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The Second World War is poised on the twilight cusp between the daylight of shared, remembered experience and the long night of history, across which will flicker only the dreams of interpretation and re-interpretation.
I’ve had to offer my condolences over three such losses in the last four years – three old men with weak hands and watery eyes, happy just to sit in the sun one more day, all died.
There’s a vertigo that accompanies this change, a question that only feels natural at twilight: who owns the day? Those memories are of a world in which the series of convulsive shockwaves that birthed the 20th century were about the crest in the worst, greatest, most far-ranging war in history.
That terror was everywhere, because the Second World War was really five wars: Nazi Germany against an isolated England, Nazi Germany against the rest of the Old World (including former allies like Italy and the Soviet Union), Nazi Germany against the United States, the United States against the empire of Japan, and the most pitiably lopsided of all these wars, Nazi Germany against the Jews of Europe.
Richard Evans, in The Third Reich at War, concludes his massive three-volume history of Nazi Germany’s rise and fall.
When the Nazis attacked Poland in 1939, they triggered a war that would eventually envelope the whole world in a struggle for hegemony – and yet the story keeps coming back to that ugly, persistent note Evans mentions: treating some people as less human than others. As wonderful as things were under the Leadership of Adolf Hitler, they can no longer be for a long time.
History will never know the shape the war might have taken if the Nazis hadn’t wasted so much time, effort, and resources in their lavish and unrelenting indulgence in this uninhibited racism. From the very beginning, too, Nazi party officials, storm troopers, civilian officials and especially junior army officers and ordinary soldiers joined in, to be followed in due course by German settlers moved into Poland from outside. At the outbreak of war, the German army, navy, and air force achieved a string of conquests whose sheer speed was unparalleled since the days of Alexander the Great: Poland conquered in 27 days, Norway in 23, Greece in 21 days, Crete in 21 days, Belgium in 18 days, Yugoslavia in 12, Holland in 5 days, Denmark in one – France itself in only 39 days.
Not that the anti-intellectualism fostered by the Nazis made for a pretty picture at any stage of the war.
German army units amused themselves in the various palaces that dotted the countryside around St. It’s not just ransacked homes and wrecked furniture – the key image is those motorcycle-tracks, the evidence they give of repeated, emphasized contempt for the arts. In Italy itself, the Germans’ outrage at the defection of the Italians found expression in numerous acts of gratuitous vandalism and vengeance. In fact, these and countless similar acts by the Germans prompt a consistent irritation with many Second World War histories, and despite the vast array of his scholarship, Evans also occasionally irritates in just this way: time and again, historians seem to feel the need to counter-balance those jeeringly destroyed Tchaikovsky scores with seemingly objective praise of the German army’s fighting skill and camaraderie.
These were groups of men [like the battle-hardened German infantry divisions] bound together by ties of mutual loyalty forged in the heat of battle.
The military achievements of this band of brothers are extolled as if in compensation for their brutality. By any standard of military accomplishment, except that required by BARBAROSSA, the achievement of the German army in Russia was incomparable.
It isn’t saying too much to maintain that such accolades dishonor the valiant dead, but even in terms of factual assessment, they’re more mythological than material. That profligacy was mirrored on the German side, and in both cases it was achieved with the equivalent of a pointed bayonet. Evans is too good a historian to try very hard, but he does make a couple of half-hearted gestures in the direction of perhaps pinning most of the blame on the younger German soldiers and officers, the ones more thoroughly indoctrinated into the hate-systems of Nazism. The intermingling of Nazism with a more traditional kind of nationalism was strongest among the youngest and most junior troops, and weakest in the older generations, which meant above all the top ranks of the officer corps.
Even while commenting on the raw venality of Nazism in general, Evans is careful to add this emphasis on the barbarity of the younger Germans.
