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Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  407 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Swansong 1945 chronicles the end of Nazi Germany through more than 1,000 extracts from letters, diaries, and autobiographical accounts, written by civilians and soldiers alike. Together, they present a panoramic view of four tumultuous days that fateful spring: Hitler’s birthday on April 20, American and Soviet troops meeting at the Elbe on April 25, Hitler’s suicide on Ap ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published April 18th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 2007)
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Jill Hutchinson
This is the 10th and last volume of a monumental work that captures the history of the Third Reich. It concentrates on the last days in 1945 of Hitler's Germany and is divided into four parts: Hitler's birthday, 20 April; American and Russian troops meeting at the Elbe, 25 April; Hitler's suicide, 30 April; and the German surrender,8 May. The story of these day is told through letters, diary entries, memos, meeting notes, and interviews of those where were there. And they range from the words of ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
Obviously, this collection of voices from the last days of the Second World War in Europe is quite impressive. Kempowski really did his best to go very broad and to illuminate the last days of the war from very different angles. Political and military protagonists (Churchill, Nazi chiefs, Mussolini) as well as ordinary soldiers and people have their say, Germans, English, French, Russians, and so on. And they are all personal testimonials, which increases the emotional involvement.

Does this yie
When in the 1950s Walter Kempowski found a pile of photos and letters on the street, they turned out to be letters from a soldier to his bride. The soldier never returned from the front. Kempowski decided to collect fragments from letters, diaries and other accounts from World War II. This resulted in Das Echelot, a ten-part series which was a great success in Germany.

The first volume was published in 1993, the last in 2005. Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich
Aug 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an apt companion to Ian Kershaw's "The End." In many ways, this book is a masterpiece of compilation and selection and translation: gathering this material from so many different sources, from ordinary individuals and important historical figures, the task must have been monumental.

Walter Kempowski has called his work, "rescuing the voices of the dead." It is a book that was difficult to put down: profoundly moving and very disturbing, and unforgettable.
Jan 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my "Published in 2015" selection for the Read Harder challenge.

I am endlessly fascinated by first-person historical accounts. I think you get insight and honesty in a letter from the Front that you'll never get from a history book written decades later, no matter how much context and hindsight it offers. Reading about food shortages is very different than reading a diary entry filled with excitement over finding a bit of meat in the rubble that wasn't too rancid. And that's why I was su
Sense Of  History
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ww-2
Interesting and impressive take on the last days of the Second World War in Europe, but from a methodological point of view very questionable. See my review in my general account on Goodreads: ...more
May 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
The tenth volume in what is considered a modern German classic, Swansong 1945 is the only volume to be published in English. This volume covers four dates during the last two months of the war: Hitler's birthday, the meeting of the Americans and Russians at the Elbe river, Hitler's suicide, and the German surrender. It is a stunning piece of work and an absolutely fascinating read of first-hand accounts of WWII. Kempowski has done the world a favor with his tireless compilation of these document ...more
Jim Mullin
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a must read for any who are fascinated with WW2 history. The horrors of WW2 are fully exemplified through the interviews of participants including servicemen , citizens, politicians, refugees, and world leaders. This is compelling reading; one wonders why we as a nation persist in continued warring.

Paul Janiszewski
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Walter Kempowski - Swansong: There is more than the "official", or even "popular" viewpoint to understanding the past, and this is brought home in Kempowski's powerful collection of the writings, notes, statements, letters and diaries of those who lived the dramatic conclusion at the end of the world's most catastrophic war. No source is denied. No argument is pursued, other than an illumination of the varied visions of lived reality. It is but left to the reader to interpret and disentangle the ...more
Ann Otto
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
These first-person accounts from letters, diaries, and autobiographical accounts chronicle four significant days in the last three weeks of WWII from allied and axis countries, but primarily from Germans in the military. The most interesting are the ones documented from the Fuhererbunker in Berlin describing Hitler's deteriorating mind at this time through his discussions with the military and staff personnel. There are also many excerpts from concentration camp victims during their last few wee ...more
Lora Templeton
"The soldier Popov was a strange person. He had nothing but bees in his bonnet. Thus he kept a diary in a thick volume of soft newsprint that he had bound himself. It was his pride and joy. At every free moment he had written something in it with the stump of an indelible pencil. As he was forever putting the pencil in his mouth to moisten it, he was always walking around with blue lips. Hence his nickname -- Ivan-Pencil Brigade. Just outside of Berlin his diary disappeared without a trace. He t ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly riveting compilation of the thoughts and writings of Germans as the Reich was self-destructing. Ranging from Hitler, the progenitor of "The 1,000 Year Reich" that died in infancy, his enablers and sycophants, to non-official Germans and a host of other people, their thoughts and impressions are recorded for posterity. Walter Kempowski chose four pivotal dates from which to capture the mood of Germans:- April 20: Hitler's birthday, on which even his most ardent and deluded liutenants ...more
Karen Cowgill
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good book! Moving and sometimes chilling telling of the final days of the Third Reich. This book is a compilation of diary excerpts from many different people. Germans, Soviets, French, Americans, British, and also people from the many Concentration camps (these are so heart breaking!!) I do not recall the man's name, but one of the camp victims reaction to the liberation of Dachau just made me cry a river!!! If you enjoy reading about things that actually happened, you will LOVE this book. ...more
Becky Loader
Jun 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
As a librarian, I am very interested in original document research. I especially like correspondence and diaries, so this book is right up my alley.

