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Russias revenge Berlin The Downfall 1945 Antony Beevor 528pp Viking Six years ago while writing his account of Stalingrad Antony Beevor alighted upon the theme of his new book In February 1943 a Red Army officer taunted a group of German prisoners in the ruins of Stalingrad Thats how Berlin is going to look Records of conversations bugged by the Russians two years later between the captive German commanders at Stalingrad told the same tale Berlin was going to pay It did In many respects Beevors latest book is like Alexander Solzhenitsyns epic narrative poem Prussian Nights albeit with footnotes to impressive sources and in prose It conveys a similar sense of a lumbering mechanical predator moving through the shifting seasons and leaving carnage in its wake As a former army officer turned historian Beevor gives an exceptionally clear account of complicated military movements and the reasoning of the commanders responsible for them But he is also sensitive to the real casualties of any modern war Boys whose anxious faces disappeared within man-sized helmets women who managed to feed their babies between multiple gang rapes and elderly folk who found themselves in the midst of hell because they were loath to leave a family farm or spouses grave The result is a masterpiece of modern historical writing which does not shy away from the bad taste left in the mouth as one form of totalitarianism trampled over another while calling it liberation Since Hitlers 1941 invasion of Russia had been sold as a final reckoning between civilised Germans and the barbaric hordes the former had reason to feel anxious as the Red Army drew near especially given their knowledge of what civilised Germans had done to civilians and prisoners of war elsewhere Millions of ethnic Germans fled or were forced from the former eastern and occupied territories Those who elected to remain were confronted by armed alien beings in dirty brown uniforms
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