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

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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