Hitler, 1936-1945 : nemesis

by Ian Kershaw

Paper Book, 2000




New York : W.W. Norton, 2001, c2000.


Drawing on many previously underutilized resources--including the diaries of Joseph Goebbels--a portrait of Hitler encompasses events preceding World War II as well as the war years

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LibraryThing member wildbill
A nemesis is an inescapable or implacable agent of downfall, a very apt description of Adolf Hitler during the years covered in this book. This book is an excellent piece of scholarship that tells the story of the last nine years of Hitler's life in great detail. The author's knowledge of his subject is used with great skill to provide the reader with an accurate depiction of a man whose name stands as that of the chief instigator of the most profound collapse of civilization in modern times. The author tells his story with a skilled understatement that allows him to present his tale of horror without nauseating the reader. I found the life of Hitler to be full of surprises and contradictions.
A good example was his daily routine while he lived in Berlin. He was usually awakened between eleven and twelve o'clock by a knock on his bedroom door from his butler. He would eat his first meal of the day about one o'clock and then start his work for the day. He began with someone reading him a summary of the news of the day. Then he would meet with different members of the government or the party for a discussion of ongoing projects or new plans. The meetings were generally small groups or individuals. He did not hold a meeting of his official cabinet from 1938 until his death.
In the afternoon he would have tea and cakes and make small talk with his secretaries acting the part of a Viennese petite bourgeoisie. A typical dinner would include some of his inner circle who would be treated to a monologue by Hitler on topics from history to diet. Hitler loved to talk about the superiority of his vegetarianism. After dinner there would be more meetings or perhaps work on a speech that was coming up. Then beginning about twelve or one o'clock he often watched movies with many of the same people from dinner until he went to bed as late as five o'clock.
The only task he put serious work into was preparing and making speeches. He was chief propagandist for the regime. The speeches usually focused on the same themes; Jews, Bolsheviks and the enemies of Germany. The same program he set forth in Mein Kampf. Certain anniversaries, such as January 30 when his regime took power, would be the occasion for a speech. Often the speeches were made to mobilize the people for foreign policy events or internal Nazi Party campaigns. During the war, particularly after the attack on Russia in 1941, there were fewer occasions for speeches. This was the life of the leader of Germany and the Nazi Party.
The government was run by the civil service and the Party. Kershaw uses a concept he calls "working towards the Fuhrer" to explain how many of the government programs were planned and carried out. Some ambitious party member or government worker would come up with a program inspired by Hitler's ideas and either make a formal proposal to Hitler or begin carrying it out. Sometimes Hitler would take the lead as when he initiated the four year economic plan and appointed Goering to lead it. The author makes it clear that Hitler knew about and approved the Holocaust. It was part of his program from the beginning and he was careful not to leave any fingerprints on the workings of it. The administration of the German government was a hodgepodge of competing government and party functionaries all working to curry favor with the Fuhrer.
The Army was the third center of power in Germany. Hitler's plans for military expansion won their support at the beginning of his regime. After he took power all members of the military swore a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler. As the war progressed Hitler acted as commander-in-chief and spent most of his time in command centers established on the Eastern Front. After the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944 Hitler purged the army high command and exercised closer personal control over all of the military. The attempt came very close to success.
Toward the end of the war he moved into the bunker next to the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. As the Russian artillery moved closer and closer Hitler still had his afternoon tea and cakes and talked about victory. As he realized defeat was inevitable his last campaign was the destruction of Germany to destroy the future of the German people. They had failed him and did not deserve to survive. On his last day he married Eva Braun and then they both committed suicide and their bodies were burned. His last remains were his lower jaw bone and a partial plate.
The only emotion I felt at the end of the book was a deep satisfaction that Hitler was dead. He was a true megalomaniac who was able to get millions of people to join in his psychotic belief in himself. The author speaks of a pseudo-religious belief translated into the mysticism of national salvation and rebirth. The book is a chronicle of what happened I do not believe there is a rational answer as to how or why.
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LibraryThing member DeadFred
Looking for insight as to the who, what and why for this person. Kershaw didn't let me down . His two volumes are excellent . Recommed you read Mein Kampf before reading this . Either way you won't be disappointed.
LibraryThing member jontseng
The strength of this book is that Kershaw achieves two tasks, first constructing a comprehensive but readable history of the Third Reich, and secondly telling the tale of its defining figure. His great strength is that the second task never becomes bogged down in the first.
LibraryThing member FPdC
The second and last volume of Kershaw's biography of Adolf Hitler. This work is indeed a masterpiece. Some of its parts are truly vertiginous, such as the descriptions of the Anschluss with Austria, the frantic diplomatic activity over Czechoslovakia, and the very last chapter ("Extinction"). Other chapters are a lot less fast paced but this is hardly surprising considering that the book is a Hitler biography, and from the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 the German dictator spent most of his time in his headquarters in Eastern Prussia. Independently of the pace of the individual chapters, this is an overwhelmingly brilliant study of an obscenely repulsive man that brought untold misery and destruction to the world, and personified the zenith of nationalist militarism and racism in Germany and in Europe.… (more)
LibraryThing member Muscogulus
This was assigned for a graduate seminar on fascism, and I must say I did not at first look forward to having a two-volume biography of Hitler on my shelves. But Kershaw's magnum opus is a keeper. Not only is it a sensitive, convincing, readable biography of Hitler; this second volume encloses a good, useful narrative of the Second World War in Eurasia and Africa.… (more)
LibraryThing member robeik
This book is different to most books on World War II in that it focusses on Adolf Hitler, and how the lives of others intersected with his. The story is told from his perspective; only in a few instances isthere some information to tidy-up a story.
Two examples: The D-Day landings barely rate a mention; nothing is mentioned that they were to occur. And Erwin Rommel's final fall from grace is told from the perspective of what Hitler wanted to occur.
It's a terrible, terrible story. Once again we ponder on why those around him were paralysed such that they could not even influence what this 'madman' did. Heinz Guderian tried; the assassination plotters tried; the young students in Munich tried; and in the final days of the war Albert Speer disobeyed orders for German property to be destroyed when retreating. But for the rest it was a cabal of true-believers, thugs, and self-promoters.

This is a wonderful (and long) book; I have not read the first volume.
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LibraryThing member thorold
A very impressive continuation. I didn't find it quite as fascinating as Part One, though. I think the problem is that there's no real distinction to be made between a biography of Hitler after 1936 and a narrative history of the German role in the Second World War. To a first approximation, Hitler is "the causes of World War II". Even with Kershaw's detailed examination of the primary sources, there's not very much we can learn about Hitler-as-a-person that isn't already part of what we know about Hitler-as-a-diplomat or Hitler-as-a-general.
Kershaw's main concern seems to be to defuse the myth of Hitler as a master-strategist or a Machiavellian leader. The most Kershaw is prepared to allow him is a gift for timing his attacks. Kershaw stresses that Hitler only had one real strategy: to put himself into a situation where the only way out was forwards. Once he had overstretched himself and was facing defeat (from 1943 on) he had no response left, and simply went to pieces. Another thing that comes out very strongly is the chaotic way Hitler ran his administration. He seems to have been morbidly suspicious of any sort of collective decision-making process, so he tended to delegate vaguely-defined, overlapping powers to individuals and leave them to fight it out between themselves. As Kershaw points out, one consequence was that the most ruthless, radical policies tended to dominate, and another that Hitler himself was always at arm's length from any policy decision (hence people could say "if the Führer only knew..." and his individual popularity survived far longer than that of his party).
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