Posts Tagged With: hitler

The Hitler State

Broszat Hitler State

Broszat, Martin.  The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich.  Trans. John W. Hiden.  London: Longman, 1981.

Originally published in 1969, Broszat’s Der Staat Hitlers was one of the first works to take a structuralist approach to the Third Reich.  In other words, he sought to uncover the deeper forces behind the regime rather than provide a more biographical overview of the key political players.  As such, Broszat’s book is not structured like a synthesis or textbook that provides a chronological account of events.  Instead, the study is an examination of how power and authority were structured and exercised in Nazi Germany.

Broszat’s main goal is to reevaluate the view of the Nazi state as one in which it exercised complete, systematic, and standardized control over its nation.  The picture of the Third Reich that Broszat paints is one full of complex and overlapping governmental and party structures that were often competing against one another.  There was often tension between Reich ministries and the Länder organizations, between German state offices and Nazi party organs, and most often between different bureaucrats themselves.  Broszat pinpoints Hitler as the reason behind this structure in which power existed not as flowing hierarchically from the top down, but as coexisting simultaneously in different spheres.  Hitler, Broszat argues, demanded full authority in his position as Führer, but was skeptical of establishing a standardized, or rationalized, system of authority below him.  Personal loyalty to him was paramount, but beyond that, Hitler allowed for personal and organizational competition among his underlings.  This helped to assure that no significant amount of power would be collected by one office or individual outside of the Führer.

Broszat’s study focuses on the period between the seizure of power in 1933 and the preparation for war in 1939, and as he demonstrates, this is a period in which there still existed an uneasy relationship between the older conservative tradition and the radical dynamism of Nazism.  In the initial months of 1933, Nazi officials instituted a number of radical policies including purges and the construction of concentration camps.  But because the more traditional conservative forces had apprehensions about such actions – and Hitler still needed their influence, particularly with forming alliances with Germany’s heavy industry for the coming rearming mission – Hitler put a stop to the violence, thus returning to more conventional modes of governing by the end of 1933.  In 1937 and 1938, the gap between old elites and Nazi leaders widened as Nazis began ousting conservatives from the government and formulating more aggressive foreign policies in what Broszat refers to as the “second revolution” of the Nazi regime (354).

This unequal distribution of power, which was largely defined by one’s personal connection to Hitler, fueled a Darwinian competition that led to the creation of personal empires within the Third Reich (like Himmler’s death camp system).  In a functionalist vein, Broszat argues that this struggle for power forced people to develop new ways of exercising power.  With the lack of rationalized chains of command, it was left up to subordinates to figure out ways to turn Hitler’s visions into realities. In addition to allowing Hitler to stand alone above – and perhaps beyond – the system, “the “polycracy” of individual office holders…ultimately led to a proliferation of arbitrary decisions and acts of violence” (xi).  Therefore, the National Socialists did not come to the table in 1933 with the blue prints for the Holocaust as a secret goal; instead, the de-centralized and revolutionary power structure of the Nazi state led to the radicalization of goals and to extremism that murdered millions of people.

For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews. 

Categories: Book Review, German History, History | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hitler & the Collapse of Weimar Germany

Broszat

 

Broszat, Martin.  Hitler and the Collapse of Weimar Germany. Trans. V. R. Berghahn. Leamington Spa: Berg, 1987.

This is a thin, but important book of political history.  In it, Broszat traces the complex political trends of the Weimar era, as well as the intricate deals forged by Germany’s leading politicians and economic elite at the time.  Though this is primarily a political history, Broszat does offer some glances into larger socio-cultural developments during the 1920s and 1930s.  He hints at what Detlev Peukert takes as the central issue of his own book: the effects of modernization and the rise of mass culture on German politics.  Ultimately, Broszat sees this new, mass culture as the key to the Nazis’ success in gaining control of the German government in 1933.

