16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2012
I read this book with considerable anticipation, having read and admired several other of Kershaw's books on the Third Reich. Kershaw is one of the greatest experts on this period of history and the premise of the book - to explain why the the German people kept fighting well beyond the bitter end - is intriguing.
Kershaw rejects the view that continued resistance can be explained merely by reference to the terror apparatus of the Hitler regime, without disregarding the importance of this factor.
He argues instead for a complex of factors including terror, the dread of the retribution and counter terror which might be expected from soviet forces, the destruction or nazi domination of institutions from which alternative sources of power might have issued a demand for surrender, the purge of the military after the abortive July 1944 plot, the fanatical resistance of key figures, particularly Hitler himself, and the demand from the allies for unconditional surrender. As ever, he is a master of the sources and quotes liberally to illustrate his arguments.
I found his book disappointing, however, for five main reasons: the structure of the argument, repetition, predictability, conceptual vagueness of Kershaw's use of the term 'mentality' and a sort of failure to engage with some of the sources from which he quotes so liberally.
The difficulty with the structure of the argument is that it falls between two stools. It is largley based on a chronological narrative, which is combined with a number of thematic discussions. I found this quite confusing and it prevents his arguments from emerging very clearly. The thematic arguments would have been much more convincing if Kershaw had pursued a more comparative approach to explain why the Germans behaved so differently from the Italians, Finns, Hungarians and Roumanians and what, if anything might be learned from the seemingly comparable fanaticism of the Japanese.
The mixed structure also leads to a great deal of repetition - remarked by some other reviewers - as each theme is revisited at each stage of the narrative.
The argument is not, moreover, particularly new. All of the factors listed above are more or less standard features of contemporary historiography and rather undermine the claim that this book gives us a compelling conclusion to arguments about this aspect of the war - 'the end of "the end" ' so to speak.
It is not clear, fourthly, what Kershaw means by 'mentality'. This is a fairly important issue, since he wants to get beneath the conventional explanations which tend to focus on the doings of elites to find out what motivated ordinary Germans - civilians and soldiers - to fight for as long and as hard as they did.
Mentality is a term derived from French historiography and means different things to different people. It can probably (and briefly) be defined as a spectrum which extends from fairly short term and more or less conscious ideas to ideas which are very deep rooted, largely unconscious and rather difficult and slow to change. A popular belief in the imminence of 'wonder weapons' might be an example of the former; a belief in a hierarchy of races and in the innate superiority of the German race might be an example of the latter. Kershaw is not clear where he stands on this spectrum, although from the context, it would seem that he leans towards widely held, short term, conscious ideas. The failure to explore more deeply held beliefs is a serious limitation of his argument.
I find it more difficult to formulate my final difficulty with this book. It is something to do with the apparently delusional nature of much of the testimony that Kershaw reviews. How could so many people continue to believe that Hitler had some secret plan, that the miracle weapons would save the day, that the allies would at the last minutes go to war with each other?
Kershaw doesn't really explain this other than by reference to the effectiveness of nazi propaganda, although he also cites multiple sources to suggest that many Germans treated this with a healthy scepticism.
Perhaps the answer may lie in the aspect of 'mentality' that Kershaw doesn't really explore. Could it be possible that the main or missing reason why the war in Europe lasted as long as it did, lies in the feelings of racial pride and superiority which effectively blinded many (most?) Germans even to the possiblity of defeat. From this perspective, the delusional beliefs might make a bit more sense and could be linked to other apparently separate behaviours such as the treatment of and indifference to Jews, Russians and other 'lower races'. I don't know, but the book would have been much more interesting if it had explored this theme.
To conclude, this is undoubtedly a good and stimulating book as is more than evidenced by the many favourable reviews. In my view, however, and with a sideways glance at many of Kershaw's other and better books, The End is something of a missed opportunity.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By mid 1944 there had been significant breakthroughs both on the Eastern and Western fronts, and it was clear that Germany would lose the war. Why then did it continue until mid 1945? This is the question addressed by Ian Kershaw, one of the foremost experts on Nazi Germany. He observes that this was an almost unique event, because historically countries reaching this point invariably sue for peace, rather than fight to the bitter, destructive end.
