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Germany 1945: From War to Peace (2009)

de Richard Bessel

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A chronicle of Germany's transformation during a pivotal year describes the devastation from the war's final battles, the death marches and acts of vengeance suffered by ordinary citizens, and the first postwar year's burgeoning social, economic, and political cultures.
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Adquirido em 01/07/2014, Com NF inclusa
  Nagib | May 31, 2020 |
Generally a well-written book that tries to portray the situation in Germany near the end of WWII and the rest of 1945. Bessel portrays the situation primarily from the perspective of the citizenry rather than the government and military, although their actions are touched on as well as a lead in to the period after surrender. I do feel that the book dragged somewhat in the latter chapters, and seemed repetitive - the last 50-100 pages seemed difficult to finally get through. But, being fascinated with WWII and thirsty for any historical material on that period, it is always interesting to see that time period portrayed from a non-military perspective. A "goodread" overall. ( )
  highlander6022 | Mar 16, 2016 |
This is an outstanding book about Germany at the end of World War 2 and straight after it.

Bessel uses 1945 as a way to structure the book and keep it manageable - just. Instead of starting at the end of the war and moving onto the later 1940s and the start of the Marshall Plan in 1948, he focuses on Stunde Null (Zero Hour), which is what the Germans called the end of the war. The first 170 pages cover the end of the war, then he moves onto the occupation. It gets 5 stars for me for the depth of his research and the way he brings together many sources and perspectives. The maps and photos are good. It'll also win my 2011 prize for the greatest number of dog-ears I have made in a non-fiction book.

Bessel sums up the impact of 1945 on the German people as follows:

"As a result of the horrors they endured - particularly in the last months and weeks of the war - Germans emerged with a powerful sense of their own victimhood. They did so following a war launched by a Germany which had invaded and conquered much of the European continent, enslaved millions of people, destroyed cities and towns from Rotterdam to Minsk, caused the deaths of millions of soldiers, and murdered innocent civilians on a hitherto unimaginable scale. After the shock of their experiences during the last days of the Reich, Germans became preoccupied almost exclusively with their own problems and sorrows, and hardly concerned the mental energy to concern themselves with the problems and sorrows of others. This enabled them to emerge from the war and Nazism with a belief in their own moral rectitude, despite the crimes that had been committed in their name and, in many cases, with their involvement, whether active or passive. "

A week after I've finished the book, these are the things that have stayed in my head. If you start reading these and your eyes glaze over, this is probably not the book for you.

- the total defeat of Germany, and the desperation of the locals to get on with their lives
- how little resistance there was to the Allied occupation and how relieved many locals were to be free of the Nazi regime; Allied forces went in on the lookout for the Werewolf (resistance) movement but found nothing
- the sense among many Germans that they were victims, and a sense that the Holocaust was nothing much to do with them (this despite a lot of emphasis on forcing them to view concentration camps and acknowledge the depravity)
- the enormous upheaval of people in the wrong place: defeated Wehrmacht soldiers, Allied POWs, refugees fleeing the Red Army just before the end, thousands forced to leave their Heimat east of theOder-Neisse (East Prussia). Overall, 11 million refugees and expellees ended up in the new Germany after the war; Germany lost about 20% of its pre-war territory
- massive regional variation in German suffering: the chapter on the areas that went into Poland east of the Oder-Neisse was horrible to read but really interesting; the south-west corner (the part closest to me here in Basel) came through it easier, not that the French were exactly gentle in their treatment of the locals, but there was less destruction during the war itself
- masses of DPs (displaced persons) and a big increase in typhoid and crime, often blamed on foreigners with limited evidence
- of course, huge differences in policies and attitudes across the 4 zones, e.g. the Russians had already stripped 45% of industrial equipment and capital from their zone and moved it home to Russia by 1946, and they nationalised much of the rest so that what became East Germany started with very little capital
- how difficult it was to run a principled denazification scheme when there were terrible tradeoffs e.g. between having a member of the party advise on laying electric cables vs. not having them laid at all)
- extreme hunger
- George Patton's extreme anti-semitic views: he described the Jews in the DP camps in the American zone as "lower than animals".
- the commander of the Polish Second Army, who said of the fleeing Germans that "One must perform one's tasks in such a harsh and decisive manner that the Germanic vermin do not hide in their houses but rather will flee from us of their own volition and then once in their own land will thank God that they were lucky enough to save their heads. We do not forget Germans always will be Germans." I'd expect to read an SS officer saying this about the Poles; it was jarring to read it the other way round and made me marvel that Germany and Poland are so chummy these days.
- attitudes of the church to their role in resisting the Nazi regime: a real mixed bag, with a strong feeling that Christianity's time was again coming in Germany (and the formation later of the CDU), the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt in which clergy signatories acknowledged that they should have done more to assert Christian values; strong opposition from the Munich bishops (Catholic and Protestant) to the Americans' denazification campaign and the suffering when SS members were uniformly denounced

If you made it through that list, I highly recommend the book! ( )
15 vota cushlareads | Oct 30, 2011 |
I really dislike criticizing someone's work when so much effort has obviously gone into it. I'm not a professional historian nor writer. So my criticisms are personal in that this is not the book that I had hoped to read based on the title.

My problem with this book isn't with the material or information presented. It does what it says on the tin: it's all about Germany in 1945. And that's reason enough for me to read it. It's just that it reads like a first draft of a dissertation, or more like the way we were taught to write in high school back in the '70s. The author tells you what he's about to present in the chapter, then presents each point with a few supporting sentences. This goes on for a chapter's length, then everything is summed up again, basically a repeat of what was said at the beginning of the chapter. This rather tedious style gets old quickly. I was quite relieved to come upon the concluding chapter.

There simply isn't much narrative flow in this history. Regardless, I still recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of postwar Germany. There's simply too much interesting information presented to pass up. It's just too bad this wasn't written by a better stylist because the subject matter is dense with drama, but you'll find little sense of that here. ( )
1 vota dah_sab | Oct 31, 2009 |
Es mostren totes 4
The distinguished British historian Richard Bessel understands the difference between suffering and atonement, and with “Germany 1945” he has produced a sober yet powerful account of the terrible year he calls the “hinge” of the 20th century in Europe.
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To the memory of my father, who was there.
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A chronicle of Germany's transformation during a pivotal year describes the devastation from the war's final battles, the death marches and acts of vengeance suffered by ordinary citizens, and the first postwar year's burgeoning social, economic, and political cultures.

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