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on September 28, 2011
Ian Kershaw, the author of a number of excellent books on the Third Reich including a fine biography of Hitler, asks a key question in this book: when when it became obvious that Germany would lose the war, and continue to suffer devastating destruction, why did the Nazis continue to fight on in futility? The author first sketches the issue in a preface and then identifies the "dramatis personae" or key players in the drama in brief bios. Then in a substantial introduction, he outlines the issues and explanations that have been offered. While not a book of military history as such, there is certainly enough discussion of the Reich's military posture during and after key battles to satisfy those with such interests.

Many explanations have been put forward to explain this surprising development, for example that the civilian population was "bought off" by some of the fruits of the war; that an overwhelming popular consensus continued to support Hitler's government; a pervasive feeling that the Germans had no other alternative but to continue fighting; the effective use of terror to cow the population; and the military code of honor. The author focuses on some additional and probably more fundemental reasons. The "charismatic rule" of Hitler continued to mesmerize the civil population; a strategy of "playing for time" so that new miracle weapons and division among the allies could fully develop; and surprisingly, the near successful assassination attempt on Hitler unleashed tremendous popular support.
So in Kershaw's view, the answer lies in far more than the application of terror, though that was certainly a factor.

The author seeks to resolve these questions by focusing upon three key groups in the Reich: Hitler's top cronies; the views of senior military officials; and the civilian population. Where possible, he lets each group speak for itself via documents, recorded debriefings, and memoirs. He also skillfully demonstrates why the western front was so different from the horror of the East. Particularly important in keeping things going was Albert Speer, who has armaments director worked miracles in actually increasing wartime production of military equipment and directing critical repairs of railroads and bridges. When the Eastern front collapsed, and the Red Army flowed into East Prussia and was brutal in its actions, the civilian population's fear level rose to astounding highs, and led to continued support for the war even though it could not be won.

Kershaw also discusses another factor which has always seemed very important to me: the fear of punishment for wartime atrocities if Germany were to lose the war. So the top leadership felt it had no option but to fight on, and nothing to lose by doing so. Equally interesting is the author's discussion of what happened after Hitler's suicide when he could not longer block capitulation. Under Admiral Donitz a makeshift government continued to function for several weeks, until Ike lost patience and demanded capitulation.

There is much more to consider in this 400 page book. The narrative is supported by 41 photos and 9 excellent maps. As usual, the author's research is impeccable, and over 100 pages of notes, a list of archival sources, and a list of works cited are included. Most importantly, Kershaw is so knowledgeable about this period, that every page rings with authority. For those interested in this topic, this is an indispenable resource.
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on June 29, 2017
3.5 stars for this thoughtful look into what possibly could have motivated the German people and military leaders to extend the war until it's bitter conclusion when to virtually everyone it was a lost cause. It's a worthy question that stands out from the voluminous stacks of books on WWII history that I've not seen given any consideration in the past. Kershaw does his usual thorough research and we gain insights not just into the minds of "Nazi grandees" like Bormann, Himmler, Goebbels and Speer but common soldiers and general officers and the often overlooked Gauleiters (political leaders). There are obvious reasons why nobody was too keen on surrendering to the Russians on the Eastern Front but there was an interesting psychology instilled by years of propaganda and all too real fear maintained by a ruthless police apparatus.
Unfortunately, this is not Kershaw's most engaging work and I agree with other reviewers who commented that the book feels repetetive in various chapters. No doubt a more astute editor would have made this a more focused work. Criticisms aside still worth a look.
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on August 20, 2013
In the preface to this book, Ian Kershaw asserts that "It is not a military history". Correct, in the sense that he does not provide battlefield details or delve deeply into the tactics or strategy of the massive armies involved. But any history of the last two years of the Second World War would be meaningless without a description of military developments, as these were crucial to every other aspect of life in Germany and the nations it had conquered. Kershaw fulfills this relevant task with competence.

