Though thoroughly defeated in 1945, Germany continued to fight on despite what Ian Kershaw termed “charismatic rule without charisma.” Hitler’s popularity had been in steady decline since 1941—his emotional hold on the German citizenry no longer the iron grip it once was. Growing disenchantment permeated not only the German people, it affected frontline Wehrmacht soldiers, some who did desert—even under the threat of being shot. Despite this, the Wehrmacht and last of the Luftwaffe fought to the end, led by Hitler’s loyal “quadrumvirate”: Bormann, Goebbels, Himmler, and Speer. The failing cult of Hitler’s personality did not influence Germany’s continued path to destruction and the end of the Third Reich in 1945.
Germany had become an institutionalized terror-state to its people, from the rise of Hitler in 1933 to the demise in 1945. The German people knew that to rise up, only meant certain death at the hands of the German SS—or by local “authorities” in 1944 and 1945. Richard J. Evans, in detailing the discouragement with Nazism in the homeland in 1943, writes that “The Nazi regime responded to disillusionment at home and the decline of morale in the armed forces by intensifying the repression and terror that had always been a central part of its rule.”
Surrender to the Soviets was not an option—the thought of Soviet occupation itself worse than death in defense of the Reich. Under this collective belief of an impending Soviet domination, Germany fought on. The horrors of battle and life on the Eastern Front were dramatically different from that on the Western Front. Wehrmacht soldiers and civilians knew of the horrors perpetrated on the Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners and civilians—at their hands. To the Germans in 1945 there was no choice but fight to victory or death. Unconditional surrender was offered —but not acceptable to Hitler and Nazi Germany’s leaders—under any circumstance. Hitler was not about to surrender Germany a la 1918. The 1918 surrender and Armistice had literally driven him mad; Hitler was prepared to fight and die to the end, taking the German people with him into the funeral pyre that was Berlin in 1945.
Finally, it is said that the roots of the Cold War began with the defeat in Berlin; Stalin’s mistrust of Eisenhower, FDR, and Churchill over the race to Berlin and sectors of control became the genesis for decades of military posturing and wars-by-proxy in Korea and Vietnam. Stalin’s reign of terror in the Soviet Union did not end in 1945—Soviet citizens, Jews, and German prisoners the new targets of the Cold War-era Soviet Union. The hunt for justice in tracking down Nazi war criminals decades after the war showed that for many—the war never ended.
1, Ian Kershaw, The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945 (New York: Penguin Press, 2011) 400.
2 Ibid., 396
3 Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War (New York: Penguin Press, 2009) 761.
Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich at War. New York: Penguin Press, 2009.
Kershaw, Ian. The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.