1938: Hitler’s Gamble
By Giles Macdonogh
Constable – £20.00
If there’s one predominant issue I came away with having read this book; it’s the fact that in Austria, Adolf Hitler found a ready-made and overtly willing accomplice in hatred towards European Jewry. So overtly willing, one cannot help but wonder if Austria was a pre-ordained and endemically anti-Semitic nation, long, long before Hitler so much as donned a swastika and pronounced his vile, albeit cunning rhetoric.
In March 1938, Austria, by way of The Anschluss, became part of a Greater Germany. The immediate result of which, witnessed a nigh out of control society, proving to the world yet again, that there really are no depths to which human behaviour dare not plummet. No sooner had Hitler’s troops marched into Ostmark (the name awarded to Austria after Hitler reduced it to a mere province of the Greater German Reich), that the country’s Jews were instantly – and without much provocation from Berlin – condemned to a life of terror, victimisation and eventual deportation to an assortment of concentration camps.
That said victimisation and terror was readily undertaken by members of the Viennese public, rather than Hitler’s brown-shirts, made it all the more harrowing: ‘’It is the heartless, grinning, soberly dressed crowds on the Graben and the Karntnerstrasse… fluffy Viennese blondes, fighting to get closer to the elevating spectacle of an ashen-faced Jewish surgeon on his hands and knees before half a dozen young hooligans with Swastika armlets and dog-whips that sticks in my mind. His delicate fingers, which must have made the swift and confident incisions that had saved the lives of many Viennese, held a scrubbing brush. A storm trooper was pouring some acid solution over the brush – and his fingers. Another sluiced the pavement from a bucket, taking care to drench the surgeon’s striped trousers as he did so. And the Viennese – not uniformed Nazis or a raging mob, but the Viennese Little Man and his wife – just grinned approval at the glorious fun.’’
In monthly chronological order – with the aforementioned Anschluss and November’s Kristallnacht leaping forth as perhaps Hitler’s most precarious, if not hideous, ventures of the year – Giles Macdonogh’s 1938: Hitler’s Gamble is written in such a way that these incorrigible events could just as easily have taken place last year. So fine is the detail and incomparable analysis; yet this is hardly surprising given the author’s previous books: A Good German: Adam Von Trott Zu Solz, Frederick The Great, The Last Kaiser: William the Impetuous and After the Reich.
If this book is anything to go by, Macdonough most certainly knows his German history. Furthermore, he clearly cares about his subject and is at pains to point out the inevitable folly of Hitler’s perplexing and pathetic persuasion. With regards to the Fuhrer’s obsession with world Jewry for instance (which invariably entailed the United States), Macdonough quotes Hitler in the book’s Conclusion – and in so doing, substantiates what an egotistical tyrant (among other things) he truly was:
I want today to be a prophet again; if international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed to plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.
Surely these are the words of a blabbering and dangerous idiot? They further highlight the insufferable lack of inner belief and confidence of an entire people, who, by the end of 1938, were a mere nine months from being plunged into a devastating and terrible war. Not of their own design, but rather, their lack of truth and unfortunate, myopic belief in (financial) security.