Swan Song 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich
by Walter Kempowski
W. W. Norton, 2015. 479 pgs. History
Walter Kempowski has here assembled an extraordinary collection of first-hand accounts of the end of World War II in Europe, as told by eyewitnesses in Germany. Prison camp detainees, Russian soldiers, German civilians, Hitler himself, are all represented here in letters, diaries, published accounts, speeches, and war councils. Dispatches and speeches of the famous are interesting - Hitler assuring his confederates that he will still be able to lead them out of this mess, that he is the only man who can do it; Goring demanding that Hitler yield command to him since he is second in line and Hitler is no longer able. But the most fascinating accounts come from previously unknown civilians, such as Olga Gindina who thanks her soldier husband for arranging for someone to come fix her stove, or an American soldier describing the initial awkwardness of the American and Russian meeting which soon gave way to smiles, handshakes, and pats on the back. The fear of the German people and their disgust with their leaders is palpable, as many flee from East to West, hoping to be captured by the Americans rather than the Russians. Swan Song is an instantly indispensable piece of World War II history. For a similar account from the other side of the pond and more civilian oriented, read Studs Terkel's The Good War.