Book: “Inside Hitler’s Bunker” — the fall of Berlin in 1945

25 02 2010

During the two last weeks of April 1945, Berlin was attacked, surrounded, and invaded by the Red Army. Adolf Hitler spent these last days of his life in the bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. This book tells the story of what happened there, based on the stories told by surviving participants and eye-witnesses.

Though all know that Adolf Hitler’s death happened in Berlin, and that it marked the real end of the war in Europe, there are still questions about why Hitler did not leave Berlin and take refuge in one of the German areas that were still in the hands of the German Wehrmacht. And one could also ask why the war did not end earlier, say in 1944, when the defeat of the German forces became obvious. Compare this to the German capitulation in WWI (1918), which happened while all front-lines were still outside Germany proper. The end of WWII brought with it the practical destruction of the German Heimat … what was the reason for pushing it that far? what was the objective?

Cover of "Inside ..."

Cover of "Inside ..."

Joachim Fest (1926-2006) — the author of “Inside Hitler’s Bunker” — is not an academic historian. He has become well-known for a number of well-researched and well-written books about the Third Reich, and first got large attention with his “Hitler. Eine Biographie” (1973).

In the book “Inside …” he presents a reconstruction of the last days of Hitler, trying to balance the different conflicting stories so far published about these last days in Berlin. Those days were chaotic, most people who had some presence in the Bunker only got partial views into what happened, many of those who survived wanted to protect themselves by telling stories that put them in better light, etc. All details of what happened can no longer be determined completely, but it is reasonable to say that the remaining uncertainties do not matter that much.

The German army was at this time just a shadow of its former strength. It had for two years been retreating from the east, constantly being hit by superior Soviet forces. When the last Soviet assault on Berlin started, there was not much energy or capability left in the German Army. Ammunition was running low; armies and divisions did not have much manpower available for defense operations. Nevertheless, Hitler ordered counter-attacks, to “destroy the Soviet army at the gates of Berlin”, to turn the tide and “make the soviet state collapse”. But such major attacks were impossible, and, even when tried, they failed. The Red Army pushed on. Building by building, block by block, street by street, the Russians fought their way towards the center of Berlin.

Berlin in May 1945

Berlin in May 1945

At one point in time, certain German army commanders started to ignore the commands sent out from Hitler’s bunker. These commanders understood that it was all hopeless, and instead of pushing their troops into suicide missions against the Red Army, they wanted to minimize losses and keep their divisions and battalions in some adequate order, stay put if possible, otherwise retreat in some semblance of order, and wait for the inevitable end of hostilities. But such disregard of Hitler’s commands were few, and only now being seen, in these last days of the Third Reich. All through from autumn 1939 to beginning of 1945, the Wehrmacht had always been an obedient tool, going forward when ordered so, and staying put when ordered so. Why? one might ask. Why was there so little realism voiced about the state of the war? Why had nobody dared to object to Hitler’s strategic and tactical decisions? Most (all?) higher military officers in the German Army knew that the war was lost, and that the strategic choice was  between an early truce that would avoid further losses, or a fight until all was lost. Why should entire generations of young men be sacrificed for no real purpose.

Hitler welcoming boy soldiers during the battle for Berlin.

Hitler meeting with boy soldiers during the battle for Berlin

Fest describes in this book how Hitler, up until the very end, was able to dominate the persons around him. He could talk endlessly, shout and scream, insult persons, make decisions about strategic issues as well as detailed low-level tactical issues, etc, and nobody dared raise their  object. The commanders mentioned above, that disregarded orders, they actually tried to keep away from the bunker, in order not to be overwhelmed by Hitler.

This personality perspective is one of the most interesting threads of the book. It happened there in Berlin, in the center of Europe, a little more than 50 years ago. One person completely dominated whatever issues and topics he chose to get involved in. And other persons, who we should have expected to have some self-respect, and act responsibly in their roles, they more or less resigned from that moral responsibility. If it could happen then, can it happen again? What are the preconditions for a repeat? Was Hitler such a unique person that we will never see another one with that kind of will-power? Or are there such persons around, just waiting to rise when the right preconditions are fulfilled?


This book succeeds in its aim to give a popular account of the last two weeks in Hitler’s bunker. In addition, even if it was not a main purpose of the book, it does offer perspectives on how Hitler managed to stay in control — of the Wehrmacht and most other critical sectors of the German Reich — right up until the very end. It does not, though, give a full picture of the general military, political, and social climate of those days.


Joachim Fest: “Inside Hitler’s Bunker — The Last Days of the Third Reich” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), ISBN 0374135770 (book at Translation of German original “Der Untergang” (Alexander Fest Verlag, Berlin 2002).



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