Tag Archives: The Third Reich

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

The Tobacconist

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The Tobacconist
By Robert Seethaler
Picador – £12.99

Politics always messed up absolutely everything, so it didn’t really make much difference whose fat bum currently occupied the seat of government – the late Kaiser, the dwarf Dollfuss, his apprentice Schusschnigg or that megalomaniac Hitler across the border – politics messed up, screwed up, fouled up and dumbed down absolutely everything, and basically ruined it one way or another.

Politics does indeed screw things up and dumb ”down absolutely everything.” Especially when left to a misfit representation of an utter naïve and total toss-pot persuasion as perfectly exemplified by Brexit. Not forgetting of course, that in ten days time, we have one of, if not the most misogynistic ”megalomaniacs” on the planet, taking over the most powerful office in the world.

And just like the intelligent, gracious actress, Meryl Streep, I don’t even have to mention the odious toads name, as readers will no doubt, fully understand and know to whom I refer.

Furthermore, were it not anchored in Vienna in 1937/8, this most beautifully written of books, could just as easily be referring to the politics of right now. To the folly induced politics of today – where Brexit and the dreadful likes of Marine Le Pen, Beppe Grillo and Nigel Farrge aside (all of whom, surely pale into utter indifference when compared with who is going to be taking over The White House on January 20th)) – which, truth be told, doesn’t even bear worth thinking about.

Yet, should one need a reminder of what blind faith and utter misplaced, myopic ignorance is capable of, then might I recommend The Tobacconist. A simply stunning book, written by Robert Seethaler who is author of five novels, including the most acclaimed A Whole Life which just last year, was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize.

As told through the relatively innocent eyes of the teenage Franz Huchel, this is a very powerful and poignant book; one which simply brims with all the regaled restraint of a writer who, without any shadow of a doubt, most definitely (not to mention, defiantly) knows his craft.

A mere two pages in, and I was already struck at the use of language and wonderful depiction of imagery: ”Her apron stuck to her body; tangled strands of hair hung down over her forehead, and drops of water were forming and falling one by one from the tip of her nose. Behind her the peak of the Schafberg reared up ominously against the grey, cloud-covered sky, in which blue flecks were already reappearing here and there. Franz was reminded of the lopsided, oddly carved Madonna that someone in the olden days had nailed to the doorframe of the Nussdorf chapel, and which was now weathered almost beyond recognition.

As a whole, these 234 pages follow the thoughts and numerous travails of young Franz, through the seemingly vile trajectory of Kristallnacht, and the eventual coming to power of the all consuming Third Reich – over his dead body.

But I have to say, it’s the overtly contemplative, delicate and heart-warming-way that the book has been written, that accounts for its undeniable genius: ”When the whistle shrilled to signal its departure and the train began to move, the boy hopped off the bench and ran along the platform, waving and laughing. At that moment, something curious happened: all the prisoners at the windows waved back. The boy ran to the end of the platform, then stood still and shielded his eyes with his hand. Even at a distance, as the train gradually dissolved in the morning sunlight, it looked like a huge caterpillar with countless waving legs, crawling away.”

When Trump mocked the disabled New York Times reporter, so too is much of this astonishingly well-crafted book, completely heartbreaking.

In fact, I’m endeavoured to say it’ll be quite a while, before another novel comes remotely close.

David Marx

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

The Third Reich In History And Memory

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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.

David Marx

Reluctant Meister

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Reluctant Meister – How Shaping Germany’s Past Is Shaping Its European Future
By Stephen Green
Haus Publishing – £25.00

To come to this altogether well considered, overtly thought provoking, excellent book, is to (almost) come to terms with a powerful and highly influential nation that has traversed every darkness, and arrived at the fine end of raw redemption.

I say almost (in brackets), as modern day Germany is still awash with inadvertent, yet pertinent reminders of its miasma of troubled history. A history it has openly avowed to come to terms with, especially since the 1960s, much more so than many other nations who would surely benefit from a similar persuasion – such as Russia and Japan (and in relation to Ireland, Great Britain).

Said persuasion is addressed on numerous occasions throughout Reluctant Meister – How Germany’s Past Is Shaping Its European Future, a particularly strong example being in the ninth chapter (‘Confronting the Ghosts of Germany Past’) wherein the author, Stephen Green, writes: ”And then there is the galloping rhythm of that phrase which appears again and again in post-war German literary references (not to mention if graffiti in public places): Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland (death is a master from Germany).

Some might argue that to a certain degree, such didactic thinking was always going to be, and will, perhaps for the foreseeable future at least, remain inevitable. Especially given the turbulent trajectory of a certain Lutherian hypothesis, wherein blind faith and blind obedience, was always going to somehow conclude by way of crass anti-Semitism and the nation’s harrowing quest for Lebensraum in the East.