Von Stauffenberg's failed attempt to assassinate Hitler lead to a revival of the latter's popularity, which had weakened as the war proceeded badly. There was also a drastic reorganization of power within the state and greater control over the administrative organs of the Reich by the Nazi Party, with Goebbels, Bormann, Himmler and Speer becoming core figures. There were severe punishments, usually death, for anyone expressing dissent in any form. This was one component of the atmosphere of fear that pervaded the population. Another, best described as terror, was experienced by those living in the Eastern regions, who were petrified of the revenge the Red Army was expected to take for the atrocities committed by German forces in Russia. These fears were fully justified by later events, when Russian troops committed atrocities including looting, mass rape and summary executions. Goebbels played on this fear to persuade the population that there was no alternative to fighting on, against all the odds.
The Allies insistence on unconditional surrender was also exploited by Goebbels' propaganda machine. To surrender so abjectly would, he insisted, mean the end of Germany and its people. This was also the view of Hitler, who, to the day of his death, refused to consider the idea. But as the state began to disintegrate, why was there no collection of senior people to oppose Hitler, whose popularity with the bulk of the population was beginning to wan, most of whom wanted to simply end the misery of their daily lives. Military leaders were also fearful, although very few senior officers sacked by Hitler (and there were many) were executed. Rather they had a perverted sense of honour that forbade them to defy their Commander-in-Chief, to whom they had sworn a personal oath of loyalty. Bormann, Himmler and Goebbels were more concerned about maneuvering to accumulate more personal power, which of course flowed from Hitler. The actions of Speer seem to have been conditioned by his earlier huge admiration for Hitler, because he brilliantly continued to devise ways whereby the armed forces were supplied with armaments and other vital materials.
By 1945, Germany was a fully militarized state `ruled by terror', thrashing about in its death throes and willing to destroy even its own people. Summary courts martial were set up that passed immediate death sentences for `dissenters' of all sorts (in the second half of 1994 350 soldiers per month were executed for desertion); concentration camp inmates (15,000 from Auschwitz alone) were pointlessly marched westwards as the evidence of the death camps were destroyed, resulting in thousands dying en route from cold and hunger, or simply shot for being unable to keep up; and there was an orgy of killing foreign workers and political prisoners. There were still pockets of fanatical support for continuing the war. The Waffen-SS showed high levels of morale, and when pilots were asked to undertake kamikaze-style missions, an astonishing 20,000 volunteered.
In the midst of the carnage, some things continued in an almost surreal way. In February 1945 the Finance Ministry drew up plans to increase consumer taxes over income tax at a time when most of the country was occupied by enemy troops; Academic grants were still being awarded to foreign students to study in Germany in the last few weeks of the war; and the last concerts and first-class football matches in Berlin actually took place just two or three days before the Russian assault on the city. At the peak of the battle for Berlin almost 3880 inhabitants committed suicide and gangs of fanatical Nazis roamed the streets killing anyone they judged to have fled the fighting. Only Goebbels followed Hitler onto the funeral pyre; few other senior figures followed their example; only 55 out of 554 army generals and 8 out of 41 Gauleiters committed suicide, for example, and only 2 Gaulieters actually died fighting.
Why then did the war continue beyond the point where any reasonable person would have sued for peace? Kershaw concludes that fear, both of the Party apparatus and the Red Army, certainly played a part, as did the Allies' surrender terms. But above all, senior members of state were unable to overcome not just the charismatic character of Hitler, even long after this had faded, but also the character of the rule he had established.
