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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars War, what is it good for..., 16 Oct 2007
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This isn't a book I'd usually buy or read, but after reading a couple of reviews I thought I'd check it out. This is a book for the general reader, rather than the academic historian. While his writing style is solid rather than particularly exciting or inspiring, David Stafford does a solid job of story-telling & some impressive research has gone into compiling & editing the narratives of the protagonists. This is mainly a "ground-up" rather than a "top-down" account of the closing stages of WW2 in Europe. Having said that, its view is very much from the Western side of the fence. The Soviet army & people bore the brunt of the fight against Nazism, so its a pity there's no first hand input from anyone on the Soviet side here. Equally, I'd like to have heard more from the civilian side, both in the occupied countries & Germany itself.

Much of what we see & hear now abt this period concentrates on the big set pieces like D-Day & the Battle for Berlin/Hitler's Bunker, & (quite rightly) the Holocaust. Naturally this book has to concern itself with the last days of Berlin, but much of the book's power comes from the stories of other campaigns which aren't so well known to most people. I've always been interested in the Italian phase of the war, as my uncle Leslie was killed at the Anzio landings. Rather than go over familiar ground like the battle for Monte Cassino, DS uses the story of Geoffrey Cox to recount a chilling tale of the deadly & relentless grind through Italy - I could practically feel the cold & mud at times. A lot of this was totally new to me - for example, the narrowly-avoided war between Allied Forces & Tito's partisan army at Trieste.
When I was growing up in the 50's/60's, everyone's parents had been involved in the war in some way - now WW2 is as distant from us as WW1 was in the Sixties. This makes these accounts even more important. The narrators include a journalist, a radio-reporter, various front-line soldiers (British, GI & Canadian) & a German mother interned in the camps, with her children in the hands of the SS.
As indicated by the book's subtitle, "Retribution" is a major theme in the book. Its totally understandable how people would want revenge & rough justice for Nazi collaborators, but DS takes the story further to show how the mania for vengeance nearly got totally out of hand in France & Italy, leading to serious social problems. For the soldiers & reporters, it was the discovery of concentration camps all over Western Europe that inspired a raging hatred of their enemy & an unforgiving attitude towards the German civilian population. Again, I knew vague images of French women with shaven heads, but hadn't realised the intensity & widespread nature of the settling of scores.
Another of the book's strongest aspects is in evoking the plight of the millions of refugees & "displaced persons" all over the Continent, particularly throught the story of Francesca Wilson with UN refugee relief agency. Recent insane outbursts in Europe like the Balkan Wars put refugees on our tv screens again, and given the misery, devastation & un-mendable lives left
behind by these wars, its almost impossible to imagine the same things on the scale they were at the end of WW2.
As I read the book, I had to keep reminding myself that these soldiers were mostly very young men at the time, in their early 20's. Its salutary to wonder how we'd have coped if flung into the kind of cauldron described in this book. I had plenty of "lump-in-throat" moments reading this, but one of the saddest bits comes very near the end, with GI Robert Ellis leaving the war, in his words "...embittered in many ways & ambivalent about the army & whether the horror we had experienced & the losses undergone - whatever the iniquities of the Hitler & Japanese regimes - were worth the price paid?"
Its chilling to contemplate the experiences that could make a man feel that way.
At its best, this is a powerful & thought-provoking book, & anyone reading it can only come away with an enhanced admiration & respect for the WW2 survivors around us.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imperfect but still gripping, 7 Jan 2008
By 
Petrolhead (Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
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This is an unusual book, and it both succeeds and fails in its goal of painting a picture of the last days of the Second World War. David Stafford has taken the personal memoirs, letters, and recollections of about a dozen people and tried to produce a tableau showing what life was like away from the biggest stories.
He relates the the handful of experiences with sympathy and illustrates how big politics affected real lives. The result is an interesting look into some areas that the history books have neglected, which helps to bring the real history alive. And it's quite a page turner, because reading about other peoples lives during a time of hellish upheaval, skilfully woven into a single narrative, is a sure-fire good read. This is a history that doesn't stop at the end of the war but shows how conquered became occupied and imprisoned became liberated. It's a fresh angle to a well-covered subject, and Stafford manages to conjure quite a vivid picture which casts new light on an old subject. The author does an excellent job of keeping the reader informed about the background and the bigger picture of politics and history which helps to flesh out the personal stories.
The most interesting bits are the tales of Nazi-hunting, rescuing fascist loot, fraternisation with the enemy and life in the concentration camps, much of which is written without relying directly on the chosen memoirists. There is also the fascinating tale of Mussolini's last hours, the moment when Lord Haw-Haw is shot through the buttocks and the truly amazing story of a convoy of VIPs kept as hostages by the Nazis, who were shunted around the Third Reich until their designated execution day, when their ingenuity and bravery proved more than a match for their guards.
The problem comes in that the book's foundation - the ordinary stories of a handful of ordinary people - doesn't quite work.
All of Stafford's memoirists are likeable individuals, thoughtful, intelligent characters who are trying to make the best of a bad lot. But their similarities point to one of the book's shortcomings: despite trying to paint a picture of the last days of the war, the personal memoirs cover only one fraction of the canvas. With one exception, all the people whose stories are told are from Britain, America, Canada or New Zealand. The exception is a rather aristocratic German woman imprisoned because her diplomat father fell foul of the Nazis. This leaves the stories of ordinary French, Russian, Polish, Finnish, Greek and German people completely untold. And it's not just the observers that are all rather similar but their observations as well: they are all so nice and sensitive. And because the emphasis is on real accounts from ordinary people, some of the stories are, well, a little dull. For example one diarist is parachuted into Austria just as the war is ending. A tremendous start to a great yarn, one might think. But no, he gets lost and ends up staying with a farmer's family. It's perhaps a little harsh to say it, but maybe the reason that his story remains untold is because it is not really a great story.
Given the starvation, rape, looting, executions, treachery and death-marches going on at the time, I think there would have been room for a much greater variety of experiences, even from completely ordinary people.
That's not to say that all the stories are boring: for the most part, Stafford writes well and some of the vignettes are very engaging and insightful. But he could have whittled this 600 page book into a much finer work of oral history and had room for even more stories.
Another problem is that Stafford has shuffled all the stories like a pack of cards. The chapters are split into weak themes with even weaker chronology, so that he is constantly chopping back and forward between earlier and later dates. That would be fine in more skilled hands, but on several occasions here it leads to repetition, as the author has to recall an earlier passage to anchor the next bit.
Despite my criticisms, I confess to having been gripped by the book. It's not perfect, but still definitely worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The final chase through Europe, full of glory and horror, 30 Jan 2009
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation (Paperback)
I used to fine history boring at school with its impersonal lists of dates and its pointless wars from centuries ago. Over recent years however, books like Endgame 1945 have brought history to life with their combination of personal accounts and a narrative which provides a sense of immediacy and relevance to today's world.