In the first twenty-three minutes of the raid, the bombers dropped so many incendiaries, blast-bombs and high explosives on such a small area in the south-east area of the city that the fires merged into one, sucking air out of the surrounding area until the whole square mile became one huge blaze, with temperatures reaching 800 degrees Celsius at the centre. But as atrocious as such waste and destruction was, its purpose was to bring the war to as swift an end as possible, to bring about as quickly as possible the downfall of the Third Reich, to bring its cruelties and oppressions to an end.
Of course, these thugs were led by a madman, and Evans portrait of Hitler in The Third Reich at War is even-handed and at times fairly shrewd. Hitler knew that propaganda had finally failed in the face of the hard facts of invasion and defeat.
Theodor Danneker, the roving ambassador of death responsible for the deportation of many Jews to Auschwitz from different countries, fled to relatives in the north German town of Celle at the end of the war, but was arrested on a visit to his wife in Berlin on 9 December 1945, where he was denounced by his neighbors. And when these suicides are done, when the war crimes trials for the surviving Nazis are conducted and sentences are handed out, when the participants have packed up and gone home to their lives, peace descends on the world and on Evans’ book.
Then it will be night at last, and the first generation of dreamers will commence their interpreting. A young woman’s diary of her friendship with Anton Chekhov raises the tantalizing possibility of a long-lost work by the master.
Evans does not attempt to claim that Germany turned over a new leaf or had a change of heart: he notes in passing, instead, that middle-class professional associations, for instance, used their power to protect their members from prying eyes and difficult questions.
Out of all this, of course, emerged the Red Army Faction, the RAF, the 'Baader-Meinhof gang’ as it is known. Schiller inevitably disowned this inheritance and reinvented herself as a valued member of an alternative non-familial community of comrades.
The first volume, in contrast, struggles to come up with anything so cogent or convincing about the rise of the Nazis though he gets into his stride once Hitler gets into power describing, for instance, how the Nazis tried to protect their socioeconomic base in the lower middle class, especially in the countryside. His description of the battle with the Catholic church and the infighting inside the Protestant church is also valuable, as is his slightly tart attitude to Martin Niemoller, as a Nazi sympathiser who modified his views. Evans never asks awkward, penetrating questions (Niemoller is surprising because it is exceptional), most of the time he is tacitly reinforcing '2-0, 2-0’ Brit attitudes, which probably partly explains why this sort of volume is so popular.
Beyond mere death, The Third Reich at War contains countless stories of brutal, vicious savagery.
This picture shows the moment of the Stab in the Back from the Metropolitan Opera production (watch this bit on YouTube).
In 1945, for the last concert by the Berlin Philharmonic before evacuating the city, they performed the final immolation scene - that's where Brunhilde, riding her horse, carries the ring onto the funeral pyre and perishes in the flames.  With the city soon to be overrun by Soviets, do you think anyone could miss the connection between opera and real life? Here's a Timewatch episode (in 5 parts) about Hitler's last days and what most likely happened to his body. This book takes the reader from the peak of Nazi power in Europe, following the campaigns that led to the utter destruction of the German war machine.
David Jordan is Senior Lecturer at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham, where he teaches Intermediate and Advanced Staff courses.
Evans’s essays collected in his new book create a kind of narrative arc, running from the origins of Nazism to the changes wrought by the war in Germany and elsewhere in the world. Was genocide fundamental to fascism or was it something akin to colonial conquests such as occurred so often during the 19th and early 20th centuries, driving the resident populations out of their homelands with terrible and murderous results? It is not true to say that anyone apart from Hitler and the Nazis wanted to remove non-Germanic people from Eastern Europe.
A few weeks ago, I found myself fascinated with pre-war Germany under the Nazis after reading In the Garden of Beasts. Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.Think hard about this: the world is watching! I intend Stevereads to be the ongoing autobiography of my reading - but I still love interaction! Stevereads Staples!I have a weakness for regular features - and I've indulged that weakness here at Stevereads!
