‘Eight Days in May’ by Volker Ullrich – A Reckoning for a Country Which was Severely Misled


‘Eight Days in May – The Final Collapse of the Third Reich’ by Volker Ullrich   (2020) – 271 pages          Translated from the German by Jefferson Chase


My favorite non-fiction of the year? Not a difficult question. This is my first foray into nonfiction this year.

As one of the German officers in a Russian prisoner of war camp put it, “You repeatedly clutch your head in disbelief that we all followed this lunatic.”

This is the story of Germany during the eight days after Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide on April 30, 1945 by taking cyanide pills. Hitler had designated Karl Donitz as his successor. On the following day, Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda murdered their six children, and then both committed suicide.

The Third Reich has dissipated like an apparition.” – Ruth Andreas-Friedrich

They were not alone. The city of Berlin alone reported more than 7,000 suicides in 1945. In the small town of Demmin in northeastern Germany, up to a 1,000 people killed themselves in “their almost apocalyptic fear of the advancing Soviets” as the Russian army advanced into the town.

Fascism, which had almost overwhelmed our world, which had almost ruined it, and which had caused more obscene misery to more human beings than any other movement in recorded time, was being buried with the men who had made and led it.” – William Shirer

While English Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was negotiating a peace for the western part of Germany, one of the German military leaders asked him if some of the units fighting the Russians could surrender to the English. Montgomery replied, “The Germans should have thought of all these things before they began the war and particularly before they attacked the Russians in June 1941”.

As the Allied forces finally liberated the concentration camps, few Germans were prepared to confront the facts and their own involvement in them. “We didn’t know!” became like a national chant for Germany. Nearly all the Germans denied they were ever Nazi supporters or avoided acknowledging their own complicity in Nazism. Hanna Arendt diagnosed in the German people, “a deep-rooted, stubborn, and at times vicious refusal to face and come to terms with what really happened”.

Every one of the millions of Nazi Party members was also culpable for Germany’s disaster.” – Friedrich Kellner

German armed forces surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945 and spontaneous celebrations erupted around the world.


Grade:   A



5 responses to this post.

  1. Until I went to Russia and saw photos of the destruction done by the Nazis, I had no idea. I’d read a bit about it in John Steinbeck’s A Russian Journal, but that did not prepare me for the images of the way they took time on their retreat to trash anything and everything they could. There was a reason why the Germans had “an apocalyptic fear of the advancing Soviets”. They knew what they had done…and Montgomery probably didn’t know the extent of it…

    Liked by 2 people


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