In EndGame 1945, David Stafford manges to cover the whole arena of the Nazi clear-up operation in which the Allies swept across Europe from the west and up the back-bone of Italy. He uses the personal records of many people, but focusing particularly on British Intelligence Officer Geoffrey Cox, Fred Warner, a refugee from Nazi Germany, and Rober Reid, a BBC journalist. Particularly interesting are the extracts from the memoirs of Fey von Hassell, German mother separated from her young children and imprisoned in various locations because of her husband's anti-Nazi political views.

The reader hears the heart-beat of these participants as they write journals and letters, telling of their concerns about family and friends while also covering their desperate struggle to survive in the waste-land of 1945 Europe.

Perhaps some of the most moving sections are those which deal with the discovery of concentration camps, where Allied troops were appalled to find scenes of total suffering and degredation. After going into the notorious Belsen camp, the British forces compelled the burgermeisters of neighbouring towns to tour the camps and see the burial pit, still half full of bodies. As I read these chapters I could only feel how dreadful the clear-up job must have been for these ordinary men and women who had to cleanse the rotting camps, while dealing with the profound emotions which they would inevitably have experienced.

On the Italian side, for the most part the British and American troops were warmly welcomed as they chased the remnant German army north into the Alps. The race was on to prevent the Germans building strongholds in the Alps, but in scenes of incredible bravery the Allies encountered mines and snipers on their break-neck journey to overtake the Germans. Roberts describes in some detail the downfall of the dictator Mussollini who at the end of his venture found himself friendless and despised, meeting a violent end with his corpse suffering various indignities (which later caused Hitler to demand that his own corpse be burnt to prevent a similar venting of hatred on it).

Fey Von Hassell in her various prisons met many Nazi dissenters including Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who contributed to the plot to assassinate Hitler) and Pastor Martin Niemoller. She was present when after a morning service conducted by Bonoeffer, two civilians burst in and commanded him to depart with him for his final trial and execution. Neimoller, who ended in the Dachau camp, had formed a dissident Confessional Church and from his pulpit in Berlin had condemned Nazi rule, urging his congregation to "fight the evil that was spreading through Germany".

There are many episodes describe in the book which have been largely forgotten. For example, the luxury German passenger ship, the Cap Arcona which used as a prison ship and was crammed with 6400 people (including 4600 concentration camp prisonsers). Alas, the ship was not marked to indicate its status and was bombed by the RAF who believed it contained SS troops, with the lost of thousands of lives.