This is a very fine book, full of detail, with a wealth of references to support the material of the text and some interesting photographs. The only criticisms I would make is that events on the Eastern front are treated in a little less detail than those on the Western front, which does not always reflect the achievements of the two armies, and there is a quite a lot of repetition. Nevertheless, this is still one of the best book I have read about the final months of the Third Reich.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 2012
Kershaw has written much about this period, and there is not much here that is new or insightful. This work feels more like an extract from other work, or the write up of a lecture or two.
The focus on Hitler as a "charismatic" leader is interesting and useful. In Business Education, there is currently a lot of focus on " charismatic leadership" as opposed to "management", "Charismatic Leadership" is the ideal, and in Hitler we have a great example of this ideal in action. On the other hand, with the failures of 1941 we see the failure of the ideal, and the need for the application of tight management principles to control the long retreat and place the German war economy on a total war footing. Hitler did not let this happen and so destroyed everything charismatic leadership had achieved in the years since 1933.
There is also a useful sketch of how a charismatic leadership regime functions - chaotically and very much like a medieval Kings Court. On the other hand the country's lower-level administration continues to function until the end, with middle-managers dutifully carrying out their assigned roles until the last hour of the regime's existence. And the general public? They just keep going, as we always do, trying to put food on the table and avoiding being spotted actively dissenting from state-supported norms.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2012
Ian Kershaw has for a long time now been seen as the preeminent scholar of Nazi Germany. I however have never been his biggest fan. I particularly found his famous two-part Biography of Hitler lacking. This book is undeniably brilliant however. I am not the fastest reader but having received this in the morning I sat and read it in a day. For those of us who have never lived in a totalitarian regime one of the hardest things to understand is how people were willing to keep fighting when downfall was inevitable. What this book does is show that the automatic conclusions we might come to are not necessarily correct. Kershaw tries to show that while the elite members of the hierarchy such as Himmler and Goering were fighting for the crumbs of power until the bitter end it was mid-level functionaries and local leaders who were primarily responsible for the escalation in partisan activity against those perceived as defeatist. Through a mixture of long-term indoctrination, short-term fear and in some cases, simply banality, some of the most horrific crimes of the war were committed by Germans on their own people. This book is as much a psychological study as a historical one. It does Kershaw tremendous credit.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2011
A lot of books have been written on the subject of the final months of the Third Reich. Kershaw's book tries to explain why the regime was able and willing to continue fighting in the face of overwhelming odds. The book is divided into 6 themes/ hypotheses that analyse the causes for continuing the war. The book is well writted and researched, the book analyses Third Reich politics, policy, military strategy and social aspect to expalin the determination to continue fighting. The content is well balanced and provided interesting insights into the mindset of the key figures of the regime.
Well worth a read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I have read several historical books over the years - but have not finished all of them. The reason is that they are sometimes too dry, and sometimes too intent on proving a case rather than explaining a situation.
This book, however, is very accessible to anyone, and clear. All of the evidence is brought forward and tabled, and the insane politics of the Third Reich are laid bare. The level of management of the population by propaganda, and of control by terror, are simply stunning. How any opposition could coalesce in an environment when even a muttered comment could see someone shot is easier to understand after reading this.
it never feels like a big book (though it is) and never feels hard to read. You emerge at the end somewhat shell-shocked at the ways in which the German population were both complicit in, and yet also victims of the Nazi machine. But you also understand how the population was willing to fight to the last man, with even the (highly-conditioned) Hitler Youth fighting street by street to protect Hitler.
I also began to understand how other propaganda-driven states control their populations.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2012
Does this ring a bell?
It was all lost. Enemy forces, drunk with revenge for the destruction of their country, were approaching the capital from one side. Another enemy advanced from the other side, daily bombarding all strategic - and many times civilian - targets to break the spirit of resistance. In his bunker, the ageing dictator heard the rumbles of war getting closer. They were out for him, and nothing but unconditional surrender could stop them.
This is not a recent description of Asad of Syria, Qadhafi of Lybia or, to take a quasi-state actor, the Tamil Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka. It is about their avatar, Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1944-1945. On 1 May 1945 Hitler committed suicide. Two weeks later it was all over with the unconditional surrender.
