The Last Days of Hitler ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
One of the most compelling and improbable chapters in the history of the twentieth century is the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s. Hitler had no formal education to speak of and no military training (he had been a soldier in the First World War), but with surprising ease he was able to take control of the government, industry and military, and transform Germany into a Nazi state. His goal was to destroy European culture and create a new barbaric empire, with world domination his ultimate objective. His early successes made him believe he was the greatest military strategist the world had ever known. Everybody would bow down to him, he believed; he could do nothing wrong and was, in fact, a god in mortal form. The people who could have stopped him before he got started stood by and did nothing, but that’s a different story.
In 1944 and 1945 the Nazi empire began to unravel. Germany was losing the war and, in spite of the self-delusion of Hitler and his inner circle, there was to be no turning tide that would change their fortunes. The Third Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years came to a hellish end in April 1945 when the Russian army invaded Berlin and Hitler killed himself. The Last Days of Hitler by British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper is a fascinating account of the last ten days of Hitler and his inner circle in the Fuehrerbunker fifty feet below ground in Berlin. This small group of corrupt, inept and self-serving individuals who once believed they could not lose now saw that the end was near. Some of them sought to end their lives, while others ironically hoped to continue to serve in a reformed Nazi government that would survive after the war. They didn’t seem to realize that they would be viewed by the world as villains and war criminals and, no matter what they did or what they promised, they would never be able to redeem themselves.
Hitler was bitter at the end. He believed he was let down by his generals and betrayed by some of his most-trusted confidantes, including Heinrich Himmler. He wanted to punish the German people for not doing more to win the war. When he saw the end was coming and that the army that would arrive to save him was only one of his delusions, he envisioned a grand, Wagnerian “Twilight of the Gods” ending in which he and some of his followers would die a ritual soldier’s death. After he married his long-time (possibly purely platonic) girlfriend, Eva Braun, the two of them committed suicide, she by poison and he by gunshot to the mouth. When it was all over, he instructed his people to take his and Eva’s bodies outside and burn them with large quantities of gasoline so that his body would never be displayed, vilified or exploited by the enemy. Before his death he was able to envision, or at least to believe possible, a rebirth of Nazism with himself as its ritual, martyred head. The scariest man in the world is the megalomaniac who believes he can do no wrong.
The Last Days of Hitler is a readable 270 pages, focusing on the end of the Nazi dream (a dream for a few and a nightmare for millions of others). The end was inevitable from the beginning, and the fact that it took place in a hole in the ground in Berlin is altogether fitting and appropriate. In the history of the world, dictators are successful in the beginning, if they are successful at all, but they never last. There is no such thing as a dictatorial government lasting a thousand years. Dictators always come crashing down, done in by their own hubris and corruption or by the belief in their own invincibility.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp