Germany 1945 : From War to Peace, Paperback
5 out of 5 (1 rating)


In 1945, Germany experienced the greatest outburst of deadly violence that the world has ever seen.

Germany 1945 examines the country's emergence from the most terrible catastrophe in modern history.

When the Second World War ended, millions had been murdered; survivors had lost their families; cities and towns had been reduced to rubble and were littered with corpses.

Yet people lived on, and began rebuilding their lives in the most inauspicious of circumstances.

Bombing, military casualties, territorial loss, economic collapse and the processes of denazification gave Germans a deep sense of their own victimhood, which would become central to how they emerged from the trauma of total defeat, turned their backs on the Third Reich and its crimes, and focused on a transition to relative peace.

Germany's return to humanity and prosperity is the hinge on which Europe's twentieth century turned.

For years we have concentrated on how Europe slid into tyranny, violence, war and genocide; this book describes how humanity began to get back out.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 544 pages, 16 pp b-w photographs
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9781416526193



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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 denouncedIf you made it through that list, I highly recommend the book!

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