THE DAY THE WAR ENDED by Martin Gilbert

THE DAY THE WAR ENDED

May 8, 1945--Victory in Europe
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 For all the drama inherent in the story of WW II's end, this is one of the noted British historian's least interesting books. Gilbert (The First World War, 1994, etc.) bases his account of the day the war ended on contemporary letters, documents, newspapers, diaries, memoirs, histories, and the recollections of 190 individuals he contacted while working on the book. He contributes new vignettes but little that alters existing perceptions. Still, the scale of the event remains awe-inspiring: This was the most destructive war in history; on an average, more than 20,000 people, soldiers and civilians, were killed each day, the same number killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The liberation in April 1945 of the Belsen concentration camp, with its huge mounds of unburied bodies and skeletal survivors, was a moment that, Gilbert rightly argues, transformed the Allied perception of the war. Pointing up a detail that has escaped general notice, however, he records that one American lieutenant, immediately after entering Dachau and seeing the corpses there, machine-gunned 346 SS guards after they gave themselves up. There was the usual maneuvering about where and when the German surrender would be signed and announced: It was signed in Reims early on the morning of May 7 by General Alfred Jodl, but was not announced until May 8 by Britain and the United States, and on May 9 by Stalin. The aftermath was filled with jubilation, tragedy, and the grotesque: jubilation as millions celebrated; tragedy as hundreds of thousands of Russians were forcibly returned by the Allies, France even allowing NKVD commissions to travel through the country in search of non-returnees; and elements of the grotesque, as Ireland's president made an official visit of condolence to the German embassy after Hitler's death. Rich in incident and anecdote, but Gilbert turns over soil already so thoroughly mined that it is hard to find a nugget.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8050-3926-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995




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