Saturday, 1 October 2011

The End - Hitler's Germany 1944-45

Last night I finished reading Ian Kershaw's last work, "The End: Hitler's Germany 1944-45" and I can say that this will be an essential piece in my history library. A couple of warnings here: first, "The End"  is NOT a military history book, but a HISTORY book; and second, it is also a QUEST of the author to understand how and why Hitler's Germany still fought for over a year since D-Day landings and the victorious Soviet battles in the East in mid-1944, despite an overwhelming evidence that the war was lost.

With over 200 pages of back notes and bibliography, Ian Kershaw shows that he has digged deep in the question, having not merely copied-and-pasted previous published works of other authors but have started from scratch using the hard evidence and facts available in the existing contemporary documents.

His thesis can be summarised as the "anatomy of self-destruction", which happens to be the title of the concluding chapter of the book . The most popular and well-known thesis that the unconditional surrender request of the Allied powers is what motivated a desperate fight to the end, hardly stand on its own when confornted with the evidence provided in "The End".

For Kershaw, the answer to this long debated question of the last year of war resistance is to be found in a combination of different factors:
  •  Some strategic Allied mistakes (both East and West) after the Normandy landings, that made the Allies losing the strategic initiative, while enabling the German Army to reorganise and reinforce its defensive systems. The most outstanding illustration was the Ardennes Offensive or the fact that ample parts of Holland remained in German hands until May 8th, 1945.
  • The failed bomb plot to kill Hitler reinvigorated the control of the most extreme elements of the Army and the political organizations on both the armed forces and civilian domains, drowning any further attempt to organise an effective opposition to the ruling regime.
  • Furthermore,  after the plot failure the reorganisation of the Nazi power structure around 4 key regime personalities  (Himmler, Goebbels, Bormann and Speer) facilitated this move to control  all aspects of the economy, the army and the society.
  • And last but no least, Hitler himself: on the one hand, his refusal to any negotiated settlement, as he clearly knew there was no other way out for him except to die, blocked any seriorus attempt to end the war earlier; on the other,  the profound effect of his charisma in the Germany of the mid 40's,  bounded together the army, the society and the party organisation around a sense of total loyalty and devotion to his figure, preventing any widespread move against him of the regime represenatives  ... and which also  explains how just after committing suicide, the  structure underpinning the resistance to the Allied forces crumbled in a matter of days.
The book goes into details not known by me before, like for example the savage killing of political prisioners, jews and the other enemies in many places even knowing that the arrival of Allied troops was just a few hours away; or putting into a complete new (no favourable at all) light to Admiral Donitz (described as fanatical Nazi by his acts after the death of Hitler ) or Albert Speer, both of whom should have been hanged in the Nuremberg trials as the rest of the Nazi leadership bunch.

Some numbers and figures supplied in the book also speak for themselves about the futility of  extending the war and the useless suffering brought on the German people and the many others just mentioned (POWs, jews, foreign workers forced to live in Germany as semi-slaves, etc):  between July 1944 and the capitulation, 2.5 million German soldiers died (over a total 5.3 million dead across the whole conflict), around 400,000 civilian died and another 800,000 were injured by the air raids and combats, over 1.8 million homes destroyed....etc

In summary, not a book for those enjoying pure military history but an excellent description of the true face of the Nazi regime and the unforgiveable suffering brought literally on the civilised World in the first half of the 40s.

1 comment:

  1. I read Antony Beevor's book 'Berlin; The Downfall 1945' a couple of years ago. Beevor goes well beyond the military history and tries to explain how a whole nation followed a madman onto the funeral pyre that was Germany in the last year of the war.

    I'd like to read Kershaw's book to compare them. It sounds like harrowing read, as Beevor's was. Thanks for the review.