One of the four key archival photographs in this history of the rise of the Nazi state shows a young, disheveled Hitler among the throng of "patriotic Germans gathered on Munich's Odeonsplatz to hear the declaration of war read aloud from the steps of the Feldherrnhalle on 2 August 1914." Fritzsche analyzes the exact significance of this moment to Hitler and the German population. To de-emphasize, in this manner, the Nazis' rise from the rubble of economic despair and hardship and to posit their birth in this popular movement represents a shift in the more conventional historic point of view that dates Nazism at the end of World War I (1918). In the moment captured by this photograph, the German Volk
was in the process of being born.
The Volk becomes a crucial entity as Fritzsche scrutinizes the evolution of Germans into Nazis. The Nazis rose to power "because [they] spoke so well to [the peoples'] interests and inclinations. Given the illiberal aims and violent means of the Nazis, this popular support is a sobering, dreadful thing." The Nazi revolution offered a complex and vicious intertwining of the Left and Right that amounted to a reckless rebelliousness and the crossing of nationalism with social reform, anti-Semitism with democracy, and paranoia with nationalistic zeal for a new beginning. Their rise spanned a remarkably short period--from 1914 to 1933. Each of the four chapters opens with an archival photograph that represents a key point in the evolution of this dreadful rise.
The pivotal November 1918 event, for example, was the call by the Volk for the abdication of the Kaiser, exemplified by the unprecedented demonstration of socialist workers in the government quarters. It would take just a few hours for the old order to crumble and Germany to declare itself a socialist republic. Leap ahead to January 1933. Hitler had just been made chancellor of Germany. Here is a description of the swelling crowds and celebratory atmosphere: "Nearly one million Berliners took part in this extraordinary demonstration of allegiance to a party that promised to do away with both the sentimental bric-a-brac of the prewar past and the clutter of Weimar democracy and to establish a strong-willed and strong-armed racial state...." In the meantime, Communists, Socialists, and Jews were being severely beaten. Fritzsche cites the dramatic overpowering of German towns and the harrowing popularity of Nazi brutality as he sheds light on Hitler's immense popularity. Fervent nationalism and an overarching anti-Semitism weigh in heavily. This is a history that seeks not to exonerate but to tell the cautionary tale. --Hollis Giammatteo
From Publishers Weekly
Everyone knows that the Germans turned to the Nazis when dismay over the Treaty of Versailles mixed with the depredations of the Great Depression. Fritzsche (Reading Berlin), however, quickly points out flaws in the scenario. To start, every party in Germany excoriated Versailles, and the people hardest hit by the recession were not the ones most likely to vote National Socialist. It is as a broader social revolution that Fritzsche attempts to make sense of Nazism. As Kaiser Wilhelm hoped, WWI unified Germany; but after withstanding four years of privations with little help from the monarchy, ordinary Germans emerged with a new sense of their worth within the society and with the German volk, a vitally different entity from the Hohenzollern Empire. By 1933, Germans were law-and-order chauvinists, and Nazis seemed to offer order and a national vision that embraced all the volk. Well researched and succinct, this history offers a nuanced view of a complicated history. As for Germany's uniquely murderous anti-Semitism, Fritzsche notes (without mentioning Daniel Goldhagen by name) that the complicity of so many ordinary Germans in the murder of Jews "was not so much the function of genocidal anti-Semitism which they shared in uncomplicated fashion with Nazi leaders; rather over the course of the twelve-year Reich, more and more Germans came to play active and generally congenial parts in the Nazi revolution and then subsequently came to accept the uncompromising terms of Nazi racism."
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