Tag Archives: Adolf Hitler

Out of Ashes

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Out Of Ashes –
A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century
By Konrad H. Jarausch
Princeton University Press – £32.95

     Hitler’s dictatorship rested not only on repression but also on popular gratitude for the economic recovery, for which he claimed credit. Economists still dispute which of the policies actually worked, but it is undeniable that full employment returned fairly rapidly. In grapeshot fashion, the Nazis launched numerous measures, ranging from the public works such as building the high-speed Autobahnen to subsidies for regular construction and reviving industrial investment. Wages initially remained frozen, but the return to work raised the living standards of households that had barely survived the depression and made the Fuhrer popular.

                                                                                   (‘Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft’)

The above quote from chapter ten of this all persuasive and penetrating book, renders any uninitiated reader of twentieth century German history at something of a surprising loss; especially with regards Adolf Hitler’s euphoric rise to penultimate power.

For it would seem in order to gain a country’s trust (and vote), one need only put food on the table and be seen to openly rebuild a country’s infrastructure. But were one to fast forward to 2017, it would seem such essentially simplistic thinking has been seductively replaced by rampant ambivalence, nationalism, xenophobia, greed and political swashbuckling. The sort of which hasn’t been seen since, well; Hitler’s actual rise to power itself.

What with Donald Trump in the US, Theresa May in the UK and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela – not to mention the many serried ranks of delusional crack-pots that perhaps not so patiently wait amid the wings of seething world domination and destruction – Out Of Ashes – A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century, ought to be made compulsive reading throughout many of the world’s prime corridors of intrinsic power.

That it won’t, is further testament to how utterly insane the world in the early part of the twenty-first century appears to have unfortunately (d)evolved.

Indeed, rather than coming together and building bridges, Trump, May, and the rise of the Far-Right throughout many parts of Europe, appear utterly determined in the full-on promotion of division and the building of walls. An unquestionable folly, upon which Konrad H. Jarausch shines a more than humanistic light – throughout many parts of this most readable and excellent of books.

In relation to the immediate above for instance, one need only traverse the second paragraph of chapter nineteen’s ‘Economic Integration,’ to ascertain where common sense has gone so horribly wrong. Quite possibly, politically diluted beyond the point of all and any reason – let alone return: ”The founding of the Common Market was a concerted attempt to prevent a repetition of the disasters of the first half of the twentieth century. Its central purpose of laying ”the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe” intended to achieve multiple aims: By linking the economies of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, the treaty sought to to make future war impossible by eliminating ”the barriers which divide Europe.” At the same time the agreement tried to ban the spectre of another depression by striving for ”the constant improvement of the living and working conditions” of European citizens.”

These 788 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) are literally littered with such grounded commons sense as that exemplified above.

As the author Peter Fritzsche (whose Life and Death in the Third Reich I also reviewed upon publication) has since said: Out of Ashes is an extremely well-conceived and highly ambitious book. What Jarausch has pulled off is a fully balanced, elegantly integrated history of a long twentieth century in which the pre-1914 era and post-1989 years are vital parts of the interpretation.”

To be sure, Out of Ashes penetrates all the wayward and distorted untruths of current day, blame-game-ideology; by simply laying bare what needs to be told. And perhaps re-told.

David Marx

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Messages From A Lost World

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Messages From A Lost World –
Europe On The Brink
By Stefan Zweig
Pushkin Press – £16.99

Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads. It was necessary for this dark hour to fall, perhaps the darkest hour in history, to make us realise that freedom is as vital to our soul as breathing to our body.

                                                                                                                        Stefan Zweig

With regards Germany having fallen unto the abyss of such abhorrent absolutism during the nineteen-thirties; are the above words not as equally descriptive and heartbreaking as events currently taking place in both the United Kingdom and the United States?

With such division as directly manifested by Brexit and the vile, vitriolic likes of Donald Trump, one cannot help but ask if humanity, let alone society at large, has learnt anything (from history).

Wasn’t Hitler’s madness enough?

The New Republic succinctly refers to Stefan Zweig as ”one of liberalism’s greatest defenders,” which, it has to be said, this astonishingly brave and in parts, beautiful book, more than quintessentially attests to.

