March 1, 2014 in Books
The first of three books on Germany’s Third Reich. This book tells the story of the events that happened in German politics from about 1918 to 1933 when the Nazi’s came to power. Actually the books starts with the Second Reich (or the Bismarckian era). It details German sentiment and politics, making it very clear how Germany eventually entered into WWI.
The tale remains a sad one. After WWI, with treaty of Versailles, Germans felt defeated and betrayed. This sentiment continued to play prominent role in the eventual destruction of German democracy. A process that the Nazi’s didn’t start, but sure finished when Hitler became Chancellor. The Weimar Republic was never very popular with a large part of the German population. In fact, both large corporations and many political parties were frustrated by what they saw as it’s failings towards the German people. Much of the blame for the defeat in 1914 was wrongfully blamed on the Jewish people. Antisemitism was quite common back then, sadly.. This anti-Semitic sentiment was widely used by more than one right wing political party during the 1920-ies, including the Nazi’s.
Evans does a great job detailing the fall of German democracy during the Weimar years. After the Nazi’s failed Putsch in 1923, HItler vowed to come to power by legal means only. And he sort of does, even if he isn’t actually elected Chancellor, but appointed Chancellor after Papen was forced out. Papen (and his predecessor Brüning), who, coincidentally, paved the way for the Nazi’s by eradicating certain aspects of democracy.
The economic circumstances are well woven into the narrative; from the hyper inflation in the early twenties, to the stock market crash in 1929, resulting in hard economic circumstances in the early 1930-ies.
The rise of the Nazi party is explained well. Evan’s shows how their antisemetic ideology went hand in hand with violence and intimidation. The many acts of violence were committed by the paramilitary units of the Nazi’s; the SA and later on the SS as well. Many political parties at the time had such paramilitary parties; the Nationalists were connected with the Steel Helmets for instance. The communist party had it’s paramilitary wing, and so on. Interestingly enough, the communist party was quite popular up to the very end when Hitler rose to power in 1933. They received about 25% of the votes. One of the Nazi’s main goal at this time was to get rid of the Bolsheviks, which they perceived as one of the greatest threats. Or at least, this is what they told the German public. This was certainly true to a degree, but the Jewish threat (as they saw it) was greater still. The Nazi’s used whatever propaganda worked on specific demographics. For one part of the population this might have been anti Bolshevik rhetoric; for another part of the population anti-Semitic rhetoric was more effective.
Interestingly, Hitler was appointed Chancellor with the approval of the other political parties, because they expected him (and the Nazi’s) to fail miserably once in government. This did not occur, and within just a few short months Germany was transformed into a one party dictatorship. The amount of violence and intimidation towards anyone who didn’t see eye to eye with the new regime exploded in those months. Many people were arrested, and because there was a lack of capacity in the prison system for the influx of so many new political prisoners, concentration camps are introduced. Evans describes where the Nazi’s got their inspiration from, namely the English concentration camps which they had set up in it’s colonies. That was new information for me.
This book tells the first part of the story of how Germany became ruled by the Nazi’s and their ideology. It am looking forward to continue reading the next two books in the series (‘The Third Reich in Power’ and ‘The Third Reich at War’).
One thing about the book I do not like very much (albeit a minor thing) is the translation of certain very well known German terms. These include ‘Führer’ and for instance ‘Sieg Heil’. These are translated consistently as (respectively) ‘the Leader’ and ‘Hail Victory’. As these terms are widely known to most people I would think, the translation of such expressions are not required and actually detract from a very well written account of this period in time. Nonetheless, this is only a minor complaint of mine about the book. I very much enjoyed reading it, and liked the great historical context that was used to illustrate how this dark chapter in history came about.
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