Broszat opens his book with a brief history of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP or Nazi Party) and shows that it was only one among many right wing, nationalist parties.  “What marked [Hitler] out among the speakers of the political Right was the way in which he put his message across” (2).  This point epitomizes Broszat’s larger argument that it was not Nazism’s message itself that made it unique or successful, but instead the manner in which the message was expressed and distributed.  NSDAP leadership – and Hitler in particular – recognized that the masses could not be ignored in any new political system.  Consequently, the Nazis saw the masses as a source of power that should be tapped into through modern technology and political aesthetics.  In this light, the National Socialists were a truly modern political party, not the culmination of an older German character.  “Nazi ideology was almost totally a product of mass culture and political semi-illiteracy which proliferated since the late nineteenth century” (38).

After demonstrating that National Socialism was a modern creation, Broszat lays out the conditions that allowed for the rise of the Nazi Party.  National Socialism emerged in Germany after the First World War during a period of worldwide economic recession and against the background of a general crisis of modernity and civilization” (37).  The SPD-led Weimar Coalition enjoyed success only during times of material improvement or stability (53); otherwise, it was attacked from all sides: the Communists on the Left and conservative nationalists like the Nazis on the Right.  The election of Paul von Hindenburg as Reich President in 1925 was a “symptom of backward looking tendencies,” Broszat claims (67).

While the election of Hindenburg symbolized a shift to the Right in Weimar mentality, the Republic was not destroyed until Chancellor Brüning was forced to resign in May 1932.  The new chancellor led a coup against Prussia, trying to separate its government from the Reich’s, and the SPD did nothing to protest, thus paving the way for an authoritarian, nationalistic government (120, 146).  The rest of the book is dedicated to revealing the political maneuvering that led to Papen’s ousting, Schleicher’s short chancellorship, and finally Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor in January 1933.

Throughout the book, Broszat reveals how the NSDAP was able to gather followers.  Nazism “seemed to offer a strong determined leadership, a pseudo-democratic mobilization of the masses and their participation in the promised national revival; it looked like a ‘third way’ between democracy and the state authoritarianism of the olden days. Herein lay the lure of Nazism” (94).  As the NSDAP gained more success, its more radical messages were toned down, thus appealing to a wider audience among the working class, bourgeoisie, and old elite.  The old conservative elites lacked this mass appeal and that is why they compromised and agreed to place the Nazis in power, hoping they could keep Hitler and his party on a short leash.

To see more books on the history of modern Germany, see my full list of book reviews. 

Categories: Book Review, German History, History | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berchtesgaden

Below are entries from my travel journal that I kept during my year abroad.  I’m dusting off my passport and heading back to Germany tomorrow for two weeks, and it made me think about my trip to Berchtesgaden:DSC03639

Tuesday 3/3/09

Train: Würzburg to Berchtesgaden 

Well, I find myself again on a train, heading into the deep south of Germany.  I’m three weeks in to my semester break and when I was making my list of places to visit, I noticed that almost all of them were in the south of Germany.  I want to see the north too – and at least I’ve seen Berlin and I plan on going to Dresden – but I just can’t help it; the south is just so beautiful.

This time I’m heading just about as far south as you can go and still be in Germany: Berchtesgaden.  None of my friends had ever heard of it when I told them I was going.  And that’s one reason I chose to come; it’s definitely not one of the top international tourist spots.  From what I’ve gathered, it’s a picturesque town in a valley in the German Alps.  The pictures I’ve seen are beautiful and there is a pristine lake, the Königssee.  And I’ve always wanted to see the Alps, so I’ll finally get that chance.  But of course, Berchtesgaden has a Third Reich history that’s also leading me there.  It’s the town where Hitler had his private residence, the Berghof.  The Berghof is now destroyed, but a smaller building, which was given to Hitler as a birthday gift, is still there: the Eagle’s Nest.

So, I’m excited to see Berchtesgaden, but I had been looking forward to, and am now enjoying, the trip itself.  I’m finally taking a “Jake Trip” – a trip by myself.  When I went to Nuremberg alone back in November, I loved it, so now I’m taking a three-day trip by myself.

