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Berlin: The Downfall: 1945
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on 20 January 2011
For me, this book has all the promise of a classic military campaign book with a human touch. I don't have a problem with the way this book is several books intertwined in one, and can accept the confusion of army divisions, generals and place names. Where this book fails is, as noted by others, in it's overwhelming emphasis on rape as being practically the be-all and end-all of human suffering, as well as a general anti-male bias that is strongly reminiscent of 80s feminist 'victim' ideology - all men are stupid, lazy, evil bastards who rape when given half a chance and poor, innocent, long-suffering women just have to put up with them. While this was clearly a strategy to attract woman readers to a military book, this exaggerated emphasis casts a long shadow over the work, and makes much of it seems like a military manual which has been 'politically corrected' to match prevailing gender ideologies.

A few quotes will illustrate the problem:

Beevor mentions the 'Trümmerfrauen', the female construction workers. This was shocking for many Western Europeans, not used to seeing women have to lower themselves to doing a dirty, dangerous, male, death profession. But what follows is both false and unfair: 'Many of the German men left in the city were either in hiding or had collapsed with psychosomatic illnesses as soon as the fighting was over.' Where is the proof of these psychosomatic illnesses? If in peacetime, women dominate with psychosomatic illnesses, why should this change in wartime? More men are weak, women are strong ideology.

'Women discovered that while they had to come to terms with what had happened to them, the men in their lives often made things far worse...Hanna Gerlitz: 'Afterwards...I had to console my husband and help restore his courage. He cried like a baby.' Really? What would Beevor have said had these German men acted with indifference? Then, no doubt, he would switch from 'men are weak' mode to 'men are bastards' mode - men have no sympathy with female suffering and think rape is nothing. In other words, the no-win situation of men in modern gender politics.

'It was a wise decision to entrust the evidence to a woman that night'. A man entrusted with Hitler's remains could not be trusted because he's Russian and male and might get drunk? This is gender-stereotyping taken to ridiculous extremes.

'Women queued for a handout of butter and dry sausage, while men emerged only to line up for an issue of schnapps.' As above.

I don't have the exact quote, but Beevor went a step too far when he implied that the reason that US soldiers didn't rape was because they were given a generous cigarette ration, and could pay for their prostitutes, something the Soviet soldiers could not do. The implication is that any soldier rapes when the opportunity is permitted, not just those who've had years of traumatizing, alcoholized exposure to brutal war (remember Russian soldiers didn't get any leave - and when German women helped Hitler receive a 90% yes vote in the 1934 referendum, these poor young Russian boys were far, far away, with no intentions of raping anyone...)

Beevor's biggest mistake was to include the opinions of proto-feminist Anonymous in his work. It is plain from her work that she had an anti-male bias to start with which was exacerbated by the war... 'I've been noticing that not only my feelings, but those of almost all woman towards men have changed. We are sorry for them, they seem so pathetic and lacking in strength. The weakly sex. A kind of collective disappointment among women seems to be growing under the surface. The male-dominant Nazi world glorifying the strong man is tottering, and with it the myth 'man''. A quote which belongs in some misandrist feminist publication for sure, but what is Anonymous really saying? That while the Nazis were victorious, she respected men and masculinity, but now that all the toughest, most masculine men are dead or in prison camps, and she's only surrounded by the sick, weak, old men and other pacifists who avoided fighting, she has no respect for them? Yet she seems glad to use male inventions and medical technology. Seems to take for granted that man's creativity had doubled the world's population in a few hundred years, partly as a result of taking midwifery out of the hands of women, and that even the terrible losses of both world wars are a tiny fraction of the literally billions of lives saved by men's advances in medical and food technology, etc. And focuses purely on the destructive side of man. In other words, the modern gender approach all men are well aware of.

Now there is no denying that for biological reasons men have dominated world history in terms of both creation and destruction. (According to Darwin, in only 5% of species do females take the initiative in courtship - and in these species the females are bigger and more aggressive i.e. more creative/destructive than the males) Women have had little opportunity for creation and destruction, yet as we can see from the women prison guards at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, etc, soviet women soldiers in action (the woman fighting battalions were infamously brutal with prisoners and wounded - Beevor doesn't mention them) or in support roles (they laughed at rapes and egged their men on), when offered the chance to be brutal many took it gratefully with both hands. Much like with men. But nothing like the mythical angelic women found in Beevor's work. If we are to call WW2 'their' (men's) war, then when we write books on science and invention, we must refer to these as 'men's' inventions, or to the technological genius of men, NOT man. We have to make a decision one way or the other. But Beevor, with the typical masochistic chivalry of the ex-military man, and with the close support of his wife (writer Artemis Cooper), seems oblivious to such notions.

