No one could have probably imagined that the events of the World War II could be related in a unique way, disclosing such details and provoking such thoughts which were quite new and fresh after thousands of books and articles written on this topic. Sir Ian Kershaw managed to create such a book, which shook the world once again, giving the readers new material for continuous debates. The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany depicts the horrors of the finishing period of the last years of the Reich.
With striking aptness the author describes the events which make the blood of readers curdle. Still he leads the narrative in a realistic way without hiding all the possible terrifying details in over 500 pages of breathtaking reading. Let’s have a closer look at the plot of the book.
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I always wondered (as probably the majority of people throughout the whole world did) why Adolf Hitler continued the World War II when everyone already lost hope for his victory. The German troops were depleted, cities destroyed, people gave up believing but continued to fight only for the fear of the cruel penalty for not obeying their Fuehrer. Ian Kershaw tries to answer this question in his book.
In the last days before capitulation, most of the Hitler’s proponents left him. Only two of 43 SS generals stayed with him till the very end – Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler did the unfathomable harm to Hitler, according to his own words in the final testament, which he composed just before committing a suicide with his recently married wife Eva Braun in the Fuehrerbunker bellow the Chancellery buildings in Berlin. He considered the defeat in the War to be on the conscience of those generals who had betrayed him.
What astonished me the most is the unimaginable determination with which Hitler, together with his regime, continued to fight even with no hope left to win, even when there were not enough soldiers to stand against American armies on the one hand, and the Soviet forces – on the other hand. Truly unreal determination.
How can an ordinary person make masses of people follow him? How can the person possess so much hatred for other nations as to try to destroy them to the very core? Hitler was a completely matchless leader which could only be found throughout the whole world history. No wonder that Ian Kershaw calls him a ‘charismatic’ leader – the leader who with the threats and fears made people obey him to the last minute under the oath of death. To show people that he was an absolute leader, he ordered to kill all those who dared to break his law. The fear of impending death always hovered over his opponents’ lives.
I still continue to question myself where all this unconditional hatred towards Jews came from. Unfortunately, Mr. Kershaw does not explore this problem well enough, as well as what really happened in the World War I. But these are just the very few shortcomings of the great work on the German history (or even Europe’s history).
I really liked the way the author builds the plot of the book. He begins with that breath-taking German stoicism in the very face of the actual defeat. Gradually, he tells us about the phenomenon and then unravels a striking explanation. That ingenious way of analyzing and simultaneously answering questions amused me with the author’s skillfulness. This work is truly a masterpiece of history.
The fear in the hearts of Nazi’s leading top caused them to do many desperate actions which, if avoided, could have spared the lives of thousands of people and brought on less destruction. What is surprising this fear was quite one-sided. Hitler saw only one biggest enemy – the Soviets. The Americans did not bother him that much. His biggest disgrace of defeat was only coming from the Soviet soldiers and the Soviet rule. He did not agree to escape to Berchtesgaden, where most of the leading Nazis found temporary safety harbor but preferred to end his life with a suicide. He remained faithful to his promise, his country, and his law to the last breath. But the views on his death have also differed – some scientists still try to prove that he managed to escape from Germany not long before the Soviet Armies invaded Berlin. And that not his body and the body of his wife were burnt and then buried in the Chancellery garden. But this is just another hypothesis which may get lost in history as many other hypotheses. History will always carry a mystery, an enigma in it, and we can never be 100 % that we are right in our knowledge.
Hitler’s ferocity influenced the deeds of his generals. Gas chambers, murdering people only for a slightly wrong word, and the constant persecution of everyone who was doubted in having a truly Aryan descent were just a part of all the horrifying orders performed by Hitler’s ‘professional friends’. I cannot help questioning myself: What causes people to turn into the wildest and most ruthless beasts which see nothing but blood through the order of their Fuehrer? But maybe, it is better to never feel the answer to this question in your heart.
Why did people lack the courage to oppose to the Nazi’s rule? So many Germans strongly disapproved of all the actions Adolf Hitler undertook. But none of the actions against him followed. If some arose, they were oppressed sooner than they could turn into a real powerful rebellion. The whole nation was in the fear of their ‘charismatic’ leader, who with his frantic methods controlled millions of citizens.
Even if some of his top military officials had some thoughts of taking the power away from the Fuehrer, they were stifled when the plot to kill Hitler on the 20th of July failed. With such brilliant ability to control people, SS generals did not really imagine their lives after Hitler’s death – all of them were locked up in this evil mind of the charismatic genius.
The whole country was on stake, but Hitler aimed only at the victory. He talked about his love towards his nation, about the unity of people for common welfare, and about the supremacy of the Germans. However, it was obvious a couple of months before the end of the War that the defeat was unavoidable and the best thing to do would be only negotiation for peace to stop blood-spilling and destruction of cities. But the stubbornness, or even stupidity, and the pride of the Fuehrer did not allow him to do that and he decided to continue wasting lives. Some of his closest proponents even started trying to negotiate with English forces about the capitulation of German forces (though not very effective). However, when Hitler found out about it, all he could do was to accuse Himmler of committing the worst unforgivable treason possible. He ordered to arrest former ‘faithful Heinrich’ immediately and, in the fit of madness, killed Himmler’s personal representative in the bunker, who was also the husband of the Eva Brown’s sister.
To conclude, I have great hopes that anything like the Third Reich will never come out in the future. That terror which the leading top could maintain to hold the power with their regime is something which cannot fit into the heads of logically-thinking people. The ideology which was developed to the finest detail to cause panic in the people’s hearts and minds with the only reign of the Nazis cannot be even imagined to exist again in our mostly democratic societies. Sir Ian Kershaw allowed us to have an unforgettable acquaintance with the horrors of the World War II, giving us the opportunity to appreciate the real taste of freedom we possess now and to never even complain about some minor mishaps in the policy of our government. We get to know the surrounding world by comparison!
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