The principal assignment he has taken on, however, is the mystery of why the Germans fought on to the last, long after it was clear to all but a fringe of hard core Nazi fanatics that the war was lost. He answers the puzzle through a combination of factors: Hitler's continuing charismatic hold on the loyalty of his top lieutenants; a tight and ruthless Nazi party command structure; the tradition of honor among military officers which emphasized fidelity to their oath of obedience; the brutal treatment (including summary execution) of soldiers considered cowards, deserters, or "laggards"; the fear instilled into civilians accused of defeatism or disloyalty; the fact that SS officers and Nazi officials believed that they had burned their bridges; the dread of barbarian Bolshevik hordes implanted by years of propaganda; and, not least, the work ethic, discipline, duty and deference to authority inherent in German culture.

Although a significant majority of Germans had become disillusioned and cynical about the Nazi leadership by the last months of the war, virtually all feared to make their true feelings known. Many top level German generals were particularly troubled. The orders they received directly from Hitler were frequently tactically stupid or irrational. But with few exceptions they followed his directions even while realizing the dire consequences that lay ahead. General officers who argued or suggested retreat were usually fired and replaced.

Kershaw has gathered much useful archival material including wartime military and bureaucratic documents, statistics, academic studies, diaries, letters, etc. Nonetheless, readers already familiar with some of the vast existing literature on the war will likely find little new or startling in this work. Kershaw has put together a good summary, though one seriously marred by wordiness and repetition. It is unfortunate that he lacked a competent editor wielding a sharp blue pencil. It would have been a far better book had its many inessential and repetitive passages, composing perhaps as much as a quarter of the text, been sliced off.
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on November 25, 2011
Ian Kershaw has a probable point of view on why Germany held out to the end. If Hitler had been assassinated, someone from the old guard would have come forward to rescue the Third Reich from total destruction. Unfortunately, Hitler did not die but lived to tighten his control over the Nazi infrastructure, the Armed Forces and the German people.

A parallel situation existed in China under Mao Zedong. His Red Guard, created during the "Great Leap Forward," terrorized the country during the Cultural Revolution where an estimated 30 million people perished. The Communist Party controlled the population down to the village and neighborhood level with millions of bureaucratic party members. The PLA stopped any attempt at rebellion. Millions of intellectuals, party members and non-peasants/landlords were sent to the countryside for re-education.

Everyone feared Mao Zedong (and Mrs. Mao, who was his hatchet lady), including the ever faithful Zhou Enlai. However, when Mao died, old-guard commissar/long march soldier Deng Ziaoping rose to the top... and led China into Socialist-Capitalism and a new China.

Could this have happened in Germany if the Hitler assassination had succeeded? I asked my wife, born in 1941 in Stuttgart, Germany: No, she replied: obedience is a deeply ingrained cultural trait in Germany.

The Chinese, however, are a rebellious lot. They believe that under a Mandate of Heaven,(similar to our Right to Bear Arms) they have the right to overthrow the Emperor if he fails to serve the people. As such, Mr. Kershaw may have missed the point by not fully understanding the German people from the bottom up instead of from Hitler down.

Ezra Vogel's "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" would be a nice companion book to Ian kershaw's "THE END: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945.
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on March 18, 2012
This book answers the question, "Why, toward the end of WWII, did Germans keep fighting a futile war until their country lay in ruins?"

As another reviewer mentioned, the question probably could have been answered satisfactorily in a much shorter book, and for those war buffs intimately familiar with the events of WWII, much of the recounting of meetings, battles, strategies and logistical problems in this book may be old news. I am not a war buff, however, so I found the recounting to be interesting and, for the most part, helpful to my understanding of the German situation.

I was at first daunted by the size of the book, fearing it would plod along like an academic thesis, but Kershaw writes well enough, and the narrative moved along at a satisfying pace, starting with the attempted assassination of Hitler in July 1944 and ending with the German capitulation 10 months later shortly after his suicide.

As it happened, I read this book immediately after reading In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, which is about events in Berlin as HItler was consolidating his control and rising to a position of absolute power. Together these make nice bookends to the WWII period, providing insight into how a country came under the thrall of a madman and what the ultimate consequences were.
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on November 14, 2014
The last year of the Third Reich saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the Second World War, as Adolf Hitler, increasingly demented and paranoid, and his feudal flunkies sought to stand off the inevitable, with orders to often non-existent armies to launch impossible counterattacks, make doomed stands, and achieve ridiculous objectives.