Once again, the chill of such arrogance and redundancy is powerfully addressed throughout these eleven chapters, but no-where more so than in ‘The Pact With The Devil,’ wherein the author brazenly tackles the subject of evil by way of theological and philosophical analysis: ”Evil, even today, we do not use the word lightly. Indeed, it is striking that the word has not lost its power, even in a secularised, demystified age. To call an act or a person evil is to use strong, unsettling language. It is an absolute judgement, so we should pause on it […]. Using Bonhoeffer’s terms, the result is the opposite of love. Where love gives, this takes. Where love shows compassion, this shows callous indifference or worse. Where love forgives, this seeks revenge […]. If goodness is generated by love, then evil is generated by this self-centredness which is the absence of love. Yet self-centredness is part of all of us. So we all know – in ourselves – about evil, though much of the time we may be only partially honest in facing this truth about ourselves. Which is why the judgement about the Third Reich is unsettling. Self-centredness was the very essence of the Third Reich: its self-understanding entailed an entirely explicit rejection of the value of others. This utter rejection of respect, of love, was what was at the root of its evil. If we are unsettled by this, it is in part because we recognise that the Third Reich was at one end of a spectrum at some point which we all find ourselves on somewhere. In judging it to be evil, we judge ourselves.”

A philosophical explanation of the Third Reich’s madness? A Darwinian analysis of the human potential for evil behaviour?

Either way, what Stephen Green has written herein, accounts for it being a very important book. As mentioned at the outset, it is so overtly thought provoking, it will undoubtedly entice many a reader to stop and think for hours. And then perhaps more hours; which, in and of itself, can only be good thing.

This is why Reluctant Meister is one of the best, most analytical, honest accounts of Germany and its history I’ve read in a long time.

David Marx

Believe and Destroy – Intellectuals in the SS War Machine

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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.

David Marx

The Nazi State and German Society

The Nazi State and German Society –
A Brief History with Documents
By Robert G. Moeller
Bedford/St. Martin’s – £16.99

What’s particularly appealing and indeed helpful from an academic standpoint, is the fact that this book begins at the beginning of Nazi ideology; most notably, towards the end of the First World War, which is where and when one Austrian soldier’s vision of a greater Germany, was temporarily put to rest: ‘’Like many other German-speaking central Europeans, Hitler believed that the war would create a truly unified German empire – that is, that success in battle would solidify and expand Germany’s power and prestige in Europe and the world.’’

The above wasn’t to be transiently gleaned until at least the end of the nineteen-thirties and early nineteen-forties, by which time Adolf Hitler had evolved into a deranged lunatic and was responsible for turning Germany into a horribly nationalistic and totally totalitarian state; which, as The Nazi State and German Society – A Brief History with Documents substantiates, continues to resonate with morbid sorcery: ‘’Nazi Germany continues to fascinate, a source of historical analogy, melodrama, and satire and a ubiquitous presence on television and the Internet. Perhaps this should come as no surprise. The initial triumph of National socialism, Nazi aggression, the horrors of the Final Solution, the staggering death tolls of the war the Nazis unleashed, and the geopolitical division of the post-1945 world between the United States and the Soviet Union, the superpowers most responsible for defeating Nazism, define the history of the twentieth century.’’

The trajectory of the Third Reich is undeniable. Whether it’s something as simple as former U.S. President George W. Bush comparing the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to Hitler, the continuing barrage of literature and books (such as this one) published on the subject, or the elongated critical acclaim of such powerful films as Schindler’s List, Stalingrad and The Pianist. As such, the history of the Nazi state and German society in general, remains as politically potent and all questioning today, as it has since its demise in 1945. And it shall probably remain thus for quite a considerable amount of time to come.

This partially explains why this brief history by Robert G. Moeller, is just as equally an important a book, as it is informative and quizzical. One can literally turn to any page at random, and there will be something of intense, albeit disturbing interest to read.

On page 88 for instance, we learn of the ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring – July 14, 1933: ‘’Nazi policy aggressively encouraged racially fit Germans to reproduce. Just as aggressively, it imposed sanctions to prevent those deemed unfit from bringing children into the world. On the day that the French celebrated the 114th anniversary of the revolution of 1789 and the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the Nazis passed a law that provided for the sterilisation of Germans with hereditary diseases, clearly stating that not all lives should be equally valued and not everyone should have access to the same human rights.’’ While on page 135, we have Ria Bröring’s ‘’A German Woman’s Account of Jewish Deportations – April 23, 1942: ‘’Once again there are huge columns of Jews passing our house. The suffering of these poor tottering figures is indescribable […]. Is it not an appalling injustice to rob these people of their last possessions and then finally of their homeland? Who is going to take responsibility for such guilt and wickedness? A price will have to be paid in the long run. I heard a German woman in the street say, ‘’Pray God we never have to answer for this.’’

Brave, lucid, colourful and resoundingly compelling, these 183 pages are among the best and the most succinct I’ve ever read on the subject. The five additional pages of the Selected Bibliography alone are worth reading – even if only to further investigate this heartbreakingly complex subject.

David Marx