Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich

Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich

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Overview

A monumental work of history that captures the last days of the Third Reich as never before.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

02/23/2015
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.)

Sarah Grant - Booklist (starred review)

A treasure… [Swansong 1945] offer[s] powerful glimpses into otherwise lost history… The collection is a kaleidoscope of voices, revealing struggle of all kinds.

Jeremy Noakes

A remarkable collage of experiences and impressions of the catastrophic last days of the Second World War, which provides a unique panorama of the war and a very powerful impression of its impact on and the responses of those involved.

Christian Science Monitor

A disturbing but compulsively readable slice of history.

Gerald Steinacher - Wall Street Journal

An emotionally immediate and multi-faceted perspective of the last days of the Third Reich… No mere anthology but an artful collage… Difficult to put down.

David Kynaston

A bewitching, dramatic, utterly extraordinary range of voices and eyewitness testimony as Europe entered its year-zero moment.

Gerald Steinacher

[Swansong 1945] offers an emotionally immediate and multi-faceted perspective of the last days of the Third Reich… [It] is no mere anthology but an artful collage… Difficult to put down.”

Library Journal

02/15/2015
Historians usually spend more time analyzing the origins, course, and consequences of war, rather than scrutinizing the moment when a conflict ends. German novelist Kempowski (d. 2007), who survived the chaotic last days of World War II himself, collates a variety of sources covering the period from Hitler's last birthday (April 20, 1945) through the final surrender (May 9, 1945) in order to document how people experienced the end of the conflagration. Kempowski gives voice not only to the powerful, such as Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, but people as diverse as a German refugee from Courland seeking to escape the advancing Red Army and the exhausted Allied soldiers who discovered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. While many of the sources are contemporaneous and as such provide unfiltered images of the war's end, others are postwar reflections. The latter are still important, but there is no editorial context explaining the types of material used. In addition, the casual reader may have trouble following some of the threads, for example Heinrich Himmler's efforts to conclude a separate peace. VERDICT Despite some reservations, these stories are often compelling and the book is recommended for public and academic libraries.—Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll.

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2014-12-17
From the absurd to the sublime, and everywhere heartbreaking: a collage of voices from the tail end of the world's conflagration.In 2005, German novelist Kempowski (1929-2007) published this cross section of voices, ordinary and otherwise, commenting on the end of World War II in German as part of a series of compositions largely exploring German guilt for the war. Over 20 years, he collected an astonishing array of autobiographies, letters, diaries and other documents to create a raw, tremendously moving set of reactions to the momentous events of April through May 1945: the lugubrious birthday celebrations of Adolf Hitler on April 20, the Allied liberation, VE-Day, and the very different takes by the international participants on the final signing of Germany's capitulation at Karlshorst, Berlin, on May 8. In the preface, Kempowski notes that he composed this wealth of voices like an imagined Tower of Babel, revealing a similarly teetering longing by frail and inadequate humans for some kind of recognition of or consolation for their experience and suffering. Among dozens of other situations, the author examines German soldiers lying wounded in American hospitals; Joseph Goebbels, the "diabolical seducer," continuing his vituperative radio address, declaring that "Chaos will be tamed!"; the scores of Berliners vulnerable to the retribution of marauding Russians; the prisoners in concentration camps, hanging by the barest thread; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, persistent in his maddeningly correct accounts until the very last signing ceremony; and Hitler's own final maniacal insistence that the blame of the war lay squarely with the Jews. Kempowki juxtaposes the voices of the poignantly unknown with the famous—from Thomas Mann eagerly following the movements of the Allied armies into Germany from his home in Los Angeles to Edmund Wilson in London wondering what the "roast duck" on the menu really was (probably crow). A riveting portrait of what Kurt Weill called the "total breakdown of all human dignity," revealed through the bric-a-brac of war-shattered lives.

Bill Marvel - Dallas Morning News

Some of this has been reported before, but the shock is fresh…[Swansong 1945] will break your heart…The lessons here—and there are many—do not depend on a detailed knowledge of anything other than what it is to be a human being and to suffer.

Frederick Taylor

A unique and haunting insight into what it was like to live through the violent twilight of the Third Reich. Indispensable and, above all, unforgettable.

Nicholas Stargardt

A rare combination of aesthetic and historic truths… What gives Kempowski’s work its reach and humanity is his keen eye for both the sensory experience of war at its most destructive and individuals’ compulsion to go on making sense of it as it engulfed them.

Volker Hage

Kempowski is a master of form and proportion… The end of the war has never before been depicted like this.

Roger Bishop - BookPage

This important book takes us beyond geography, statistics and battles and reveals the cost of war in very human terms.

Neil Gregor

Amidst the fascinating multitude of voices assembled here the one that speaks most powerfully is that of Kempowski himself. This is a remarkable document of one person’s lifelong struggle to make sense of national collapse.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393248159
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/13/2015
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 658,036
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

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