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The End: Hamburg 1943 [Hardcover]

Hans Erich Nossack , Joel Agee , Erich Andres
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 15, 2004 0226595560 978-0226595566 1
One didn't dare to inhale for fear of breathing it in. It was the sound of eighteen hundred airplanes approaching Hamburg from the south at an unimaginable height. We had already experienced two hundred or even more air raids, among them some very heavy ones, but this was something completely new. And yet there was an immediate recognition: this was what everyone had been waiting for, what had hung for months like a shadow over everything we did, making us weary. It was the end.

Novelist Hans Erich Nossack was forty-two when the Allied bombardments of German cities began, and he watched the destruction of Hamburg--the city where he was born and where he would later die--from across its Elbe River. He heard the whistle of the bombs and the singing of shrapnel; he watched his neighbors flee; he wondered if his home--and his manuscripts--would survive the devastation. The End is his terse, remarkable memoir of the annihilation of the city, written only three months after the bombing. A searing firsthand account of one of the most notorious events of World War II, The End is also a meditation on war and hope, history and its devastation. And it is the rare book, as W. G. Sebald noted, that describes the Allied bombing campaign from the German perspective.

In the first English-language edition of The End, Nossack's text has been crisply translated by Joel Agee and is accompanied by the photographs of Erich Andres. Poetic, evocative, and yet highly descriptive, The End will prove to be, as Sebald claimed, one of the most important German books on the firebombing of that country.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

German novelist Nossack’s brief (63 pages in this edition) contemporary account of the 1943 destruction of Hamburg by Allied bombardment is one of the small number of works available in English that deal with the events of those years from a German perspective. Its publication is clearly owed to its mention in another book, the late W.G. Sebald’s best-selling and controversial On the Natural History of Destruction, which speaks highly of Nossack’s account. The narrative is indeed clear-eyed and dispassionate, possessed of the emotional distance necessary to regard the terrible events in their totality. The account begins as Nossack and his wife are on holiday in the city’s idyllic rural outskirts; the reader is then carried through wave after wave of firebombing and retrenchment to the point of total devastation; the confusion and horror of events are rendered with immediacy and power. (Also included are 11 contemporary halftone Erich Andres photographs.) What’s missing from Nossack’s account is any political or historical dimension: a reader coming to this book for primary knowledge would learn little about why the bombings took place, or why so many people accepted them with numb resignation instead of anger. But as a supplement to Sebald’s more detailed consideration, Nossack’s remarkable witnessing has real and urgent value.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"This is a brief book of extraordinary power. . . . Nossack succeeds . . . in conveying a remarkable sense of what it is that bombing on such a genocidal scale does to those who experience it. . . . A classic of its kind."
(Richard Overy Francia)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 112 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (December 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226595560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226595566
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,773,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like Nothing Else April 14, 2005
Hans Erich Nossack was a German novelist in his 40s, married but apparently childless, living in Hamburg, during World War II. He was neither a Nazi nor a heroic anti-Nazi. By sheer coincidence he and his wife had managed to get a little vacation cabin outside the city on the sultry July night the Allied bombers came in wave after wave and rained down fire on Hamburg. The Nossacks were far enough out to be beyond reach of the flames, but close enough to see and even hear it all.

He wrote this within three months after that night. Joel Agee, the translator, notes in his introduction that he actually did this translation in the 1960s, with the Vietnam war in mind. But no publisher wanted it then. The reason this book has been published in English now is W.G. Sebald's praise of it in "On the Natural History of Destruction."

A short and straightforward book like this is the most devilish to translate, and the nearness of German and English makes the task more, not less, challenging.

There is a German equivalent of "the end," but it isn't the word Nossack took as his title. He called his book "Der Untergang." Literally, in English, "the undergoing." There is such a word in English, of course, but it means something different. You undergo an ordeal; you pass through some experience, like a dark night in a terror-filled forest, and you emerge, changed but alive, on the other side.

The German word is final in a way the English cannot be. It's like a torpedoed ship swallowed by the sea. Like the Latin equivalent, obitus, a going toward, a euphemism for "death," even in Roman times, and the source of our word obituary.

