Eight Days in May: The Final Collapse of the Third Reich

Liveright. Sept. 2021. 336p. tr. from German by Jefferson Chase. ISBN 9781631498275. $28.95. HIST
German journalist and historian Ullrich (Hitler: A Biography) examines the chaotic week between Adolf Hitler’s death on April 30, 1945, and Nazi Germany’s Second World War surrender on May 7–8. Ullrich relates that after April 30, admiral Karl Dönitz, Hitler’s successor as head of state, fought on for several days, to enable German soldiers and civilians to escape the invading Soviet army and instead surrender to the Western Allied powers (Britain, France, and the United States). Ullrich provides a sweeping view of Germany’s collapse: he documents the regime’s last-minute power struggles, sexual violence and plundering inflicted by the Soviet army, death marches and massacres of prisoners of war and forced laborers by diehard Nazis, and brutal sieges and battles. Most intriguingly, he recounts the formation of postwar German leadership. Even as the Nazi regime was disintegrating, liberal democratic parties were reemerging in West Germany under the leadership of Konrad Adenauer and Kurt Schumacher. Simultaneously, the Soviet occupation of Berlin permitted the triumphant return of exiled German Communists like Walter Ulbricht. Less magisterial than Ullrich’s two-volume Hitler biography, this slimmer work is still expertly researched and written.
VERDICT Ullrich offers little new information or critical insights, but his book delivers to historians of all stripes a lean and perceptive survey of the last week of the Third Reich.
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