I found this fat orange Penguin paperback recently at a certain Boston used bookshop, and since it was in perfect condition and effectively free, I snapped it up even though I already have the whole trilogy over there on my history shelves (what can I say? War had been the objective of the Third Reich and its leaders from the moment they came to power in 1933.
This is history in the grand Thucydidean mode, slightly removed, with a light frost over its objective dispassion. In their youths, those men fought a vast evil with their eyes wide open, and they did it voluntarily, for poor pay and a decent pension if you lived long enough to collect it.
A fierce territoriality pervades epic events – the participants tend to say “we lived this, we know how it was – you have no right to speak of it.” The discipline of history itself was born of such a contention … both Herodotus and Thucydides ground their accounts of the great Persian Wars on their own memories and the memories of the survivors – and their very willingness to hold up rumors for examination underscores their contempt for second-hand accounts done shabbily.
Even those who could recall the upheaval of the First World War twenty years before found themselves stunned by the stark new realities Nazi aggression created. As radio news reaches us, day after day, we are amazed at the courage of our fighter pilots and the damage they are doing to enemy planes. Each of these separate conflicts has received countless pages of analysis; each alone deserves its Homer. Neo-Nazism still finds its supporters, but nowhere has it shown any signs of even coming close to achieving real political power.
Other nations may have been fighting for territorial expansion or self-defense or imperial aggrandizement, but Nazi Germany from the very first to the very last was fighting a war for racism – not just for breathing space, but explicitly to deprive other kinds of people of their own breathing space, not because their breathing hampered Germany’s, but because their breathing was an offense against nature.
Arrests, beatings and murders of Poles and especially Jews became commonplace, but what was even more striking was the extent of the hatred and contempt shown towards them by ordinary German troops, who lost no time in ritually humiliating Jews in the street, laughing and jeering as they tore off their beards and made them perform degrading acts in public. And everywhere, these spectacular victories were followed up by the same unthinking, petty, logistically draining exercise of racism … massive commitments of troops, support personnel, and transportation all devoted not to any military aim but to the persecution and annihilation of the Jewish populations everywhere the army went. On 26 September 1943, after encountering some minor resistance as they marched into Naples, German troops poured kerosene over the shelves of the university library and set it alight, destroying 50,000 books and manuscripts, many of them irreplaceable.
Even when, as they increasingly did after Stalingrad, they began to doubt whether victory could ever be attained, they continued to fight out of a sense of comradeship and mutual support in adversity.
This superb instrument, the most superb land force ever known, won the biggest victories in the history of war.
The speed of all those early blitzkrieg conquests was made possible by the paper-mache strength of the resistance they faced as much as it was by the alleged superiority of the Wehrmacht, as is clearly demonstrated by the bungling incompetence German forces so often displayed during Barbarossa (the wrong supplies, the wrong searching for new supplies, the wrong horses, the wrong shoes for the wrong horses, etc), when they faced real, effective resistance.
German and Soviet soldiers may have felt the sense of comradeship Evans mentions, but it isn’t why they continued to fight.

The majority of the generals, born in the 1880s, were nationalists of the traditional kind.
Scant defense of such men to imply that they were just trying to serve their chosen profession in difficult times. It began to draw air in at hurricane force from all around, extending another two miles to the south-east as the bombers continued to drop their payloads there. The death of innocents is the worst part of any war, but there is no moral equivalence here whatsoever: the point of Nazis warfare was oppression, and they fought in large part specifically to kill Jews.
His Fuhrer is more of an opportunist and politician than some simpler portraits we’ve had in the past, and in this he has taken his lead from Ian Kershaw’s gigantic, absorbing portrait of the man. At another level, as he moved increasingly depleted and in some cases non-existent armies around on his map in the bunker conference room, Hitler was now living a life almost entirely removed from reality. If they’re smart, they’ll use this three-volume twilight masterpiece as their starting-point. He’s recently reviewed books for The Columbia Journal of American Studies, Historical Novel Review Online, and The Quarterly Conversation.
