Max Egremont

The Cold Cruelty of the German Army

Berlin: The Downfall 1945

By

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Often books about the Third Reich have a last chapter called ‘Götterdämmerung’ or ‘Twilight of the Gods’. The Wagnerian link seems apt; wasn’t the anti-Semitic German nationalist Hitler’s favourite composer? Yet although there are parallels with Richard Wagner (like self-pity and no sense of the ridiculous), Wagner turned men into god and moral heroes, whereas the Nazis debased them, particularly at the end.

Berlin: The Downfall, a startling work about the last months of the war on the eastern front, reveals the degradation. From the defeat at Stalingrad in 1942-3, Germany was doomed to lose the blood struggle with the Russians, much else in the war seeming tame in comparison. The Germans had started it with their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, ye t many German officers said in 1945 that the only fault in this had been its failure. Their opinion showed the moral hollowness of the Prussian military tradition for me one of the most interesting themes of Antony Beevor’s book.

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