Yet the German armed forces and people fought on, into the blitzed streets around Hitler's Fuhrer Bunker in Berlin, while the Reich around them was collapsing under the weight of Allied offensives and from its own manifold weaknesses and deficiencies.

The book is a strange mix of defiance, resilience, surrender, apathy, fanaticism, insanity, and despair, all at the same time. The image of Hitler Youth and SS men grouped around a machine-gun and a few Panzerfaust, determined to sacrifice their lives to stop the advancing Sherman tanks and T-34s to save a cause that was beyond redemption and not worth the candle is writ large in this book.

Written by Ian Kershaw, whose magisterial biography of Hitler should be considered the "universal problem solver" on the subject, "The End" is as close as we will come into probing the reality and psyche of the final days of the Third Reich as seen by the Germans themselves.
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on April 29, 2017
The End is a somewhat depressing analysis of why the Germans did not end the fighting as the Allies crushed them at the conclusion of WWII. Certainly, no sane government would have gone on as their people were being slaughtered by the overwhelming air, sea, and ground assault of the Allied powers. As the German troops died, their women were raped, and towns and cities were burned and blasted out of existence, the Reich leadership fought on, issuing orders and demanding fanatical resistance to the absolute last. And the leadership got what it demanded.

Why?

Ian Kershaw answers the questions many ways. Hitler was still the leader, and the people acknowledged it and held out hope in his ability to end the war in Germany's favor right to the last. The Nazi Party had a deep hold on the nation and its people, and no one could openly defy the Nazis and live to tell about it. The ideological concept that their was no other way than to fight to the end because surrender entailed the end of Germany held on as truth to the German people. Other explanations are given, including the Allied unconditional surrender policy, and Kershaw looks at them all.

In the last analysis, Hitler was probably the reason. He had stated, from before the war, that the destruction of Germany was preferable to the surrender he witnessed at the end of WWI. Perhaps many Germans agreed with him. He fought the war as if total victory or total defeat was the only answer to the issue of German defeat in the previous war. He got what he wanted.

Ian Kershaw is an excellent writer and he forwards the story rapidly and salts it with enough quotes from the time to give the reader a feeling of what people in the eye of the storm were thinking. His research is very good. The writing does get a little repetitive, as he recites over and over the idea that their was nothing to do but fight to the end. OK, I get it. In many spots the book is overly wordy, giving the, hopefully, false impression he was paid by the word. Nonetheless, the analysis of why the Germans refused to quit is well worth reading.

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on May 15, 2013
This is one of the best books I've read about the internal workings of German society under the Nazi party during the last months of WWII. I'm a WWII history buff and I've read a number of books about the last year of the war, but until I read this book I had found one that explained in detail how the leaders in the German government and the Nazi kept the war going until Hitler's death and why they did so. The book is occasionally a little dry and repetitious, but overall it is well-written and very carefully researched. I recommend it for any student of WWII who wants to understand why the German people as a whole and the military leaders fought on when most of them knew that the war was lost. This book also provides some insight into the Allies' role and the alliance between the Western nations and Russia.
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on April 27, 2017
Fine.
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on January 22, 2015
I read this book along with Max Hastings book Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 on the same topic. Both books cover a lot of ground on a half year or so that was breathtakingly destructive of lives, lands, and souls even though it was quite clear to virtually everyone the entire time that Germany had lost this war. Hastings reads more like reportage, whereas Kershaw makes a much more concerted effort to understand and explain *why* events unfolded as they did. He tends to organize his thoughts around questions for which an analysis of the events, conditions, beliefs, and experiences of participants provides possible answers; Hastings is more often satisfied with just conveying the events and experiences. Of course, Kershaw's approach is the riskier one in that he is more vulnerable to disagreement: there's more to contest when someone actually attempts an explanation of something rather than just describe it, and I did disagree with some of Kershaw's thinking. But being more intellectually daring like that makes Kershaw a much more rewarding read. When Hastings tries along these lines, he unfortunately more often comes off as a, well, rather opinionated commentator on a BBC documentary than as a critical thinker. Kershaw's offering here is well worth the read.
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