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The End: The Defiance and Destruction of…

The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 (2011)

by Ian Kershaw

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Ian Kershaw's book aims to answer just one question: why did the Germans continue to fight even after the second world war was clearly lost? He reviews a number of explanations given, ranging from the reasonable to the ludicrous, and settles on an interpretation of how the Nazi state had been established and how it was still running in 1944-5 that prevented popular rebellion or a military coup, even when almost no one believed the war could still be won. Hitler's dreaded a 1918-style end to the war, with soldiers' mutinies and workers' strikes. He and his regime managed to make these impossible. A beautifully-written, well-researched investigation into a historical nightmare. ( )
  ericlee | May 21, 2018 |
A solid book of the history of the final year of World War II Europe with the focus completely on the German power structure. I learned a lot from the read, but really felt as though this book could have been written at half the length. It very much seemed that the story would repeat itself every chapter where the Germans suffered losses, some people wanted to give in, Hitler and the Nazi powers would not allow it, they killed all who opposed them, then they would again suffer losses. It was much too detailed for a popular history, but I am certainly better off for having read the book. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
Extremely disappointed with the absence of analysis in this one. Yes, it describes "the end" in thorough detail, but it's just a retelling of events and I didn't learn anything new. I was hoping for more insight into the "WHY" that Kershaw promised from the outset of the book, and I suppose it's fair to say he did provide enough information for readers to answer that question for themselves, but it was nevertheless a narrative tour through the last months of the Nazi regime, with many facts repeated over and over again, and sometimes also with extraneous information that took away from the main focus of the book (the power the central command was able to maintain), such as by describing the death marches and lives of concentration camp POWs. I really wanted more of a personal reflection into why/how Hitler was able to maintain such intense power and loyalty, particularly since those in high command had such power in their own rights; instead, not much about Hitler was said, except for the fact that everyone greatly feared him. A lot of details about the efforts of top Nazi officials (all those you'd expect, Bormann, Goebbels, Speer, and so on) to keep the war going, but without truly answering why... except that they were blindly fanatic and scared of Hitler. ( )
1 vote peapea | May 6, 2017 |
I bought this book after hearing Ian Kershaw deliver a lecture on it here in Munich. He asks and answers the question about why the Germans continued to fight on after D-Day made the end of the war inevitable. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 10, 2016 |
A man cuts some telephone lines he thinks connect the military bases one to another. He's seen by two members of the Hitler Jugend who report his actions. He's summarily arrested by the local police. The regional commander is summoned and a summary trial is conducted and the man executed. This scenario occurs just four hours from the town being overrun by the Allies in Germany. The question Kershaw asks and answers is why did local bureaucracies and systems continue to function so well as apocalypse was often just minutes away. Why continue to resist at a cost of inevitable total destruction. In early 1945, German soldiers were dying at a rate of 350,000 *per month.* It was a scale of killing that even dwarfed the First World War. British and American bombers were leveling cities and killing thousands of civilians, yet the populace and it's representative structure continued to resist and function.

I was confused in the beginning by what seemed to be contradictory points, i.e., that many in the general staff and lower ranks were very supportive of Hitler to the end while at the same time he cites numerous examples of terror shown to any kind of disloyalty or wavering on the part of civilians or military, especially after the Stauffenberg assassination attempt (an astonishing 20,000 German soldiers were shot as opposed to 40 British which would indicate to me a substantial level of defeatism or discord among the lower ranks). Special squads were created to enforce loyalty and the number of executions soared. At the same time he examines numerous letters and diaries showing support for Hitler among those soldiers and the civilian bureaucracy continued to function at a high level. I might argue that finding support for a position in the myriad number of papers left by the highly literate German people might be found regardless of the overall view.

Contradictions abound and just as I was one view was proposed, Kershaw presented evidence to the contrary. What’s much clearer is the entanglement of motivations of many different people for many different reasons. Partly, it was that Himmler brought his administration of terror from the East back to the Reich. Another was the personal loyalty of from those mignons at the top, Himmler, Bormann, Goebbels, et al, who derived their power from Hitler so it was natural they would remain fanatically loyal to the end. The extreme brutality of the Russian soldiers on the eastern front led to the desire to hasten westward where the Americans and British were perceived to be more amiable.

The slaughter at the end of the war is simply unimaginable and Kershaw doesn’t spare the reader. Hundreds of thousands died in the last few months of the war. Twice as much tonnage of bombs were dropped by the Allies in the first four months of 1945 than in all of 1943. Millions were left homeless and fled the approach of the Soviet Army eager to apply much of the same fearsome slaughter the Germans had inflicted on the Slavic people on their march east. Fifty percent of the German soldiers who died in the war were killed in the last ten months. A few deserted, most continued to fight. The machinery of the state continued and defeatists were murdered by Nazi death squads.

The failure of the Germans to give up when clearly all was lost may lie in the culture Hitler had created. The oft cited reason of allied demands for unconditional surrender Kershaw dispenses with, if not entirely convincingly. The German people had been so used to dictatorial and fanatic leadership that they were unable to do anything but follow orders and were suitably cowed and ripe for the leadership of anyone. Put broadly, the simplest reason may be that people simply “went along to get along.”

It’s a fascinating study. My only quibble is that I think the book might have been strengthened by a comparison with events in Japan, which, one might argue, were similar. ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Dec 30, 2015 |
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As disastrous defeat loomed in early 1945, Germans were sometimes heard to say they would prefer 'an end with horror, to a horror without end'.
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"From the preeminent Hitler biographer, a fascinating and original exploration of how the Third Reich was willing and able to fight to the bitter end of World War II. Countless books have been written about why Nazi Germany lost World War II, yet remarkably little attention has been paid to the equally vital question of how and why it was able to hold out as long as it did. The Third Reich did not surrender until Germany had been left in ruins and almost completely occupied. Even in the near-apocalyptic final months, when the war was plainly lost, the Nazis refused to sue for peace. Historically, this is extremely rare. Drawing on original testimony from ordinary Germans and arch-Nazis alike, award-winning historian Ian Kershaw explores this fascinating question in a gripping and focused narrative that begins with the failed bomb plot in July 1944 and ends with the German capitulation in May 1945. Hitler, desperate to avoid a repeat of the "disgraceful" German surrender in 1918, was of course critical to the Third Reich's fanatical determination, but his power was sustained only because those below him were unable, or unwilling, to challenge it. Even as the military situation grew increasingly hopeless, Wehrmacht generals fought on, their orders largely obeyed, and the regime continued its ruthless persecution of Jews, prisoners, and foreign workers. Beneath the hail of allied bombing, German society maintained some semblance of normalcy in the very last months of the war. The Berlin Philharmonic even performed on April 12, 1945, less than three weeks before Hitler's suicide. As Kershaw shows, the structure of Hitler's "charismatic rule" created a powerful negative bond between him and the Nazi leadership- they had no future without him, and so their fates were inextricably tied. Terror also helped the Third Reich maintain its grip on power as the regime began to wage war not only on its ideologically defined enemies but also on the German people themselves. Yet even as each month brought fresh horrors for civilians, popular support for the regime remained linked to a patriotic support of Germany and a terrible fear of the enemy closing in. Based on prodigious new research, Kershaw's The End is a harrowing yet enthralling portrait of the Third Reich in its last desperate gasps. "--… (more)

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