The Third Reich in Power, by Richard J. Evans

The pride of people that were
Bound neither to Cause nor to State.
–Yeats, “The Tower”

This continues a three-part history of the Third Reich–from 1933 to 1939–from the seizure of power to the beginning of WWII.

This volume borders on an encyclopedic approach. The author covers themes in each chapter, while trying to be chronological as well. This results in some overlap; or in other cases, leaving some important issues unaddressed or unexplained until later. The approach is not always successful.

Teachers were indoctrinated and expected to indoctrinate their pupils, who would inform on them if they did not. If parents expressed disagreement with Nazi policy, children were expected to inform on them. Employees denounced their employers. Neighbors, who held grudges for other reasons, informed on their neighbors.

Evans describes the Nazi touring exhibition of “Entartete Kunst”–“degenerate art.” Viewers were expected to tsk, tsk, but many sought out the exhibition because they couldn’t otherwise see the works. Goebbels, it turns out, was a fan of modern art, despite Nazi policy, and might have encouraged a broader view, if he could have had his way.

The Nazis tried desperately to get the economy out of the dumps while at the same time expelling some of the most productive citizens, in conformance to racial policy. The autobahns are a famous building project, though car ownership was never great (even the KdF-Wagen–Strength-Through-Joy-Car; the future VW–never went into mass production).

In order to raise the birthrate, couples were given interest-free loans upon their marriage, with fairly generous repayment terms. Other benefits came with each new child born. Still, the birthrate never took off.

The concentration camps were founded at the beginning of Nazi power and housed all sorts of dissidents and undesirables. Dachau, outside of Munich, was one of the first. With the takeover of the courts and abandonment of any more than a pretense of justice, often a convict was released at the end of a prison term to be met at the gates and taken straight to a concentration camp.

Many Jews emigrated in the first years of the Third Reich and were encouraged to do so. Others stuck it out and saw their civil rights restricted more and more. By 1936, some began to return, in a belief that the worst excesses of the SA were over. Kristallnacht in November 1938 began a new phase in Nazi policy.

The last chapters of the book describe the road to war and Hitler’s successes in the Saar, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. These gave him a sense of destiny, that Providence was guiding and protecting him. The string of diplomatic victories does appear fated. This is so even though Joachim von Ribbentrop was originally posted to Great Britain in 1935, where he earned the nickname “Ribbensnob” and, for such blunders as giving King George VI clicked heels and a Nazi salute, “Von Brickendrop.”

The cover of the book, uncredited, shows a group of preteen girls giddily welcoming–whom? Hitler? Parading soldiers? — while they gaily wave swastika pennants. I would love to know if anyone tracked them down after the war, if they survived it. Did they change their minds? Did they even have an opinion at the time that the photo was taken, or just do what their parents and teachers told them to do?

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