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The End: Germany, 1944-45
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VINE VOICEon 24 September 2011
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.
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on 21 September 2011
Superb, a thought provoking read, I have thought (NOT ALL THE TIME I HASTEN TO ADD) whilst reading histories of WWII why did the Germans fight on for so long, if you want to know the authors explanation as to why then read this book. Ian Kershaw's writing is superb and a genuine pleasure to read. I read this book whilst on a weeks leave and came away satisfied and happy with the ideas that the author has put forward.
All in all a super addition to any military buffs library, I highly recommend this book.
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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.
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on 1 July 2012
I was pleased to read this book because I always wondered why the Germans held out so long at the end of the war. My mother is/was German and was a young girl at the time. She always maintained it was all to do with Hitler's secret weapon. She lived in the western side of Germany where fear of the enemy was not such a major factor.I now realise how important that was especially for those facing the Russians. Certainly almost as important was fear of the people who still ran the Nazi Party. Right up to the end many party officials still maintained such control over the population when you thought, why did they bother. Certainly for the more senior Nazis they know they had no future. I remember my mother telling me how her family were bombed out of Essen, but because she worked for the Luftwaffe she, a young 18 year old, was forced to stay behind until her home was flattened and she had to be dragged out. Even then on her way to the country she was caught and brought back and accused of desertion. She was lucky because her senior officer, who she had not liked vouched for her.

The book tells us all about these things and more. We get stories of people good and bad. We get insights into the minds and actions of the key Germans of the time, Hitler of course,Goebbels, Speer, Borman and Himmler. Also significant are the senior Nazis in the Regions of Germany and their stubborn behaviour on behalf of a doomed regime. I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Maybe now I am ready to tackle the author's two enormous books he wrote on the life of Hitler.
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on 30 November 2012
The beginning of this book was a bit of a let-down.

Based on the introduction, I had expected to read how life had been almost normal to the end (eg. last concert of the Berlin Philharmonic on April 24, 1945). Instead there was a lot, and I mean a lot, of emphasis on soldier morale, desertion and punishment. The civilian side of the story gets scant attention at the beginning of the book.

What is, however, incredible, and which I had not known, despite being a fervent reader of WW2 history, is that Admiral Doenitz actually did run an administration of sorts. I had always figured that Doenitz took over from Hitler and immediately surrendered. But this book explains how, on May 3, 1945, Doenitz, retrenched in a sliver of territory around Hamburg, was actually choosing his cabinet, and there is a surreal part which recounts the jockeying of various would-be Ministers to become Minister of Agriculture ... on May 3, 1945 !
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 8 January 2013
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.
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on 26 October 2014
The same with the "Inside Hitler's Bunker". Interesting and educative in order not to repeat the... History
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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.
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on 17 November 2014
Good book very good service
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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.
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