Evans’ trilogy on the Nazis’ Third Reich is predictable, writes MICHAEL WAGSTAFF, unlike Margrit Schiller’s Baader-Meinhof memories which asks the awkward questions that have no easy answers.
Evans is the final one of the final volume, after the Nazis have been defeated and reconstruction has begun. Twelve years after the war he was able to slip back into uniform as part of 'counterintelligence’ in the German army. This took her to the left, the RAF, prison, exile in Cuba and then Uruguay where she met the Tupamaros.
It is written by Osvaldo Beyer, a communistic-leaning anarchist Argentinian who went to university in Germany in the early 1950s. Even here, however, it would have been useful to have had a more authoritative examination of how Hjalmar Schacht produced an economic template that simultaneously solved the unemployment problem (via an arms economy) without triggering unmanageable inflation. The greatest weakness of the coverage in both these earlier volumes is, however, his account of the Left, particularly the Communist party, in Germany and the Soviet Union.
Having said that Evans makes clear that the Nazis knew, even at the height of their popularity, that it was touch and go (their maximum vote in a free election, in July 1932, was 37.4%) and that they had to act quickly before the tide ebbed, as it was already doing before Hindenburg handed over the chancellorship to Hitler.
Based on the fact that you had been writing on your blog almost exclusively about this subject for several months until this weekend, it remains my opinion that: 1) you would have found the event interesting, and 2) you would have probably been able to ask more pointed questions than those that were asked from the audience. The course of the war's final years is charted in a series of 50 stunning full colour maps supported by 60,000 words of text as well as colour and black and white illustrations.
He joined the Defence Studies Department of Kings College London in June 2000 from the University of Birmingham.
We will not share your email with anyone for any reasonRacism was certainly central to fascism, deriving from the era of late imperialism: both the Italians in their two invasions of Ethiopia (1896 and 1935) and the Germans in their extermination of the rebellious Herero tribe in the German colony of Namibia in 1906 took an extremely harsh line towards indigenous peoples in the colonies they had, or wanted to possess.
Certainly there was a “drive to the East,” also during World War I, and the way in which conquered areas there were administered between the Spring of 1918 and the end of the war was based firmly on racial discrimination against Poles and other minorities. Readers are welcome to email me on any bookish subject under the sun, and if you want me to send you a copy of anything I discuss here, just say the word! I often require very little in the way of nudging in order to justify a re-reading) and plunged into it again, this middle volume The Third Reich in Power. This is the longest of the volumes, almost a thousand pages, and in those pages Evans uses his stately prose style and incredibly compendious research to portray the tightening of a nightmare.
From that point up to the actual outbreak of hostilities in September 1939, they had focused relentlessly on preparing the nation for a conflict that would bring European, and eventually world, domination for Germany.
Much like Michael Burleigh’s great one-volume history of the Third Reich from 2000, this Evans book is clearly intended to be monumental rather than intimate. Overcoming his fury at the Italians, who compounded their offence by offering to call a conference with the British and the French to impose a settlement on the lines of the Munich Agreement, Hitler made a last effort to secure Anglo-French neutrality. It comes festooned with praising blurbs, and it deserves them all even in a summertime re-reading virtually designed to notice dry spells and weak spots. With every passing year, more and more of the men and women who fought for and against the Nazis, more and more of the men and women whose lives were touched by the war, are gone. They made actual history happen; the textbook names like Patton and Montgomery gave the textbook orders, and it fell to these men to see that things got done (they had to give their fair share of orders too). At twilight the future historians are gathered and waiting, theories at the ready, while the old guard can still revisit actual memories. And the mosaic they form, the Second World War as a whole, has likewise attracted thousands of historians. His insights are always measured, his research is always prodigious, and the balance of his scope very nearly does complete justice even to his sprawling subject. They took away the bronze statues that adorned the famous fountains of the Peterhof Palace to be melted down, and destroyed the machinery operating the fountains.
