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  • Their Darkest Hour

  • People Tested to the Extreme in WWII
  • By: Laurence Rees
  • Narrated by: John Hopkins
  • Length: 8 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Military
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (164 ratings)

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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

Award-winning writer and filmmaker Laurence Rees has spent nearly 20 years meeting people who were tested to the extreme during World War II. He has come face to face with rapists, mass murderers, even cannibals, but he has also met courageous individuals who are an inspiration to us all. His quest has taken him from the Baltic States to Japan, from Poland to America and from Germany to China.

Here he presents 35 of his most electrifying encounters. Meet Estera Frenkiel, a young Jewish woman given the chance to save 10 fellow Jews from deportation and death; Peter Lee, a British officer brutally treated by his Japanese captors; Zinaida Pytkina, a female member of the Soviet Union's infamous SMERSH organisation, who took pleasure in killing a German prisoner; Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier so fanatical that he refused to surrender until 29 years after the end of the war; and Petras Zelionka, a Lithuanian who shot Jewish men, women and children for the Nazis. 

The devastating first-hand testimony in Their Darkest Hour is both a lasting contribution to our understanding of the war and a powerful insight into the behaviour of human beings in crisis.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2020 Laurence Rees (P)2020 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Their Darkest Hour

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A hard read

The story is appropriately read. The tone is right for the subject matter. The stories are varied but all carry their own particular horror. And some are almost unlistenable.

I listened over several days and mixed in other books.

There are some stories I will follow up, in particular the British treatment of Russian and Yugoslav prisoners.

It was good to hear the voices of women and children telling their stories.

If I am left with one thought it is “judge ye not, let thee be judged”.

6 people found this helpful

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Excellent 10/10

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Made me shed a tear in certain spots, but certainly did not disappoint. I would recommend this book, not just to historians but to all, as it is part of a very important time throughout history. John Hopkins did a fantastic job narrating, especially at doing the prunciation of the interviewees. Hope there is more to come from him in the future.

6 people found this helpful

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Fascinating

A fantastic look into human beings failings and depth of character. Very thought provoking and at sometimes very upsetting. Felt I was left with a greater understanding of how people can allow themselves to become beasts and hopeless victims at the blink of an eye.

3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Bit of an historical re-tread

Bit self important and shows a very special skill in taking some of the most terrifying and fantastic moments of the twentieth century and rendering them somehow dreary. Great idea, but you buy the bag to find it rather empty

2 people found this helpful

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not for the faint of heart, but good

Rees has here summed up war, from the perspective of it's victims (mainly citizens, also soldiers). For balance, he includes American sirmen in WW2 and British soldiers, though understandsbly his emphasis. is on Germans. Russians and Japanese.

1 person found this helpful

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  • JB
  • 25-09-21

The evil of mankind

The stories and experiences are commonplace throughout human history. The author tries to apply a modern morality to a different time period. History must be viewed in context and for those who lived the horror, survival, rather than morality was the main driving force. Similar stories occur daily, in Africa and the Middle East, so it seems humanity has learned nothing. Author mentioned a USAF pilot who bombed the Japanese, slight error as USAF did not exist until 1947, two years after WW2 ended.
A good selection of stories and very moving personal accounts of survivors.

1 person found this helpful

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not a bad book if you want to skim through events

Read up quite alot on some of the atrocities off ww2 and found the author skimmed through alot of things and though with certain individuals throughout the book alot more detail and time should have been given.

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Unrivalled story of the human condition

Brilliant narration and like a great book , unable to tear myself from its unfolding tragedies. It also gives an insight into current human behaviour! You

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Excellent work of History

I was fascinated by the range of interviewees in this book/recording. The range of views and reasons for people doing, and in some cases defending, amongst the worst crimes in human history really highlight how people can be swept up and then justify their actions. The recollections of people who suffered for no more than their views or the country they were born in are horrifying in cases. Some are clearly speaking so that they can absolve themselves in their latter years.
Well worth getting and listening to if you are interested in history as an archive in itself.

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Difficult

This is a very difficult book imparts to listen to but it need to be heard. I’m truly shocked at some f the conversations which took place between the author and the interviewees.

Some showed no remorse for war crimes other should receive medals but have gone unnoticed and are forgotten.

This book is warts and all but it’s well worth a listen.