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The Last Days of the Third Reich

by Joachim Fest & translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo

Pub Date: April 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-374-13577-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A vivid reconstruction of the final weeks of Hitler’s regime.

In mid-April 1945, the Soviets launched an offensive against Berlin “with twenty armies, two and a half million soldiers, and more than forty thousand mortars and field guns”—an avenging force of an almost unimaginable size and scale. Hitler retreated into the Reich Chancellery, but not before warning that this “Asian onslaught” had to be stopped; if it were not, he warned, Germany’s “old people, men, and children will be murdered, and women and girls will be forced to serve as barracks whores.” Thus inspired, the Volksturm and Wehrmacht units charged with defending the city put up a stiff fight, even as Hitler continued to imagine that with Franklin Roosevelt’s death the Western Allies would realize that their enemy was Russia and join Hitler’s crusade. The fall of Vienna to the Soviets put an end to that vision, and Hitler—physically and mentally ill—waited out Marshal Zhukov’s arrival while gorging himself on chocolate cake. An inglorious end, that, and German historian Fest (Speer: The Final Verdict, 2002, etc.) surprises with a number of unreported or overlooked details—such as a letter that Albert Speer had written to Hitler only a few weeks before, chiding him “for equating the existence of Germany with his own life span, describing this as an egocentricity unparalleled in history.” For all that, Hitler shot his wife and then himself, leaving it to the handful of remaining stalwarts to burn their corpses. Fest confirms that widely published photographs of Hitler’s corpse were a hoax, but adds the intriguing note that many of the theories concerning Hitler’s supposed survival came straight from Josef Stalin: “Once he said that Hitler had escaped to Japan in a submarine; another time he mentioned Argentina; and later he said something about Franco’s Spain.”

A well-considered slice of the Nazi era, and one with a happy ending.