague and Vienna communicated musically, and in so many ways, through the centuries.

Nothing is lost in History. All is recycled, including martyred history professors and mayors of Prague. And it may not be at all as Phillips saw it, when he snapped his prurient camera on the mutilated corpse of Prague’s former deputy mayor.

So much in Europe, in the world, was recycled wrongly, largely due to evil, ignorant American intervention in two world wars.

Interestingly enough, one German source in Bohemia continues to flow, to bring currency to Czech coffers. Joachimsthal may no longer mine silver for dollars, but dollars flow to the Communist marketers of “Pilsener Urquell,” that famous Bohemian beer, whose name means “Original Source of Pilsen.” Its quality has declined, of course, since the days Bohemia was German. But at least the name remains. Blood flowed in Bohemia. The Gods recycle it and make their eternal cakes and “Knödel.”

About the author

H. KEITH THOMPSON is a Yale graduate in History and Naval Science. With a background in Military and Maritime Law, he is a specialist and researcher on “war crimes trials” and maintains one of the most comprehensive private libraries on the subject. Mr. Thompson has written extensively for scholarly, professional and popular journals. He is the co-author (with Henry Strutz) of Dönitz at Nuremberg: A Reappraisal.

Bibliographic information
Author: Thompson, H. Keith
Title: It Happened In Our Lifetime (review)
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Fall 1987
Issue: Volume 7 number 3
Location: Page 361
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.