|Photo: Walter Kempowski /public domain|
|Günther Grass Blaues Sofa|
|Heinrich Böll Bundesarchiv, |
B 145 Bild-F062164-0004 / Hoffmann, Harald / CC-BY-SA 3.0
I finished Kempowski’s Swansong 1945 in the final hours of Remembrance Day. This book is not a novel. It’s a collection of diaries entries from people as diverse as Field Marshal Keitel and Hitler, to Thomas Mann, Albert Schweitzer and unknown prisoners of war, concentration camp survivors and an international motley of prisoners of war. The diary entries are limited to 3 days: April 20th, (Hitler’s 56th birthday), April 30th, (Hitler’s suicide) and May 9th (capitulation). At one point, I almost stopped reading. The entries are so disjointed and the material so dark, that I felt stuck. But I’m glad I kept going because it’s the juxtaposition of entries that gives the book its power. It’s the kind of Second World War resource that I can see myself returning to again and again. However, there are more Kempowski books to read and I am quite grateful to have discovered his work. Swan Song 1945 is only the final chapter (more than 400 pages) of Echolot (English: Echo Soundings), a ten-volume chronicle that he produced, documenting personal reflections on the Second World War.
Walter Kempowski was born in Rostock in 1929 and died in 2007. As a youth, he spent eight years in Soviet custody for supporting American efforts at the end of the war. His efforts to collect such diverse points of view make his work both incredibly humble and powerful.