Archive for August 2011

The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans

August 6, 2011

Erst kommt das fressen, dann kommt die Moral.
–Brecht, Die Dreigroschenoper

In the Preface, Evans states his objective to write a narrative history of the Nazi period using the latest scholarship. This book, published in 2003, is the first of three volumes. The second volume covers the pre-war Nazification of Germany, and the third the war itself.

Starting with Bismarck and his Kulturkampf, the story moves briskly into Weimar, the real heart of the book. (World War I passes by in about four pages.) It is clear that Germany didn’t have a tradition of democracy and that almost no one accepted the Weimar constitution. Rival parties fought for control–Social Democrats, Communists, Nationalists, each with its own uniformed paramilitary. The German army was limited by Versailles, but as though by hydrostatic pressure, paramilitary groups grew. Each party had its band that marched and intimidated others. The SA (Brownshirts) were the most powerful of these.

The dream of a “Third Reich” was current before the Nazis–after the fall of the Kaiser, a new Germany needed to be found. There was no agreement on what its form would be, except not Weimar.

The Nazis’ share of the vote grew in successive elections, but never over 50 percent until after Hitler was appointed Chancellor in a move that the other parties thought would keep him under their control.

The book probably spends too much time on the details of the repeated Weimar elections. As a result, many of the cultural aspects of the history get abbreviated treatment, leading to distortions and false impressions. The author does not dwell long on Hitler’s own motivations. He stresses that Hitler loved Wagner’s operas and attended “hundreds” of performances in Linz and Vienna. Did he listen to Mozart as well, or Beethoven?

TheĀ  desperation of the Great Depression and the appointment of Goering as Justice Minister for Prussia gave the Nazis what they needed to consolidate power. By 1934, opposition parties were outlawed; intellectuals were banished, cowed, or co-opted; and you couldn’t have an afternoon Kaffeeklatsch without the local Gauleiter’s approval.

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Hunting Eichmann, by Neal Bascomb

August 4, 2011

Hat der alte Hexenmeister
Sich doch einmal wegbegeben!
Und nun sollen seine Geister
Auch nach meinem Willen leben.
–Goethe, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

A short book on the mission to capture the bureaucrat at the top of the Nazi killing operations.

Eichmann was organized. He took on the collection and transfer of Eastern Europe’s Jewish populations as a task to be managed. He set quotas and met his numbers.

When the war ended, he was able to slip away into the countryside under an assumed identity. He worked as a lumberjack in northern Germany for over a year and might never have been detected there, but boredom set in and he was able to get to Italy and from there to Argentina. A network of Germans there looked out for their own and found him work. By 1960, he had his wife and sons with him in a small brick block of a house that he built himself in the empty exurb of San Fernando. They called him “Uncle Ricardo,” and he used an alias; but his sons still went by “Eichmann,” which shone a beacon into the sky for those who could see.

He avoided Nuremberg, where his name came up again and again–his was the empty chair. The Allies lost interest in trying to find him; only the Israelis and other Jews kept up the pursuit. A lucky break from the dedicated attorney general of Hesse put them on his trail. Once he was found, the plan to get him to Israel went forward. A special El Al flight had to be scheduled (there was not yet regular service between the two countries), and the crew didn’t know who their passenger was until the plane was in the air.

The very public trial made the Holocaust an historical concept. He was hanged, his body burned, and his ashes dumped five miles out into the Mediterranean in the middle of the night. His sons flew back to Germany and never disavowed his actions.