Review: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945 – Ian Kershaw

My version: Paperback
Genre: Non Fiction, Second World War, Germany
 Penguin Books
First published: 2012
ISBN: 9780141014210
Pages: 592

From the cover:
“What made Germany keep fighting to the death, even when it was clear it would lose the Second World War?”
Named Book of the Year by the Sunday Times, TLS, Spectator, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail and Scotland on Sunday, Ian Kershaw’s The End is a searing account of the final months of Nazi Germany, laying bare the fear and fanaticism that drove a nation to destruction.
In almost every major war there comes a point where defeat looms for one side and its rulers cut a deal with the victors, if only in an attempt to save their own skins. In Hitler’s Germany, nothing of this kind happened: in the end the regime had to be stamped out town by town with an almost unprecedented level of brutality.
Just what made Germany keep on fighting?
Why did its rulers not cut a deal to save their own skins?
And why did ordinary people continue to obey the Fuhrer’s suicidal orders, with countless Germans executing their own countrymen for desertion or defeatism?

In this magnificent, awe-inspiring book, Ian Kershaw sets out to examine and try and explain, or at least come up with some possible reasons for, the above. He examines every aspect of German life in what would turn out to be the last two years of the war (and I do feel it is important to remember while reading this, that until very late on, they of course didn’t know that it would end in May 1945. They knew they couldn’t win (as things stood) but they didn’t know when they would be deemed to have lost. So one cannot think ‘why are they doing/thinking that, when there are only two months to go?’, for instance). He combs the bureaucracy, the aristocracy, the Army, the Navy (what is left of) the Airforce, the ordinary people, the Nazi Party, the personality cult of Hitler, the power struggles and in-fighting of his heirs apparent and much, much more. Quite apart from anything else, this is an incredible summation of research, one surely without equal even in whole histories of the Second World War.

Exhaustive surely isn’t the word for it. Definitive, most likely. I can’t see how anyone could in the future possibly consider going over this ground again and finding anything more to say. This has dotted the i’s, crosses the t’s. Full stop.

Whilst Kershaw does draw some conclusions to try and answer the question why, what I do really like is the feeling that I was actually on the journey, the search for the reasons, alongside him. He states his purpose and lays down his methods at the start of the book really well, then the investigation of the facts begins. All through, I felt that I was beginning to understand the strands of reasoning, as Kershaw also came across them. I agree with him (I can’t disagree with him, not being in the remotest sense German) and his conclusions, but I also came forward with a couple of my own. Ones that were the product of his research and his fantastic book, but which weren’t actually exactly stated by him. But I get the idea that that would be fine with him. But then another thing I feel sure he is saying, is that there is no simple, single, glib answer to the question. It’s all of them in many different ways on many different levels.

One point I would make here is, it would help if this wasn’t the first, or only book on the Second World War you have ever read. You do need some background going into this as it does – as he states – deal with a very specific period and in a very concentrated sphere of the war. I felt too, that I need to read some more on the end of the First World War for Germany, the role of Prussia in the German psyche of the time and definitely the agreement of 1918, as the latter could explain much of the psychological background of Germany that might give additional understanding.

If I do have a quibble or a criticism, it is that some passages aren’t easy to read. Not due to the subject matter, difficult though that is on occasions, but more due to the awkwardness of the sentence construction and punctuation. Maybe once more through by his editor might not have gone amiss.

Otherwise, essential – and i mean essential – reading for anyone wanting a broader understanding of the Second World War.

You can buy The End from The Book Depository

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