The Third Reich In History And Memory
By Richard J. Evans
Little, Brown – £25.00
This thoroughly well researched and overtly knowledgeable book casts a historical net that not only reaches far and wide, but assimilates a number of profoundly revivifying arguments about The Third Reich that’s not often addressed nor touched upon. But what accounts for the importance and all round readability of The Third Reich In History And Memory, is its altogether magisterial persuasion. Reason being, it’s plausible, it’s believable, and it raises the historical bar of analysis to that of a far higher degree than might otherwise be expected.
So staid, apprehensively insular and horribly solipsistic it most certainly isn’t. Rather, Richard J. Evans (who has written a number of books on German history including: The Feminist Movement in Germany 1894 – 1935, Death in Hamburg, In Hitler’s Shadow, Telling Lies About Hitler and the bestselling Third Reich trilogy) is at something of a vanguard and a penetrating crossroads of historical study – a great deal of which sheds new light on a subject, many normally take for granted.
Perhaps some of the kernel of what’s written herein, may have admittedly stemmed from the aforementioned Third Reich trilogy – upon which The Times Literary Supplement wrote: ”It is hard to do justice to the humanity and scholarly range of The Third Reich at War… a masterful historical narrative and the most comprehensive account of Nazi Germany.” That said, it really is hard to falter any of these twenty-eight chapters.
Compartmentalised into seven distinct sections (Republic and Reich, Inside Nazi Germany, The Nazi Economy, Foreign Policy, Victory and Defeat, The Politics of Genocide and Aftermath), Evans dissects that which many academics may already know, whilst simultaneously re-examining historical hypothesis. In the very first chapter ‘Blueprint For Genocide’ for instance, he already writes: ”As the composer Richard Wagner declared in 1848, ‘we will sail in ships across the sea and here and there set up a new Germany… We will do better than the Spanish, for whom the New World became a cleric-ridden slaughterhouse, and differently from the English, for whom it became a treasure-trove. We will do it in a wonderful, German way.”’
Is it any wonder Hitler had a penchant for Wagner’s music and rather spurious sentiment?
Either way, Evans immediately sets forth the premise from which he is about to (unquestionably) write; while in so doing, inadvertently placating a vile political body, that was infamously corrupt, tremulous and drenched in turmoil to say the very least. Of this, there are numerous fine examples throughout this books’ 440 pages; perhaps one of the most pertinent being the suppression of German nationals deemed ‘undesirable’ in the occasionally disturbing sixth chapter, ‘Social Outsiders.’
To be sure, it’s a subject that has already been addressed by a number of historians on a number of occasions; but what accounts for Evans’ approach being so quintessentially chilling, is its undercurrent of crystal-clear, cold-light-of-day, analysis; an analysis that is surely both unquestionable and unrelenting: ”According to the Nazi criminologist Edmund Mezger, a ‘community alien’ was ‘anyone who, by his personality and way of life, and particularly through unusual deficiencies in understanding and character, shows himself unable to satisfy the minimal demands of the racial community by his own efforts.’ This encompassed far more than the categories of social outsider which had borne the brunt of the Nazis’ repression and extermination previously. It gave the enforcement agencies a practical carte blanche to arrest, incarcerate and kill almost anybody they wanted to. The biological term Volksschadling (racial parasite), commonly used in Nazi legislation against wartime offences such as looting, testified to the permeation of Nazi thinking by the biological metaphor […}. But it was the eruption of racist, Social Darwinist and eugenic modes of thought into judicial, penal and social administration around the turn of the century […] that set Germany on the path on the fateful path towards the indefinite incarceration, sterilisation and eventually mass extermination of deviant groups. Of these, only the most radical step, that of mass murder, would probably not have been taken had the Nazis not come to power in 1933.”
This in itself, serves as mighty questionable food for thought; but what undoubtedly makes for even more eye-opening reading, is that which immediately follows: ”For repressive policies towards a variety of social outsiders were undertaken in other countries, too, from Sweden to the United States, in the inter-war years, all the way up to forcible sterilisation, though on a much smaller scale than was involved in Germany. It was only in Germany that mass killing became state policy; and it began, not with the Jews, but with the mentally and physically handicapped, in 1939” (my italics).
For a complete overview of the politicisation/radicalisation of German history (between the end of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth) and everything it eventually, unfortunately, stood for, simply read this outstanding book. The Third Reich In History And Memory is a veritable colossus of a work; that absolutely needs to be read by anyone remotely interested in how politics and paranoia can go devastatingly wrong. And in so doing, trigger devastating consequences.