I’ve now been underway for 4 hours and still have about 4 ½ to go.  But I’m not dreading it; on the contrary.  I’ve enjoyed every bit so far.  I’m not on the slow, regional trains.  I’ve already traveled part of the way on an ICE (Inter City Express, a “bullet train”).  I’m now on an IC, one step down from the top-notch ICE.

DSC03487

The luxury aside, I’ve had (and will have) a lot of time to read.  In the past week, I’ve essentially been a hermit – just staying in my room and reading.  It’s been SO nice!  I’ve already finished two books, and have brought two more with me.

Most people in my dorm have already gone home for the break, and those that are still here have papers to write; so it’s been pretty quiet.

Okay, even though the seat in front of me has a table that I can use to write on, the train is still wobbling and making it harder to write.  So, I’m going to get back to reading…or maybe just sit and watch the landscape as we go rushing by.

Tuesday 3/3/09

Hotel Hoher Göll, Berchtesgaden 

The first stage of this trip (actually getting here) went very well.  The second phase (time actually spent in Berchtesgaden) however, didn’t get off to a great start.

It quickly became apparent, while still on the train, as we entered the region that the weather was not going to be the most cooperative.  The mountains, which I had traveled so far to see, were completely hidden behind the low clouds.  There was/is about a foot and a half of snow on the ground, and that wasn’t going to be fun to walk around in.

But I was excited to arrive and got off the train with a smile.  Uncharacteristically of Deutsche Bahn (the German railway company), their info desk in the Bahnhof was closed, so I made my way to a tourist info shop.  I just needed to know which bus was the best to take to my hotel.  A bulletin board outside caught my attention, so I stopped to read it.  The first notice that I saw read: “Starting at the end of October, the Eagle’s Nest and the road leading there will be closed.”  My heart sank and I frantically looked for more info.  My eyes fell upon another notice: “Due to the lake freezing over, no boats are allowed on the Königssee.”

I couldn’t believe it!  The three things that I came to see: the Alps, the Eagle’s Nest, and the Königssee Lake, had all been blocked in 5 minutes of my being here!

DSC03498

I was so flustered that, when inside asking for directions, I stumbled over my words so badly that the woman ended up speaking English to me.  Then I realized that I didn’t have any cash to pay for a taxi or a bus ticket.  So I had to walk what seemed like miles uphill into the Altstadt to find an ATM.

The whole time I was fuming mad.  Mad at myself.  First off, mad for not remembering to withdraw cash in Marburg.  But mainly I felt stupid for coming here.  I just felt so naively excited to come here, expecting magical, breathtaking views, that I never once stopped to think that I was coming during the beginning of March – still heavy winter here in the Alps valley – which meant that of course the lake would be frozen over.  And given Germany’s tendency to be drearily overcast during the winter, I should have known that the mountains would be blocked from view.

Instead, I did what I always do: hop on a train with essentially no plan.  And normally that works out for me.  And I’m sure there was somewhere on the Internet that, if I would have looked deep enough, would have told me that the Eagle’s Nest was closed due to the winter.  But as far ahead as I got was booking rooms and checking the weather.  Luckily it did say that there’s supposed to be a little sunshine tomorrow; I sure hope so.

By dark, I finally found a taxi and was brought to my hotel, which is essentially a large bed and breakfast.  It’s got about ten rooms and a married couple runs it.  I ate in their restaurant downstairs and Oh my God was it fabulous! (Of course good food would cheer me up!) The decorations were great: all old wood, with old farm equipment and other things like beer mugs on the wall; it was all lit with candles and lanterns.  The wife cooks everything herself and I had the house specialty: Spareribs.  Yeah, I know, so traditionally Bavarian, right?  But several people recommended them to me and they were Fantastic!  The sauce was, of course, homemade and delicious, although it was definitely unlike any Southern spareribs I’d ever had before.  They were served with warm bread and homemade garlic butter, a salad, and an ear of corn.  I was given a knife and fork with the ribs (which seemed like half the pig!) and I thought “Oh no; they expect me to eat these with utensils!!!” But then the husband sat down another china plate with a moist towelette.  “That’s for your fingers after your done,” he told me.  Alright!  There was my permission!  Needless to say, I ate until I thought I was going to die.