In ‘The Sleepless World’ alone, the Austrian born, Jewish writer bequeaths the reader with such majesty as: ”A thousand thoughts restlessly on the move, from the silent towns to the military camp-fires, from the lone sentry on his watch and back again, from the nearest to the most distant, those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation, a weft of feelings, a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights.”

To think that an array of monsters amid the Third Reich may well have read these words – but still acted the deplorable way they did (by among other atrocities, initiating the Final Solution), really is hard, if not impossible to comprehend.

There gain, certain books were only written so’s to be burnt – were they not?

Were the likes of Gove, May, Farage, Johnson and that utterly messianic, deplorable cunt, Trump, to even have the capacity to evoke, let alone believe in and/or act upon ”those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation […] a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights;” said world would (today) be a far better, safer place.

As Will Stone has written in this edition’s Introduction: ”Nationalism is the sworn enemy of civilisation, whether past, present or future, its malodorous presence thwarting the development of intelligence, its tenets those of division, regression, hatred, violence and persecution. In nationalism, with the Nazis as its most lethal form […]. Zweig’s Europe is an almost mystical conviction that whatever remains of the European spirit, the sum of artistic achievement that has accrued for centuries, can only survive the modern plague of nationalism, materialism and philistinism, can only safeguard its crown jewels of philosophical thought, art and literature through a practicable spiritual integration, a higher guild of amiable coalition.”

Try telling that to the current Foreign Secretary; or indeed, any of the words contained herein (and no, I’m not coming from a coveted pedestal of implausible idealism).

If you only read ONE book this year, make it Stefan Zweig’s Messages From A Lost World.

It really is that stunning, pertinent and invaluable.

David Marx

Hitler’s Soldiers

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Hitler’s Soldiers
The German Army in the Third Reich
By Ben H. Shepherd
Yale University Press – £25.00

The more enemies, the more honour!

General von Bomberg’s ridiculous and rather chilling riposte to worries that Germany’s rapid rearmament would antagonise foreign nations – Chapter Two, ‘The Road To War, 1936-39

The army of the Wehrmacht is the sword of the new German worldview.

(Erwin Rommel., December 1938 – Introduction).

Just when you thought you knew pretty much all there was to know, or at least believed you had a reasonable grasp on the German armed forces during the World War II, another superlative book comes along to re-awaken what may have inadvertently evolved into a reckoning of staid assumption.

For one thing, in the Preface of Hitler’s Soldiers – The German Army in the Third Reich by Ben H. Shepherd – whose dark and altogether uncompromising 2012 book, Terror in the Balkans I have also reviewed – immediately tackles the otherwise misinformed thinking that the then German army was known as the Wehrmacht: ”Whilst many books employ the term ‘Wehrmacht’ to denote the German army, this is actually incorrect. ‘Wehrmacht’ directly translates as Armed forces, and technically speaking the Wehrmacht comprised not just the army, but also the air force (Luftwaffe), navy (Kriegsmarine), and from 1944, the Waffen-SS.”

Thus, by the time one has reached the book’s Introduction, one has already been alerted to what is clearly a very important error; an elongated error at that, which, surprisingly, ought to have been clarified years ago.

Exceedingly well researched, and perhaps investigated well beyond the call of literary duty, Shepherd clearly knows the political and socially sinister side of modern, German history: ”Big business bought into the Nazi economic programme, albeit with some reservations, partly because rearmament promised enormous profits and business opportunities, partly because the Nazis had obligingly destroyed the trade unions, and partly because the Nazis were able to manipulate big business by divide and rule, particularly coopting those sections of commerce and industry that had most to gain from rearmament (‘The Army in the New Reich’).

As inconceivably complex as the Second World War was, Shepherd has herein tackled each and every phase with a more than cool-headed, linear and analytical dexterity. A quality, which in and of itself alone, underlines the clarity with which Hitler’s Soldiers has been so scholarly devised. What’s more, said quality also reinforces a sense of subliminal trust within that of the reader, wherein the actual reading itself, becomes almost effortless.

To be sure, one can almost home in on any of this book’s twenty-four chapters, with the acute and assured knowledge that what one is reading, is based upon historical fact. Although (perhaps) more importantly, especially so far as the German army is concerned, the facts have themselves been aligned with a critical synthesis of significantly new strategic and social revelation.

