“When Adolf Hitler killed himself in his Berlin bunker on 30 April 1945, the news took some time to travel. Eight confused days followed, until the German Wehrmacht finally capitulated. Joachim Fest, then 18 years old, heard about it in a PoW camp in Laon, France, after having been taken prisoner by the US Army at the famous Remagen bridge.

He still pictures the scene vividly. “There was a large crowd in front of the camp notice board, and some jostling was going on. Someone said, with a sigh: ‘Thank God, he’s dead, and the war’s over.’ Others disagreed: ‘How can you say that? It’s the Führer!’ Ear-boxing was in the air.” Then, Fest remembers, an older soldier came along, hands in his pockets, and quite lax in his manner: “‘Stop quarrelling,’ he told the young PoWs. ‘It was madness, not just the end. It was madness right from the start.’” This set the tone, and the crowd dissolved.”

The Independent interviews Joachim Fest, former PoW, now perhaps one of the most respected historians of the Third Reich.





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