It's hard for me to recommend this book for the above reasons, although generally I found it a gripping read. If you're completely insensitive to fairness in gender issues then what I've outlined above may not trouble you. Otherwise, I'd recommend you look further for a gender-neutral book on the Berlin downfall.
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on 8 August 2002
"As Goebbels has frankly remarked in his memoirs..." - wrote one German historian in the early 1970s in his attempt at yet another revisionist "history" book. Unfortunately, this seems to be the type of sources used by Anthony Beevor for his latest work.
What do we know about the alleged incident at Nemmersdorf, which the author of "The Fall of Berlin: 1945" uses as the opening clause of his story?
We definitely know that there was some film footage of Nemmersdorf produced and directed by Dr. Goebbels and his "Ministry of Truth" after the Germans have retaken this town in Eastern Prussia following a brief occupation by Chernyakhovsky's forces and their subsequent withdrawal in the fall of 1944. The film shows some burning 'Lend-Lease' Studebakers, ruined buildings and a few bodies of civilians.
The commentary behind the screen "explains" how the hordes of Ivans plundered the town and raped every female in sight regardless of age or species. As an undeniable proof Anthony Beevor mentions a little-known book by an obscure German writer. The book is in German and in Germany, of course. Well, at least Mr. Beevor did not quote the good old Doc. Just for that we all should feel much obliged.
Other sources of Mr. Beevor's are even more entertaining: some professionally-written recollections by a Soviet playwright form the nucleus of Anthony Beevor's list of hard-core historical documents. Any lingering doubts about the true intentions of the Red Army in Germany are sure to be resolved by the quoted personal letters, memoirs and oral reminiscences put to paper fifty years after the war. One cannot argue that such a monolith of documentary evidence is enough to rip the mask of hypocrisy off Marshal Zhukov's cheerful face and once and for all show the world the true animal nature of the Soviet aggression against Nazi Germany.
And then the book is just old plain boring. With each page, I found it increasingly more difficult to turn to the next one. So, all right, the book is not historically accurate, unbiased or well documented, but at least the author should have tried to make it entertaining, since that's what really sells these days! I know Mr. Beevor can write entertaining stuff. He did it before and no doubt will do it again.
This book, however, is a loss. The author seems to be unable to drop his journalistic approach to research and writing. Not that there is anything wrong with such an approach, but we are not talking about a column in the local tabloid here and Mr. Beevor seems to be forgetting that 'history' does not mean 'his story'.
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on 8 December 2015
I had high hopes for this book but unfortunately, I was to be disappointed. For someone who started so promisingly, with books like Crete and the Spanish Civil War (the original one), Beevor has credentials as a historian. He looked to me like the next Max Hastings. Sadly though, I can't see myself reading another offering from Antony Beevor because, frankly, I'm tired of him.

To give an example of where he seems to have fallen off the rails as a historian, one need look no further than the re-write of his book on the Spanish Civil War. Extended by about 100 pages, it is little more than a tee off on the infiltration of the Republic by the Soviet Union. This had already been adequately explained, in plenty of nefarious detail, in the first edition. Beevor's re-write is little more than an additional anti-Soviet diatribe, which, he claims, is the result of recent research of newly opened files. It's as though it only happened on one side.

Berlin is little different. The Red Army took city after city at great cost and from there the rapes began. That's how the story rolls. Nemmersdorf was a first class example of what happened when a rampaging Red Army went through a civilian area. Murder, rape and looting were rife and the Germans were horrified when they retook it and discovered what had happened. This sort of thing is well documented and there is enough around that history will not likely forget it.

The trouble with Beevor is that he simply can't let go. I don't know if he's a Soviet hater or not but his almost endless references to the Red Army raping civilians from 8 to 80 started to get downright boring after a while. You'd think it never happened on the other side and he seems to be completely ignoring the "how" and "why". That's his job. He's supposed to explain this.

