The End: The Defi­ance and Destruc­tion of Hitler’s Ger­many, 1944 – 1945

Ian Ker­shaw
  • Review
By – January 17, 2012

As the war turned against Nazi Ger­many in late 1944, the SS and the Ger­man army, fear­ful of falling into the hands of the Red army, made the deci­sion to move pris­on­ers in con­cen­tra­tion camps on death march­es” to camps with­in the inte­ri­or of Ger­many. At the begin­ning of 1945, the con­cen­tra­tion camp pop­u­la­tion num­bered around 700,000, of which an esti­mat­ed 200,000250,000 were Jews. Around Feb­ru­ary 1945, Hitler issued a ver­bal order to blow up the con­cen­tra­tion camps on the approach of the Allies. Accord­ing to Felix Ker­sten, Himmler’s masseur, he was told by the head of the SS that if Nation­al Social­ist Ger­many is going to be destroyed, then her ene­mies and the crim­i­nals in con­cen­tra­tion camps shall not have the sat­is­fac­tion of emerg­ing from our ruin as tri­umphant con­querors. They shall share in the down­fall. Those are the Fuhrer’s orders…” Chief among Nazi Germany’s ene­mies were the Jews. Although the book under review deals with the last days of the Third Reich, it also pro­vides valu­able insights as to why, at the moment of defeat, Hitler was deter­mined to mur­der every last Jew in Nazi-occu­pied Europe.

Ian Ker­shaw is among the lead­ing his­to­ri­ans of Nazi Ger­many, and his two vol­ume biog­ra­phy of Adolf Hitler is the pre­em­i­nent work on his sub­ject. The End reveals much as to why Nazi Ger­many fought on despite its immi­nent destruc­tion. A coun­try at war, states Ker­shaw, attempts to seek terms to end the con­flict when its defeat is appar­ent. Self-destruc­tion by con­tin­u­ing to fight on to the last, to almost total dev­as­ta­tion, is extreme­ly rare. Thus, the focus of Kershaw’s book is to ask Why? Why were Hitler’s self-destruc­tive orders obeyed? How far were Ger­mans pre­pared to sup­port Hitler to the end, even though they knew he was dri­ving the coun­try to destruc­tion? Were they in fact still giv­ing him their will­ing back­ing or were they in fact ter­ror­ized into doing so? These are some of the many ques­tions which Ker­shaw attempts to answer in this indis­pens­able his­to­ry. As for the mur­der of Euro­pean Jew­ry, he notes that the evac­u­a­tions and sub­se­quent death march­es from Auschwitz, Gros-Rosen, Stut­thof and oth­er camps in the east, had, from the regime’s per­spec­tive an under­ly­ing rationale:

The pris­on­ers were to be kept out of the hands of the ene­my, and brought to the inte­ri­or of the Reich where… though ema­ci­at­ed, exhaust­ed, frozen, starved…they could be avail­able for labor.

Or, as Himm­ler saw it, the Jew­ish pris­on­ers were poten­tial pawns in any deal with the Allies. It is obvi­ous from read­ing The End that Nazi Ger­many con­tin­ued to believe until the end in a Jew­ish cabal that was behind the Allied gov­ern­ments, and Hitler was deter­mined that the destruc­tion of his coun­try was less impor­tant than destroy­ing the Jew­ish enemy. 

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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