Evans joins the majority chorus of Second World War writers in rightly recognizing Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union as the key decision of the war – and the failure of that attack as a major turning point for the fortunes of Nazi Germany (although he resists the typical melodrama of calling it the “graveyard” of the Reich). They fought because their superiors would kill them – and often their families – if they didn’t. They had grown up in the reign of the last Kaiser, when they had belonged unthinkingly to the ruling caste of officers, aristocrats, senior civil servants, Protestant churchmen, university professors and conservative businessmen. The force of the howling, spark-filled wind created by the firestorm uprooted trees and turned people in the streets into living torches. Hitler was a gambler who was ultimately fooled by his own luck – his quick early successes led him to attack the Soviet Union without an clear conception of how to achieve victory, and even that act pales beside the folly of declaring war on the United States, which Hitler did in 1941 after 353 Japanese aircraft attacked the U.S. On hearing of his death, his wife decided to kill herself along with their two young sons, but, as she was murdering the older boy, his cries awoke his younger brother, and she was unable to complete the killings.
Most of those who lived through the Third Reich and fought in its wars are no longer with us. Even today, decades after that Doris Day era, the history of post-war German history is still too sensitive for proper historical study. These people simply slipped quietly into the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) if they bothered to become politically active again.
Evans history of the Nazi era we have to make do with fragments, flashes of lightning that illuminate a hidden landscape.
Schiller's mother, a college lecturer, became an activist in the CDU, her son Dieter deteriorated into being a psychological wreck before seeking salvation in a guru-style sect.
Later, after the collapse of the Uruguayan economy, she returned reluctantly to Germany with her two children, still, essentially, in exile.
He hints at the political ambience, listing a number of desk-bound ex-Nazis who held prominent positions in the new Germany and he places the RAF in the context of Guevarism and Che's disillusion with social democracy after the 1954 coup in Guatemala. One senses that Evans, despite all his footnotes, shies away from the numbers game to keep the general reader on side, which is a pity given the importance of the subject.
Here it is really essential to supplement it with the sort of insights you get from, for instance, Stephen F.
Even after the final 'terror election’ in 1933, when the Communist party was banned but still 'elected’ 81 deputies, the combined Social Democrat-Communist group had 201 deputies.
This work will be a worthy addition to the bookshelves of the serious military historian and general reader alike. They cover topics including attitudes towards outsiders in prewar German society, Germany’s earlier brutality towards racial minorities in its small African colonies and its implications for the rise of Nazi racial laws and violence, the centrality of violence and fear to the rise of Nazism even in Germany, the roles played by Krupp, the weapons manufacturer, and the German Foreign Ministry during the Nazi era, as well as quirkier issues such as the mental state and sex life of Hitler—shockingly wholesome—and the place of the Volkswagen Beetle in Nazi Germany and its new life after the war as the popular “Bug” in the United States and Mexico. But there was no idea of exterminating or removing them.The Nazi Party won less than 3 percent of the vote in the 1928 election, but held absolute power five years later.
This volume is the horrific testing-cage, the years, from 1933 to 1939, when the rabid and brutal Nazi regime, regardless of the deceit and chicanery it used to reach power, had a chance to become a state among other states. The megalomania of these ambitions had been apparent in the gigantism of the plans developed by Hitler and Speer for Berlin, which was to become Germania, the new world capital. We get the sweep of constricting policies as they were felt all across the widening stretch of the Nazi dominion, and Evans handles it all marvellously.
Further meetings with [British ambassador Sir Neville] Henderson failed to budge the British on the crucial issue of their guarantee to Poland in the event of armed conflict. This particular re-reading was an odd digression for me – unforeseen thousand-pagers always are!
