Oppress a continent and kill millions of its inhabitants, and payback, when it comes, is likely to be ugly.
Such was the case when Nazi Germany fell in the first months of 1945, encircled by mighty Allied armies determined to put an end to Hitler’s regime. That year, writer Bessel (History/York Univ.; Nazism and War, 2004, etc.), began with a bloodbath, following the American and British breakthrough in the West after the unsuccessful breakout that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. But the blood flowed more heavily in the East, following the Soviet offensive; it yielded the highest monthly total of German casualties of any month in the war, more than 450,000. It is difficult to feel much pity for the doctrinaire Nazis among those dead and wounded, but it is easy to gauge the desperation of their cause as the Red Army threw division after division against the Wehrmacht—indeed, so desperate were they that, in what will come as news to readers who forget the Russian contribution to the conflict, the German forces tried to stage a Battle of the Bulge in the East too, in the deep forests of Hungary. Their stiff resistance, and the fact that many Germans took seriously Hitler’s command to fight to the death even when it meant suicide, yielded a whirlwind of revenge. Bessel raises the question of whether the war might have been cut short had Eisenhower not insisted on unconditional surrender on the Western front—which his German counterpart rightly said was not in his power to grant. The war was not cut short, of course. Instead, Germany disintegrated into crime and anarchy in the last days of the regime, and countless Germans died needlessly as the conquering armies moved in. No nation has ever been so thoroughly defeated as Germany, Bessel helpfully notes, and it was by no means certain that it would emerge from ruin.
A lucid contribution to the history of World War II.