On top of that, he has become something of a pontificator. For example, on page 104 of the paperback edition, he refers to a report that describes looting "without the knowledge of the general staff". From this he deduces that the general staff must have felt put out because they didn't get a share. Another example was his description of Hitler looking like a repressed pædophile in his last public appearance equally has no place in a history book. I'm sorry Mr Beevor but this is not your job. Good historians describe what they can and leave the judgement to the reader. Presumption like this is not history.

There are much better books than this which describe the situation in detail. The Last Battle,After Hitler: The Last Days of the Second World War in Europe and The End: Germany, 1944-45 are all good quality, scholarly works. If you want to read a survivor's account from a woman's point of view, A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary is all you need. It seems to be all Beevor needed. This was a sub-par work and I'm afraid he now qualifies as that most detestable species of writer, "The Popular Historian".
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 August 2015
This book covers a conflict that due to being wholly German versus USSR armed forces has probably not been as fully understood under the UK and USA histories of WWII till now. Following the model and style of the author’s prior highly popular history of Stalingrad, his adept handling of the vast panorama of facts is again impressive and drives the narrative along. But be warned, you will endlessly refer to the numerous maps included in tracking the three-pronged attack by the USSR in a race to encircle Berlin before the other Allies arrived!

Hitler’s outlook and health post the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt alongside the actions of the Nazi leadership as events unfolded, serves to underline this would be a battle to the end however inevitable the outcome was. This was seen in both sides brutal treatment of deserters and execution of prisoners, civilian and military. That savagery extended to the plundering and pillage including widespread rape by the advancing Russian forces once inside German borders. Though Beevor muses a number of times on this subject (including examples the Western Allies forces were not blameless), the lack of military discipline alongside the incitement that had been occurring prior to the battle for an army where brutality and low food rations were the norm, simply created an inevitable outcome when Soviet forces encountered a comparatively well off German populace.

Many elements of the story also show great lack of appreciation (bordering on naivety) by US military leaders as to decisions they made not helped by a rapidly ailing President Roosevelt trying to control events when meeting with Stalin and Soviet duplicity in exchanging information. The Cold War seemed sadly inevitable!

The book closes with a masterly summary of how all the main participants were losers at great costs (present and future) despite Russian objectives having been achieved. Proof again if needed that history does not always reward victors!
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on 16 June 2002
The author has written two books simultaneously. One is a dry military history, packed with details about units, bridge crossings, hardware etc. The other is an account of a massive, humanitarian catastrophe, brought vividly to life by the authoritative use of eyewitness accounts.

The first suffers from a lack of detailed maps and diagrams, which renders half the text virtually impenetrable, as endless accounts of tank units and bridgeheads trundle past without a context. The second is by far the most successful, carrying the whole. It offers insights into the psychology and culture of 20th century europe which are essential, yet previously overlooked, probably because of the 'difficult' nature of the story.
I would have liked to have been able to follow the military story of units fighting across europe on a usable map, and to have been able to decypher the individual accounts of tactics by reference to diagrams and graphics. The author could really have made a decision as to his audience, and published two, separate, companion volumes, each of which would have been much better.
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on 23 August 2012
As a Berliner who was 12 years old when he witnessed the advance of the Red Army into the city I am still a little scared at the thought of reading about all those horrible things that happened within a few miles of where I lived, but which - miraculously - did not take place in my immediate neighbourhood.

Having read other books written by the author, though, I am certain that what he describes is absolutely correct.

One thing, however, somewhat irks me and that is the description of the book by the publisher. It is said in the presentation: "Hundreds of thousands of women and children froze to death or were massacred because Nazi Party chiefs, refusing to face defeat, had forbidden the evacuation of civilians."

In January of 1945 I was living with my grandmother in a little town some 30 miles east of Breslau. Ever since the beginning of the year we had seen endless wagon trains of refugees moving west, at a snail's pace, and had begun to realize that at one point or another, their fate would also strike us.

It is true that the authorities tried to prevent people from fleeing at their own initiative, but preparations for such a move were carried out anyway. We knew that places on an ox-drawn farm wagon had been assigned to us by the local manager of the town's major land-owner and when, finally, the order of evacuation came, the wagon train was able to leave in an orderly fashion, along roads that were essentially free from obtruction by other civilian vehicles.

For five days, until we finally managed to cross the Oder river, we moved through a region whose people had just left, we slept in beds that were still unmade and ate food that at times was still warm - but there was no chaos. Later on, once we were temporarily safe, the wagon train was given a postal number, like an army unit, at night, the mayors in the villages along the road issued billets, and food was distributed daily.

