- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009


By Mark Mazower

Penguin Press, $39.95, 720 pages


Written on a massive scale, with a wealth of scholarship beautifully assimilated and deployed, Mark Mazower’s new book unrolls with smooth erudition and a magisterial style. It is the kind of book one starts by sliding into with a good glass of sherry at one’s side, but the subject matter quickly drives one to the bourbon.

Many previous scholars have pointed out how the Third Reich’s conquest of Europe was so smoothly accepted and even embraced by large majorities of the populations of so many major nations that it so rapidly conquered. Mr. Mazower, however, goes far deeper than almost any previous historian has done into the continuity of motivation and even of many policies between what the Germans did in their new empire in Europe, especially in the occupied Poland and the vast tracts of the Soviet Union that they seized, and what France, the United States and most of all Britain did after they conquered their own empires.

This is not to allege any kind of moral equivalence between the monstrous, unprecedented crimes of the Nazis culminating in the Holocaust and the slaughter of literally tens of millions of people in their occupied Soviet territories. Nazi anti-Semitism remains a pathology that proved to be absolutely unique. Neither Hitler’s Japanese nor Italian allies were caught up in it except where they were forced to by the Nazis.

Mr. Mazower notes that the Germans regarded themselves as latecomers to European colonization and conquest of so much the world. But this should not be overdone: The 19th-century colonizers had nothing remotely comparable to the Holocaust.

Mr. Mazower documents in stunning and depressing detail the extent to which so many people across Europe embraced the Third Reich as the Shape of Things to Come. Had the Nazis won the war, their evil and depraved values could easily have become the defining norms for the entire European continent as the perceptive Winston Churchill well recognized.

Mr. Mazower, arguably stumbles only in his argument that Nazi racism ultimately wrecked Nazi industrial policy and led it to lose the great race for military production against the Allies.

It is certainly the case that the United States vastly out-produced Nazi Germany and so did the Soviet Union. But this can be explained by the simple fact that the Nazi industrial base was far smaller than the American and Soviet ones to begin with.

It is certainly true, as Mr. Mazower argues, that the Nazis failed to capitalize upon and successfully integrate the industries of the nations that they conquered in the rest of Europe, but they had only four brief years in which to even try to do so before the Anglo-American and Soviet counter offensives from the west and east rolled back on them. The Nazi political and security successes in pacifying most of Europe at negligible cost during those four years suggests that, given as little as a decade of triumphant peace after the war, they could have handled the challenges of industrial integration on a continental scale as well. In Albert Speer, Hitler had at least one world-class industrial administrative genius who was up to the job.

Nevertheless, it has to be remembered first that the Nazis did integrate the advanced industrial complexes of what is today the Czech Republic very successfully into their war effort, and the agriculture of the Netherlands, Belgium and France too, for that matter. Also, no place in Europe, including France, was remotely as industrially developed as the United States, the Soviet Union and even Britain. Ultimately, Hitler took on too many heavyweight enemies at the same time.

With that proviso, however, Mr. Mazower’s book is warmly recommended. It offers a masterful and deeply disquieting look at the way the most evil political organization of modern times (with Soviet and Chinese communism coming a close second) successfully organized an entire, supposedly advanced continent and kept it under wraps. This is not a book for the fainthearted or for those who believe in the inherent goodness of human nature. And it is all the more valuable for that.

•Martin Sieff is defense industry editor for United Press International. He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting. His most recent book is “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East,” 2008.


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