Swansong 1945 chronicles the end of Nazi Germany and World War II in Europe through hundreds of letters, diaries, and autobiographical accounts covering four days that fateful spring: Hitler s birthday on April 20, American and Soviet troops meeting at the Elbe on April 25, Hitler s suicide on April 30, and finally the German surrender on May 8.Read more...
Swansong 1945 chronicles the end of Nazi Germany and World War II in Europe through hundreds of letters, diaries, and autobiographical accounts covering four days that fateful spring: Hitler s birthday on April 20, American and Soviet troops meeting at the Elbe on April 25, Hitler s suicide on April 30, and finally the German surrender on May 8. Side by side, we encounter vivid, first-person accounts of civilians fleeing Berlin, ordinary German soldiers determined to fight to the bitter end, American POWs dreaming of home, concentration-camp survivors first descriptions of their horrific experiences, as well as the intimate thoughts of figures such as Eisenhower, Churchill, Stalin, Joseph Goebbels, and Hitler himself.
These firsthand accounts, painstakingly collected and organized by renowned German author Walter Kempowski, provide the raw material of history and present a panoramic view of those tumultuous days. The more than 1,000 extracts include a British soldier writing to his parents to tell them there are no baths but plenty of eggs and chocolate, an American soldier describing the tremendous burst of lilacs as he approaches the Elbe, Mussolini wishing Hitler a happy birthday, Eva Braun bragging to a girlfriend about what a crack shot she s become, and much more.
An extraordinary account of suffering and survival, Swansong 1945 brings to life the end of Nazi Germany and the war in Europe."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-02-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Kempowski (1929–2007), a German novelist and historian, presents a riveting history of the final days of WWII from a predominantly German perspective. Formally, the work is a collage of personal experiences extracted primarily from diaries (of which 10 volumes exist, this being the fourth and the first in English translation), and it’s organized by date: four days in late April and May 1945. Hundreds of short diary excerpts relate a variety of experiences on each date, and Kempowski’s careful selection and sequencing convey the horror, misery, irony, and intensity of living through the last month of war in Germany. The work is noteworthy not just for its unique first-person perspective, but also for its breadth and depth: Hitler’s last moments in his bunker, Stalin’s daughter celebrating victory, the rape of German women by Russian soldiers and others, and the brutal conditions in the concentration camps. A general knowledge of European geography and the history of the fall of Germany in 1945 is assumed. Kempowski evenhandedly presents the Germans as both perpetrators and victims in this essential volume on the ravages of WWII. (Apr.)
Many voices, one tragic war
The end of World War II in Europe brought a wide range of reactions, especially in Germany. From concentration camp prisoners to top Nazi officers, from refugees crowding the roads to soldiers eager to see the war finally over, there was a mixture of heartbreak, relief, chaos and disbelief. For German novelist Walter Kempowski, who died in 2007, researching and compiling those responses, through eyewitness accounts, letters and diaries, became a lifelong mission. The result was 10 volumes and a diary of his project’s progress.
The first part of this extraordinary collection to be published in the United States, Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich, assembles what Kempowski called his “particles” to form a “collage” that brings four days in 1945 vividly to life: Friday, April 20, Hitler’s 56th birthday; Wednesday, April 25, when American and Soviet troops met at the Elbe; Monday, April 30, Hitler’s suicide; and Tuesday, May 8, the German surrender and VE Day. The power of the work comes from the great variety and volume of the personal accounts, many of them eloquent and moving.
The most heartbreaking entries come from concentration camp prisoners who describe the horrific conditions they were subjected to. Some of the most eloquent accounts are from Alisah Shek, daughter of a Prague civil engineer who was deported to Ausch-witz. She was held at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. “We sit here and watch: the worst thing they have done to us, is to rob us of reality, of the concept of reality. We know only a tormented, fear-filled world of cruelty, in which we are the victims of events, objects.” From Dieter Wellershoff, a German citizen: “I really can’t even grasp it. The Germany that I so loved is finished. Because it isn’t just a war that’s being lost. . . . I know just one thing, that I want to survive. I’m only nineteen years old. Everything should just be starting.” There are detailed descriptions of the last days of Hitler and his closest confidants, as recorded by his secretaries and valet. Until the very end, Hitler denied that he had started the war and claimed he had tried to stop it.
This important book takes us beyond geography, statistics and battles and reveals the cost of war in very human terms.