Dramatic, sordid recap of the most horrendous closing moments of World War II, which “began with the murder of Mussolini and ended with the news that Hitler had killed himself at his bunker in Berlin.”
There is a sensational element to this work by British journalist Best (The Greatest Day in History, 2008), narrated alongside frank, graphic primary accounts. The author covers the action over five decisive days at the closing of the war, beginning with Apr. 28, 1945, when Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were shot, driven to Milan and strung up for ghastly display. On the 30th, inside the Chancellery in Berlin, Hitler shot himself while his brand-new wife Eva Braun ingested a poison pill, leaving Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as successor in command. As the fighting raged to the last man at the Reichstag, and Russians raped German women and killed indiscriminately, SS head Heinrich Himmler separately sent out conciliatory messages to the British and Americans, generating wild rumors in the Western press. After the bunker suicides and clumsy burning of the bodies, the remnant staff planned their escape through the blasted streets of Berlin. The news of Hitler’s suicide made Stalin’s May Day celebrations in Moscow; the Americans were dropping food supplies over Holland for the starving residents as part of Operation Chowhound; Private Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict, eagerly deserted his post with the “liberation” of Munich by the Americans and headed home; and Hamburg was declared an open city on May 1 by Gauleiter Kaufmann, acting on his own initiative. In addition to engaging suspense, Best provides plenty of moments of prurience—e.g., orgies in the bunker’s dentist chair; the looting of Eva Braun’s knickers by the first Russian visitors.
Suspenseful, sketchy and somewhat vulgar—these accounts render no one’s finest hour.