Obviously, there were deaths, mainly old people who collapsed from the cold or the strain of it all or who simply gave up, but even my 85-year-old grandmother reached Berlin some time in February and lived to become 97.

It may well be that the decision of the authorities to delay evacuation until the last possible moment was wrong in certain places, but the cause was not a refusal by the German military to face defeat, rather it lay with the vagaries of the fighting which led to unforseeable shifts in troop movements, both German and Soviet.

Such situations arose primarily in East Prussia which had been cut off from the Reich at a certain moment; it forced the civilians to move along highly dangerous paths to reach a port from which they might be evacuated, with many of them meeting their death while crossing over the frozen bays of the Baltic sea under enemy fire, or dying in the greatest maritime disaster of all time when the "Wilhelm Gustloff", overloaded with ten thousand civilians, was sunk by a Soviet submarine off the Pomeranian coast.

The German infrastructure functioned until the very end - even longer than that: in Berlin, at the end of April, 1945, my father was able to talk on the telephone to a friend living a mile further south, in an area that the Red Army had already conquered...

P.S. In the amazon.co.uk presentation it is said: "Nazi Youth teenagers peddling their bikes in despairing, last-ditch attacks against the Red Army's tanks" - I wonder how much money they got for their bikes.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 February 2015
This is a very interesting read, but it is primarily focused on the military history of the fall of Berlin. I personally prefer reading about social and political history and those parts of the book were really wonderful. However, the reason I gave this four stars is that, despite its heavy stress on battles and army movements, Antony Beevor is a great writer. I know it sounds cliche, but through his descriptions of the last days of the Third Reich, you really feel the allies closing in and the dying of an inglorious empire. As more and more of Germany falls to the allies, you feel what it must have been like for the Nazi leadership to know that their empire was slowly shrinking and closing in. You vividly picture the armies moving. It was a very moving book.

And through the military conquest of Berlin, Beevor actually details another important story, the history of the beginnings of the Cold War. The battles and movements of the Soviet, British, and American army were extremely significant to understanding how the Cold War developed in those early years. Worth reading just for this.

One little annoyance was his constant repetition (I didn't take an exact account, but it was at least more than ten times) that the Russians were afraid the Americans would reach Berlin first. I think after the first few times, the readers has got that theme clear!

And an extremely annoying part is his belief that the Soviets really did find Hitler's body. I am pretty sure most historians don't agree with that. Since 2002, anyway the BBC has shown a program in which they tested the "supposed" jaws of Hitler held by the Soviets, and they were not his.

But these little things shouldn't put anyone off from reading this truly thrilling book. Better than a movie.
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on 14 October 2011
Comparisons have been made between Cornelius Ryan's book "The Last Battle" and Antony Beevors "Berlin the Downfall 1945". Having recently read both I would say Ryan's book published in 1966 is a more scholarly piece of work, Ryan personally interviewed many of the protagonists, including Koniev, and Henrici, his work is a classic history of the battle for Berlin.
Beevors book on the other hand is geared more towards getting an emotional response from his readers rather than aiming for historical accuracy.

An example of the two contrasting styles when describing the same events on 20th April 1945 in the Reich Chancellery illustrates this:

Ryans description:
`Hitler, followed by his entourage, emerged from the bunker. There in the bombed wilderness of the Reichskanzlei gardens he inspected men from two units - the SS "Fundsberg" Division, a recently arrived division from the Courland Army, and a proud little group from Axmann's Hitler Youth. "Everyone," Axmann said long afterward, "was shocked by the Fuhrer's appearance. He walked with a stoop. His hands trembled. But it was surprising how much will power and determination still radiated from this man." Hitler shook hands with the boys and decorated some whom Axmann introduced as having "recently distinguished themselves at the front." '

Beevors description:
`That afternoon in the ruined Reich Chancellery garden, the Fuhrer worked his way slowly down a line of Hitler Youth, some of whom had received the Iron Cross for attacking Soviet tanks. Hitler could not present any medals himself. To prevent his left arm shaking too obviously, he walked gripping it behind his back with his right hand. For brief moments, he could afford to release it. With what looked liked the intensity of the repressed paedophile, he lingered to cup a cheek and tweak and ear, unconscious of his leering smile.'