For instance, in the fifth chapter, ‘The Greatest Victory, 1940,’ Shepherd sheds relative, new light upon the fact that as a tactician (or madman, both are as equally applicable), Hitler was already getting it horribly wrong as early as Dunkirk: ”[…] the drive on Dunkirk had exposed Hitler’s less than steady nerve, a trait that, paradoxically, would reveal itself again even as the dictator grew ever more convinced of his military genius. It was the campaign’s triumphant conclusion that would dangerously encourage this new sense of infallibility. The drive on Dunkirk also exposed another of Hitler’s traits, one that would, again, resurface ever more frequently and detrimentally – his penchant for micromanaging operations down to the minutest detail.”

To assert as much so early on in the Battle for France, is, to my mind at least, a revelation which isn’t to be taken at all lightly. There again, with the euphoria over the eventual defeat of the country (what with the campaign having started on May 10th, Paris having declared itself an open city on June 13th and the wholesale surrender of France on June 22nd), Blitzkrieg gave rise and a whole meaning to the unfortunate word, swift.

Indeed, Blitzkrieg was borne out of a diktat or approach, initially set in place during Germany’s rearmament of the thirties; a time when the Wehrmacht was, as Rommel declared, evolving into ”the sword of the new German worldview” by way of a whole new militaristic ideology. An ideology which the author initially touches on in the book’s Introduction: ”To ensure that both its frontline officers and more senior commanders would be equal to the task of conducting offensive mobile warfare, Reichswehr doctrine and training promoted Auftragstaktik, or ‘mission tactics,’ a concept that had suffused Prusso-German military thinking since the nineteenth century […] a complex approach, with several interdependent elements, to the increasingly unpredictable conditions of the battlefield.”

Following the Battle for France, Shepherd once again refers to Auftragstaktik: ”[…] it was the Germans’ own strengths that enabled them to triumph so spectacularly. Among other things, they profited from an imaginative and daring operational plan. But if one single, overall reason for the German army’s triumph in the west can be pinpointed, it is that its doctrinal approach to tactics and operations far outclassed that of its opponents. At all levels, it possessed qualities of daring and adaptability, and a capacity to react to the rapidly changing battlefield situation – all hallmarks of Auftragstaktik […]. On the other hand, all these qualities and technologies were employed with the aim of achieving what was, for the German military, a tried-and-tested operational goal: breaking through, encircling and defeating the enemy by concentrating overwhelming power against his weakest spot. As one French general commented after the campaign, the French had used their three thousand tanks in a thousand pack of three, whereas the Germans had used their three thousand tanks in three packs of a thousand.”

It is just such fresh and incisive analyses, which accounts for Hitler’s Soldiers being such an invigorating, if not majestic read on a subject that, although written upon on numerous occasions over the course of the last seventy years, has never been so thoroughly dissected until now.

As such, these 536 pages (excluding Preface, Introduction, Acknowledgements, Appendices, Table of Acronyms, Glossary of German Phrases, Table of Equivalent Ranks, Figures, Maps, Notes, Bibliography, Index and Notes on Illustrations), which are broken into five distinct sections, make for an utterly magnificent, if not fulfilling read.

Quite possibly the finest book on the German Army (during World War II) I’ve ever read.

David Marx

Tanks

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Tanks – 100 Years of Armoured Warfare
By Robin Cross and David Willy
Foreword by Dan Snow
Andre Deutsch – £40.00

On the outside of the box of this exemplary collection, Dan Snow writes: ”The word ‘tank’ is almost synonymous with military strength, the outline has become its symbol. Few weapon systems have had as big an impact as the tank in the first 100 years of its life.”

In more ways than one, it would be pretty argue with such an assessment – dour and somewhat depressing as it is. There again, for tank enthusiasts – and I’m sure the world must be riddled with quite a few – Andre Deutsch’s Tanks – 100 Years of Armoured Warfare  is a comprehensive collection that is sure to please anyone who subscribes to the killing capability of such a frightening invention.

It also sheds an abundance of facts and light on many a tank related issue that I really didn’t know (but then would I?).

For instance, did you know that the largest tank museum in the world is in Dorset, England?

To be sure, Tanks showcases dramatic images from the archives of the Tank Museum in Dorset and includes an assortment of painstakingly researched, removable documents such as: the first message ever sent from infantry to a tank on September 15th 1916, a blueprint of the British Mark V, pages from a British tank booklet from the first Gulf War, American tank identification cards from the Cold War, and last but by no nationalistic means least, extracts from the German Tiger manual and the French Somua handbook.

