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Book review of "The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945" by Ian Kershaw
"The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945" by Sir Ian Kershaw, a British historian and author, is a historical account depicting the time of World War II. This book describes the period from the unsuccessful 20 July plot of Adolf Hitler assassination by Claus von Stauffenberg, a German army officer, in 1944 to the May 1945, when Nazi regime's last leaders were detained and arrested by the government. Kershaw has also presented the complex structure of power at the time of Nazi Germany. He has brought academic strength to the subject through the use of authentic and reliable sources as, for example, he used the letters of General Hans-Georg Reinhardt, who was a Hitler loyalist working on the Eastern Front; letters of soldiers; taped information of German prisoners of wars (POWs) through a telegraph or other such sources, and stories of high-ranking German officials and leaders. Kershaw has not described the final stages of war in detail. Probably, that period has some “unresolved issues” for him on which he was unable to write.
This book starts with an example of the German denial of surrender, and how that denial to accept defeat resulted in millions of deaths. American troops were present on the outer edges of Ansbach, which was the local commandment, and Col. Ernst Meyer, who was a passionate Nazi, insisted on battling till the end. During the commandment of Col. Ernst Meyer, Robert Limpert, a 19-year old student, after looking the destruction of Würzburg in March 1945, started a campaign to surrender to the U. S. Forces without a fight to prevent the happening of same incident in his town. His work was considered as an act of sabotage by two members of the Hitler Youth, which was a youth organization related to the Nazi party, who told the police about him. Limpert was captured, and after a few minutes trial the commandment gave him the punishment of death. Limpert tried to run away, when the noose was placed on his neck, but unfortunately he was recaptured. There was a crowd in his surrounding, who were watching him but no one helped him. Some people even kicked him and punched him back. During the second attempt of his punishment, the rope broke, but he was eventually hanged in the third attempt. The commandment gave the order of keeping the body where it was hanged “until it stinks”. They left the town shortly after punishment. However, American troops cut down the body after some hours, when they moved to the town.
Kershaw has presented the account of Hitler’s assassination on July 20, 1944 that became one of the reasons for complete elimination of the opposition. Hitler’s compelling supremacy during the time of Nazi triumph had caused his removal almost impracticable and unimaginable after the July plot. Stauffenberg’s work behind the plot developed a sudden rise in the support for the regime during that hopeless time. However, it initiated Hitler’s people to use more restrictive measures against both soldiers as well as civilians. That plot of killing Hitler resulted in the production of new Nazi version of the “stab-in-the-back” theory. It was the time, when aristocrats along with the general staff, who became the traitors, resulted in the defeats of Wehrmacht, which was the combined armed force of Nazi Germany.
During that time, the government was modified with four National Socialist fighters in the power. These were Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, and Albert Speer. The unsuccessful July plot gave them a chance of fighting for their cause. Goebbels used the most potent weapon of public opinion that Germany would be destroyed. Moreover, he said that young girls and women from this area would be raped, and most of the people would be enslaved and sent to labor camps in Siberia. Meanwhile, the Soviet enemy came with some merciless reasoning. Moreover, most of the German communists were arrested as potential spies, when they came to welcome Red Army troops. These dubious but emotionally potent situations are considered as the reasons for fighting.
Though senior army officers found it difficult to move against the rules of duty, but some loyalists such as Kaltenbrunner, Schellenberg, and Wolff tried to talk secretly with the Allies behind the Hitler’s back. After the war, German generals argued that Allies’ insistence on unconditional surrender caused them to fight. Kershaw has exposed flaws in that excuse, and showed that the argument of the generals represented a false claim. Junior officers and soldiers were killed for retreating or not obeying the orders, but generals were not killed.
Hitler’s popularity started declining during that time. In that situation, terror was required to calm down the aggression of public. The Wehrmacht declined to serve as a refuge for anti-Nazis. In order to work against them, regular army units were arranged by "National Socialist Leadership Officers" (a concept taken from Stalin’s Russia). Newly formed "Volkssturm" militia removed the remaining men in the age range of 16 to 60 years. Regional governers (the party's Gauleiter) along with security services started disturbing everything.
Chapter three of the book tells about the fall of East Prussia as well as the attack on Memel. The Soviet army started their attack on 5th of October. However, the German commandments gave no order of evacuation to the people until 7th of October resulting in the capture of about one-third of the population. Mass rape as well as murder by the advancing Red Army significantly increased during that time. However, a letter from Colonel-General Hans-Georg Reinhardt, a German officer, to his wife shows that Wehrmacht denied to surrender to the advancing Soviets. After visiting the retaken area and looking at the shockingly cruel and inhumane acts, he wrote, "Hatred fills us since we have seen how the Bolsheviks have wrought havoc in an area we have retaken, south of Gumbinnen. There can be no other aim for us other than to hold out and protect our homeland."
Chapter four starts with thoughts of a German soldier, who was asking, why they remained in fight, if loss of everything was obvious. A winter offensive (the Ardennes Offensive) has also been noted in detail. The German High command thought that it would become a turning point in the war. This chapter also tells about the absence of important supplies such as coal and steel. Huge decrease in the production was caused by the damage of rolling stock as a result of heavy bombing attacks. Road networks as well as canals were also attacked to destroy the Nazi supply lines.
Chapter five tells about the loss of civilian life due to Soviet advance as, for example, the drowning of 7,000 people has been reported with the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Moreover, about 50,000 people died while escaping from the Warthegau area. The subject is highly important as many people in the last hopeless months were died for a very little cause. During that time concentration-camp prisoners died on purposeless death marches, German civilians were killed during Allied bombings and Red Army’s rampage in East Prussia, Red Army soldiers were died in the eventual fights from the Vistula river in Poland to the Spree river in Germany, Hungarians were killed during the action of armed forces on Budapest, and teenage boys and old men from the Hitler Youth were taken to the Volkssturm with insufficient weapons to stop Soviet tank armies.
This book clearly shows that Hitler as well as National Socialism came with their own logic that advocates destruction of the social system for its own sake, i.e. “self-destructive dynamic”. In just 12 years, the thousand-year Reich (empire) came to its own pitiless destruction along with its victims, and final years of this destruction were most murderous of all years.
Kershaw has not discussed the well-reported executions and show trials that came after the July Plot. He has mainly focused on the generals. Model was among them, who remained with Hitler. Kershaw has told that new people showed more loyalty to Hitler. They fought with great force for him.
Kershaw has cleared many misconceptions of that period through this book. He has also given a detailed description of the terrible fate faced by the civilian population during that time. He himself wrote, “No one has written a better account of the human dimensions of Nazi Germany’s end”. This book is important as a huge loss of life in the final months of the war era is of considerable importance and it has highlighted that time. Kershaw can be criticized of not describing the reason why German kept battling. However, historians have talked about this issue in detail. Moreover, Kershaw has also told about these issues in detail in the biography of Hitler. Detailed illustration presented in the book is also showing that there is no need of another book on the account of Second World War. Kershaw has approached the issues chronologically, thereby resulting in several limitations as, for example, some points are continuously repeated during the course of reading the book.
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