I am pleased to say that The End was a lot better than it seemed to be in that first hundred pages, in fact, for non-fiction, it was fast paced and interesting once I got into the rhythm of it.
The premise of The End is an exploration of why the Nazis held out without surrendering for the last ten months of the war, roughly dating from an assassination attempt on Hitler in the summer of 1944. At first, I was annoyed that the book was so overwhelmingly military in its bent. But as the book went on, there were more chapters about the state of mind of not only the Nazi high command, but also of German citizens, soldiers, and regional directors.
I've been thinking a lot about my initial disappointment, and I think it's a function of the type of historical reading I tend to do. Because I feel so woefully uneducated in all things historical, I tend to gravitate to big, survey-like texts. I like the "single volume history of X event" because I like getting the big picture. This book is really a very specific look at the state of Germany, and for a very short time. It's not my typical historical read, and that might have been why I was initially disappointed. But once I got into the swing of it, I ended up appreciating it. I don't want to say "enjoy" because of the subject matter, but it was a good read.
I won't go into too many details, because it's honestly all overwhelming. But I'll leave you with my three major take-aways.
1) Hitler, man. He was completely, totally, and categorically opposed to surrender. And he's not *just* the dictator of Nazi Germany. He's the head of state, the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, and the head of the Party. This dude had it *all* locked down. No one could make any moves against him. And he just would lose his mind if anyone suggested they should capitulate. At some point, he started planning the destruction of basically everything left in Germany, which would have eventually killed millions of his own citizens---no food, no electricity, no fresh water, etc. He basically didn't care even about his own people. As far as he was concerned, the German people didn't deserve him, they'd let him down, and therefore, he didn't care to do anything to possibly save them. What a douchebag.
As an aside, the book also spends some time at the end talking about Hitler's replacement. His name was Karl Donitz, and he held power from Hitler's suicide on April 30, 1945 - May 15, 1945, when the Allies relieved him of command. I mention this only because it seems like a total Jeopardy question. I mean, have you ever thought for a second before about the fact that someone replaced Hitler? Yeah, me neither.
2) I always knew there was a Western front an Eastern front, but this book describes just how different those fronts were. On the Western front, you have the advancing American and British troops. For the most part, everyday Germans on that side had nothing to fear from those troops. They came to your town, fought, and took over. The most harrowing part of life of the Western front was the incessant air raids by American and British bombers. They bombed the fuck out of Germany, and people lived in fear of American bombers, but those bombers were still far better than what was going on in the Eastern front.
The Eastern Front was basically hell on Earth. You may remember from my review of Bloodlands that the Germans invaded Russia and planned to basically empty it out by killing everyone, and then moving Germans in. Well, the Red Army was pushing back into Germany, and there was hell to pay. The Red Army looted, raped, and pillaged its way through Eastern Germany. The Red Army, from commanders to infantry, was determined to extract vengeance on the Germans for their invasion of Russia. The book makes the point, and I remember reading about this in Bloodlands, too, that these dirt poor Red Army soldiers were astounded at the wealth of Germany, and were totally pissed. Even the poorest German farmers enjoyed a standard of living so much higher than that of your average Russian peasant.
The Germans on the Eastern front were terrified of the approaching Red Army. The Nazi leadership knew they had to surrender unconditionally, meaning give it up on both the Western and Eastern fronts, and there was just no way that was going to happen. NO ONE wanted to just give up and give in to the Soviets; they knew they would pay a terrible price.
3) The German people were assholes, too. The supported Hitler, turned a blind eye to what their country was up to, and then boo-hooed about how they were victimized by the Red Army at the end. The whole country was just filled to the brim with crazy ideas. For example, much of the Nazi party were convinced that they could *flip* the Americans to their side, and that the Americans and Germans would fight off the Red Army together, thereby preserving the German state. I mean, what?
It is *tremendously* difficult to read about the mindset of the Germans, whether they are about regular German people or soldiers. Even when reading the Red Army laying waste to villages, it's hard not to feel like the Germans deserved it. The German people started what amounts to a massive land grab, and 6 years later, 80 million people are dead. This is a book that challenged my sense of empathy. It was just hard for me to feel sorry for any Germans. I can't say I'm proud of that feeling, but that's how I felt.
And I guess that's the biggest take-away of all. Read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of Nationalism and blind support for your government, this books is harrowing in every single possible way.
And with that, I'm calling it a wrap on 2013's TBR list!