Book review

Aspects of the Third Reich

Reviewed by Charles E. Weber

For the sake of understanding the general nature of this book, which is a sort of anthology by various specialists on a number of aspects of the history of Germany during the National Socialist period, we must first look at the structure of the book. It is divided into five parts, each with an introduction by the editor, H. W. Koch, a professor at the University of York. These introductions, which are perhaps the most valuable parts of the book, occupy about one-tenth of its pages. In addition to the introductions by Koch, there are sixteen individual studies of various aspects of the Third Reich:

Part I

  1. E. Nolte, “Between Myth and Revisionism? The Third Reich in the Perspective of the 1980s” (22 pages)
  2. H. W. Koch, “1933: The Legality of Hitler's Assumption of Power” (23 pages)
  3. Hans Mommsen, “The Reichstag Fire and Its Political Consequences” (34 pages)
  4. Lothar Klettenacker, “Social and Psychological Aspects of the Führer's Rule” (37 pages)
  5. Klaus-Jurgen Muller, “The Structure and Nature of the National Conservative Opposition in Germany up to 1940” (46 pages)

Part II

  1. E. M. Robertson, “Hitler's Planning for War and the Response of the Great Powers (l938-early 1939)” (39 pages)
  2. H. R. Trevor-Roper, “Hitler's War Aims” (16 pages)
  3. Dietrich Aigner, “Hitler's Ultimate Aims — A Programme of World Domination?” (16 pages)
  4. Wolfgang Michalka, “From the Anti-Comintern Pact to the Euro-Asiatic Bloc: Ribbentrop's Alternative Concept of Hitler's Foreign Policy Programme” (18 pages)
  5. H.W. Koch, “Hitler's 'Programme' and the Genesis of Operation 'Barbarossa'” (38 pages)

Part III

  1. Alan S. Milward, “The Reichsmark Bloc and the International Economy” (29 pages)
  2. Burton H. Klein, “Germangs Economic Preparations for War” (11 pages)

Part IV

  1. . Martin Broszat, “Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final solution': An Assessment of David Irving's Theses” (40 pages)
  2. Bernd Wegner, “The 'Aristocracy of National Socialism': The Role of the SS in National Socialist Germany” (21 pages)

Part V

  1. William Carr, “The Hitler Image of the Last Half-century” (27 pages)
  2. Thomas Nipperdey, “l933 and the Continuity of German History” (20 pages)

Following the sixteen sections there are detailed notes and references (pages 509-572), a bibliography (pages 573-592) and an index (pages 593-411). Notable listings of a revisionistic nature in the bibliography are those by Hänel on the book by Rauschning, David Irving on the trial of Rommel, Remer on the conspiracy against Hitler, Hoggan's Der erzwungene Krieg, The Forrestal Diaries, Tansill's Backdoor to War and Rassinier's Le Mensonge d'Ulysse. Such important works pertaining to the history of Jews during the war as those by Christophersen, Butz, Mayer (reviewed in our Bulletin 38), Leuchter, Sanning and Stäglich are missing from the bibliography, in some cases because they were published after 1985.

Of the fourteen contributors to the book, six were active in England (Carr, Kettenacker, Koch, Milward, Robertson and Trevor-Roper), one in the United States (Klein) and seven in Germany (Broszat, Michalka, Mommsen, Müller, Nipperdey, Nolte and Wegner).

Of the sixteen sections, numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, 14 and 15 are original contributions, no. 16 is a lecture made available for the volume, while the others are from various sources, including 3, 7 and 13 from the Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, published in Munich in 1971, 1960 and 1971.

I shall now attempt to give an idea of the varied contents of this book by selecting and commenting on individual passages and arguments, although the reader must bear in mind that these selections represent only a rather thin sampling from this rather large volume.

Contrary to popular opinion, the phrase “entartete Kunst” (degenerate art) was originated not by the National Socialists, but rather by the early Zionist, Max Nordau (pages 3-4).

On page 4 there is mentioned the role played by “almost a quarter of a million western and northern Europeans fighting in the ranks of the Waffen-SS against the Russians” by the end of 1944. Koch asserts that Hitler “looked at the volunteer movement with disdain, suspicion and even contempt,” but does not document this assertion, which is not borne out by the reproductions of photographs and documents in such a work as Europäische Freiwillige im Bild or the lavish praise which Hitler had for the Belgian General Léon Degrelle.

