Magazine article The Spectator

Seeing off the Opposition

Magazine article The Spectator

Seeing off the Opposition

Article excerpt

THE THIRD REICH IN POWER ,1933-1939 by Richard J. Evans Penguin/Allen Lane, £30, pp. 901, ISBN 0713996498 . £24 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Is there no limit to the modern world's obsession with the Third Reich? Hitler died just 60 years ago, yet the standard bibliography of the subject lists more than 37,000 serious works on National Socialism. A good book on the Nazis, it is said, will still outsell any other history. A bad book on the Nazis will do just as well. Even in a crowded field, however, Richard Evans's trilogy on the Third Reich stands out.

Published simultaneously in English and German, it has now reached its second volume, and promises to be the best general account of the subject in either language.

The Third Reich in Power takes up the story where The Coming of the Third Reich left off, in July 1933. Just six months after Hitler's appointment as head of a minority government, the Nazis had already succeeded in transforming Germany into a one-party state, governed by ministerial decree. They had elbowed aside the Reichstag, sidelined the judiciary, taken over the streets with a private army of thugs, suppressed the trade unions, tamed the churches, and opened the first concentration camps to detain their political opponents. Over the next six years, they obtained almost total control over the public and private lives of the German people, channelling their wealth and energies into preparations for the European war which Hitler had always seen as the ultimate goal.

The volume ends with the outbreak of the second world war on 3 September 1939.

The fascination of these terrible years lies in the question silently posed on every page of this book. Why did no one stop them?

How did a populous, educated, cultured and highly urbanised society, with a strong civil service and a tradition of the rule of law, succumb to a movement directed by a comparatively small number of crude and philistine fanatics, animated by such an overtly repellent and incoherent programme? Behind this question lies another, more fundamental one.

Was there something peculiar about Germany and the Germans that explains it all? Or could it have happened anywhere?

Non-Germans have always been comforted by the thought that Nazism was the product of a dysfunctional national psyche and a unique political tradition. George Orwell thought that the English national character would never have allowed fascism to take root here. The American journalist William L. Shirer and the English historian A. J. P.

Taylor were largely responsible for propagating the view that Nazism was a localised disease which had been incubating in Germany since the 18th century. Ironically, much of what they had to say echoed the Nazis' own view of the unique destiny of the German nation. But modern research into the mechanics of the Nazi takeover of Germany makes it hard to sustain. The sheer banality of the Nazis' methods belies any suggestion that their success turned on German exceptionalism.

The Nazis achieved their tight grip on German life mainly by operating below the political level, infiltrating the professions, schools, local authorities, trade bodies, large businesses, even social clubs and voluntary organisations, and then using them to impose outward loyalty to the regime as a condition of employment or promotion. …

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