Bookmarks: Führer better for worse, for Reich for poorer

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Bookmarks: Führer better for worse, for Reich for poorer

A fortnightly look at books, writers and reviews

Andrew Donaldson

The big book at the moment is Hitler: Downfall 1939-45 (Bodley Head), the concluding second volume in Volker Ullrich’s magisterial biography of the German dictator. (The first, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, appeared in 2016.) 

The big question is what is new and fresh here? Several critics have made the point, as David Aaronovitch did in The Times of London: “[There is] one problem of writing a book about Hitler at this time, which is that every page will be a summary of an action or theme about which other historians have written a dozen books.”

What’s striking for Aaronovitch, though, is Ullrich’s nationality and roots: he’s a German born in Saxony during the war and his home town, Celle, was destroyed in a single bombing raid in April 1945. Yet there is no revisionist attempt here to absolve the German people from responsibility for Nazi war crimes. Soldiers and civilians were complicit, Ullrich makes clear. “Broadly,” says Aaronovitch, “they were nervous about the war, happy when it led to victory, unhappy as the war dragged on, very unhappy as defeat loomed.”..

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