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The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 [Hardcover]

Ian Kershaw
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 13 2011

From the preeminent Hitler biographer, a fascinating and original exploration of how the Third Reich was willing and able to fight to the bitter end of World War II.

Countless books have been written about why Nazi Germany lost World War II, yet remarkably little attention has been paid to the equally vital question of how and why it was able to hold out as long as it did. The Third Reich did not surrender until Germany had been left in ruins and almost completely occupied. Even in the near-apocalyptic final months, when the war was plainly lost, the Nazis refused to sue for peace. Historically, this is extremely rare.

Drawing on original testimony from ordinary Germans and arch-Nazis alike, award-winning historian Ian Kershaw explores this fascinating question in a gripping and focused narrative that begins with the failed bomb plot in July 1944 and ends with the German capitulation in May 1945. Hitler, desperate to avoid a repeat of the "disgraceful" German surrender in 1918, was of course critical to the Third Reich's fanatical determination, but his power was sustained only because those below him were unable, or unwilling, to challenge it. Even as the military situation grew increasingly hopeless, Wehrmacht generals fought on, their orders largely obeyed, and the regime continued its ruthless persecution of Jews, prisoners, and foreign workers. Beneath the hail of allied bombing, German society maintained some semblance of normalcy in the very last months of the war. The Berlin Philharmonic even performed on April 12, 1945, less than three weeks before Hitler's suicide.

As Kershaw shows, the structure of Hitler's "charismatic rule" created a powerful negative bond between him and the Nazi leadership- they had no future without him, and so their fates were inextricably tied. Terror also helped the Third Reich maintain its grip on power as the regime began to wage war not only on its ideologically defined enemies but also on the German people themselves. Yet even as each month brought fresh horrors for civilians, popular support for the regime remained linked to a patriotic support of Germany and a terrible fear of the enemy closing in.

Based on prodigious new research, Kershaw's The End is a harrowing yet enthralling portrait of the Third Reich in its last desperate gasps.

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"Kershaw's comprehensive research, measured prose, and commonsense insight combine in a mesmerizing explanation of how and why Nazi Germany chose self-annihilation."
(-Publishers Weekly (starred review))

"[A]superb examination of the final defeat of Hitler's excellent portrait of the regime's death throes."
(-Booklist (starred review))

"This is an astonishing story well told by the reigning English-speaking master of Third Reich history...A carefully considered and powerfully told saga."
(-Kirkus (starred review))

About the Author

Ian Kershaw is the author of Fateful Choices; Making Friends with Hitler, which won the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography; and the definitive two-volume biography of Hitler, Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris and Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis. The first volume was shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, and the second volume won the Wolfson Literary Award for History and the inaugural British Academy Prize.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horror without end Nov. 30 2011
By J. C. Mareschal TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In July 1945, the western Allies breached the German front in Normandy; the Wehrmacht was retreating faster than the Allied could advance. The Red Army had launched a decisive offensive in the East and demolished an entire German army group. For Nazi Germany, the writing was on the wall: the war was lost. But the war was not over: the thousand years Reich still had 300 days to go and to inflict more suffering to the German people. Millions more would die. One after another, German cities would be turned into rubble. This book tries to understand why, faced with the certainty of defeat, the German people kept fighting until the bitter end.

Part of the answer is that the German people were terrorized by the Nazis. After the failed plot on Hitler's life, the Nazis declared total war and reorganized for it. The regime settled scores against its perceived enemies with ever increasing brutality: political opponents in concentration camps were murdered; the few surviving Jews died in death marches. But the violence also targeted ordinary German who just wanted to survive. More than 20,000 German soldiers, often stragglers in a retreating army, were executed for "cowardice". Thousands of civilians were sentenced to death by "people's courts" for inciting soldiers to stop fighting.

But Nazi terror is only part of the answer. For Hitler, if the German people did not win the war, they deserved to disappear. But the Nazis could not have kept the fight and exerted extreme violence on the German people without the complicity of the Wehrmacht. Not all the German generals were Nazi fanatics and none of them wanted the German people to disappear.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End Dec 7 2011
If you are attracted to the title and to its story line, you will find this book a fascinating, absorbing study of Hitler and Germany in the 1940s. However, the importance of the book is its significance to our own times. So, you might come to regard it, as do I, as comprehensive and truly educational.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Premise...For a Paper or Article Feb. 1 2012
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Kershaw's latest perplexed me. He lays out his objective of explaining why the Nazi state did not capitulate or was over thrown. As history has shown their are few examples of such destructive collective behavior. To me the value of the book were in the Introduction and the Conclusion as they were the two chapters that dealt with Kershaw's thesis. The rest of the book was a fairly standard history of the last 12 months of the Second World War in Europe.

Structural and cultural aspects of German society and Nazi rule contributed to both military and civilian dedication to the doomed cause. Hitler's charisma and track record accorded a warped loyalty but terror played a huge role in the police state. And as the war continued, the Soviet threat was also terrifying and provided another reason to hold out. It is incredible how bureaucracy refused to shut down so that the mail, arms manufacture, propaganda films, and parades continued which must have given citizens a surreal sense of comfort even though the reality of the situation was undeniable and unavoidable. Lastly, the Allies unwavering "Unconditional Surrender" strategy hemmed Nazi leadership in and conjured up memories of World War One most Germans did not want to repeat.

An interesting premise but it could have been an article or paper, it did not warrant a book given the meat of the thesis is constrained to two chapters.
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