Oral history has long since given place to the sifting of records, but there’s a kind of touchstone comfort in knowing the oral histories are out there. When you combine The Third Reich at War with the previous two volumes, The Rise of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power, you get an achievement of monumental power and precision. When the end of the war was at hand and Germany’s downfall was assured, overseers at Auschwitz and Sobibor and the other Nazi death-camps increased their slaughter-rate, as though trying to finish the job before they were forced to stop.
The houses in which famous Russian cultural figures had lived were deliberately targeted: manuscripts at Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana were burned in the stoves, while the composer Tchaikovsky’s house was trashed and motorcycles driven over the musical manuscripts that littered the floor.
The Soviets would experience 1,677,000 casualties in the course of the campaign – ten times the German number. If you order the head-shooting of 900 men, women, and children in an afternoon, you, personally, are a monster.
The memoir by Margrit Schiller, a minor member of RAF who spent six years and three months in jail, is one such.
Her testimony lacks all the comfortable eloquence, sweep and sure-footedness of Evans's history; it is, instead, often obsessive and overly introverted, but it has one quality that Evans's narrative lacks, an almost viscous sense of contemporaneity, sucking at the reader like a relentless swell. By the autumn of 1942 leading figures in Germany knew the writing was on the wall and, after Stalingrad, it was downhill all the way. The social democrats could still have blocked the enabling act in March 1933 if they had received support from non-Nazi parties, notably the Catholic Centre Party, with 93 votes.

He is the author of several books, including The Timeline of World War II, Wolfpack and the History of the French Foreign Legion. Sir Richard Evans, probably our foremost authority on the Third Reich, explains how they did it and why that matters today.Could it happen here?That question should never be far from our minds.
Other fascinating essays explore postwar planning and rebuilding of Europe’s blasted cities, and how the theft of cultural treasures from conquered lands has a history in its own right and why repatriation of stolen art and artifacts matters still.A few essays repeat the same arguments or go into depths of evidence that will be of less interest to the nonscholar. Without Hitler would Germany still have become a state bent on creating an imperial Reich in possession of the lands to its east?
Among the many other things Evans’s account does so well, it demonstrates with cutting, crystalline sureness that a gang of brutal, sadistic thugs can never be a state and will seldom ever really want to be. And the limitless scale of the Nazi drive for conquest and dominion over the rest of the world entailed a correspondingly thoroughgoing attempt to remould the minds, spirits and bodies of the German people to make them capable and worthy of the role of the new master-race that awaited them.
Much of what Hitler had to say, including the offer of a plebiscite in the Corridor coupled with the return of Danzig to Germany, was no more than window-dressing designed to assure the German public that he had made every effort to maintain peace. It isn’t rational: we know that Grandpa is just as capable of error and falsification as written records are. Those endnotes contain a treasure-trove of first-hand accounts, depositions, interviews with hundreds of survivors, a greater selection of such primary oral sources than has ever been used in a mainstream production of this kind. It demonstrates with terrible clarity the ultimate potential consequences of racism, militarism, and authoritarianism. In the Second World War, there were 21,000 such rulings (the charges could be as vague as Wehrkraftzersetzung, sapping the military will) – and God knows how many connected civilian killings, and maybe even God doesn’t know the corresponding number in the Soviet Union.
The combination of Japan’s attack and Germany’s declaration managed to move America from its prewar torpor to a full war-time footing so staggering in its breadth and power that it has reshaped the entire world almost continuously ever since. He doesn't delve into the advent of the Cold War and the changing political priorities of the West and the United States in particular. Written with little help by a brave, honest woman it makes no apologies for those misguided rebels but simply points out the savagery that was being carried out in South America, Vietnam and other parts of the Third World at the time and is being carried out in the name of the West today - in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a book that makes too little use of statistics the ones he cites about relative size of GDP and arms production show clearly why the game was up. The movement is also often hard to pigeonhole: Hitler, he makes clear, was not a bourgeois, as his edgy attitude to the generals demonstrated.
