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Germany 1945: From War to Peace
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2013
Zero Hour is apparently how many Germans regarded the end of 1945. A source of almost endless misery and destruction, the result of which was for many of them to see themselves as victims of the war as much if not more so than the people and countries upon which they wreaked such devastation themselves. Richard Bessel is very even handed and precise in his descriptions of perhaps the most fateful year in German history. His work is thorough and well documented and takes you from the well known and well trodden ground of the final allied assault and Russian taking of Berlin, to some of the lesser known aspects of the allied occupation. It is still sobering to note that in one month in early 1945 the German military suffered 450,000 killed and that during the period of migration to avoid bombing and the subesquent escape and forced migration to the west from what is now Poland, the former Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and other areas in the Russian occupied zone, some 11 million people were on the move, mostly women, children and the elderly. The treatment of many Germans by the the nazis towards the end was often as barbaric, pointless and sadistic as their other crimes. The young (17) year old Gunter Grass himself in the Waffen SS recalled seeing boys as young as himself hanging from trees.

The Occupying forces saw their role as to crush Germany so that it would never rise as a military power again. That the Russians enacted this through an orgy of rape and destruction is both appalling and sadly an act of vengeance that to them was completely justifiable, particularly as they saw the wealth of Germany through the eyes of their own suffering and poverty. Less understandable was the action of French colonial troops who acted in a similar if not such destructive manner. It is unfortunate that Henry Morgenthau US secretary to the Treasury advanced a plan in all seriousness to turn Germany into a virtually 18th agrarian society. Being jewish you can understand his hatred, but it proved a propaganda coup for the Nazis.

Once the fighting was over the book examines the successes, failures and different styles of management of the occupying powers. Each had their own style, attitude towards the local population and economic priorities trying to both resurrect German civil society, cope with the horrors of the concentration camps and deal with the tidal wave of dislocated and bewildered humanity, German civilians in situ, German migrants from the east, forced labourers anxious to return to their own country. This was coupled with the hunt for war criminals, which the Germans were often only to eager denounce and the denazification of the civil adminstration (Persilschein). Many mistakes were made here which given the circumstances you have to sympathise with (Given the lessons of this episode it is criminal to think of what happened in Iraq). An example of the problems was the food situation. In the British sector 'Operation Barleycorn' was the release of some 300,000 German prisoners of war to bring in the harvest to prevent widespread starvation.

Richard Bessel then discusses the loss of the east, Prussia,Pomerania,Silesia,Thuringia, the psychological impact on those forced to the west knowing they would never return home and how this and the devastation cause by allied bombing and the occupation led to the mindset of victimhood within Germany, that largely erased a sense of responsibility at least initially for the human and material devastation they themselves were responsible for. He also looks at how the occupying powers wished to shape Germany for the future. How the involvement of German political parties of the left, unions, trade federations themselves sought to support and shape reconstruction and organise relief. Despite the bombing much of German industry, if not domestic infrastructure was intact and even with the removal of whole plants and factories by all sides was able to start up again fairly quickly, the chiefs problems being fuel and transport.

The influence of the churches is examined as the sole surviving entity outside that Nazi state that retained most of its credibility.

The author finally makes the point that rather than WW1 where Germany was not invaded, the experience of destruction and the moral bankruptcy of the Nazi state even towards its own citizens finally forced the 'zero hour' mentality that enabled Germany to rebuild in a different way.

This book is information heavy. Statistics add to rather than detract from the narrative. The prose style is straightforward in presentation, but does lapse into repetition and the overuse of adjectives when trying to describe the nazi regime itself, the vileness it inflicted and the repercussions that ensued.

Recommended but perhaps not as a first book on the subject.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This book documents Germany's re-emergence from barbarism to civilisation. It deals not so much with the roots of German revival but why the Allies faced almost no resistance to their occupation after May 1945. Given the fanaticism of German resistance, especially in the east, this wasn't what the Allies expected. In fact, Germans swiftly repudiated Nazism and were docile in the face of defeat and got on with the task of building a new society. How did this come about?

The first 150 pages rehash the now-familiar story of the dying days of the Third Reich. They are important as background, because the scale of Germans' trauma in the last months of the war seared itself on the country's collective psyche. Germans were caught between the twin fires of regime terror (hitherto only experienced on any scale in Germany's occupied territories) and Allied retribution. It helps explain in part the absence of any guerrilla resistance to the occupiers. No one wanted to fight to restore the regime that had brought such a calamity on their heads. In any case, there were no resources to furnish an insurgency, no safe havens and millions of occupying soldiers posed impossible odds against any putative insurgency's success. The Allies hanged a few would-be terrorists and that was that. The defeat was psychological and moral, as well as physical and military - this really was the definition of `total defeat'.

