Why did the Nazis fight to the death?

Hundreds of thousands of Germans were killed fighting for the Nazi regime long after defeat had become inevitable. Sir Ian Kershaw explains why so many were willing to follow Hitler to the end...

In his last official photo, Adolf Hitler leaves the safety of his bunker to award decorations to members of Hitler Youth. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

On 18 April 1945, a 19-year-old theology student, Robert Limpert, decided to act to prevent the senseless destruction of the picturesque town of Ansbach in Franconia. He had already taken big risks by circulating leaflets pleading for the surrender of the town without a fight. Now he went further, cutting communication wires to a Wehrmacht unit outside the town, but was spotted doing so by two boys from the Hitler Youth. Following arrest by the local police, he was brought before the local military commandant, a Luftwaffe colonel with a doctorate in physics – and a fanatical Nazi. The commandant immediately set up a three-man tribunal which lost no time in sentencing Limpert to death.

As a noose was placed round his neck outside the town hall, the young man struggled free, but was caught within a hundred yards, kicked, punched and pulled by the hair before being hauled back to the place of execution. No one in the small crowd that had gathered and witnessed the scene stirred to help him. After further moments of torment when the rope broke, Limpert was finally hoisted to his death. The commandant said the body had to be left hanging “till it stinks”. He then fled from the town on a requisitioned bicycle. Four hours later, the Americans entered Ansbach without a shot being fired and cut down Robert Limpert’s body.

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