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

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kershaw, author of the definitive biography of Hitler, is unsurpassed as an analyst of the Third Reich's inner dynamics. His latest work addresses a question as significant as it is overlooked. The Third Reich fought to a self-destructive finish--something rare in war's history. Kershaw's narrative approach establishes the nuances of "an integrated history of disintegration." It begins with the aftermath of the July 20, 1944, attempt on Hitler's life: the final internal turning point for the Nazi regime. It continues through German reactions to the Wehrmacht's summer collapse in the west and the Red Army's autumn penetrations into Germany, through the ephemeral optimism generated by the Ardennes counter-attack, to the final overrunning of the Reich and the regime's desperate response of unprecedented domestic terror. Kershaw makes short work of the argument that German resistance was sustained because of Allied demands for unconditional surrender. Nor did the people back the regime from conviction. The majority of Germans had no alternative. Raw terror, an officer corps willing to fight for the homeland, and Hitler's demonic personality were the Reich's sustaining pillars—and its instruments of self-destruction. Kershaw's comprehensive research, measured prose, and commonsense insight combine in a mesmerizing explanation of how and why Nazi Germany chose self-annihilation. (Sept. 12)
-Booklist (starred review)
"[A]superb examination of the final defeat of Hitler's tyranny...an excellent portrait of the regime's death throes."
Library Journal
Kershaw, famous for his Hitler biography, has spent his professional career exploring the complex world of Hitler, Nazism, and World War II, and becoming one of our foremost experts on the intertwined subjects. He now turns his considerable skills to an examination of the last year of the Third Reich as it struggled to survive the dual challenge of defeating the Soviets coming from the East and the Allies advancing from the West. That Germany was able to fight effectively and vigorously after the near assassination of Hitler in July 1944 is testimony to the efficiencies of the Nazi state under the charismatic leadership of the fanatical Hitler as well as the grim determination of Hitler's underlings to maintain the struggle long after any hope of winning had passed. Kershaw explains in impressive detail the factors that enabled the Germans to keep fighting but assigns the most weight to Hitler's single-minded refusal to give in and the willingness of those who surrounded him to continue the war at all cost. Hitler and his henchmen knew that defeat would be their certain death or, at best, lengthy incarceration. VERDICT This is an essential work by a distinguished historian; valuable for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/11.]—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Kirkus Reviews

The Third Reich was dead, but it wouldn't lie down.

By January 1945, with the failure of the Ardennes offensive, it was clear to the German leadership that the war was lost. The customary and rational course of action would have been to sue for peace on whatever terms could be obtained.Instead, Germany elected to fight on to the point of national obliteration. Hitler was determined to resist to the end and take the country down with him, but award-winning historian Kershaw(Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution,2008, etc.) seeks to explain why the rest of the nation followed him into the abyss, and how it was possible to hold the armed forces and the German economy together until the fall of Berlin. This is an astonishing story well told by the reigning English-speaking master of Third Reich history. On one level, it is a gripping narrative of desperate actions taken to shore up the battle lines with replacements of men and materiel from ever-shrinking resources; the militarization of the populace to defend, however ineffectively, "fortress cities"; improvised adjustments to transport to compensate for smashed rail lines and overrun factories; and wanton murders and pointless forced marches of evacuated prisoners. But Kershaw also deftly explores the policies and attitudes that kept Germans struggling on with the war effort after all hope was gone, and prevented organized opposition to continuing the war from coalescing in the military or elsewhere. At its core, this is a story of people great and small in the grip of an enormous catastrophe brought down upon them by their charismatic (though by then widely despised) leader; unable to do anything about it individually or collectively, they just kept doing their jobs, however hopeless or absurd they appeared. Whether motivated by duty, terror, inertia, wishful thinking or denial, soldiers fought and civilians worked, generals went on attempting to comply with impossible orders and bureaucrats issued directives of stunning irrelevance because they could see no practical or honorable alternative.

A carefully considered and powerfully told saga of a national suicide.

James J. Sheehan
No one is better qualified to tell this grim story than Kershaw, the author of several essential studies of Nazi Germany, including a definitive two-volume biography of Hitler. A master of both the vast scholarly literature on Nazism and the extraordinary range of its published and unpublished record, Kershaw combines vivid accounts of particular human experiences with wise reflections on big interpretive and moral issues…Kershaw succeeds in clearing away a great many misconceptions, he deploys an impressive amount of evidence about the variety and complexity of public opinion and he brilliantly describes the ghastly fate of many ordinary Germans. No one has written a better account of the human dimensions of Nazi Germany's end.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594203145
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/8/2011
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet 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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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

List of Maps xiii

Acknowledgements xv

Preface xix

Dramatis Personae xxv

Introduction: Going Down in Flames 3

1 Shock to the System 17

2 Collapse in the West 54

3 Foretaste of Horror 92

4 Hopes Raised - and Dashed 129

5 Calamity in the East 167

6 Terror Comes Home 207

7 Crumbling Foundations 247

8 Implosion 293

9 Liquidation 348

Conclusion: Anatomy of Self-Destruction 386

Notes 401

List of Archival Sources Cited 509

List of Works Cited 511

Index 533

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Wall Street Journal did a positive review on this book...

    based on which I plan to acquire this book as soon as my next B&N gift card shows up from my B&N MasterCard usage, any day now.

    I find the previous review of two stars based on not being able to get the book in Nook format bizarre as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the book, and it's not unlike disliking a particular beer because it only comes in bottles instead of in cans as well.

    7 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 26, 2011

    Where is a good editor when you need one?

    This book has a lot of excellent material well arranged. The writing, however, leaves much to be desired. A good editor would remove at least two-thirds of the commas and make a much more readable book out of it.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    academic repetition

    academic repetition

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    Good for kids 10+ ? I want to know because i want to read it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2012

    Ian Kershaw's The End, once again shows his deep insight and mas

    Ian Kershaw's The End, once again shows his deep insight and mastery of the bloody and destructive era of German and European history, when Hitler's Nazi Germany tried to restore the honour of a proud nation, but instead led it towards suicide and historical damnation. Were the German people willing participants in a 12-year rule that stained the nation with genocide, the holocaust, unimaginable barbarity, occultism and fatalism? Were they fooled or forced; or where they nonchalant; and above all, was their participation out of a conviction that it was a do or die war Germany dared not lose?

    Ian Kershaw dissects these questions in ways few writers can and provides insights that no other writer has ever done. I found a lot of his views in Disciples of Fortune, a book that gave another side of WWII; and a lot of the conclusions are the same. German nationalism was whipped into frenzy by the Nazis. For Europe's second largest nationality to have more than a quarter of its population beyond its borders, spelled of confrontation in the waiting. Germans felt humiliated, and the extent of their commitment to make up for that humiliation has been explained best by this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 28, 2011

    Highly Recommend.

    A great deal of interesting information about the last months of the Nazi regime , but it doesn't answer the question of why the Germans fought on when the end was obvious.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted July 22, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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