Ian Kershaw’s magisterial research into Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazism is unrivaled in its scope, depth and sheer force of achievement. His final installment on the Third Reich is now complete with ‘The End: Hitler’s Germany 1944-45’. It stands alongside his other books and completes a lifetime of research and accomplishment for any historian.
What we learn from his grasp of history is that ideas matter!
Kershaw begins to unravel a mystery deep at the heart of Hitler’s Germany which is why did the Germans under Hitler continue to fight when they knew all was lost. It was these same soldiers and generals that fought and sued for peace in 1918. Why continue fighting when they knew by 1944 it was lost. This is evidenced in the complete destruction of German forces at Stalingrad early 1943, only compounded by the Allied bombings of Hamburg by the summer of ’43. The determination of the Germans to go down fighting cannot in itself be explained by referencing Allied policies. Kershaw reveals that the intrinsic nature of Totalitarianism, the kind embodied by Hitler in his Reich matched by militant Social Darwinism grounded Nazism in a rigid posture fit for failure.
Perhaps only the writings of Raymond Aron and his take on ‘mystification’ can explain the social and political impact of militant ideology on the human person, perception and policy behavior of organizations. How else to explain Hitler’s neurotic belief in stubborn insistence that retreat was treason, tactical withdrawal military cowardice and realism weakness of will.
Hitler’s self-destructiveness and utter contempt for the German people was only seen in bits and pieces, especially during waves of bad news. Only Albert Speer held out the longest only to finally recognize that Russia was encircling Berlin. Only at the very end did many desert him. Hitler dismissed Goring for trying to seize power, Himmler for negotiating with the Allies in secret, Goebbels, Bormann and a few close others committed suicide rather than face defeat. Their self immolation is testimony to the sickness of totalitarian life. It also reveals the sick psychology in their belief that life would be meaningless without Hitler. How else to say it: the world of illusion was not inhabited by Hitler alone.