Why did the German army not waive the white flag in July 1944 after Allied penetration deep into France had shown that the game was up? The German side kept on fighting, kept on executing opponents, murdering starved prisoners in concentration camps. What enabled the machine to tick on with such horrendous costs in lives and property in these last ten months?
These questions are addressed in Ian Kershaw's The End, Germany 1944-45. It treats the period from Von Stauffenberg's failed assassination attempt of Hitler on 20 July 1944 till the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. It is not a military history. Kershaw concentrates on the attempts to preserve the power structure and to postpone economic collapse. His detailed and balanced history shows several factors at work.
People and military alike felt that there was no alternative to continuing the war. Better an end with horror than a horror without end, was the general opinion. News from refugees from the east reinforced the idea that with the Russians endless horror was coming to Germany.
There was jostling, even struggling for power, but this was confined to the very military and party top and the Fuehrer remained the ultimate arbiter. Society was taken over by the party and the Volkssturm, the national militia. There was no nucleus of resistance in religious or civil institutions.
Military production was in steep decline and could not keep abreast of the losses of war. Collapse was postponed by Speer's enormous power of improvisation. But after the failure of the capitation strike in the Ardennes in December 1944 the military, Kershaw writes, the regime's only remaining goal was fighting to the last, whatever the cost.
By February 1945 the soldiers blamed the party for the military situation, while the general population showed its German observers 'profound letharchy'. The state became even more than before a top down imposition, whose orders were precise, but increasingly impossible to comply with. From January and February, when the war entered Germany itself, its people were subject to extreme repression not to give up, as Kershaw shows. It worked.
In short, the defeat of the Nazi state came through relentless military pressure, it was not a systems collapse.
Kershaw does not stop at this. His book also covers the immediate post war situation. At first quite some Germans denounced active Nazis, but as denazification progressed, past behaviour was collectively reinterpreted. 'Nobody took part, everybody was persecuted and nobody denounced anybody', wrote a lady about the people in the food queues of Berlin. Surveys in immediate post war years revealed that the German people had reinvented themselves as 'the helpless victims of a war they had not wanted, foisted on them by a tyrannical regime that had brought only misery'. They even were at heart opposed, a priest at Berchtesgaden knew, 'our truly believing population, good middle class and farming families, fundamentally rejected Nazism'.
Was it true? The war, especially the last months, had indeed been beyond control of the ordinary citizen. But, as Kershaw remarks, 'few stopped to consider why they had allowed themselves to be misled and exploited'.
In the long run, but outside the scope of this book, the German people would try to cleanse themselves by hard work (Wirtschaftswunder) and it was their children who took them to account, as witness among other developments the student rebellion of the 1960s. It took the Germans even longer to convince their neighbours, as there was sporadic mistrust even during the German unification of 1990. Of course, now very few if anybody doubts Germany's credentials as a democratic state.
The war and especially its last ten months had shown the paralysis of the German elite and the automatic response of its population to authority. It is Kershaw's achievement to show the depths from which the democratic spirit in Germany had to rise. He has done so by sticking to the facts and without wagging the moral finger. I recommend the book.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This is Sir Ian Kershaw's last book on Nazi Germany, therefore the title is doubly appropriate.
This is because it is about the last phase of the Third Reich, from the 20 July plot to Berlin in May 1945. The book almost exclusively focuses on the German viewpoint.
The question it tries to answer is this: given Germany's hopeless military position after July 20, why did it continue to fight?
The final phase of the war was is most destructive as after 4 years of conflict, the Allies had developed weapons of such terrifying destructive power that Germany's early lead was all but wiped out. True, in the MP-40/44, the Tiger, the Me 262 they had war-winning devices, but they were produced in insufficient quantity to be decisive. No amount of cheaply-produced Panzerfausts could stem the tide of the armoured vice that would squeeze the life out of Germany. The Allies had more men under arms as well. The Soviets used brute force strategies of trading lives for land to advance deep into the Reich.