And now, I’m up in my cozy little room, unwinding for the day.  I still feel like I “wasted” a trip to Berchtesgaden since I came at apparently the most inopportune time (and had I checked it out further, I probably would have found out that summer is the best time to come), but I’m feeling a lot more optimistic now.  Just because the Königssee is frozen over and I can’t take a rowboat out on it doesn’t mean that I can’t at least go see it.  And the weather does call for some sun tomorrow, so just maybe I’ll get to see the Alps after all.

I just know that, even though the circumstances might not be the best, I’ll enjoy myself still by making the best of the opportunity.

Wednesday 3/4/09

Hotel Krone, Berchtesgaden 

This morning I woke up, warm in my big comfy bed, and I thought to myself, “Well, it’s going to be easier to be optimistic today!” And then I pulled back the curtains to get a look of the day.  Oh.  The fog was so thick that I could see the road, and that was it.

I got up, got dressed, crammed all of my stuff into my backpack and then went downstairs for breakfast (which the wife of course cooked herself), even though I was still full from last night.  Because of the bus schedule, I had to eat quickly, which I never enjoy.  After that, I said good-bye to the owners, both of whom have thick Bavarian accents.

I put most of my stuff in a locker at the train station because I knew I didn’t want to lug it around all day.  Since the fog was so thick that I could only see the base of the mountains, I decided to go to a museum up on the Obersalzberg mountain.  The museum/info-exhibition was all about Obersalzberg/Berchtesgaden during the Third Reich.

The right bus didn’t come for another hour, so I headed up to Berchtesgaden’s Altstadt, which really could be called the Oberstadt, like Marburg’s, since it is literally over the rest of Berchtesgaden.  After walking around a little while, I found a church and decided to sit in there until it was time for my bus.

DSC03670

Whenever I came out, I stopped on the sidewalk, but it took me a second for me to realize what seemed out of place: I was squinting.  The sun was shining!  I looked up and there was a big patch of blue, with the forecasted sun pouring through.  I still couldn’t see the mountains, but a little sun was a good start.

But, in the 15 minutes that it took me to walk down to the Bahnhof, ALL of the fog had burned off and that’s no exaggeration.

And MAN, what a sight!  Berchtesgaden really IS in an Alps valley!  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.  It seemed so strange that the fog would burn off so quickly.  Not being able to see the mountains yesterday and then having the sky open up like that was like opening a present…a really huge present!

I was grinning from ear-to-ear as I put on my sunglasses (something that I hadn’t done in a long time) and I wasn’t sure where to look first…so I just walked around in circles for a while, trying to take it all in.

The bus ride up the Obersalzberg mountain was intense; partly because I was still breaking my neck trying to see all of the German Alps around me; partly because the road was so steep, narrow, and winding.

DSC03527

The museum, or Documentation Center as it was called, was actually very good (and of course, free for students).  It didn’t have the usual generic information about the Nazi Regime, but instead highlighted the particular Nazi connection to Berchtesgaden (especially Hitler’s act of choosing it to be his private retreat and 2nd headquarters of the Third Reich).  The “finale” of the center was the fact that visitors could go down into the vast network of bunkers deep inside the Obersalzberg.  Not all of the bunkers were completed, but you could still see where large generators, bathrooms, and communication centers were once located.  It was damp and cool.  It was strange being there, knowing that it was built to protect people like Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels.

DSC03509

 After I finished in the bunker, I asked the Frau at the front desk if it was possible for me to see where the Berghof once stood.  If the Eagle’s Nest was closed (which, as it turns out, was rarely visited by Hitler), I at least wanted to see the remains of the Berghof, Hitler’s large villa located on the Obersalzberg.

