Modern history


This book tells the story of the Third Reich, the regime created in Germany by Hitler and his National Socialists, from the moment when it completed its seizure of power in the summer of 1933 to the point when it plunged Europe into the Second World War at the beginning of September 1939. It follows an earlier volume, The Coming of the Third Reich, which told the story of the origins of Nazism, analysed the development of its ideas and recounted its rise to power during the years of the ill-fated Weimar Republic. A third volume, The Third Reich at War, will follow in due course, covering the period from September 1939 to May 1945 and exploring the legacy of Nazism in Europe and the world in the rest of the twentieth century and on to the present. The general approach of all three volumes is set out in the Preface to The Coming of the Third Reich and does not need to be repeated in detail here. Those who have already read that book can go straight to the beginning of the first chapter of this one; but some readers might like to be reminded of the central arguments of the earlier volume, and those who have not read it may wish to turn to the Prologue, which sketches the main lines of what happened before the end of June 1933, when the story told in the following pages begins.

The approach adopted in the present book is necessarily thematic, but within each chapter I have tried, as in the previous volume, to mix narrative, description and analysis and to chart the rapidly changing situation as it unfolded over time. The Third Reich was not a static or monolithic dictatorship; it was dynamic and fast-moving, consumed from the outset by visceral hatreds and ambitions. Dominating everything was the drive to war, a war that Hitler and the Nazis saw as leading to the German racial reordering of Central and Eastern Europe and the re-emergence of Germany as the dominant power on the European Continent and beyond that, the world. In each of the following chapters, dealing in turn with policing and repression, culture and propaganda, religion and education, the economy, society and everyday life, racial policy and antisemitism, and foreign policy, the overriding imperative of preparing Germany and its people for a major war emerges clearly as the common thread. But that imperative was neither rational in itself, nor followed in a coherent way. In one area after another, the contradictions and inner irrationalities of the regime emerge; the Nazis’ headlong rush to war contained the seeds of the Third Reich’s eventual destruction. How and why this should be so is one of the major questions that run through this book and bind its separate parts together. So too do many further questions: about the extent to which the Third Reich won over the German people; the manner in which it worked; the degree to which Hitler, rather than broader systematic factors inherent in the structure of the Third Reich as a whole, drove policy onwards; the possibilities of opposition, resistance, dissent or even non-conformity to the dictates of National Socialism under a dictatorship that claimed the total allegiance of all its citizens; the nature of the Third Reich’s relationship with modernity; the ways in which its policies in different areas resembled, or differed from, those pursued elsewhere in Europe and beyond during the 1930s; and much more besides. A narrative thread is provided by the arrangement of the chapters, which move progressively closer to the war as the book moves along.

Inevitably, however, while separating out the many different aspects of the Third Reich into different themes makes it easier to present them coherently, it also comes at a price, since these aspects impinged on each other in a variety of different ways. Foreign policy had an impact on racial policy, racial policy had an impact on educational policy, propaganda went hand-in-hand with repression, and so on. So the treatment of a theme in a particular chapter is necessarily incomplete in itself, and the individual chapters should not be treated as comprehensive accounts of the topics with which they deal. Thus, for example, the removal of the Jews from the economy is dealt with in the chapter on the economy, rather than in the chapter on racial policy; Hitler’s formulation of his war aims in the so-called Hossbach memorandum in 1937 is covered in the section on rearmament rather than in the chapter on foreign policy; and the impact of the German takeover of Austria on antisemitism in the Third Reich is discussed in the final chapter, rather than in the section on antisemitism in 1938. I hope that these decisions about the structure of the book make sense, but their logic will only be clear to those who read the book consecutively, from start to finish. Anyone who wants to use it simply as a work of reference is recommended to turn to the index, where the location of the book’s principal themes, characters and events is laid out in detail.

In the preparation of the present work I have once more benefited from the incomparable resources of Cambridge University Library, the Wiener Library and the German Historical Institute London. The Staatsarchiv der Freien- und Hansestadt Hamburg and the Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg kindly permitted consultation of the unpublished diaries of Luise Solmitz, and Bernhard Fulda generously supplied copies of key issues of German newspapers. The advice and support of many friends and colleagues has been crucial. My agent, Andrew Wylie, and his staff, particularly Christopher Oram and Michal Shavit, gave their time to the project in many ways. Stephanie Chan, Christopher Clark, Bernhard Fulda, Christian Goeschel, Victoria Harris, Robin Holloway, Max Horster, Valeska Huber, Sir Ian Kershaw, Scott Moyers, Jonathan Petropoulos, David Reynolds, Kristin Semmens, Adam Tooze, Nikolaus Wachsmann and Simon Winder read early drafts, saved me from many errors and made many useful suggestions: I am indebted to them for their help. Christian Goeschel also kindly checked the proofs of the Notes and Bibliography. Simon Winder and Scott Moyers have been exemplary editors, and their advice and enthusiasm have been essential throughout. Conversations with, or suggestions from, Norbert Frei, Gavin Stamp, Riccarda Tomani, David Welch and many others have been invaluable. David Watson was an exemplary copy-editor; Alison Hennessy took immense pains over the picture research; and it was extremely instructive to work with András Bereznáy on the maps. Christine L. Corton read the entire manuscript and beyond the application of her professional expertise, her practical support over the years has been indispensable to the whole project. Our sons Matthew and Nicholas, to whom this book, like its predecessor, is dedicated, have provided welcome relief from its grim subject-matter. I am grateful to them all.

Richard J. Evans
Cambridge, May 2005

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