Review of The End: Germany 1944-45 by Ian Kershaw (Penguin, 2011)
Most books about the Second World War document how events unfolded or the experiences of living through them. Ian Kershaw’s ambition in The End is a little more challenging: he tries to explain why the events happened in the way that they did. In particular, he examines why Germany fought ferociously until the nearly the entire country was occupied, Berlin was over-run, and Hitler was dead; why they did not surrender beforehand, saving the lives of millions of people given that it was clear that they would lose the war. The answer he develops is not simple, but is rather a complex blend of politics and the memory of the end of the First World War, communal psychology of the populous to continue undertake daily tasks and obey authority, the absolute power vested in Hitler and the unwillingness of anybody to challenge it, the efforts of leading but competing Nazis such Himmler, Goebbels, Bormann and Speer to continue to organize key aspects of the military, media, party and industry, the command structure of the Wehrmacht and administrative apparatus of the state, fear of the regime and reprisals, and terror at the thought of being captured by the Russians. Rather than examine each of these in turn, the narrative is organised temporally, starting in the summer of 1944. Kershaw provides a wealth of detail relating to both the Western and Eastern fronts and what was happening in Germany itself. Whilst much of the material is fascinating, the text could have done with some editing to remove repetition and to keep the narrative flowing and focused on answering his key questions, especially in the first half of the book. Instead, the book is often plodding, weighed down by too much detail and hampered by structure. Nevertheless, The End is a fascinating book and worth the slog through its dense text printed in too small font.