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The Fall of Berlin 1945 Paperback – Deckle Edge, April 29, 2003
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By December 1944, many of the 3 million citizens of Berlin had stopped giving the Nazi salute, and jokes circulated that the most practical Christmas gift of the season was a coffin. And for good reason, military historian Antony Beevor writes in this richly detailed reconstruction of events in the final days of Adolf Hitler's Berlin. Following savage years of campaigns in Russia, the Nazi regime had not only failed to crush Bolshevism, it had brought the Soviet army to the very gates of the capital. That army, ill-fed and hungry for vengeance, unloosed its fury on Berlin just a month later in a long siege that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides. But as Beevor recounts, the siege was also marked by remarkable acts of courage and even compassion. Drawing on unexplored Soviet and German archives and dozens of eyewitness accounts, Beevor brings us a harrowing portrait of the battle and its terrible aftermath, which would color world history for years to follow. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Covering the months from January to May in 1945, as Soviet and other Allied troops advanced to Berlin, freelance British historian Beevor (Stalingrad) opts for direct narrative with overheard quotes from the main players, making the reader an eavesdropper to Hitler and Stalin's obiter dicta. Brisk and judgmental, the narrative is studded with short sentences and summary judgments: about Nazi minister Hermann Goring, we are told that his "vanity was as ludicrous as his irresponsibility" and he looked more like " `a cheerful market woman' than a Marshal of the Reich." During the rubble-strewn city's Christmas of 1944, "the quip of that festive season was: `be practical: give a coffin.' " The book is based on material from former Soviet files as well as from German, American, British, French and Swedish archives, but the somewhat limited bibliography is disappointing, and many of the usual sources are quoted, such as Hitler's personal secretary, who took dictation in the bunker to the end. Her expectation that Hitler would suddenly produce "a profound explanation" of the war's "great purpose" says as much about German self-delusion of the time as about Hitler, but here and elsewhere, Beevor simply quotes her flatly and fails to connect the dots. However, given the scope of this book the 1945 advance on Berlin is thought to be the largest battle in history, with two and a half million Soviet troops attacking one million Germans the summary approach is inevitable.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
As a serious military history buff, during various stints in Germany and Eastern Europe over the last 40 years I got to know many veterans on both sides of the battle who were surprisingly willing to talk about it (I speak German, Polish and Russian), although their memories tended to be somewhat selective. I visited most of the cities, and hiked and drove over almost all of the ground described in the book, from Courland in Latvia to Silesia, East Prussia and Pomerania (now mostly in Poland), and the Berlin region. Couldn't get to Kaliningrad, ex-Koenigsburg, though - it was (and still is) a closed military enclave. In any case, I can personally vouch for the accuracy of Mr. Beevor's geography, including the fact that skeletons and other remains are still turning up in northern Poland and the woods around Berlin. And the Seelow heights dominating the Oder crossings east of Berlin are indeed a formidable military barrier.
I expect there will be a good deal of moaning and carping about minor inaccuracies, such as misspelled Russian names, times of day, unit movements, and the like. Some of the narrative is complicated and hard to follow, just like the campaign and battle itself, and record keeping under the circumstances of total collapse was haphazard at best. Much of the story will be considered loaded with upsetting opinions and political angles by those with particular axes to grind - some very strong feelings still prevail. But these minor points don't really matter - Mr. Beevor basically got it right. I really have only one significant criticism: why, oh why, is it so difficult for publishers to get decent maps? They would do better to copy gas station road maps than use the obscure dots on white expanses that are seen so often in military history books.
"The Fall of Berlin" is a good book, well worth reading. But frankly, it's not as good a read as Cornelius Ryan's "The Last Battle," published in 1966, which is, on the whole, equally accurate. While many of Mr. Beevor's sources were not available to Mr. Ryan, the actual events were fresher in the minds of combatants and civilians in the 1960s. I would suggest that the serious reader read both books, in chronological order, to get a fair, complete picture.
I disagree with the detractors of Antony Beevor that in addressing these atrocities his book negates the heroism of the Soviet soldier. On every page, the author emphasizes the appalling conditions in which the Red Army had to wrest its victory, and the terrible cost in Soviet lives. Under-nourished, under-supplied, poorly-trained soldiers were motivated not only by the brutality of SMERSH and NKVD forces. Their "Noble Fury" was incited not only by relentless propaganda from Political Instructors or incendiary front-line correspondents such as the popular Ilya Ehrenburg. Every Soviet family had suffered personal loss during the German invasion and occupation, and every soldier was driven by hatred of the Fascist Beast.
It is the mass rape perpetrated by the Red Army which comprises the controversy of Beevor's book. But Beevor is hardly the first to document that atrocity. It was early exploited for pulp-novels such as James Burke's luridly-titled "The Big Rape." And it has not been ignored by historians. Neither Cornelius Ryan in "The Last Battle" nor Andrew Tully in his Soviet-sympathetic "Berlin: Story of a Battle" flinch from describing the orgy of looting and rape which often followed the most desperate fighting and hard-won victories. Only Beevor makes the effort to analyze (although never justify) the reasons for this conduct. As he reiterates, many Soviet frontoviki comported themselves "with utmost correctness", and the ones who partook in debauchery were emboldened to do so only after much imbibing of alcohol. Beevor delves into the still-prevailing rape psychology of conquering armies (indeed, to large groupings of males in general), assigning four distinct phases to the culture of wartime abuse of women. The first phase is vengeful, which accounted for the extreme ferocity toward victims in Prussia and eastern Germany. The second phase is purely sexual, and accounted for the celebratory riot in Berlin. Regarding the time period, Beevor cites the total "unenlightenment" of attitudes about sex, revealed in one Soviet officer's jovial anecdote about the "gratitude" of man-starved grandmothers for soldiers' attentions. And also in a widely repeated quip of Berlin women, trapped in the city enduring Allied air-raids and awaiting the Asiatic Horde, which went: "Better a Russki on the belly than an Ami [American, a reference to B-17 bombs] on the head!" The third phase involves women's "willing" participation, usually in exchange for food or "protection". Feminists nowadays refute any theory of rape being a sexual, as opposed to purely violent, crime. But it should be remembered, up until the 70's, women facing rape -- even gang-rape -- were routinely advised not to resist but to "relax and enjoy it". The fourth phase is prostitution. According to Beevor, by the time Americans entered Berlin, a "cigarette-economy" was in full-swing, and American servicemen "did not have to rape".
While Beevor's sensationalism of Red Army brutality may antagonize Russian readers, he contrastingly portrays honorable Soviets in a positive light. There are numerous mentions of traditional Slavic sentimentality toward children, and the compassion of soldiers who shared their meager rations with refugees and civilians. As one sapper noted: "How should one treat them? Just think of it. They were well off, well fed, had livestock, vegetable gardens, and apple trees. And they invaded us! For this, we should strangle them. I'm sorry for the children. Even though they are Fritz kids." And there are quotes from idealistic Communists distressed by drunken violence and concerned about its effect on the world image of the USSR.
If you read this book, keep in mind the extraordinary circumstances of the War. Beevor is neither anti-Slavic nor anti-German. He is properly condemnatory of Stalin. He is even more unforgiving of the Reich, its coldness toward its own people and utter contempt for non-Aryans. He documents a conflict between two insane despots of two totalitarian regimes, and the horror endured by everyone caught up in it.