1945 was the most pivotal year in Germany's modern history. As World War II drew to a devastating and violent close, the German people were confronted simultaneously with making sense of the horrors just passed and finding the strength and hope to move forward and rebuild. Richard Bessel offers a provocative portrait of Germany's emergence from catastrophe, and he astutely portrays the defeated nation's own sense of victimhood after the war, despite the crimes it had perpetrated.
The last months of the war were its bloodiest, as the Allied assault on Nazi Germany reached its climax. .In January alone, as many as one million people died violent deaths. Bessel captures the terrible suffering of these months in the destroyed cities; the acts of vengeance inflicted on Germans by the conquering Soviets, French, and Americans; as well as death marches and the extreme brutality of the Nazi regime against its own people. In spite of this horrific violence, by the end of 1945 people were beginning to put their lives back together and create the foundations of a postwar social, economic, and political culture.
Authoritative and dramatic, Germany 1945 is groundbreaking history that brilliantly explores the devastation and remarkable rebirth of Germany at the end of World War II. Bessel's startling narrative depicts perhaps the most important transition of modern times: from the worst outburst of violence in human history to a period of relative peace, prosperity, and civilized behavior. Ultimately, it is a success story, a story of life after death.
We have rarely felt sorry for what the Germans suffered at the end of World War II, in part because the Germans have done a superb job of feeling sorry for themselves. Most Germans in 1945 (and long afterward) believed that their own suffering freed them from any obligation to ponder what Germans had done unto others. Historians, therefore, have hesitated to exploit this material, for fear of seeming to endorse the repellent spectacle of German self-pity. The distinguished British historian Richard Bessel, however, 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.