Even if undergoing had not the sense of "passage" in English, it has the wrong sound.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic revelation August 27, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This little book takes about 40 minutes to read. It is not what you might expect. It is not a minute by minute account of what happened during the bombing. It does not give statistics or even mention many things about the appearance of the city or many of the horrifying things that happened. It is a revelation of what it felt like to lose everything. And it is truly beautifully written. Few people can write poetically much less translate poetically.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-living "The End" May 23, 2005
Unlike the sentimental works describing the aftermath after 9/11, "The End", is an honest, unsentimental, and horrifying description about the allied bombing of Hamburg in 1943.

In less than 70 pages, the writer Hans Erich Nossack, tells his story, where "the most dangerous thing was the words "could have." It required a painful vigilance not to say "could have." I once walked past two women sitting by the ditch on the side of the road with their backs turned toward me. It was a grandmother with her grown daughter; some children may have been playing nearby. I only heard the old woman's words: Didn't I always tell you, you could have - and at that point the daughter howled like a mortally wounded animal. And nowadays, when someone in conversation is on the verge of straying into the realm of "could have," someone else will quickly admonish or beg him to stop; or the speaker will notice it himself and abruptly break off, saying: Oh well, it doesn't matter."

I can't say I enjoyed reading "The End," but like the instant re-play of the twin towers falling, I couldn't keep my eyes off them or the pages of this compelling book.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Disturbing Examination of a Terrible Event July 14, 2007
Hans Erich Nossack, the author of the "The End", was a German writer of some renown, as well as a poet. He lived in Hamburg, Germany during World War II (and thereafter, dying there in 1978). He happened to be vacationing with his wife, Misi, just outside the city in July 1943 when the Allies firebombed the town as part of "Operation Gomorrah", an attempt, in part, to demoralize the German people by purposefully bombing civilians, including women and children. In one night alone (July 23, 1943) it is estimated that over 40,000 people in the city died, primarily from a giant firestorm created from meteorological conditions partially caused by the effects of previous bombing 2 nights before and the tremendous bombing that night, which included anti-personnel incendiary bombs with phosphorus. The firestorm destroyed over 8 square miles of the city. The flames were over 2,000 feet high and could be seen from 200 miles away. The fire was so intense that it literally sucked oxygen out of any bomb shelters in the vicinity that were not airtight, causing people to die from carbon monoxide poisoning even if they were fortunate enough not to be incinerated outright from the heat. The force of the fire was the equivalent of a hurricane, with 150 mph winds. Before the bombing Hamburg was the second largest city in Germany. In addition to the outright deaths and destruction, the bombing resulted in over 1,000,000 refugees who had to evacuate and/or flee Hamburg.

Shortly after the bombing, the author and his wife returned to Hamburg, only to discover that their apartment had been destroyed. Three months later he (and presumably his wife) ends up in London (neither the translator nor the author explains how this came about).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief but profoundly moving
Nossack's text is only sixty-three pages -a one to two hour read that you will not forget. What is most remarkable about this eye-witness description of the annihilation of Hamburg... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Patrick O'Brien
5.0 out of 5 stars Book
This is a really nice Book and it is in great condition. It is a nice quality. I recommend it.
Published 18 months ago by Peter D
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Reality
The original title of THE END is DER UNTERGANG, which means "the destruction," "the downfall," "the collapse. Read more
Published on February 17, 2010 by Gary Kern
5.0 out of 5 stars The real Abyss, Haunting, Superb
In 1943 Hans Erich Nossack wrote a short narrative of his life as Hamburg was fire bombed by the Allies. Read more
Published on March 5, 2009 by Burgmicester
2.0 out of 5 stars Another Apologia for the German People
Reading in between the lines of this poetic eulogy to his native city Nossack has missed two points. Why was the city bombed? Read more
Published on October 22, 2007 by Grey Wolffe
5.0 out of 5 stars What War Means
Since this book was written within three months of the siege of Hamburg, the reader can walk through the noise, the terror, the human cost, and experience all the carnage through... Read more
Published on July 29, 2007 by Patricia O'hagen
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting eye-witness account
This slim volume provides an eye-witness account of the Hamburg bombings of 1943. The devastation to the city is horrible, but the author's feelings toward the bombers would be... Read more
Published on February 14, 2007 by Janlynn
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