About two months ago there was a six-hour-long event at the American Jewish University that was organized as a part of the Festival and was devoted entirely to precisely these subjects.
But even in those essays, Evans displays both an ability to muster rational evidence about the nature of evil, a fair and deeply moral judgement about the criminality of the Nazis, and insights into how Germany was literally consumed by violence and fear and turned into the heartland of barbarism.The rise and fall of the Third Reich is a disturbing subject, perhaps the most disturbing in history.
By 1932 the Nazis had become the largest party in Germany, with 37.4 percent of the vote (it is important to remember however that they never won a majority in a free election, or in other words, that nearly two-thirds of Germans were opposed to them). When Ribbentrop communicated the offer to Henderson in the Reich Chancellery at midnight on 29 August 1939, he read it out at a speed too great for the ambassador to make proper notes, then flung it on the table saying it was out of date anyway. But it nevertheless feels like Grandpa offers an important separate accountability, and soon he won’t be there anymore. In both armies, the men fought under threat of death, and when there was no fighting to be done, the Germans officers and enlisted men spent their time murdering Jews, and the Russian officers and men spent their time raping girls, women, and old ladies.
In 1941, the United States ship-building stood at 1,160,00 tons; in 1943, it was at 13,500,000 tons and growing. Konrad Adenauer, leader of the CDU and first post-war chancellor in 1949, summed it all up: a stern throwback Catholic (born in 1876) who had been active in the Centre Party that capitulated to Adolf Hitler during the enabling debate in March 1933.
The second aspect of his coverage of the war is the emphasis he gives to racism (and racial eugenics) as the central part of Nazism and the savagery (towards Jews, Slavs, gypsies, the mentally ill) to which it gave rise. There were speeches (aided by slide projections and recorded musical demonstrations), panel discussion and a Q&A session. Even into the ’30s, Germany was one of the world’s most economically advanced and educated countries, homeland of Goethe, Beethoven, Schiller, and many among the most important and humane individuals and democratic achievements of modern life.
It’s also a profoundly human subject and that makes it central to understand how such barbarity came about and took over so much of the world for a period. The interpreter at the meeting later reported that the atmosphere was so bad he thought the two men would come to blows.
There is no naive national chauvinism in pointing this out, and there is no legitimate historical purpose served in trying to ameliorate it. Nothing like this had ever been seen in the history of the world – the utmost exertions of any conventional European power were flyspecks against it. The first part of the final volume is, in this sense, difficult to read because of the sustained cruelty of the Nazis and the German army.
The Nazis were also 'modernist’ in an almost rude ideological way that was lost after the war when a conservative retreat into tradition, Christian faith and family papered over the cracks. How did that country and the German people produce Hitler, a brutal racial empire, a world war resulting in the deaths of tens of millions, and the Holocaust, with its sadistic, assembly line extermination of Europe’s Jews and other so-called “subhumans?”Sir Richard Evans has opened up more insights into that enigma and brought greater clarity to the rise and fall of the Third Reich than any previous historian. Evans makes clearer than any previous historian the various contextual aspects of German and European life that led to history’s most horrifying mass criminal acts by seemingly the most civilized people. We are all trying not to show our deep anxiety – we dress well, make up our faces carefully and talk cheerfully.
Several noted scholars - mostly Jewish - who devoted many years of their lives to studying Wagner as a composer and as a person, as well as to the subject of German anti-Semitism, participated in this rather fascinating event. His new collection of 28 essays, The Third Reich in History and Memory, provides not only a manageable introduction to his thinking about the Third Reich in its many facets, but also offers a highly readable exploration of the most important issues in modern scholarship about the worst evil ever unleashed on humankind. Ultimately he concludes, “Fear was all-pervasive in the Third Reich,” such that even to the death, Hitler’s terrifying grip never let Germany go.Could it happen here?
