Reference Work on the Third Reich is Riddled with Errors
- The Third Reich Almanac, by James Taylor and Warren Shaw. New York: World Almanac, 1988. Hardcover. 395 pages. Photographs. Maps. Bibliography. $24.95. ISBN: 0-88687-363-0.
Reviewed by Mark Weber and Greg Raven
In no field of twentieth-century history has there been greater distortion and polemics than with regard to the Third Reich, and especially Germany’s wartime treatment of the Jews. While Hollywood and government officials bear much of the blame for this legacy of organized misinformation, equally culpable have been the academic and publishing establishments, which have done little to correct the propagandistic version of history established by the victorious Allied powers during and following the Second World War.
The Third Reich Almanac (originally published in Britain as Dictionary of the Third Reich) continues this lamentable tradition of historical distortion. According to the dust jacket, this is “the first of its kind ever published.” Yet several quite similar works (such as Louis Snyder’s Encyclopedia of the Third Reich) have been published over the years. Is the claim by the Almanac’s publisher perhaps meant ironically, knowing that this book’s only claim to uniqueness is based not on its format but rather on the slovenliness with which it presents information?
To their credit, the authors do take aim at a few historical canards. They concede, for example, that the “Lebensborn” maternity homes “were not, as has been suggested, a chain of SS brothels.” The Allied claim of sole German guilt for the outbreak of the First World War is a “lie,” and the authors note that a notorious phrase often attributed to Hermann G_ring, “When I hear anyone talk of culture, I reach for my revolver,” is actually an actor’s line from a play.
The authors are not as forthcoming about the 1933 burning of the German Reichstag. They assert that “there is strong but inconclusive evidence that an SA detachment was responsible,” and that “the debate is still going on” over who set the fire. In fact — and as serious historians of the subject now acknowledge — the Reichstag was single-handedly set ablaze by a young Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe. Calling him “a Dutch bricklayer, associated with anarchists,” the Almanac’s authors fail to mention that the arsonist was a member of a Communist organization.
The Almanac’s entry about Leon Degrelle is rather typical. It makes no mention at all of the Belgian leader’s wartime service as an SS commander (or his decorations for bravery during combat on the Eastern Front). But it does report: “In 1945, the Belgian government sought to bring Degrelle to trial, but by then he had escaped to Spain and, later, to the Argentine, where he successfully avoided all attempts at extradition.” In fact, Degrelle has lived in Spain continuously since 1945, when he arrived after a daring flight across Europe.
The Almanac mentions the purported record of private conversations with Hitler by one-time NS party official Hermann Rauschning. (This work, a best-seller in English and French, was submitted as supposedly damning evidence at Nuremberg by the Allies.) Although this often quoted source was thoroughly exposed as a complete fabrication years ago, the Almanac’s authors concede merely that Rauschning’s “book Conversations with Hitler must read with reservations since his real contact with Hitler was certainly less than he wished to imply.”
Nearly two full pages are devoted to the “Hossbach Memorandum,” a supposedly critical document that was cited by the Allies at Nuremberg as proof of Hitler’s aggressive war aims. The spurious character of this “document” has long been authoritatively established by historians such as A.J.P. Taylor.
The Almanac wrongly asserts that Bulgarian King Boris III died in Germany. (He died in his homeland.)
The entry for Konstantin Hierl completely ignores this man’s important role in Germany after Hitler took power in 1933. The reader will not learn that as “Reich Labor Leader,” Hierl headed the Reich Labor Service, or that he was named (in 1943) as Minister of Labor.
Oswald Spengler’s writings, the Almanac claims, were “suppressed” by the Hitler government, and he was “banned from writing.” Not true. Collections of the historian’s writings were published by major German firms in 1937 and 1941.
Reflecting the Almanac’s lack of balance, there is a separate entry for the Bayerische Kurier, the relatively unimportant paper of the small Bavarian People’s Party, but none for Das Reich, Germany’s best-written and best-edited wartime weekly paper.
Just about everyone who was active in the anti-Hitler opposition merits a separate entry, although quite prominent Third Reich personalities — such as film director Veit Harlan or radio commentator (and Nuremberg trial co-defendant) Hans Fritzsche — are simply ignored.
The Third Reich Almanac contains not a word of criticism of the Nuremberg trial of 1945-1946, which the Allies conducted on the basis of a blatantly hypocritical double standard. Nor is there any mention of the outrageous (and illegal) postwar Allied treatment (including torture) of German leaders such as Rudolf Hess.
While this work’s treatment of Germany’s wartime “Final Solution” policy is predictably riddled with errors, it is surprising that what the authors write on this subject is not even consistent with the current “official” version of the extermination story. For example, Theresienstadt — the wartime ghetto-camp in Bohemia — is cited here as an “extermination” center, an assertion that no reputable historian would accept.
The complete text of the entry for “Birkenau” reads as follows:
Part of the much larger Auschwitz camp, Birkenau had a railway siding disguised as a complete railway station. It began operations in 1941 as a hastily constructed extermination camp for Russian prisoners and continued in use as a sub-camp of Auschwitz.
At another place it is asserted that Birkenau was “ordered by Himmler specifically as a killing centre for Russian officers.”
While the Nuremberg Tribunal “established” that no fewer than one and half million people had been killed at the wartime German camp of Lublin (Majdanek), the Almanac’s authors maintain (without citing any evidence) that 200,000 people were put to death there.
The now thoroughly discredited “confession” and Nuremberg testimony of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss is cited as proof that he organized the extermination there of up to three million people. Even Höss' citation of “Wolzek” as an extermination camp is uncritically accepted by the authors. (In fact, no camp under this name ever existed.)
The 1943 “Korherr Report” is said to have provided “the first total figures of the extermination of the Jews.” It does nothing of the kind, as a reading of the original text readily discloses, and as the report’s author, Richard Korherr, later insisted.
Much of the weakness of The Third Reich Almanac seems due to the authors' utter lack of familiarity with relevant original sources, or even of appropriate secondary works. However, this cannot excuse the work’s numerous misspellings of proper names, such as “Marius” van der Lubbe. Similarly, Rabbi Leo Baeck is wrongly rendered as “B_ck,” and Joseph Goebbels is consistently given as “Göbbels.”
In spite of its rather attractive appearance, this is a miserable work. (For those who read German, a similar but vastly superior 510-page reference work is recommended: Lexikon: Deutsche Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, edited by W. Schütz.) Loaded with errors of fact, omission and interpretation, The Third Reich Almanac is not worthy of any self-respecting publisher.
From The Journal of Historical Review, July/August 1993 (Vol. 14, No. 3), page 44.