I was told that I could take a small path through the woods and I’d see a sign; it shouldn’t take but about five minutes.  I was ecstatic because I thought I’d probably have to take another bus somewhere; I didn’t realize I was so close.  So, I found the path, which was now trampled snow, and headed out.  I had to be careful, because it was apparent that other people had taken the path, compacting the snow, and thus making it really slippery.  I reached a point where most of the footprints stopped (all but two pair, it looked like).

DSC03534

Warning: Snow and Black Ice – Enter at your own risk!

With the next step, I sank up to my knee in the snow.  As a reaction, I brought forward my other leg, and it too sank up to the knee.  Not thinking, I put my arm down to push myself up.  Of course, it sank and all I got was a face full of snow.  Obviously, at that point I thought about going back.  But I knew that I was over half way there, and plus, the snow was not wet, slushy snow like in Marburg or Berlin; it was dry, fluffy mountain snow.

So, I barreled my way through, trying not to sink, but to no avail.  I stopped and rolled up my jeans, thinking I’d keep them from getting wet.  Bad idea.  Apparently snow on naked skin burns (something my raised-in-the-South-never-seen-snow-before upbringing didn’t teach me)!  Every time I took a step and sank, the cold snow would just rake against my legs (Now on both legs, up to my shins, looks like I got a bad case of poison ivy!) Needless to say, I ended up putting my jeans back down and sacrificed them being wet for the sake of my legs.

The whole time, I just couldn’t help but laughing: yesterday I was some super-grouch, thinking I wasn’t going to see the Alps.  And today, there I was knee-deep in snow, searching for some crumbled walls of a building that were probably hidden under snow.  The whole situation was just so ridiculous!  (Though, I like the German word for ridiculous, “lächerlich” which has its roots in the word “lächeln” which means to smile)

I finally found the site of the former Berghof and saw that it once had a magnificent view of Berchtesgaden below and of the other mountains across the valley.  The only thing remaining of the Berghof were some foundation walls, and that was it.  By that time, I was freezing but my shins were on fire.  I finally saw the end of the “trail” and I wanted to run, but by that time I was sinking up to my thighs, so I just slowly trudged on through.

When I made my way out, I wasn’t real sure where I was (and I definitely wasn’t going back the way I came), and even after looking at my map, I still wasn’t sure how to get back to where I needed to be.  I saw one building, but it said “Private Property” so I stayed away from there.  I found a dry patch of ground (it had obviously been cleared for something), took off my shoes and sat down in the sun to eat one of the sandwiches that I packed.

I sat there, with the Eagle’s Nest up on the mountain behind me, for a while before deciding to try and find my way back.  I knew it couldn’t be far, so I started walking down the little mountain road.  Every now and then a car or a truck (once a bus!) would drive by and glare at me, as if I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be there.  After some winding, I finally found a bus stop and took a bus back down into the city.

On my journey down the mountain road, I noticed that clouds were starting to fill the sky.  So, I decided not to take a break and instead head straight o the Königssee (Kings Lake).  I knew I wouldn’t be able to take a boat ride, but I still wanted to see it while there was still sunshine and blue skies.

The bus ride there itself was memorable, but once I got off, I made my way down the street lined with shops and restaurants, and arrived at the mouth of the lake, and I was blown away.

Gigantic, rocky mountains towered over the icy lake on all sides.  It made me feel miniscule; but not in a threatening or overpowering way.  It’s just that I became awesomely aware of Mother Nature’s grandiose presence.

The lake was crystal clear – or at least the parts which weren’t covered by ice and snow.  I would have loved to travel by boat down the mountain valley.  I got to the lake just at closing time for the shops, so the chatter of people was soon replaced by the sound of ducks looking for food around the edge of the lake.

DSC03596

The Königsee Lake, frozen over

I will not try to further describe the lake and its surroundings, because I know that by trying to put it into words, I’ll be denying the reality of it.  But I will say that it was one of the most deeply beautiful and awe-inspiring places I’ve ever seen in my life.