But it is surely the thirty-six chapters of the altogether magnificently packaged book itself, which accounts for its 129 pages of impressive investigation.

From such early chapters as ‘The Origins of the Tank’ and ‘The Battles of Passchendaele and Cambrai,’ through to ‘The Eve of the Second World War,’ ‘El Alamein,’ ‘Enter The Tiger’ and ‘Hobart’s Funnies,’ each and every one is riddled with (predominantly) black and white photographs – many of which actually bequeath the reader with a subliminal feeling of dread: ”The First World War had seen an acceptance that technology could be applied to the solution of pressing military problems. The war in the air emphasized the importance of reconnaissance, which in turn accelerated the development of fighter aircraft, and ultimately the bomber.”

It is just such pointless perpetuation that brought the entire technological advancement and reasoning behind the tank to bear -to begin with. Much of which, I have to say, is mightily well captured herein: ”There is an apocryphal story that Adolf Hitler, while watching an exercise involving Mark I tanks at Kummersdorf, declared, ”That’s what I need. That’s what I want to have!” It is aptly symbolic of the Fuhrer’s achievements after he gained power in 1933, which came at the expense of exacerbating a deep rift within the German Army.”

His nigh obsession with tanks may well have exacerbated ”a deep rift within the Germany Army,” but it did very little to stop them murdering millions of people throughout mainland Europe.”

From a historical perspective alone, Tanks – 100 Years of Armoured Warfare is a more than impressive visual account of what was (unfortunately) the tank’s first century. From the early attempts at developing an all-terrain armoured vehicle to the lethal killing machines of the twenty-first century, this superlative collection covers almost every aspect.

As such, a terrific addition to any World War II enthusiast’s library.

David Marx

Go Betweens For Hitler

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Go Betweens For Hitler
By Karina Urbach
Oxford University Press – £20.00

The Duke believed until recently that Germany would win the war. He thinks that Hitler did a wonderful job in Germany. Only trouble is that he ‘overshot the mark.’ Hitler should have managed his ‘Drang nach Osten,’ by measures short of war. The method used in eliminating the Jews was harsh, but he thinks it was necessary to remove the Jewish influence from the German theatre, art, newspapers etc. When asked what he thought had been the percentage of Jews in Germany he replied: ‘about ten per cent.’

This (in a way) timely publication, is both a clarified and justified nod to the distractionary classes who only see things their way – regardless of whether the consequentialist outcome can, or will eventually entail huge disappointment and suffering for society at large. Upon reading this altogether well conceived book, I couldn’t help but think of former Etonian/London mayor, Boris Johnson, spouting forth about how Britain really should leave the European Union.

So far as his own twisted view, and somewhat ignorant agenda is concerned, it may be right for him. Surely as a whole, it’s absolutely not right for the country.

Likewise, Hitler and his odious cronies during the thirties – whose own despicable agenda entailed the murder of millions and the nigh annihilation of Germany itself. Now I’m not for a second, comparing the buffoon that is Johnson with the ghastly intent of Hitler; but what I am saying is that people in power, Donald Trump being another wretched example, ought to look beyond their own myopic calculation, and assess social topography and demographics for what they TRULY are.

Go Betweens For Hitler is a an overt, coherent example of what can happen when one person in (blind) power, can catapult himself way beyond the stratosphere of all reason, by way of a handful of well-connected, intelligent, yet highly selfish people. Its 321 pages (excluding Abbreviations, Notes, Archives and Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) are a more than revelatory account of a fundamentally untold story.

The untold story of how some of Germany’s top aristocrats contributed to Hitler’s secret diplomacy during the The Third Reich, providing a direct line to their highly influential contacts and relations across Europe – in Britain especially, where their secret channels included that most unpleasant of press barons: The Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere.

Not to mention the future King Edward VII.

Might this partially have been due to that of ”an aristocratic lifestyle could vary from country to country, but everywhere in Europe the maxim was: aristocrats have access to other aristocrats?”

Naturally this was most certainly the case, and Hitler knew and nurtured this all too well; which again, reinforces how myopic some peoples’ agendas truly are. Or in some cases, how horribly naive some people are in general; especially those in relatively high places who really ought to have known better.

