Swansong 1945

Written by Walter Kempowski
Review by Tim Smith

This “collective diary” consisting of excerpts from diaries, letters and official memorandum covers the eighteen day period from Hitler’s final birthday to VE day. Walter Kempowski focuses on four particular dates: Hitler’s birthday, the day Allied and Russian forces first met, the day Hitler committed suicide and VE day. Weaving together sources from refugees, POWs, officers, concentration camp inmates, reporters, soldiers of all sides and ordinary people caught up in the final events of the European theatre, Kempowski has produced a dazzling collage of suffering and humanity.

Too often books about war can focus upon battles and strategy while losing sight of the role of, and effects upon, individuals. Swansong 1945 puts those individuals – normal people creating and caught up in history – at the forefront, providing a revelatory insight into their thoughts and everyday life under extraordinary conditions. A wonderful book. Highly recommended.