A particularly interesting point is made on page 16 in a quotation from the chief of the French general staff, General Gamelin, who predicted in August 1939 a quick and easy victory over the German armed forces. The Poles were also remarkably overconfident at that time. (See the excellent little book by Alfred Schickel, Vergessene Zeitgeschichte, Frankfurt, 1985, reviewed in Bulletin 18 of the Committee for the Re-examination of the History of the Second World War.) Such attitudes in high places in France and Poland go a long way in explaining the origins of the Second World War.

On page 55 the books I Paid Hitler, attributed to the industrialist Thyssen, and Rauschning's Hitler Speaks are correctly designated as fabrications. The latter book played a particularly important role in the anti-German propaganda activities at the beginning of the war and was reprinted innumerable times in various languages. (See Wolfgang Hänel, Hermann Rauschning's 'Gespräche mit Hitler' — Eine Geschichtsfälschung, published by the Zeitgeschichtliche Forschungsstelle Ingolstadt in 1984.) The book falsely attributed to Thyssen is a favorite of Marxists.

On page 115 there is a statement which seems to imply that Hitler contemplated that the Kristallnacht (riots against Jews on 9 November, 1938) would be a popular event. Ingrid Weckert, in her definitive book on this topic, Feuerzeichen (1981), presents convincing evidence, some of it documentary, that such leaders as Hitler himself, Göring and Goebbels were deeply concerned about the riots and their potential for damage to Germany. Although Aspects of the Third Reich mentions the Kristallnacht in a number of places, there is not a single mention of Weckert's book, one more demonstration that some of the authors are either biased or woefully ignorant of literature pertaining to the topics they discuss. (See my review of Weckert's book in the Winter, 1988-1989 issue of The Journal of Historical Review.)

Since 1985 at least two sections of Aspects of the Third Reich have been made at least partially obsolete by subsequent publications. The somewhat revisionistic section on the genesis of Operation “Barbarossa” by H.W. Koch (pages 285-322) is now confronted by the important article by Viktor Suvorov, “Who Was Planning to Attack Whom in June 1941, Hitler or Stalin?” This article was published in the June 1985 issue of The Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies in London. Suvorov (a pseudonym) shows, on the basis of histories of Soviet military units and other sources, that a Soviet thrust toward the west was imminent before the beginning of Operation “Barbarossa” on 22 June 1941. Suvorov's article acts at least as a supplement to some aspects of “Barbarossa” brought up by Koch, such as the large build-up of Soviet forces in the west of the USSR as early as the spring of 1940 and the occupation of the Baltic republics (pages 290ff.).

Another section, which was first published in 1977, the section by Broszat on the “Final Solution” (pages 390-429), must be contrasted with the Leuchter Report, which disproves the assertion that mass, factory-like executions of Jews took place in Auschwitz in lethal gas chambers there. The author of the Leuchter Report, Fred A. Leuchter, is an American engineer who specializes in the construction and operation of execution gas chambers in American prisons. In connection with the trial of the publisher Ernst Zündel in Toronto, Leuchter and several other persons went to Poland in February 1988 and obtained actual samples of brick in buildings alleged to have been used as lethal gas chambers and later had them analyzed chemically for traces of the cyanide radical. He concluded that these buildings could not have been used for mass exterminations by the commercial pest control product, Zyklon-B. Broszat attacks David Irving, the prolific British historian, for claiming that there is no evidence that Hitler ordered the mass extermination of Jews under his control. Broszat's arguments now seem completely invalidated by the Leuchter Report and David Irving himself has since joined those who assert that the Extermination Thesis is false. (Leuchter's account of his perilous experiences in Poland and his conclusions are summarized in the Summer 1989 issue of the Journal of Historical Review, pages 133-139.)