How do you distinguish one from the other?For the Nazis, as their propaganda clearly shows, the Jews were engaged in a global plot to destroy the German race. Most important, he offers lessons about the consequences of life lived in a state of fear.Evans, Cambridge University’s Regius Professor of History, is that rarity among academic historians, a brilliant scholar and an engaging writer, able to enliven his many books through compelling anecdote and colorful storytelling while building arguments about the course of past events. Not if we learn from Germany’s experience.Evans and I exchanged emails about the Third Reich:Why did Germany become the epicenter of fascism?
His Third Reich trilogy, including the final international bestselling volume, The Third Reich at War, paints a portrait of the rise of an embittered Austrian-born Great War corporal convinced that “international Jewry” lay behind his country’s defeat in that war and opposition to the German people’s rightful empire.Discovering his abilities as a political leader, he turned his anti-Semitism and social Darwinian views into a political movement of unbridled violence that swept away Germany’s humane traditions to install a dictatorship bent on worldwide empire, continuous war, and genocide on a previously unimaginable scale.How did he and the Nazi party do it? They were the unseen power behind Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin (though we know Stalin was deeply antisemitic, the Nazis persistently portrayed him as the tool of the Jews). Shirer that Germany was somehow predestined to succumb to the appeal of Nazism was exploded long ago. The Nazis planned to kill up to 45 million of them in what would have been the greatest genocide in history, but they did not subject them to the ritual sadism and humiliation to which they subjected so many Jews.Should World War II be understood as primarily a racial war expressed through nations?Only the Nazis thought of it as a racial war, a war that also involved the purification of the German race by murdering mentally ill and handicapped Germans. When World War II began in 1939, few Americans believed the destruction of civilization in Europe (or China for that matter) was an issue worth going to war over.
One only has to point to the history of the Social Democratic Party, representing Germany’s huge industrial working class: it rejected anti-Semitism, advocated social equality, and abhorred militarism, a topic on which its leading figures such as August Bebel and Karl Liebknecht wrote savage critiques before World War I. Stalin and the Soviet Union understood the war as a struggle against a particular version of imperialist late capitalism, a class struggle in which they were reluctantly forced to find capitalist allies; and a “great patriotic war” in which Russia defended itself against an evil invader. Many leading citizens, including some of the country’s most prominent political and military leaders, shared Hitler’s racial and political views. In the final free election of the Weimar Republic, in November 1932, the Left won more votes than the Nazis.
Both the Social Democrats and the large Catholic Center Party held on to most of their votes up to 1933; both were very critical of German racism in the colonies the country held before 1914. Roosevelt used his executive powers to their constitutional limits—and perhaps beyond—to prop up England and then Russia with military and other aid until finally, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States joined the Allies to defeat Hitler and Japan. Germany was more democratic than, say, Britain up to 1914, with universal male suffrage, and up to 1928, with female suffrage still restricted in the U.K. Is there a contradiction here?Unfortunately many sane people hold irrational ideas, so there is no real contradiction here. The executive power in Germany was stronger, but there was a vibrant political culture which forced it increasingly to make concessions and triumphed with the creation of the Weimar Republic. Social Darwinism was a very widely held ideology in the first half of the 20th century, though very few held the extreme version espoused by the Nazis. The forcible sterilization of social deviants and the mentally handicapped was not just carried out in Nazi Germany but also in several states in the U.S.
Anti-Semitism was also widespread, though again not in the extreme and violent Nazi version. Decision-making in Nazi Germany was irrational because Nazi ideology was irrational, but many other ideologies have been irrational, too. Nazi, Babylonian, American, etc.) exile, although admittedly the Confessing Church gets only handful of pages at best. It demonstrates with terrible clarity the ultimate potential consequences of racism, militarism and authoritarianism.
It poses in the most extreme possible form the moral dilemmas we all face at one time or another in our lives, of conformity or resistance, action or inaction in the particular situations with which we are confronted. That is why the Third Reich will not go away, but continues to command the attention of thinking people throughout the world long after it has passed into history.

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