I quietly walked back up the street, not wanting to leave.  But the sun had dipped behind the mountains and darkness was coming.

I made a stop at the Bahnhof to get my things out of the locker (and thought I was going to pass out after I smashed my head on the door) and then caught a bus to my hotel.  Back when I was deciding where to stay, there were two hotels that I couldn’t decide between.  So, I just decided to stay one night at each.  This new room is nicer, and the view from the balcony (yes, I have my own balcony!) is awesome!  Directly across from me is the Obersalzberg, with the Eagle’s Nest perched on top.  And the mountains, of course, stretch all around, and I just stood there and stared for a while.  I just had supper in the restaurant downstairs (Nuremberger sausages, sauerkraut, bread and beer – pretty German!) and now I’m dead tired.  My legs are sore from walking/climbing, and they burn from the snow “attack.”  My train back tomorrow isn’t until three o’clock, so I’ll have some time to really see their Altstadt.  But I better go get some sleep and save up some strength.  Gute Nacht!

DSC03650

The view from my balcony.

Thursday 3/5/09

Room # 229, Marburg

11 pm

Well, I made it back to Marburg but am just too tired to write about today.  The trip back from Berchtesgaden, though actually one hour shorter, seemed much longer than the trip there; I’ll write more tomorrow.

Friday 3/6/09

Room # 229, Marburg

Now, after a good night’s rest, I feel more like writing.

I’m glad that I got to have a full day of good weather on Wednesday because yesterday the weather got ugly again.  But that’s alright; it gave me an excuse to stay inside cafés and bookshops all morning.

I had breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and then headed to Berchtesgaden’s Altstadt.  It’s honestly not all that spectacular (I think I’ve been spoiled by Marburg’s Altstadt), but then again, people don’t go to Berchtesgaden for the architecture.  The sky had returned to the familiar German dreary gray, and it was drizzling.  I had five hours until my train and I spent it strolling around, stopping in shops where something caught my attention.  (I somehow managed to go into a bookstore without buying something.)

Speaking of books, I’ve been reading Harry Potter in German the last few days.  I finished the first one last week and was able to read half of number two on my trip.  I chose that series to read in German because, since I’ve already read them, it’s okay if I don’t understand every single word (I also chose them because I just wanted to read Harry Potter again!).  But I’ve been surprised at just how much I do understand.  It’s so exciting to sit there, reading a book in another language.  On Wednesday night I also read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and I have to say that it’s a very creepy story.  The way Stevenson writes is just chilling.  I actually had to watch some TV before I went to sleep after reading it.  Silly, I know, but the story gave me the creeps.  It was an excellent book.

While the train ride to Berchtesgaden was the best trip I could have asked for, the train ride home was less than ideal.  For the longest leg of the trip (Munich to Frankfurt), I was stuck next to three businessmen, all noisily typing away on their laptops and making phone calls.  The train was full so I couldn’t move anywhere else.  It was an ICE, however, so we were able to make the trip pretty quickly.  At one point, the screen said we were going 300 km/h (187mph)!

So even though it was really too loud for me to get some good reading done, it did give me some time to think back on my trip.  One of my favorite moments of the trip was on Tuesday when we neared Berchtesgaden.  I noticed that my train had slowed way down and so I pressed my face to the window.  My heart skipped a beat; we had reached the Alps.  We had slowed down because the train had to start winding its way up and through the wooded mountain pass into the valley where Berchtesgaden was located.  It was so exciting to be slowly going through snow-white forests with mountains all around.  It was almost as exciting yesterday – except for the fact that I was leaving instead of coming.

I realized this morning that while on the trip, I only heard English twice: at the information center, and once very briefly on a bus.  That was so different from the other places I’ve been, where you hear groups of tourists speaking English all the time. All of the tourists in Berchtesgaden were German, there to see the scenery or to go snow skiing.  Something about only hearing German (even, or especially, if it was the thick Bavarian accent) made the town seem more authentic.

