Resist the temptation to let out a groan about the appearance of yet another history of Nazi Germany. Having lectured on the Third Reich for over 35 years, I had few expectations that yet another textbook on the topic contained very much that would spark my imagination. Yet this compact and wide-ranging survey by Dietmar Süß is a worthwhile addition to the bookshelves of students and scholars alike. The tone of the book, amidst a good deal of factual detail and useful analysis, seems more handily attuned to a younger audience than some previous standard works. Not only does the author delve into the theoretical discussions on the nature of National Socialism, but he returns always to the experiences and reflections of regular Germans at the time—Nazis, their opponents, simple bystanders or Jews. In this endeavour, he draws astutely on the ever-growing corpus of diaries from the period. Other historians, such as Richard J. Evans, have done this for English-speaking audiences. Sometimes Süß will draw on the same diarist as, for example, Peter Fritzsche does (the anti-Nazi Karl Dürkefälden). Some now familiar diarists like Victor Klemperer are quoted, but only rarely. And there is just one mention of Friedrich Kellner. But it is noteworthy that he utilizes some of the very latest publications, such as the diary of the Hitler Youth, Franz Albrecht Schall, which appeared only in 2016. The author uses several personal vignettes, which will be unfamiliar to many readers, in order to highlight the complexity of identity during the Third Reich. The opening chapter plunges into the life of Luise Solmitz, which provides readers with an excellent example of the difficulty of labelling people as insiders or outsiders of this bizarre regime. She had once voted for the NSDAP during Weimar, but later for the DNVP. In 1933 she became a fervent supporter of Adolf Hitler to the extent that she denounced to the Nazi Party her own formerly liberal brother, who had now obtained a job in Goebbels’ propaganda ministry, as an opportunistic turncoat. Comfortable with her anti-Semitism, she was nonetheless shocked about the Jewish boycott of April 1933, declaring that she hated injustice. She continued to shop in a Jewish-owned store, while at the same time declaring that the firing of Jewish teachers or the disappearance of orthodox eastern Jews from Galicia was no bad thing. Shortly after this, the family secret came to light that her paternal grandparents were Jewish. So straight away, readers have to think about the conundrum of this anti-Semitic, part-Jewish, occasionally liberal, enthusiastic fan of Adolf Hitler. Her father, as a front-line veteran, had been spared the initial discrimination, but Süß shows vividly in later chapters how the screw tightened, and not just for Jews themselves. In 1937 the purchase of a fur coat in a Jewish shop by the wife of a Party official was held to be grounds for divorce. The full range of outsiders, such as ‘asocials’, receives due coverage. The fate of the handicapped is described in all its horror, and Süß returns several times to the plight of homosexuals. Careful readers will detect the judicious use of recent work by the first-rate team of scholars trained in Munich, under the guidance of the modest and insufficiently appreciated Hans Günter Hockerts: for example, on the role of government officials in shoring up the Nazi economy through the expropriation of Jews, or advancing the racial agenda in public health matters. Again, Süß selects some telling detail to underline the complicity of regular civil servants, ‘ganz normale Beamte’ (p. 191). Some Bavarian finance officials who were sent to make an inventory of property to be confiscated in the homes of deported Jews claimed extra expenses for having soiled both their clothes and their self-respect in such a distasteful task. Süß rightly and repeatedly takes aim at the role played by ordinary citizens who were not necessarily Nazis in profiting from the racial persecution. He deplores the frequent unwillingness after 1945 to acknowledge that many professionals owed their post-war success to the ouster of the Jewish owners of 100,000 companies. While the emphasis has been placed mainly on the cruelty of the Nazi state’s expropriation laws, he notes that these businesses would have faltered without the opportunism of ‘ambitious and unscrupulous neighbours who jumped at the chance to further their own careers’ (p. 88f.). The book ends with reminders that many of the ‘racist-meritocratic virtues of the Volksgemeinschaft’ lived on after the war, and modern, bourgeois societies can still be tempted to address challenges with violence, a compulsion for order, and the selection of what is socially and economically ‘valuable’. ‘This’, warns Süß, ‘makes the history of National Socialism an enduringly threatening and topical issue’ (p. 271). This is a very tidy text, in which I spotted only one unfortunate typo: Rassenschande is misspelt as Rassenschade (p. 188). There is also a misquotation from a speech of Hitler’s. He did not assert that ‘the German nation controls its leaders,’ but rather ‘the German nation is controlled by its leaders’ [not über, but durch] (p. 114). And the Labour Service did not participate in the Nuremberg rallies only sometime after 1934; they are memorably (and rather absurdly) present in the film Triumph of the Will with their own special parade (p. 137). But these are minor quibbles in a book that has much to recommend it for students and the general public in Germany. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 20, 2018
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