Magazine article The Spectator

Not Just Hitler

Magazine article The Spectator

Not Just Hitler

Article excerpt

THE THIRD REICH AT WAR, 1939-1945 by Richard L. Evans Allen Lane, £30, pp. 926, ISBN9780713997422 £24 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Any historian attempting a survey of Nazi Germany during the second world war confronts formidable challenges. First, the available literature is so huge that it almost defies synthesis in a single volume, however substantial. Second, the author needs to avoid writing yet another Hitler biography.

Third, the most appalling and dispiriting material must be studied. As Richard J.

Evans writes in his preface, the subject is 'sometimes shocking and depressing almost beyond belief'. Nevertheless, in this book, the third of his trilogy on Nazism, Evans achieves a remarkable degree of success in meeting the demands of this most intractable subject.

He makes a sustained assault on the great mountain of published sources available and presents his summary in a remarkably lucid and vigorous narrative, mercifully free from theory. Instead, significant themes emerge clearly from a vast array of evidence.

Perhaps the most disturbing theme is the extent to which racialism in general and anti-semitism in particular permeated virtually every aspect of German policy, society and culture during the second world war.

Evans draws on much recent research in the Federal Republic to bring out the direct role of the German army in many anti-semitic atrocities. On the Eastern Front it was commonplace for German soldiers to take part in the mass shootings of Jewish civilians.

Some protested at the murders, like Colonel Helmuth Groscurth, a conservative opponent of the Nazi regime, but all Groscurth could achieve for the Jewish children in a village near Kiev was a brief stay of execution. Evans brings out the paradox that although Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was admired even by some in Britain, his victories opened up new opportunities for racialism. Together with military developments, Nazi genocide is a central focus of Evans's account and there can be few more penetrating studies of the corrosive nihilism which results from racialist policies.

Evans emphasises Hitler's delusion that somehow the Jews were responsible for bringing about the war and in consequence should experience their own annihilation. He writes that 'it was Hitler's murderous, but deliberately generalised, anti-semitic rhetoric, repeated on many occasions in the second half of 1941, that gave Himmler and his subordinates the essential impulse to carry out the killings'. …

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