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Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich

The German city of Hanover was
bombed to utter ruin in 1943.
During 1944, many other cities in
the Third Reich met the same, or
worse, fate.
In a SPIEGEL interview, the best-selling British historian Ian Kershaw talks about the last days of the Third Reich, why the Germans persevered when it was clear that all was lost and the devastating consequences of the failed July 20, 1944, attempt to assassinate Hitler.

SPIEGEL: Professor Kershaw, you have spent the last three years studying the collapse of Nazi Germany. In the end, are we left to shake our heads in amazement at the absurdity of the final phase, or do you, as a historian, also feel something akin to admiration for the perseverance of the Germans?

Kershaw: The head-shaking predominates, at any rate. I'm convinced that we English would have given up much earlier. It's certainly unusual for a country to continue fighting to the point of complete self-destruction. It's the sort of thing we usually see in civil wars, but not in conflicts in which hostile nations are at war with one another.
"We English would have given up
much earlier. It's certainly unusual
for a country to continue fighting
to the point of complete self-
destruction."

SPIEGEL: The question of why the Germans persevered for so long is the starting point of your new book. What would have been the obvious thing to do?

Kershaw: In any armed conflict, there is eventually a point at which one side realizes that it's over. If the people in power don't give up but instead continue to plunge the country into ruin, there is either a revolution from below, as was the case in Germany and Russia near the end of World War I, or there is a coup by the elites, who attempt to save what can still be saved. An example of that is the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in Italy in July 1943.

SPIEGEL: What is the latest point at which the Germans should have recognized that they could no longer win the war?


Kershaw: I would say in the summer of 1944, after the successful landing of the Allies in Normandy and the Russians' enormous territorial gains in the east. At that point, the war was objectively lost, even if the German public didn't see it that way. But starting in December 1944, after the failed Ardennes Offensive (ed's note: also known as the Battle of the Bulge), it was also clear to the power elite in the German Reich that there was nothing left to be gained militarily. At that point, it would have made sense to enter into capitulation negotiations.

Read full story: Ian Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich: 'Hitler's Influence Was Fatal' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

Comments

  1. There was no point in attempting to negotiate terms. The power elite in the German Reich was aware that the Allies had agreed at Casablanca in January 1943 to demand unconditional surrender. They also became aware that Germany was to be partitioned into occupation zones and would cease to exist as a state. The secretive argument among the power elite by 1945 was how to keep the Russians at bay while letting the Western Allies as far into Germany as possible without Hitler and the fanatics finding out.

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