Beevor also relies heavily on quoting chunks of text from the anonymously authored book "Woman in Berlin" it seems to be his main source of reference for the many rapes that took place in Berlin. Although it may be an excellent diary of some of the events of that time, there have been some questions regarding its authenticity. (that is not to say that thousands of rapes and murders of innocent civilians took place, they certainly did) Another of his main sources comes from Vasily Grossman's novels, all very emotive stuff.

A plus point for Beevor is that he mentions the contribution made by the foreign soldiers of the Waffen SS in the final days of Berlin, in particular the defence of the Reichstag. The role played by the foreign volunteers in the Waffen SS is usually ignored or played down by many popular historians, it was refreshing to have the author highlighting the contribution made by these men. There are some errors, the French Waffen SS soldier and recipient of the Knight's Cross, who was killed was Eugene Vaulot not Eugene Vanlot, this may be simple typo or evidence of a rushed book and poor research.

Someone who may not know anything about the fall of Berlin and the end of the Third Reich, will most probably find this book interesting, gripping even, but for anyone who has already read about this event from a historical viewpoint, this book will be a disappointment.
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on 28 November 2007
Anthony Beevor's best-selling account of the death throws of the Third Reich - young boys, old men and foreign SS volunteers battle desperately for the capital against the rapacious advance of the Red Army, whilst outside the capital German armies once separated by the three thousand miles between the eastern and western fronts are now only one days' march apart.

This book deals particularly well with the period from January to April 1945 along the whole of the Eastern Front in Poland and Germany, especially the ravaging of East Prussia and the Soviet advance into Pomerania and Silesia. There are also interesting details on the French volunteers of the SS Charlemagne battalion.

This book is definitely an interesting read for those new to this subject, but those who have read the 1966 book, "The Last Battle" by Cornelius Ryan, will find "Berlin: The Downfall 1945" something of a disappointment. Beevor's book falls down somewhat in its treatment of events once the Soviets cross the Oder-Neisse Line. Although we are treated to the Soviet perspective of the Battle of the Seelow Heights, the Germans hardly get a look in.

I also found Beevor's descriptions of the locations of the two German armies to the south of Berlin confusing and the maps insufficiently detailed. And post-Seelow, the German forces east and north of Berlin are scarcely mentioned. As for the battle for the city of Berlin itself, the treatment is adequate and there are some interesting insights, but here again Beevor's book comes off very much second best compared with "The Last Battle".

"Berlin: The Downfall 1945" is definitely worth a read, particularly for information on the wider Eastern Front at the beginning of 1945, but nearly 40 years after its original publication, the Ryan book remains the masterpiece on the fall of Berlin itself.
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on 22 June 2008
This book is, in fact, made up of three shorter books welded together and none of them quite work.
The first is a book about the strategy of the end of the war in Europe, focusing on the advance of the Soviet armies. This is just plain confusing, with inadequate maps and indistinct Soviet generals commanding armies that are literally just numbers and attacking places you've never heard of. My advice is: you know what's going to happen so skip through them.
The second book is a description of the final days of Hitler and his entourage in the Bunker. Even to a casual history reader like me, this was very, very familiar ground. Watching the film "Downfall", while maybe not as historically accurate, is far more memorable and evocative.
Squashed in between these two is the third book, the really interesting one, about what ordinary people - be they German civilians, Russian soldiers, or prisoners-of-war - experienced, thought and felt. These were far-and-away the most interesting sections, although (as other reviewers have noted) it seems a bit obsessed with rape almost any woman by Soviet troops. I am not saying this doesn't deserve attention: it must have traumatised the victims beyond my imagining and ruined many lives, but the author returns to it over and over again and the repetition becomes slightly numbing. More emphasis could have been given to how people lived for the rest of the time.

The other serious quibble I have is that the book takes way too long to get going. Despite being called "Berlin", it begins in January in Poland and it is almost halfway over before the fighting gets to Berlin. The book is easy enough reading and did keep me going but really only to find the next genuinely interesting patch. There were certainly some of these - for example, the author can barely conceal his impatience, even contempt, for what he sees as the naivety of Eisenhower, Marshall and Roosevelt in their dealings with the Soviet army and Stalin in particular.

So, good in parts, but way too long. There's far too much repetition of familiar material here - if only this was genuinely a book about the people involved in the battle in Berlin. Since finishing "Berlin" I have read "The Last Battle" by Cornelius Ryan - I would recommend the latter.
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