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

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

Walter Kempowski, trans. from the German by Shaun Whiteside. Norton, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-393-24815-9

Kempowski (1929–2007), a German novelist and historian, presents a riveting history of the final days of WWII from a predominantly German perspective. Formally, the work is a collage of personal experiences extracted primarily from diaries (of which 10 volumes exist, this being the fourth and the first in English translation), and it’s organized by date: four days in late April and May 1945. Hundreds of short diary excerpts relate a variety of experiences on each date, and Kempowski’s careful selection and sequencing convey the horror, misery, irony, and intensity of living through the last month of war in Germany. The work is noteworthy not just for its unique first-person perspective, but also for its breadth and depth: Hitler’s last moments in his bunker, Stalin’s daughter celebrating victory, the rape of German women by Russian soldiers and others, and the brutal conditions in the concentration camps. A general knowledge of European geography and the history of the fall of Germany in 1945 is assumed. Kempowski evenhandedly presents the Germans as both perpetrators and victims in this essential volume on the ravages of WWII. [em](Apr.) [/em]