Authors: David L. Robbins
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The End of War:
A Novel of the Race for Berlin
[World War II 02]
By David Robbins
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he fall of Berlin to the soviet army in the spring of
1945 determined much of the political future for the remainder of the twentieth century. Historians agree that the entry of the Red Army into the capital of the Reich, preceded by the American decision to halt the West’s armies at the Elbe, was a turning point in Soviet prestige and authority, as well as the fortunes of communism. If historians haggle at all, it is only over orders of magnitude. But there is no question the Soviet Union launched emboldened from the conquest of Berlin into an era of global rivalry with the West. To this day we feel the concussions of Russian bullets scarring the Reichstag, and hear the crunch of bootsteps of Red soldiers past the pillars of the blackened Brandenburg Gate.
Like any novelist, I ask the reader to enjoy my presentation of the story. However, on equal footing, I beg the reader’s trust that what you will read in
The End of War
stems not from my imagination but from the annals of fact. The basis for the book has been gleaned from personal interviews with survivors of the battles described herein, and from many respected histories, documentaries, biographies, and analyses (see Bibliography) .
In this novel I have drawn no conclusions, leaving that to more accomplished historians than myself, and, of course, to the reader. The story is built around several extraordinarily well-known historic figures and events. Each of my characters has a clear viewpoint, and you may choose sides as you see fit in the long-held debate over whether or not Anglo-American forces should have halted on the Elbe River and allowed Stalin to take Berlin.
The End of War
is constructed along the lines of a Greek tragedy: the gods discuss the affairs of man, then their Olympian intents are played out at human level. In this novel, the gods are Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt. Lesser deities include General Dwight Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The book’s corresponding mortals are three fictional characters—one Russian soldier, one German civilian, and one American photojournalist.
It was seductive to follow the historic figures far afield, as their lives and times are fascinating and well chronicled. But
The End of War
carefully restricts itself to episodes that deal with the natures of these men and others only in the context of the race and battle for Berlin in the final months of World War II.
I have taken as few liberties of fiction with true characters’ conversations, correspondences, actions, and motivations as I could. Likewise, with my fictional people, I hope the reader will mark an authenticity of insight and deed.
To do otherwise would have been to supplant my creativity for history, and there is no way I could have made up a more tragic tale.
David L. Robbins
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nstruction in geography can be
restricted to a single sentence:
The Capital of the Reich is Berlin
from a discussion in July 1942, when asked how the conquered peoples in the East should be educated
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n the intoxication to fall upon the enemy at the charge, who cares then about bullets and men falling? To hurl ourselves, with eyes a few moments shut, into the chill face of death, uncertain whether we or others shall escape him, and all this close on the golden goal of victory, close to the refreshing fruit for which ambition thirsts—can this be difficult?
Carl von Clausewitz
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December 31, 1944, 11:50
Big Laurel, Tennessee
bove his head, in the cold, dark, wind-creaked rafters
of the tobacco barn, Charley Bandy sees withered souls.
Clustered five stalks to a stick, stepped several rows deep, they are hung upside down as though in punishment. The ten thousand leaves fill this lower reach of heaven. The air reeks of tar, thick, like the times Bandy has smelled blood.
Brown and drying, crowded and alike, these are not the souls of soldiers, Bandy thinks. No. The spirits of the battle-torn shine and are upright in a much higher neighborhood. There’s room among war heroes where they are; what they earned for eternity with their courage and their deaths is space, distinction. Bandy is having a melancholy moment, he knows; he’s being drawn back. He shakes his noggin to rattle the pull away. But the tobacco leaves drip their sticky scent and the odor is so much like gun smoke and gauze and the morning mists of Europe.
He lowers his gaze to the dirt floor of the barn. Several empty tobacco baskets lie about, waiting for another moist day to put the tobacco in case, that condition where the humidity is high to make the leaves supple enough to be handled. But this has been a dry winter, and the burley tobacco leaves, though sufficiently air-cured now dangling on their sticks overhead, can’t be touched without breaking like ancient parchment. This Christmas came and went with little gift money. The family is edgy, waiting for the weather to cooperate and put the tobacco in case long enough to bundle it into hands, arrange the hands into the big woven baskets, then truck it all to the auction hall down in Marshall. The family needs to make some money, get school clothes, fix some machinery, buy next season’s seed. Only a third of the leaves have been stripped and separated. The lowest leaves, called “lugs,” and the paltry tips at the top all get tossed on a pile outside the barn to be used as ground cover and fertilizer. The broad middle leaves, the “smokers,” get sold for bulk tobacco. The best leaves make it as far as cigar wrappers. A good, heavy harvest of smokers pays some bills.
Inside the house, Bandy’s mom and dad, wife, sister and brother-in-law, dozen or so uncles and aunts and cousins and their kin wait for 1945 to arrive in another ten minutes. Every one of them lives nearby, a dog wouldn’t get tired jogging between all their houses, either in Big Laurel, Little Laurel, Shelton Laurel, or on a rural road associated with no town. They are tobacco farmers up here in the Appalachian hollers. The clefts between the high slopes are narrow, and arable land comes only in slim patches, always beside the roads. Nothing makes a buck better on so little land as tobacco. The Bandys, the Ketchums, the Wallins are woven together by marriages and births like the tobacco baskets, broad and firm and white, hundred-year-old clans of soil and nicotine, pocketknives, and Saturday nights at the Masonic dance hall.
The clamor of his family’s revelry—generational, those kids still awake squeal, the adults clink glasses and toast what they’re going to do next year, the old folks cackle, the oldest ones cough—skim like sounds over a lake, tinkling and clear to Charles Bandy through the crisp, frostless mountain night. The mountain doesn’t know it’s New Year’s Eve. The war doesn’t know it’s New Year’s Eve.