So why didn't Germany buckle under? Under Kershaw the answer emerges. For there to be a change in war policy, there had to be a change in government. The Nazi regime had been designed in a fashion as to prevent rival power structures to emerge. As a paramilitary political party, it used terroristic tactics to drive compliance.
However the party could only do so much and there was a functioning state mechanism to the very end, composed of civil servants issuing directives and collating information. The imposition of terror as state policy ensured their continued obedience. The is one area that Kershaw neglects to speculate on. The function state apparatus had millions of men behind it, despite the 'combing-out' of the country by Goebbels for an army that was losing 10,000 men a day on average. The connection between their fidelity and the alternative of a posting to the front is not explored. There is simply some vague idea of continuity in a crisis. Given the fear that others lived in, it is strange that it is this single 'duty to the state' that was the prime motivator.
The book is also a treasure trove of the opinions of ordinary Germans, through their letters, mainly those of soldiers from the front. Unlike the Mass Observation books published here over the years based on British opinions, no such collection of German opinions has appeared in similar quantity. The explanation for this is obvious. The true opinions of some Germans would have resulted in their arrest and execution, this was a country after all that beheaded dissenting teenagers. The correspondence that survives show that there was a high degree of loyalty to Hitler for most of 1944 and it was only when the Allies actually set foot on German soil that morale genuinely cracked.
So the answer to the question? Why didn't Germany capitulate in late 1944? There are a number of connected factors. The absence of an alternative power structure is the clear winner. But the collapse of the state was prevented by the persistence of government by civil servants who operated in the midst of decline, presumably because there was no alternative. Had the state apparatus collapsed, then all the posturing from the bunker would have been irrelevant. Obedience was backed by increasing, irrational terror as German killed German in greater numbers. Added to this was the rational fear of the consequences of defeat.
There is also the case that the Soviet Union, not a signatory to the Geneva conventions would take revenge for all the atrocities of the Germans in the East. So Germans were literally fighting for the lives of their families in the East. And they were not wrong. Thousands committed suicide rather than fall into Soviet hands. Millions more women were raped.
So the final answer has to be that the state resorted to direct terror to impose its will, plus the terror of defeat. And it was able to create such an edifice that no practitioner of state terror shirked from their task, lest they to became victims. There was a collective inability to see into the future beyond the fear, a strong belief that Germany would be saved by the Western Allies switching sides or the advent of 'wonder weapons'. So in the end, the terror was built on a series of lies, plus a fear of retribution.
And that, in essence is what Nazism was: A lethal mixture of terror, fear and lies. Case closed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2013
A comprehensively detailed account of the final stages of the Second World War from the perspective of the German side. I found the questions raised in the introduction to be answered as to why Germany continued to fight when the War was so clearly lost. The only issue which could have been dealt with using a bit more analysis was how a system of terror was able to withstand any internal opposition. After the attempted putsch in July 1944, the Nazi leadership seem to be impregnable despite near panic when Aachen was almost taken in September by the Americans, and the continued disaster in the East. Some earlier criticisms have been that the book has added nothing essentially new to what is already known, and this may have been a sign of that, despite a detailed commentary. Nevertheless, a complex, but clearly written book by an eminent historian.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2012
This book is not simply a rehash of other such books on the market narrating the last months of the Nazi regime from an angle no more insightful than an A-level textbook. This book offers incredible insights and detail beyond the 'headline' events we're all too familiar with. Attempting to and succeeding in assessing the very mentalities and thinking of a people at all levels of society in varied roles and places within the Reich...fitting perfectly on 400 so pages. I did not want to put this down and Kershaw's maticulous research and work is evidenced in such a masterpiece of modern history (not used lightly). His examples and use of primary sources fulfills his considered aims as outlined at the start of the book. This book secures Kershaw's place as one of our greatest living historians on Nazi Germany.