The story of Central Europe is anything but simple: as a result of invasions and resettlements, the people of Central Europe have witnessed a profusion of languages, cultures, religions and nationalities. The two most important waves of settlement came from the Germans and the Slavs, but Central Europe also became the great haven for Jews.
In the centuries when Jewish people were persecuted, they naturally congregated in the middle, and the Jewishness of Central Europe has been one of its defining features. But most significantly in its recent history, Central Europe has been subjected to 50 years of Fascism and Communism in succession. In order to present a portrait of Central Europe, Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse study the history of one of its main cities - Breslau.
Breslau, the traditional capital of Silesia, was one of the great commercial cities of medieval Europe. It later became the second city of the kingdom of Bohemia, a major city of the Hapsburg lands, and a Residenzstadt of the kingdom of Prussia. The third largest German city of the mid-nineteenth century, Breslau's population reached one million in 1945. But in May 1945 the city of Breslau was annihilated by the Soviet Red Army. Much of it was destroyed, thousands of its inhabitants were killed.
Breslau surrendered four days after Berlin and was thus the last Fortress of the Reich to fall, and, indeed, one of the very last areas in Germany to surrender. Transferred to Poland after the war, the city has risen from the ruins of the war and is once again a thriving economic and cultural centre of the region.
The history of Silesia's main city embodies all the experiences which have made Central Europe what it is - the rich mixture of nationalities and cultures; the German settlement and the reflux of the Slavs; a Jewish presence of exceptional distinction; a turbulent succession of Imperial rulers; and the shattering exposure to both Nazis and Stalinists. In short, it is a Central European microcosm.