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

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Staff Reviews

In Walter Kempowski’s Swan Song 1945: The Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich, we see the familiar names in familiar--almost iconic--moments: Hitler, brooding in his Fuhrerbunker as the Russians close in on Berlin, dictating his self-serving and myopic political testament; the first American and Russian soldiers meeting, first cautiously, then amiably, at Torgau on the Elbe; US diplomat George F. Kennan awkwardly offering a few words of congratulation to the mass of jubilant Russian civilians outside the American Embassy in Moscow when V.E. Day is announced on in the Soviet Union on May 9th; Marshal Georgy Zhukov’s account of the General Keitel’s official surrender to the Allied powers at Karlshorst--all of these moments and more are well-known and unremarkable for this book. However, Kempowski’s use of these sources, interwoven with those of ordinary German, Russian, Italian, Danish, Swedish, French, Dutch, Czech, Polish, British, Canadian, American, and other people, serves as a striking leveling device.

Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman, DeGaulle, and Mussolini are bit players in Swan Song. Their roles are merely cameos included to provide a compass for the huge moments of the end of the war. The true focal points of the book are the common soldiers and civilians of all nations. The people who didn’t have a say at Yalta or Tehran or Casablanca, who were never invited to Wannsee or San Francisco or Potsdam--it is they about whom Swan Song is written, for they are the ones who wrote it.  


— Jesse, a Tattered Cover bookseller


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.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393248159
ISBN-10: 0393248151
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: April 13th, 2015
Pages: 512
Language: English