Joseph Goebbels – Life and Death
By Toby Thacker
Palgrave Macmilan – £15.00
How far should we trust the diary of one of the great liars of history?
Hats off to Toby Thacker for writing such a thought provoking and incisive account of one of Germany’s, if not one of the twentieth century’s most notorious of demagogues, Joseph Goebbels.
I initially assumed the book’s twelve chapters were going to make for an effervescently dry and historically factual read. How wrong I was.
Joseph Goebbels – Life and Death is an almost mesmerising read along the lines of an espionage thriller ala John le Carre’s A Small Town in Germany. Were it not for the simple fact that what’s written herein actually happened and is based upon fact, then these 332 pages (excluding Introduction, Epilogue, Notes, Bibliography and Index) would have made for an even more entertaining read. Admittedly, ‘entertaining’ is perhaps the wrong word here, but it is what it is, which is to say that even if you’re only partially interested to learn about those responsible for the most reprehensible period in recent (European) history, you’ll still find this book a more than absorbing read.
After all: ”The fact that so many of their ideas may be fantastic and morally repellent does not absolve the historian from the obligation to try to understand them, and the contexts in which they arose” (my italics).
That the infamous Propaganda Minister was something of a laughing stock throughout Germany at the time, further qualifies this book’s quintessential validity: ”As Propaganda Minister of the ‘Third Reich’ after March 1933 Goebbels often displayed a brazen contempt for the truth which appalled contemporary observers and became the subject of jokes amongst the German public. His distortions and misrepresentations became one of the distinguishing features of Hitler’s Germany.”
Having already written two books that relate to Nazi Germany (Nazi Germany: Music after Hitler 1945-1955 and The End of the Third Reich, Denazification and Nuremberg, 1944-1946), Thacker writes with such an assured and pronounced certainty, the reader instinctively knows that s/he is in more than capable hands.
Combining clear-cut analysis of Goebbels’ rather fraught relationships with women – not to mention his political career – the author pinpoints the many resonant, yet ultimately disjointed and controversial threads that ran through his entire life. Just one instance of which is brought to the bear in the chapter ‘The Coming Dictator,’ wherein Thacker writes: ”He argued passionately that ‘Bolshevism in Russia was a nationalist phenomenon, and that German Marxism was manipulated from Russia. Bizarrely, he combined this sense of a threat with his mystical veneration for the Russian people, and used both to suggest that there must be, in foreign policy, some accommodation with Russia.”
From the subject’s love of German culture along with his nigh obsession with ‘sacrifice,’ to his (questionable) fascination for Hitler and hatred of Judaism – which culminated in the Holocaust and his eventual suicide in Hitler’s bunker in 1945 (along with his wife and six children) – there really isn’t a Goebbels induced stone that hasn’t been unturned amid this more than fascinating and illuminating book.