After being there, I can see why Hitler chose Berchtesgaden as his private retreat and second seat of power for his Reich.  The town is quiet and small, today with a population just under 8,000.  The Alps surround the town and allow you to feel removed from the outside world.  The tie to Nature there seemed to be closer.  So that would have appealed to someone like Hitler.  But now I see that he didn’t just choose some place with a pretty landscape; he chose to be surrounded by massive, towering, seemingly powerful mountains.  It makes me wonder if that’s the feeling that Nazi architecture was trying to recreate.

DSC03556

The German Alps, with Berchtesgaden visible in the valley below

I’m glad I got to take that Jake Trip and see the things I did.  Berchtesgaden is beautiful and I’m glad it was one of my stops during this year, while I’m leading this pampered life of an American student in Europe.

However, I’m glad that my next few trips will be with someone.  It is great to travel alone and get some time to yourself, but it’s also great to share those moments with somebody.  Because as much as I can tell people about the trip, it’s not the same as being able to talk about the view, or the taste, and hear how they felt, or what they were thinking.

So, my trip to Berchtesgaden was great, and I’m already looking forward to next week:  ISTANBUL !!! (Read my post about Istanbul here.)

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The German Catastrophe

German Catastrophe

Meinecke, Friedrich.  The German Catastrophe:  Reflections and Recollections.  Trans. Sidney B. Fay. Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1950.

Subject:

In the shadow of Nazi Germany’s defeat, the 84-year-old Meinecke sets out to discover and explain the longer roots of Hitlerism’s origins in Germany’s history.  He seems to be hoping to answer the questions:  Was Hitler a logical outgrowth of Germany’s development in the 19th century?  To what extent was totalitarianism a peculiar German phenomenon rather than an aspect of general European development?

Book Summary/ Author’s Argument(s):

Meinecke’s search for Hitlerism’s origins takes him back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The problems of booming population and innovations in power (both technological and political power) saw two “great waves” rise to answer these problems: socialism and nationalism.  The first wave, socialism, sought to care for the needs of all members of society, to safeguard their standard of living.  The second wave, though initially a liberal movement aimed at the individual’s right to freedom, eventually morphed into something more sinister: once individual freedom was secured, nationalism sought only political power for itself (1-3).  To combine socialism and nationalism was no easy task; Friedrich Naumann dreamt of creating a national socialism that would not only secure the individual’s rights and safety, but also its welfare.  This dream failed to come to fruition.  Another dreamed to construct a national socialism:  Hitler.  Meinecke acknowledges that in order to combine nationalism and socialism, the firm power of the state is needed.

After explaining the relationship between nationalism and socialism, and their peculiar manifestations in Germany (they mingled and fought more than in other countries, 7), Meinecke looks at “the historical force which helped most strongly in the building of the Third Reich:” militarism (47).  The Modern technological militarist spirit of Hitler’s Germany had a prototype in the Prussian militarism created by Friedrich Wilhelm I, Meinecke states (39).  The rise of militarism also a central them of Meinecke’s book:  a duality of nature resembling Hegel’s dialectic view of history.  Two forces are always struggling for primacy.  In this case, a humanistic socialism was defeated in the revolutions of 1848, and a calculating and powerful nationalism (expressed by the “blood and iron”-type policies of Prussian/Bismarckian militarism).  This militarism, which was a synthesis of intellect and raw power led to a tendency to be subservient, Meineicke argues (11).  However, this subservient nature was obscured by militarism’s apparent success (proof of which was the power and discipline it enjoyed in forging the Reich in 1871).  Militarism led to a loss of culture and produced narrow-mindedness, Meinecke goes to on say.  Again, you see a dichotomy emerge:  Kultur vs Civilization.