On pages 373-374 Koch presents a devastating discussion of “psycho-historical” explanations of Hitler's hostility toward Jews. Koch states that the first documentary evidence of Hitler's hostility toward Jews turns up in September 1919 and conjectures that it might have been caused by the role Jews played in the “revolutionary upheaval” in Germany in 1918-1919, in Bavaria in particular. Koch does not, however, mention the brutal Communist tyranny of Bela Kun (Cohen) in Hungary in 1919, which had wide-spread effects on European attitudes toward Jews during subsequent years. (See Cécile Tormay, An Outlaw's Diary, first published in English in 1923 and subsequently reprinted.)

Still another book, published as recently as late 1989, has a bearing on an aspect which is only peripherally dealt with in Aspects of the Third Reich, the genocidal threat against the German nation. That book is James Bacque's Other Losses, which claims that Eisenhower's vbecome known to the German government no later than September, 1944. This knowledge must have had an important influence on the German will to continue resistance, even in spite of the desperate situation during the final months of the war. See Prof. Anthony Kubek's important article on the Morgenthau Plan in the Fall 1989 issue of The Journal of Historical Review.

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close associate and Secretary of the Treasury, whose genocidal plan for postwar Germany must have become known to the German government no later than September, 1944. This knowledge must have had an important influence on the German will to continue resistance, even in spite of the desperate situation during the final months of the war. See Prof. Anthony Kubek's important article on the Morgenthau Plan in the Fall 1989 issue of The Journal of Historical Review (pages 287-303).

In a confusing sentence on page 381 Koch gives the date for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, as 1943. Actually, Heydrich died on June 4, 1942. (On the subsequent retribution against the town of Lidice, see the translation from Lüge und Wahrheit in our Bulletin 34.) Such simple factual errors must always arouse a tendency to distrust an author.

In the introduction to the last sections, numbers 15 and 16, which deal with evaluations of Hitler's life as an individual, Koch makes an interesting observation on the writings of non-German writers of the history of the Third Reich. He points out (page 459) that historical debate about the Third Reich in West Germany is “much more constricted than in the Anglo-Saxon world.” In section 15 Carr adheres to the myth, not just of the six million murdered Jews, but even increases it to 6 million (page 462). He should have known better than that in 1981, when his essay was written. Even Jewish historians who want to make some pretense of objectivity have been forced to shy away from such numbers in the face of facts that make them seem ridiculous, such as the statistics presented in Sanning's The Dissolution of Eastern European Jewry, or for that matter just prewar statistics available in standard reference works on prewar Jewish populations and statistics on the Jewish population of Palestine. (See the answers to questions 46 and 58 in my propaedeutic booklet, The 'Holocaust': 120 Questions and Answers.)

Although the book under consideration is modestly titled Aspects of the Third Reich, it does indeed cover a broad range of aspects of the history of Germany during 1933-1945, especially those that have attracted the most public attention. There are, however, some important aspects which are mentioned only peripherally. Of these we might mention the eugenic measures of National Socialist Germany, which, contrary to widely held impressions, were strongly influenced by eugenic laws and scientific research in foreign countries, especially the United States. Henry Ford, whose International Jew was published during 1920-1922 and soon translated into German, had an influence on Hitler's thinking. Ford's influence on Hitler is not mentioned anywhere in the book and the widespread hostility toward Jews in countries other than Germany (notably in Poland and Hungary) is hardly mentioned. Still another American influence on National Socialism was expressed by Hitler in Mein Kampf, his admiration of the accessibility of higher education to all classes in the United States.

Although parts of this book have been written with an obvious anti-German bias and parts of it need updating as a result of research published just during the past lustrum, there are a number of fresh insights in this book, especially in Koch's introductions to the five main divisions. This book could certainly be recommended more strongly to university students of history than Shirer's journalistic, propagandistic Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), which is rightly designated as a “trivial anti-German book” which, even in 1960, “was some ten years behind the current state of research” (page 20). Shirer's book has had an all-too important influence, even in academic settings, where a more objective approach should be the normal one. If any sort of objectivity in treating the history of the Third Reich is going to come about in the future, this book will be read long after Shirer's book will have been discarded. However, even just on the basis of the status of present research, Aspects of the Third Reich should be recommended only with admonishments such as those we have expressed above. An all-encompassing, objective book on the history of Germany in English for the period 1933-1945 remains to be written in spite of the plethora of studies of particular aspects of the history of Germany during 1933-1945.


Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 241-248.