- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005


By Richard J. Evans

Penguin, $37.95, 941 pages


“The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939,” the middle volume of Richard J. Evans’ emerging and commanding trilogy on the history of Nazi Germany, has, like its predecessor, a central theme to which the author returns again and again: “Dominating everything was the drive to war,” he writes, and without question it was Adolf Hitler, “personally, who drove Germany towards war from the moment he became Reich Chancellor” in January 1933.

In the first volume, “The Coming of the Third Reich,” the organizing principle had been that “at almost every turn” during the 1920s and early 1930s “things might have been different” — that the triumph of Nazism was far from a foregone conclusion right up to the early months of 1933. But, as the present work demonstrates, what a difference a few months make: By July 1933 the Nazis had created all the fundamental features of the regime that would govern Germany until its collapse 12 years later.

Indeed, it is startling how many things associated with Nazi rule were initiated in that first year, most notoriously, anti-Semitic policies, but also the autobahn, rearmament, eugenics and many more. All were in one way or another connected with Hitler’s blood lust for war and all are cogently analyzed by Mr. Evans.

A couple of subjects deserve highlighting by way of illustration. One is fear, the sheer impossibility, as Michael Burleigh emphasized several years ago in “The Third Reich: A New History,” of protesting or resisting a regime that had totally subverted the rule of law and given offenses of all kinds a political or ideological slant, so that the essential crime was being an enemy of or alien to “the German racial community.”

“In 1933 a huge apparatus of surveillance and control was rapidly brought into being to track down, arrest and punish anyone who opposed the Nazi regime,” says Mr. Evans, a professor of history at Cambridge University. “The Nazi terror machine reached down even to the smallest units of everyday life and daily work.”

Many years after the war an elderly worker put it simply and starkly in an interview. “Do you know what fear is?” he responded to the interviewer’s questions. “No? The Third Reich was fear.”

Another core issue is what might be called, though Mr. Evans does not put it quite this way, the piratical nature of the Nazi administration. Nazi leaders operated a vast system of plunder, exploitation and embezzlement, of which “Aryanization” — the seizure of property belonging to Jews — was only a part.

It began with Hitler himself. It is fairly well known that Hitler received immense royalties from the sale of “Mein Kampf,” the book that was all but compulsory for Germans to have in their homes. It is absolutely eye-popping to read that he received the equivalent of millions of dollars from the German post office for the “right” to use his portrait on postage stamps.

This utterly corrupt system of bribes, nepotism, patronage and favors reached everywhere and ran nonstop. Companies and utilities were compelled to provide often superfluous jobs to party hacks. Even the Nazis’ rationale for war can be — and was — seen in this light, for conquered areas provided fresh venues for plunder.

Aside from sports, there seems to be nothing Mr. Evans does not cover. He emphasizes that authority derived from Hitler personally, rather than from the German state. That state “defined itself above all by its art and mass culture.” It was not art for art’s sake, but for celebrating power and serving the needs of propaganda.

At this point the field of Third Reich history has been turned over countless times, so it should not be surprising that these books have not yielded anything noticeably new. What sets them apart, aside from their sheer bulk, is the narrative command Mr. Evans exercises over the innumerable components of the history and the breadth and depth of his synthesis.

If there is a niggle to raise, it is over the author’s quixotic avoidance of German words and phrases, a practice he had instituted in volume one. He even avoids terms familiar to most non-German readers. Thus we get Leader (not Fuehrer); “My Struggle” (not “Mein Kampf”); Hail, Hitler (not Heil Hitler). Yet, inconsistently, occasionally he uses far less common terms untranslated, such as Historische Zeitschrift (Historical Journal).

“The Nazis’ headlong rush to war,” Mr. Evans writes, “contained the seeds of the Third Reich’s eventual destruction.” The reaping of the fruit of those seeds will be chronicled in his concluding volume, “The Third Reich at War.”

Roger K. Miller, a newspaperman for many years, is a freelance writer, reviewer and editor.



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