Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...
There is no easy way to put to words something with such enormity as the last battle in the deadliest military conflict in history. And yet, Cornelius Ryan manages to do just that not with the use of staggering statistics, but with a series of stories that even my simple human mind can comprehend. Don't get me wrong, Ryan is thorough in his coverage of the military history of the Battle of Berlin. However, for me, sometimes the big picture is brought home by the little things, so I'm just gonna go ahead and copy the model of Jeff's lovely review and tell you some things I learned (or hadn't previously considered).
Early on Ryan tells us of a zookeeper who, unable to bear the thought of it being left there to perish, took home his favorite rare stork to live in his bathtub. I'm not gonna get all PETA on you here, but, yes the fate of the Berlin Zoo hit me pretty hard.
I won't attempt to devastate you (or myself) with pictures of perished elephants and whatnot, but the thought of the zoo residents as Berliners made for an interesting meditation.
One Way Out of Berlin
What do you do when you're told that your city full of women and children residents is about to be sacked by a group of savages with no regard for humanity (the Goebbels propaganda machine in perpetual motion)? Well, for one, you stock up on cyanide. It seems that parlor talk included whether to go for the wrist or other major arteries among women who took to keeping razor blades on their person along the Strasses of Berlin. Among the deaths by poisoning were the six Goebbels children who died at the hand of their mother, Magda, before she and her husband/Reich Minister of Propaganda committed suicide.
Soldiers of Last Resort
So who was left to defend the city? For the most part, the Volkssturm who, as Ryan describes, "occupied a kind of netherworld among the military." In addition to the problems arising from the fact that the invite decidedly read BYOW (Bring Your Own Weapon), resulting in a hodgepodge of mismatched guns and ammo, the "people's militia" did not feature battle-ready demographics. Children as young as 13 were among the members of the 92 battalions were sent out to the streets of battle.
On the flip-side at least one Volkssturm unit was made up of World War I veterans and other men past their "prime" fighting years. One such individual (potentially a former senior ranking police official according to some internet comments) is pictured below wearing a Volkssturm armband after being taken captive by a young Soviet soldier (left).
Hitler Loyalists Had Second Thoughts
In an egregious oversimplification of things, I'll just say that some of Hitler's higher-ups were seriously starting to question his judgement during those final days. Albert Speer, architect and Nazi Minister of Armaments and War Production was considering assassinating Hitler. However, Ryan best captures the internal turmoil of General Gotthard Heinrici (pictured below meeting Hitler in 1937) who, in the end (and, in reality, too late) realized his responsibility to the German people and god superseded even direct orders from the Fuhrer.
Read this one (or listen to it, as I did). I'm skipping, well, pretty much everything, and if you're at all interested in this period of history then you won't regret taking the time to go through this.