This is without any shadow of a doubt, brought to the very fore quite early on in the book, where on pages 29/30, authoress Karina Urbach writes: ”Although the Kaiser recognized the signs of the times, Queen Victoria was obviously out of touch with German affairs. To her, Coburg was still the charming little town her husband came from, a sort of fairytale place. She was not alone in seeing its harmless side. For the average British newspaper reader, Coburg was a Pumpernickel dukedom with a few toy solders – politically negligible. These perceptions overlooked an important fact. The dukedom of Coburg was the most nationalist in Germany. If one wants to understand the growth of German nationalism, Coburg offers the idea case study: it developed from a dukedom that supported national unity in the first half of the nineteenth century, into a highly chauvinistic place that would after the First World War become a refuge for radical right wing movements and eventually the first town in Germany to be governed by the Nazis.”

Using previously unexplored sources from across Europe and the USA, Urbach herein unravels the charade of top-level go-betweens such as the Duke of Coburg (grandson of Queen Victoria) and the coquettish Stephanie von Hohenhow, who rose from a life of near destitution in Vienna to become a princess and an intimate of Hitler.

It’s a book, that amid its unraveling, seeks to roundly clarify yet never justify, what truly went on within Europe’s corridors of ill-fated, purposefully misguided power.

One of my favourite writers on the Second World War, Richard Overy (editor of The Oxford Illustrated History of World War II), has himself stated that this is: ”a fascinating and painstaking reconstruction of the real history of the go-between, so long shrouded in rumour and speculation. This really is a privileged journey behind the scenes of international diplomacy in the company of a cast of larger than life characters brought vividly to life.”

To be sure, Go Betweens For Hitler may essentially be based within the parameters of a scholarly undertaking, but it almost reads like that of a John Le Carre or Robert Littell novel. In and of itself, this speaks volumes.

David Marx

The Decision

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The Decision – A Novel
By Brita Bohler
Haus Publishing – £14.99

”Everything about that man is repugnant, the tough performance of the ‘ordinary soldier,’ the melodrama, and that voice. ‘That man sounds like a rabid chained-up dog,’ he says to Katja every time a speech by Hitler can be heard on the radio. The voice reveals the man’s limitless resentment, the festering vindictiveness of someone who has been rejected again and again, the eternal failure. The permanent loser who is good for nothing but who, with his calculated eloquence, stirs up the people’s wounds and has cleverly connected his own vindictive feelings to the feelings of the inferiority of the masses.”

How eloquent itself.

How correct, and, dare I say, perfect a summing up of such a vile human being that both coaxed and led Germany unto the precipice of nigh utter and complete destruction.

It is 1936 and the great German novelist, Thomas Mann, has to make a terrible and almost impossible decision. Over three days in Switzerland, the writer is tormented by the indecision as to whether or not publicly denounce the ghastly Nazi regime in the Swiss press.

Hence the title of this brave, utterly well-conceived, revealing and what’s more, rather beautiful book.

The Decision by the Dutch authoress Britta Bohler, quintessentially tells the story of what can happen and become of the human soul, when ravenously forced to be complicit within the confined parameters of a political, human hell.

What’s more, it does so with all the magnanimous, truthful fortitude of a writer, who wishes to both share and bequeath the reader with what it must have been like to have been an intelligent individual, trying to come to terms with a barbaric regime.

A regime what’s more, that was clearly out of control: ”And suddenly it burst and everything found a way out. All that had remained unarticulated for a long time had finally come to the surface and had, as it were, naturally seized control of the whole country. Like an acid that slowly but surely seeps into the soil, deeper and deeper. An acid that penetrates all the layers until everything is corroded and damaged. And the populace, wounded and misunderstood, numbed by the promises, considers itself future-oriented, brave, and revolutionary. What a dismal misunderstanding!”

Haunted by the aforementioned decision as to whether or not choose exile and to abandon his German readership – not to mention all and any hope of ever returning home; this overtly powerful, yet concise book, sheds an intrinsically critical light on what it must have been like for Mann to live through (and come to terms with) three of the most traumatic days of his life. In so doing, it inadvertently asks us how we might have behaved in similar circumstances.

Simultaneously tortured and terrific. The Decision is an absolute gem of a read.

David Marx

Joseph Goebbels – Life and Death

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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.

David Marx