The book shows that even though Germans did not want the regime restored after May 1945, many did not feel implicated in its crimes in the immediate aftermath of the war. Germans felt that they were the victims (in part justified, since Allied bombing for instance rained bombs on the innocent and guilty alike). The Germans did not offer resistance because they felt culpable about Nazi crimes: they felt beaten. There were of course many exceptions. But a wider feeling of guilt and atonement was to wait for another twenty or so years.

The rest of the book deals with the revenge of Germany's former slave labourers, the beginnings of Allied occupation and the mass expulsions of Germans from the portion of the old Reich allocated to Poland from Czechoslovakia. Amidst all this chaos and upheaval, Germans struggled to survive, and could not have offered resistance even if they wanted to. And the Allied occupation, though harsh in its early days, was clearly not intended to wipe Germans out as a race. So Germans could and did learn to live with it.

Nineteen-thirty-three to Nineteen-forty-five were extraordinary years in German history. But so were the years after 1945. We know a lot about the Nazis but we know far less about the roots of Germany's transformation after 1945. This is a great pity. Germany's revival since 1945 is surely worth of interest. So this book is welcome. It does, however, devote a bit too much space to the final months of the war, perhaps because the publishing market is not yet ready for a book that devotes itself explicitly to Germany's revival , without having to retell for the 100th time the familiar story of the last days of the Third Reich. Despite this criticism, this book is a step in the right direction.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 8 December 2009
I couldn't disagree more with the previous reviewer. I am one of the first people to be put off by dry books crammed with figures statistics.
This is a highly readable study by a professional historian of German descent of 1945....the last months of the war in Germany and the first months of the allied occupation and the process of rebuilding a modern state out of the ruins.
Figures are used with skill to portray the apocalyptic scale of the problem and the extent of the destruction and dislocation.
Eg 450,000 German soldiers were killed in January 1945 (more by a considerable margin than the military losses of the western allies throughout the whole war).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A very absorbing and easy to read book. Whilst not exonerating the german nation for their culpability in the Nazi policies and actions during the 12 years of the 3rd Reich, the author nevertheless retails at great length and objectivity, the horryfying experiences of the ordinary german during the last months of the war.

Whilst there was no doubt of the appaling behaviour meted out by both the Wermacht and the SS/einzatzgruppen during the nazi invasion of the USSR and the Western European nations, one's attention is drawn to the fact that 'two wrongs can never make a right'.

All very well written and documented. highly recommended. A v good read
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2012
This was a very readable book, presenting valid statistics but not being governed by them; it is made clear that the total collapse of Germany followed the most severe losses in terms of men, matériel and resources and last but not least, territory. The style is concise but not (pace another commentator) to my mind dry. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to know about the context of Stunde Null.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2011
This book fits the bill as a heavy piece of academic research with a wide compass on Germany in that year. The huge gap is what might reasonably be described as the core of the subject. For twelve years Germany was ruled by a barbaric and repressive system. This system by common agreement seeped into the very heart of German life. The extent of the collapse and the dislocation of 1945 is fully described. What is left out is the actual reaction of the German people to the nemesis of the Nazis. After all, the book is entitled 'Germany 1945' Yes, many germans who cooperated with the regime were needed by the necessity the allies faced in restoring some order, but there was no clear analysis of how ordinary germans, longed cowed by fear and brutality now faced their former masters at all levels of society. We know that on top of Nuremberg there were provincial courts which tried some of the minor (but no less repulsive)nazis. The book does point out how the subsequent occupation of foreign troops, particularly the Russians, provided a cause for resentment against the foreigner. But what about the fund of hatred and resentment within germany for those who had been repressed? Was there true reflection of what had actually happened to one of the greatest centres of cultural life in 20th Century Europe? The book implies that the horrors of 1945 and the desparation of those times paradoxically led to a lack of real reflection on what had really happened. It is that question which a reading of novels such as Hans Fallada's 'Alone in Berlin' invites historical research. Therein Richard Bessel's book is lacking.
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on 25 August 2014
A well written and researched book containing a vast fund of information and insight into a very difficult time for Germany. How the German people got through it remains a wonder to me.
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on 10 February 2015
The book in my opinion didn't live up to my expectations and didn't deliver the great read i was expecting. Did arrive on time though and in perfect condition.
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on 22 August 2014
Few books concentrate on this period, 1945-1946 mostly, a time of barbarity and dislocation which does much to explain our United Europe.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 8 December 2010
I thought this was well written and very comprehensive. It made me want to read a sequel about Germany from 1946 onwards.
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