It would be impossible to do justice to this book in such a short review. I would just like to point out that it reads like a high-quality adventure story and for me at least left me wanting to share it with others who are only vaguely acquainted with the facts. It reminded this reader yet again of the earth-shaking events that happened a mere 66 years ago. The personal accounts which are the main feature of this book provide a great sense of immediacy, while showing that in desparate times, people can rise to the occasion and perform heroic deeds.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What happened after 'The End'..., 18 Jun 2009
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation (Paperback)
This is a really good book about the last few months of WW2, following the experiences of several particular men and women through the experiences up to and beyond VE Days - several American GIs, a British war correspondent, a New Zealand intelligence officer, a German prisoner of war, a British aid worker. It explores how the conflict didn't necessarily end on VE Day, how there was still fighting in many places, how the new-found chaotic and confusing peace required as much effort and energy and organisation as the war, with so many prisoners, displaced persons, Nazis, partisans, collaborators milling about. It really makes you realise that for almost everyone the final victory was as bitter as a defeat, and no-one really won anything. A wonderful book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotal history, 21 Aug 2012
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation (Paperback)
The topic of the last few months of WW2 is a gigantic one; so much slaughter, so much revenge, so much starvation and displacement. Perhaps it is a topic too great for conventional history. David Stafford has instead elected to build a montage of the period seen through its impact on a number of individuals, strategically chosen to be Everyman Everywhere. I found it this unhelpful but even with the "Meanwhile in Italy Albert Bonkers was...." feel the story is just breathtaking. I can only take my hat off to those who rebuilt the individual pieces of Europe.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read, 4 Nov 2008
By 
This review is from: Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation (Paperback)
This book is absolutely superb. All too often most books on WW2 in Europe end on the death of Hitler and not too much is said about how society in Europe coped in the immediate aftermath of the war finishing. This book is an excellent insight as to what happened and the problems that faced the Allies in this time (eg, The issues with Stalin, The huge numbers of German troops still wondering around, the massive displaced persons issues and the worrry of the Allies of German resistance groups still operating when the war ended). I really enjoyed the book and will be reading it again at somepoint soon. Loved it, it was educational and thought provoking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Endgame 1945, 28 Sep 2011
This review is from: Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation (Paperback)
The use of so many separate perspectives has its merits and demerits: we get to realise just how multi-faceted the fall of Nazi Germany was, and how differently it struck different participants and eye witnesses, yet we alslo lose coherence and feel we risk getting lost. The research was extensive, while the writing, though lucid, does get a bit flat in places.
On balance, though, very recommended. IF you cannot be fascinated by at least a large proportion of this wide-ranging (yet reasonably priced) book you weren't very interested in the first place.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some fascinating personal stories, 12 Oct 2007
David Stafford has unearthed a number of amazing personal stories here that I had not read in previous books on this subject.

Particularly poignant is the story of Fey Von Hassel, who's father was one of the Hitler Bomb Plot conspirators and she is imprisoned as a result and separated from her young children.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but rather journalistic, 31 May 2010
By 
D. J. Bennett "djb60" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation (Paperback)
This is a fascinating account of a fascinating period, which contains a lot of detail that is often overlooked. There are many accounts of the battles and events of the fighting in 1945, but much harder to come by are human accounts of the turmoil that existed on an unimaginable scale during the final months of war.

On the downside, this is an account which at times reads like a Sunday newspaper, and uses some emotive, whimsical and subjective description, which to my mind interferes with the subject matter. This does not read like an academic book but an impressionistic account, rewritten with the supposed thoughts and feelings of people who left diaries and letters at the time, which is not always convincing.

Against that, this is still an exciting and lively read, which is also well researched. So much was going on in this period that it is impossible to cover everything, and the fact that there are gaps in the narrative is not a criticism. It certainly helped fill out my understanding of the period, particularly for example the fate of the towns that the British were trying to keep out of the hands of Yugoslav partisans, and it illustrates well the many different sides of liberation, the mixed feelings of both victors and vanquished, and shows just how much was really going on beyond the bare facts of Germany's defeat by the Allies and the Russians.

For a fuller and more measured account of life in Europe immediately after VE day, I'd highly recommend Giles MacDonogh's "After the Reich: from the fall of Vienna to the Berlin airlift" which has a more academic approach but which covers similar ground in great depth.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A definite thumbs-up..., 21 Sep 2008
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation (Paperback)
This is a really good book about the last few months of WW2, following the experiences of several particular men and women through the experiences up to and beyond VE Days - several American GIs, a British war correspondent, a New Zealand intelligence officer, a German prisoner of war, a British aid worker. It explores how the conflict didn't necessarily end on VE Day, how there was still fighting in many places, how the new-found chaotic and confusing peace required as much effort and energy and organisation as the war, with so many prisoners, displaced persons, Nazis, partisans, collaborators milling about. It really makes you realise that for almost everyone the final victory was as bitter as a defeat, and no-one really won anything. A wonderful book.
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Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation
Endgame 1945: Victory, Retribution, Liberation by Professor David Stafford (Paperback - 3 July 2008)
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