Swansong 1945

A Collective Diary from Hitler's Last Birthday to VE Day

Walter Kempowski

Published: 7 May 2015
0x0mm, 384 pages
ISBN: 9781847086419

Translated by Shaun Whiteside


Swansong 1945 chronicles four significant days in the last three weeks of WWII: 20 April, Hitler's last birthday; 25 April, when American and Soviet troops first met at the Elbe; 30 April, the day Hitler committed suicide; and 8 May, the day of the German surrender. Side by side in these pages, we encounter the voices of civilians fleeing on foot to the west, British and American POWs dreaming of home, concentration camp survivors, loyal soldiers from both sides of the conflict and national leaders including Churchill, Hitler and Mussolini. A monumental account of survival, suffering, hope and despair, Swansong 1945 brings vividly to life a conflict whose repercussions are felt today.

About the author

Image of Walter Kempowski

Walter Kempowski (1929-2007) was one of Germany's most important post-war writers. He settled after the war in Hamburg, but on returning to his home town of Rostock in the late 1940s he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for espionage by a Soviet military tribunal, of which he served eight years, in Bautzen. His first success as an author was the autobiographic novel Tadellöser & Wolff (1971) part of his acclaimed series of novels German Chronicles. In the 1980s he began work on an immense project, Echo Soundings, gathering together first hand accounts, diaries, letters and memoirs of the second world war, which he collated and curated into ten volumes published over 20 years, and which is considered a modern classic. Swansong 1945, published in Germany in 2005, and translated into English here for the first time, is the final volume of that work. More about the author


‘A bewitching, dramatic, utterly extraordinary range of voices and eye-witness testimony as Europe entered its year-zero moment. Total history can come in many different forms: this is one of them’ David Kynaston, author



‘A gripping accumulation of documents brought together by a leading postwar German writer’

‘A monumental account of survival, suffering, hope and despair’

‘A rare combination of aesthetic and historic truths... What gives Kempowski's work its reach and humanity is his keen eye for both the sensory experience of war at its most destructive and individuals' compulsion to go on making sense of it as it engulfed them... Wonderful’ Nick Stargardt, author

‘A riveting portrait... revealed through the bric-a-brac of war-shattered lives... Heartbreaking’

‘Amidst the fascinating multitude of voices assembled here the one that speaks most powerfully is that of Kempowski himself. This is a remarkable document of one person's lifelong struggle to make sense of national collapse in 1945’ Neil Gregor, Professor of History at the University of Southampton and author

‘Dazzling... A wonderful book. Highly recommended’

‘Excellent... Skilfully woven from hundreds of points of view, intentionally free of historical judgement or political sanitisation, [it] provides us with a unique and haunting insight into what it was like to live through the violent twilight of the Third Reich. Indispensable and, above all, unforgettable’ Fred Taylor, author

‘Kempowski is a master of form and proportion. [This is] a puzzle of voices, of the defeated and the victors, that opens into panorama... The end of the war has never before been depicted like this’ Volker Hage

‘Terrific... Kempowski demonstrates his fabulous compositional skills... He is a masterful curator’

‘The best history writing doesn't simplify a reader's understanding of the past, it complicates it. It adds layers, draws out contradictions and sharpens them, digs down into complexity, presenting a narrative that is rich and not simple at all. Swansong 1945 does all these things supremely well. Each extract is a revelation Daniel Hahn

‘We aren't following a historian, but someone obsessed with language, who hears the voices of the dead and offers them space... Everything happens at once, next to and on top of each other. It is this simultaneity of downfall and rebirth, the pause for breath amidst the inferno, that result in this snapshot from which we cannot tear ourselves away’ Hannes Hintermaier

Mind Unit - websites, content management and email marketing for the arts