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  • From: David Farber <>
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  • Date: Tue, 08 Nov 2005 18:18:28 -0500

Begin forwarded message:

From: Bob Frankston <>
Date: November 8, 2005 12:53:36 PM EST
To: Dave Farber <>

This is a review that appeared in a recent issue of the economist. While I
don't want to claim history repeats itself exactly there is some
frightening resonance.

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Oct 27th 2005

HISTORIES of Hitler get bigger all the time. Five years ago, Sir Ian
Kershaw concluded his monumental two-volume life of the German
dictator. Now, Richard Evans, professor of modern history at Cambridge
University, is bringing out a three-volume study of the Third Reich and
its origins. The escalating size of these histories is easily
explained. There is more secondary literature on Hitler and the Nazis
than could possibly be read in a lifetime, while historians have moved
away from offering simplistic explanations for what happened in Germany
in the middle of the 20th century.

In the 1960s, Hitler, and fascism in general, were dismissed by Marxist
historians as capitalism's panic-driven response to the inter-war
economic and social crisis. Other historians focused on Hitler's
personal history as if this were emblematic of the wider story. The
German people were seen as prisoners of his madness; mere victims. Now
the big questions are different. The reality is immensely complex.
There are many causes, not one.

This is the thrust of Mr Evans's argument in the second volume of his
trilogy. Dictatorships are ultimately based on terror--not necessarily
overt repression, but the knowledge that lurks at the back of every
citizen's mind that there are lines that cannot be crossed without
incurring terrible penalties. These are not necessarily conventional
lines established by an easily recognised social morality.
Second-guessing what National Socialism might regard as a political
crime was a risky business. Silence was preferred; the averted gaze
replaced the straight stare. Only a very few brave Germans tried to
keep other political options alive, often earning a spell in a camp for
their pains. News of how awful the camp experience was rippled out from
the families who had suffered, resulting in an efficient, private

Germans prided themselves on their respectability, which was why they
hesitated to confront the illegal Nazi regime, or simply argued to
themselves that the dictatorship was a necessary stabiliser. Mr Evans
has interesting things to say about how few qualms party bosses (and
minor functionaries) seemed to have about not being respectable in the
old-fashioned bourgeois sense. They lined their pockets, stole Jewish
property and helped each other along. The sense that the dictatorship
was utterly corrupting of conventional morality has been fiercely
debated, especially since April, when Gotz Aly, a visiting historian at
Frankfurt University, published his &quot;Hitlers Voltsstaat&quot; (Fischer),
about the wholesale robbery in which Germans were engaged during the

Mr Evans writes about the regime's efforts to remould the German
mentality, but he suggests that long-established Christian conventions
were hard to break down. The dictatorship worked best in areas where
the peculiarities of German Christianity matched the prejudices of the
new system--in penalising, for example, social &quot;outsiders&quot; of all
kinds, from homosexuals to gypsies. He also makes a great deal of the
race question, and shows that this was by no means only about Jews. The
1930s were filled with efforts to purify the race, encourage a high
birth rate among the most &quot;Aryan&quot; in the ethnic German population and
stamp hard on anything that smacked of race defilement, including
abortion, prostitution and homosexuality.

There were grim ironies in all this. The 115,000 married SS men, who
were chosen for their racial characteristics and subjected to pompous
propaganda on the child-rich life, could manage only an average of 1.1
children per household. The gap between racial utopia and the muddled
biological reality of the German population eventually supplied one of
the most damaging and long-lasting legacies of the system. Millions of
Germans could come to terms with life after dictatorship in 1945, but
the 300,000 men and women compulsorily sterilised were scarred for life.

Mr Evans has produced a rich and detailed description of just what the
Third Reich did in every compartment of the state and every corner of
society. He does not follow the fashionable view that Hitler was a weak
dictator, who was unable to rein in the growing radicalisation of the
system and with little interest in the routines of governing. Indeed,
he concludes his vast survey by reminding the reader that Hitler was
always &quot;in the driving seat, determining the general direction in which
things moved&quot;. This interpretation seems irrefutable in the face of the
evidence. Hitler is there at the heart of major affairs of state, which
he viewed as the work of a messianic leader.

Mr Evans's writing is a model of clarity and intelligence, but there
are a few areas where the book is less sure-footed. The treatment of
foreign policy, from the occupation of the Rhineland to the outbreak of
war in 1939, leaves out much that is needed to understand the eventual
outcome. The complicated stories about economic revival and military
expansion would benefit from the occasional chart of statistics. The
economic issues are described, but not explained in any great detail.
Hitler's financial &quot;wizard&quot;, a banker named Hjalmar Schacht, is given
the credit for rescuing Germany's finances, but there is no economic
analysis of how he did this.

These are not key areas for Mr Evans. The text comes most to life when
he is talking about society, culture and politics. One final concern:
many German titles have been translated into English. While it might
work to cast &quot;Mein Kampf&quot; as &quot;My Struggle&quot;, some other terms will seem
more exotic in English than in German. For example, Julius Streicher's
rabidly anti-Semitic paper &quot;Der Sturmer&quot; is translated as the
&quot;Stormer&quot;, although this term is never used in the English-language
literature on the Third Reich. It would be like insisting that THE
ECONOMIST should be DER VOLKSWIRT when it is cited in Germany. But this
is a minor quibble. Mr Evans's magisterial study should be on our
shelves for a long time to come.
The Third Reich in Power: 1933-1939 By Richard J. Evans Penguin Press;
941 pages; $37.95.
Penguin/Allen Lane; GBP30

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