Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich (Hardcover)

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By Walter Kempowski, Shaun Whiteside (Translated by)
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Staff Reviews

The expanse of voice and experience in Swansong makes this a massive piece, but every page is fresh and will propel you to finish quickly. Like brush strokes, these small but moving lines form a work that is a deep torrent of human desperation. The psychology of war, peace, love, fear, hate, and everything else that makes us both human and not human is illuminated like never before. Swansong is nothing short of a masterpiece.



A monumental work of history that captures the last days of the Third Reich as never before.

Swansong 1945 chronicles the end of Nazi Germany and World War II in Europe through hundreds of letters, diaries, and autobiographical accounts covering four days that fateful spring: Hitler’s birthday on April 20, American and Soviet troops meeting at the Elbe on April 25, Hitler’s suicide on April 30, and finally the German surrender on May 8. Side by side, we encounter vivid, first-person accounts of civilians fleeing Berlin, ordinary German soldiers determined to fight to the bitter end, American POWs dreaming of home, concentration-camp survivors’ first descriptions of their horrific experiences, as well as the intimate thoughts of figures such as Eisenhower, Churchill, Stalin, Joseph Goebbels, and Hitler himself.

These firsthand accounts, painstakingly collected and organized by renowned German author Walter Kempowski, provide the raw material of history and present a panoramic view of those tumultuous days. The more than 1,000 extracts include a British soldier writing to his parents to tell them there are no baths but plenty of eggs and chocolate, an American soldier describing “the tremendous burst of lilacs” as he approaches the Elbe, Mussolini wishing Hitler a happy birthday, Eva Braun bragging to a girlfriend about what a “crack shot” she’s become, and much more.

An extraordinary account of suffering and survival, Swansong 1945 brings to life the end of Nazi Germany and the war in Europe.

About the Author

Walter Kempowski (1929–2007) was one of Germany’s most important postwar writers. In the 1980s he began gathering diaries, letters, and memoirs of World War II, which he edited into ten volumes published in German. Swansong 1945 is the first portion to appear in English.

Shaun Whiteside’s translations from the German include classics by Freud, Musil, and Nietzsche.

Praise For…

An emotionally immediate and multi-faceted perspective of the last days of the Third Reich… No mere anthology but an artful collage… Difficult to put down.
— Gerald Steinacher

A disturbing but compulsively readable slice of history.

From the absurd to the sublime, and everywhere heartbreaking: a collage of voices from the tail end of the world's conflagration.… Raw [and] tremendously moving… Riveting.

This is a book that can be read comfortably only page by page. Otherwise it will break your heart.
— Bill Marvel

Riveting… Kempowski's careful selection and sequencing convey the horror, misery, irony, and intensity of living through the last month of war in Germany. The work is noteworthy not just for its unique first-person perspective, but also for its breadth and depth… Essential.

A treasure… [Swansong 1945] offer[s] powerful glimpses into otherwise lost history… The collection is a kaleidoscope of voices, revealing struggle of all kinds.

— Sarah Grant

The power of [Swansong 1945] comes from the great variety and volume of the personal accounts, many of them eloquent and moving… This important book takes us beyond geography, statistics and battles and reveals the cost of war in very human terms.

— Roger Bishop

A unique and haunting insight into what it was like to live through the violent twilight of the Third Reich. Indispensable and, above all, unforgettable.
— Frederick Taylor, author of Dresden

A remarkable collage of experiences and impressions of the catastrophic last days of the Second World War, which provides a unique panorama of the war and a very powerful impression of its impact on and the responses of those involved.
— Jeremy Noakes, author of Nazism 1919-1945

A bewitching, dramatic, utterly extraordinary range of voices and eyewitness testimony as Europe entered its year-zero moment.
— David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain

A rare combination of aesthetic and historic truths… What gives Kempowski’s work its reach and humanity is his keen eye for both the sensory experience of war at its most destructive and individuals’ compulsion to go on making sense of it as it engulfed them.
— Nicholas Stargardt, author of Witnesses of War

Amidst the fascinating multitude of voices assembled here the one that speaks most powerfully is that of Kempowski himself. This is a remarkable document of one person’s lifelong struggle to make sense of national collapse.
— Neil Gregor, author of Haunted City

Kempowski is a master of form and proportion… The end of the war has never before been depicted like this.
— Volker Hage, author of Hamburg 1943
Product Details
ISBN: 9780393248159
ISBN-10: 0393248151
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: April 13th, 2015
Pages: 512
Language: English