Tuesday 17 March 2020

Book Review: Hitler's Housewives, Tim Heath

This is the second book I've read by Tim Heath. The first was Creating Hitler's Germany. He's also written Hitler's Girls, Women of the Third Reich and In Hitler's Shadow. As can readily be seen from the titles alone, they all share certain themes, chiefly around women and the home front in Germany, during (and leading up to) WWII.

Both of the Heath books I've read so far are overwhelmingly made up of extensive quotes, attributed to personal correspondents, with fairly minimal connecting material from the author. My biggest issue at present, something I flagged after reading/reviewing Creating Hitler's Germany, and I feel even more strongly now, having just read Hitler's Housewives, is his sources. 

Most history books - especially those by professional/academic historians - are, and rightly so, painfully scrupulous about making their sources clear. In any field of history this is, I feel, crucial. Otherwise it could either be, at the worst, all made up (remember the whole 'Hitler Diaries' fiasco?), or, and still not right, 'sexed up'.

And it's this possibility - very literally in this case (the erotic elements of numerous accounts are one of several things that have raised my suspicion antennae; other things include English vernacular in alleged WWII-era German diaries, technical or historical info that sounds more 'military buff' than German housewife, etc.) - that casts a shadow over these works. 

The narrative content, if genuine, is fascinating. And work on the domestic/home front, the female experience of WWII, and the minutiae of everyday life under extreme circumstances are all welcome. But for me the issue of verifiable sources is a serious stumbling block.

In conclusion: a potentially useful and interesting addition to WWII historical literature, especially so in that it shows aspects of these events often ignored or glossed over. But with the significant caveat that the authors' sources cannot, at present, be verified.


As far as I'm aware, other and more readily credible historians who rely heavily on firsthand accounts cite sources that can somehow be verified. I'm not sure if there's a standard process, but I gather (from other reading) that most countries have numerous bodies whose roles include the collection and archiving of historical testimonies. Whether or how such bodies vet such materials is beyond my ken, at present. 

I would imagine that authors seeking to meet standard forms of professional historical credibility would be expected to submit any new materials they unearth in their researches to such archives. Without such fact-checking procedures authors would be free to make stuff up with relative impunity. I'm not saying Heath is creating works of pure fiction. Only that the reader should be aware that without any means to verify sources the material needs to be viewed with a degree of circumspection.


  1. Sources you ask,what better than those German women who were actually there or are you suggesting they were lying? They most certainly were not, but i guess you cant please everyone.
    I have been doing this research for 26 years now, much of the material for this book was gained through the early 1990's. You cant jump on the train to Kew and find this kind of material in the archives, you have to get off your arse, put in the hard ground work and go and find it for yourself. Is it so unbelieveable knowing what we know today about the Third Reich and new evidence which is being discovered shining yet more light into what was a vile regime? Over the years as the Imperial War Museums department of printed books will verify, i have made much of my research material, magazine articles and photographs available to them as well as the archives in Germany including the DHM, Berlin and Bundesarchiv, Aachen too. All you have to do is get in touch and i can verify anything you have doubts about. Since your review was posted two more Jewish women have since come forward and corroborated a few things in the book that some have said "oh,that couldntve happened".
    If you just look into it put in the research work you can make contact with many Germans who were witness to truly horrific things, not all will talk to you but those that do will make all the hard work, dead ends and triumphs worthwhile.

    Tim Heath.

    1. Hi Tim,

      And thanks for posting a response to my review of your book.

      I hope you'll agree that I have at least tried to be scrupulously impartial? I haven't actually accused anyone of making anything up or lying. I've simply said that without access to sources one can potentially verify oneself, one has to remain circumspect.

      Most casual readers won't go as far as seeking out those sources. Most of the time I wouldn’t. Although the more I read the more I’m inclined to do so occasionally. But if, as I'm sure you're aware, an author as renowned as Stephen Ambrose can have his reputation damaged by issues of attribution (and I'm on the author's side in that particular farrago), I hope you’ll agree it’s an area where writers of what purports to be factual history need to be careful.

      To give another example, I happen to love the writings of R. F. Delderfield, on the Napoleonic era. Those belong to an earlier and somewhat different era, style wise, but they are still subjected to attacks over veracity, in part due to his style, but also re standards of attribution that are more contemporary. I don’t discount Delderfield out of hand because he’s a bit old fashioned and anecdotal, I just bear it in mind.

      I’m not comparing you to either Ambrose or Delderfield, by the way, merely trying to illustrate my reasons for being cautious and sceptical.

      On another note; my readings in the world of military history - including (indeed more especially) online forums, and the like - have made me acutely aware that things can get pretty ugly, with people, be they authors, readers, journalists, or whoever, fighting each other. I won’t name anyone, but there are certain writers or critics who’ve been pretty notoriously unpleasant, one way or another. Not to me. I try and avoid such doings. But to each other.

      I’m here mostly as an enthusiast for these subjects, sharing my personal opinion. I also strive to be objective. And not to attack anyone personally, even our views may differ. I’d far rather others who share some of my enthusiasms were allies and not enemies, even if our opinions on things might occasionally vary.

      Wishing you all the best, Sebastian

      PS - I used to write a column for Drummer, a UK music magazine (now defunct, sadly), including a monthly classic-album column, in the course of which I interviewed numerous musicians. The standards or protocols were different in that context, being pop-culture and much more casual on the whole. I mention it merely because gathering historical information from the participants themselves, albeit in a very different area and era, is something I have done as well, and very much enjoyed.

  2. Fair point i understand where you are coming from, the next release Hitlers Lost State does have a lengthy sources section as its quite a bit different to my other books. I too had a bit of a thing for music and pop culture, i blame my parents eclectic tastes from the stones to Slim Whitman for that lol! I had a good pal who was a freelance music photographer and tagged along with him on a few of his celebrity sorties and met quite a few notable musicians and bands as a result. They were good days.Anyway, i wish you well and best regards Tim.

    1. Thanks Tim. Your next book sounds interesting. Best of luck with it. I may even end up reading and/or reviewing it. I just read and reviewed 'I Somehow Survived', which - as you probably already know? - is similar to your books, being that it's transcriptions of WWII survivor's testimonies of their experience (all Bavarians, or connected to Bavarians, in this instance). I've enjoyed all these books, and certainly welcome the work author's like you do, bringing these otherwise unheard voices to the table, so to speak. All the best, Seb