Comprised of excerpts from letters, diaries, speeches, and other original documents, the text reads like a collage of thoughts about three days at the end of 1945. I could not stop reading. From people in Hitler's inner circle, to prisoners of war, to concentration camp inmates, to soldiers, to world many impressions from different poi
Chet Taranowski
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read it compulsively. these are all diary entries from various public and private historical figures. the only issue I had was understanding the contexts of the various authors. kempowski will tell you where they are located but nothing else about who they were. this often makes understanding their comments difficult.

still I couldn't put the book down.

Hitler and many of the Germans were true believers till the last minutes. the invaders were no angels either. the stories of rape were routine.
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A selection of letters, diaries, and other notes. From top-level politicians and generals to lowly privates and civilians. All levels, all sides. A good way to understand the sentiment on both sides at the end of WWII.

Could have used occasional intros to provide context. Even one sentence would help to put things in a bit of context, but I think they didn't want to slant the direct nature of the entries.

I don't suggest for nighttime reading as some of the entries contain some disturbing realitie
Angad Bajwa
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
“History isn’t what happened but what Historians tell us”
This is the summary of this book.

A unique outlook from the point of view of thousand’s of people in the dying days of the second world war. Their stories and writing gives it a more personal touch to the events that unfolded almost 70 years ago!

Notes from both Allies and Axis are in this book and shows the general psyche of the opposing forces as the war ended.

The heart of this book rests with the stories of the non combatants whose words
Jan Geerling
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone interested in personal stories about the end of the Second world war. Horrible, but with glimmers of hope and beauty.

I'll always remember this quote from a russian soldier writing to his loved one at home: "I love you and we are forever ours." Sentences like that in the middle of the worst war possible make me feel like there is always something worth going on for. Even in the most dire of situations.
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a great book, at first I did not like the narrative style but it grows to come at you in waves of horror and sorrow. It gives a first hand account of the last days of the Nazis, of the weak and the devastation that Hitler brought to his people and the massive body count in World War II.
I wish the others in the series were available in English.
Steve Bookman
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Relentlessly predictable on some level yet full of the unexpected -- famous names popping up without warning. Knut Hamson unreservedly endorsing Hitler as the best of the best for European civilization - on 8 May 1945, for example.
Jonathan S. Mark
Gets right down to the real nitty gritty

I have read the April 20 section over and over. It provides a sense of the disillusionment in Germany as it became clear that the Nazis could not do what they had promised.
David Benn
This book is a struggle. Very different concept and it can get tedious, but I finished and learned a great deal.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A book of quotes and letters from people in axis countries in the last days of WWII. A person needs a an above average knowledge of WWII history to get much from this book.
May 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this - the structure of the vignettes was very well done and their content evocative.
Jane Lester
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Last days of Hitler - only read if you are interested and know about WW11 events.
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The everyday mixed with the unique .Eva Braun plans Hitler's birthday party, Hitler can't acknowledge that the war is all but lost,starving people scrabble for a bite to eat , others just talk as if nothing especial is occurring, or steadfastly refuse to speak of anything miserable. A fascinating glimpse into the multiple activities ,both banal and extreme, of many, many different people during the final days of World war 2. ...more
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A patchwork quilt of letters, diary entries, reminiscences, interviews etc from the period between Hitler's last birthday and VE day (09.05.1945). The entries are drawn from a wide range of sources and make absolutely fabulous reading. One of the things that impresses most is that not all of the entries are positive and optimistic. The war is over, agreed, but what does the future hold? I suppose if you were Volksdeutsch in one of the countries in the Soviet sphere, your future was grim. ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Cannot praise this original work enough. Loved hearing what different people experienced on each of the 4 crucial days Kempowski chose, to imagine those people writing at the same time, in different parts of the world, connected by the terrible events.
Marc Thomas
The only truly great book that I read in 2020. It captures the complexity, contingency, tragedy, delusion, and hope of the last days of the Third Reich with a masterful collage of extracts from diaries, letters, press stories, official reports, and other documents. Fully humane and very moving.
Chuck Mull
Sorry, one of the few books I couldn't finish. Trying to read the German names and places was too tiring. ...more
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Walter Kempowski was a German writer. He was known for his series of novels called German Chronicle ("Deutsche Chronik") and the monumental Echolot ("Sonar"), a collage of autobiographical reports, letters and other documents by contemporary witnesses of the Second World War. ...more

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