Believe and Destroy – Intellectuals in the SS War Machine
By Christian Ingrao
Polity Press – £25.00
This extremely thorough investigation of (relatively recent) German history, is drenched in the dense politicism of The Third Reich and the harrowing manifestation(s) of just some of its ghastly policies for which it has become so horribly renowned and infamous. Apart from sending shivers up the spine, the book’s title alone, Believe and Destroy – Intellectuals in the SS War Machine, is a succinct, literary abbreviation, of all the barbarity and murder that was conducted in the name of Adolf Hitler.
As the author Christian Ingrao concludes in the Preface: ”In short, I have tried to understand how these men came to believe, and how their beliefs led them to destroy.”
With this quest for understanding in mind, Ingrao has undertaken what is clearly a mammoth historical task, and ultimately written an astonishingly profound and in-depth book on a subject that ought never be forgotten.
To be sure, he bequeaths the reader with what can only be described as immaculate and extensive research, which is not only most prevalent from the outset, but concise and altogether convincing.
For instance, in Chapter One of Part One (A ‘world of enemies’), he immediately writes of The First World War and its detrimental aftermath – along with its all encompassing, economically devastating and profoundly harrowing influence upon Germany’s populace: ”Let us postulate, as demographers do, that every death in the Great War was at the very least surrounded by two concentric circles of sociability, each with perhaps ten people in it. The German Empire lost 2 million soldiers, so 18 million people were directly plunged into mourning. And some 36 million people may have been affected in the more distant circles of sociability. In this way, half of the German population would have had to mourn a family member. And even this calculation fails to take into account reactions to the news of a wounded relative in the forces, and the stress of waiting for information about a missing person – an integral part of the mourning process – whether he was later found on the list of prisoners or not. Thus everything suggests that the loss of men sent to the front, whether this loss was definitive or only temporary, was a mass trauma […]. Then there were the food shortages. Though these affected all the societies at war, nowhere were they more intensely felt than in Germany […]. From 1916 onwards the Germans felt they were literally earning their ‘daily bread’ by the sweat of their brows. The Allied blockade did not create problems of food supply for them, but it did contribute to exacerbating these problems by provoking panic among the working and middles classes. After the war, this blockade was indeed seen as a direct Allied attack on the civilian populations, a war waged on woman and children.”
In and of itself, this was to have a profound effect on the future generation of Germans. Most notably Hitler, as not only did it provide him with just one reason to be adventurous, unreasonable and (eventually) politically ghastly; it provided him with the most perfect of economic of platforms.
After all, nothing shouts louder than hunger (not to mention death); as Ingrao goes on to make clear: ”Hunger, bereavement, the sense of fighting for one’s daily survival – these were the three main elements in children’s experience of war, especially since these were part and parcel of a specific interpretation of everyday life.”
Along with Hitler’s colossal ranting(s) and raving)s), the manifestation of these ”three main elements in” the ”children’s experience of war” ought hardly be surprising; as by the time of the Second World War, said children had become fully indoctrinated and embedded within the warped, non-sensibility, of anti-Semitism.
And had much, if not most of their humanity, dispersed with.
Believe and Destroy – Intellectuals in the SS War Machine really is a worthwhile and very mind-opening – albeit at times, horribly disturbing – read. Even if only to try and ascertain and partially come to understand, how segments of such an educated workforce as Germany’s, could, during the 1930s and 1940s, evolve into such an ignorant and hateful populace of barbaric murderers.