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Endkampf: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Death of the Third Reich Kindle Edition
“This thoroughly researched and superbly written study” examines the final days of WWII combat within Germany during the occupation of Franconia (WWII History).
At the end of World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower turned US forces toward the Franconian region of Germany, ordering them to cut off and destroy German units before they could escape into the Alps. Opposing this advance were German forces headed by SS-Gruppenführer Max Simon, a committed National Socialist who advocated merciless resistance. Caught in the middle were the people of Franconia.
Historians have largely overlooked this period of violence and terror, but it provides insight into the chaotic nature of life while the Nazi regime was crumbling. Neither German civilians nor foreign refugees acted simply as passive victims caught between two fronts. Throughout the region people pressured local authorities to end the senseless resistance. Others sought revenge for their tribulations in the “liberation” that followed.
Stephen G. Fritz examines the predicament and perspective of American GI's, German soldiers and officials, and the civilian population. Endkampf is a gripping portrait of the collapse of a society and how it affected those involved, whether they were soldiers or civilians, victors or vanquished, perpetrators or victims.
"This comprehensively researched book addresses a subject so timely that, were it not for the detailed research supporting his work, Fritz might be assumed to have written in the aftermath of the recent conquest and occupation of Iraq."―Dennis Showalter, History Book Club
"Engrossing. . . . A substantial work of historical scholarship."―International History Review
"Chillingly narrates the last desperate days of Nazi Germany, illustrating the terror and destruction of the last weeks of World War II."―Jerry Cooper
"Convincingly challenges the accepted view that after the Allies crossed the Rhine in March 1945 the German army rapidly disintegrated and the war quickly wound down. . . . Pleasurable to read and definitely informative."―Military Review
"This thoroughly researched and superbly written study illuminates the impact of Nazism on German resistance in the little known campaign in Franconia."―WWII History --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B0078XFNYK
- Publisher : The University Press of Kentucky; Illustrated edition (October 8, 2004)
- Publication date : October 8, 2004
- Language : English
- File size : 5219 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 416 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #542,109 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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By March 1945 the majority of allied leaders believed in an alpine redoubt ("Alpenfestung"). Its biggest potential danger was the genesis of an "undefeated Nazi" myth, similar to the 1918 "undefeated KaiserHeer" myth. The Allies did not want to repeat the mistake of 1918 (hence the policy of total unconditional surrender). By March 28, Eisenhower informed Stalin, Marshall and Montgomery that they would drive towards the South/Southeast instead of Berlin, a decision bitterly protested by the British.
The next five chapters describe what happened in Franconia during April 1945 but are so detailed that they may loose the reader's interest (which is why I did not rate the book higher, despite the very interesting first and last two chapters, but that is subjective).
Those chapters give a glimpse into the nature of life in that crumbling Nazi regime when soldiers and civilians were terrorized and executed by party functionaries and SS commanders ("Goetterdaemmerung"). They also document the hard battles faced there by the GIs who, hoping to survive the final stage of the war, made full use of their artillery at the first sign of resistance, prompting the civilians to beg the Wehrmacht and SS not to put up a defense point in their villages, which led to numerous conflicts between civilians and SS/Nazi officials (e.g. the "Weibersturm" of Windsheim).
The last two chapters, the more interesting ones in my opinion, document and explain the tensions and violence between GIs, Jewish and other DPs (displaced persons), German civilians and returning POWs, and the German resistance ("Wehrwolf").
The formation of the Wehrwolf was announced on the "Deutschlandsender" on April 1st. By late November US troops had arrested 3000 Germans and seized large stores of ammo. A large national and organized Wehrwolf did not develop in part because of the vigilance of US forces but small local Wehrwolf activities occurred until early 1947 and caused several thousand deaths.
The fraternization between GIs and German females was resented by returning German POWs ("the German soldier fought for six years, the German woman for only five minutes", p208) and led to some violence against fraternizing GIs in 46/47.
Another source of tension was the perceived criminality of Jewish DPs which led to a strong rise in anti-Semitism and pro-Nazism. There were 6 to 8 million DPs (surviving Jews, POWs and slave laborers) wandering and looting in the countryside of the western zones at war's end, creating more violence than the Wehrwolf. After being housed in DP camps, they became the brokers in the black-market triangle between GIs (suppliers) and Germans (buyers). The black-market was the only way for Germans to avert slow starvation given their meager 900 to 1500 cal/day rations. The minority of Jewish DPs (145,000 in the American zone) was a special and explosive situation: they were still housed in camps with poor food and sanitation. After the Harrison commission, their food rations were raised to 2500 cal/day (double that of the Germans) and they were housed in requisitioned German homes. That understandably created German-Jewish tensions and rekindled anti-Semitism. The Germans blamed the Jewish DPs for the black-market, for the shortages of food and housing, and the international Jewry for their misery (p241). There was also a high level of anti-Semitism among the GIs and even among US officers, as best illustrated by Patton who in September 1945 characterized the Jews as "lower than animals"(p243). Open hostilities broke out between GIs and Jewish DPs in the first half of 1946 during crackdown operations on the black-market and all violence lasted until the DP camps were closed.
What Fritz does, and what makes his book worthwhile, is that he concentrates on the triple relationships of U.S. Military versus German Military (and sometimes Nazi leadership), of U.S. Military versus German Civilians, and German Military/Nazi leadership versus German Civilians, all in the context of a rapidly changing military situation and a collapsing Reich. As the U.S. Army drove through Franconia like a tsunami (although sometimes sharply resisted by the remnants of the German Army and SS), German civilians found themselves freed--sometimes unwillingly--from the coccoon of the Reich. The decisions they would make might come back to haunt them, as the local military situation swept back and forth. To place a white flag from a building might save your life in one situation, or mean certain death in another.
By focusing sharply on one small region--Franconia--Fritz is able to go into great detail and to tease out some of the nuances, as well as supporting anecdotes, that makes this civil-military study special. While he occasionally goes on unwelcome detours--such as tracing the Niebelungen--in general, the book is a pleasure to read, full of information most readers--even military historians--are unlikely to have come across before. Also pleasing is the fact that his account does not stop on May 8, 1945, but continues for some time. His account of post-war German resistance reveals a Germany not nearly as pacified as the official U.S. Army volume on the occupation of Germany suggests.
In some cases, however, his sharp local focus leaves the reader awash in a sea of small towns, with no overall context. Although Fritz sets a context at the beginning of the book, discussing the mythical Alpine Redoubt in the minds of Allied military planners, that is the last time he looks at commanders. Even corps level and divisional level contexts are not typically provided--action is usually at the battalion level. This often provides confusion, especially as the situation was unusually fluid. The maps, alas, are almost useless in helping the reader sort this out.
Still, I could not help but be impressed by this study, which definitely is a worthy addition to our understanding of the late war campaigns in the west, as well as to our understanding of the last days of the Reich.