So, out of the same bourgeoisie that produced Naumann’s dream national socialist movement came the hardening nationalism of the Pan German and Fatherland Party movements.  World War One was the turning point for the German people, Meinecke insists.  One the one hand you have Kulturmenschen who upheld the values of Goethe (a central hero in Meinecke’s book), which were the virtues of the individual, humane care of the social needs of the masses; on the other hand were the needs of the state, where organization was the essence of existence, thus leading to an indifference towards humanity.  In this case, individuals were simply citizens of the state.  The existence of extremely nationalistic organizations (the Pan German movement and the Fatherland Party are named explicitly) and the “stabbed in the back” theory were the fatal turning point in the evolution of the German bourgeois.  This idea that “the military was working, but social radicals stabbed Germany in the back” closed the bourgeois’ mind to democratic ideals and pushed them to powerful militarism.  This situation, plus bad social conditions (including but not limited to the decrees of the Versailles Treaty) were necessary for the existence of Hitler.

Meinecke then spends time examining some of the aspects of Hitlerism (namely how power was the end goal for Hitler’s state, and in a chapter titled “The Positive Aspects of Hitlerism,” he states that while Germany may have experienced prosperity under Hitler (socialism), the state only sought prosperity in order to achieve power, not for the welfare of its citizens).

But more interesting is Meinecke’s wrestling with the question of whether or not Hitler was a logical outgrowth of Germany’s development in the 19th century.  Hitler’s national socialism, he says, did not evolve from solely German circumstances (how to deal with the problems of the 18th/19th centuries mentioned above), but, as an answer to those problems, it did represent an obvious deviation from the general European path (Sonderweg).  In order to explain himself, Meinecke explains that society needs to retain a careful balance between rationality and irrationality (perhaps what he refers to in other places as civilization and culture, respectively).  Rationality refers to logic & power (modern nationalistic movement) while irrationality refers to emotion & feeling (the humane socialist movement).   Where Germany’s path diverged from Europe’s was when rationality stomped out irrationality with Prussian militarism.  The character of Hitler’s Germans resulted from a continuous shifting of ideals Goethe’s time, a disturbance of the equilibrium between rational and irrational.  

This may lead one to assume that Hitler’s national socialism was indeed the next “logical outgrowth.”  But here, Meinecke’s reasoning changes suddenly, stating that “a chance chain of events” led to Hitler.  This is backed by his explanation of “chance” in historical development, which can be translated perhaps as “the role of personality” in history.  The main “chance event” was the fact that Hindenburg was weak and named Hitler chancellor of Germany in January 1933, Meinecke asserts.

The book ends with reflections on the future of Germany and how it can find “redemption” under the foreign rule of the Victors.  In the future, the only place of power that Germany should find should be in some type of European Federation.

My Comments & Questions:

While it is interesting to read the thoughts of someone who had just lived through the foundation of the German Reich and seen the downfall of the Third Reich, I found Meinecke’s book more problematic than helpful.  His dualistic understanding of reality and the forces of history is oversimplified, I feel.  Also, it seems that everything has the seed of its own undoing (nationalism was started as a liberal force, but its greed for power led to its abuse).  Lastly, his sudden shift of perspective – from large “waves” or historical forces, to the importance of personal attributes – is troubling – and seems to come at just the right time to “get the German people off the hook.”  He speaks of the Third Reich as a period of “inner foreign rule” (103), which exemplifies a view that would become popular in Germany:  that the horrors of WWII were led only by a small handful of Nazis at the top who coerced and tricked the mass of the innocent people.

 

For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews. 

Categories: Book Review, German History | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Epic Rap Battles of History

I had forgotten about this Youtube channel, but Gott sei Dank I stumbled across it again while I was having my coffee this morning.  These two guys match up famous people from the past, fiction, and from the present, and then pit them against each other in an epic rap battle.  Some are pretty freakin’ hilarious.  Here are some of my favorites.  (And if you’re easily offended, don’t like cussing, or can’t take jokes about death or dead people, then maybe you shouldn’t watch them.)

My all-time favorite:  A rap battle between the two most evil people to ever have existed (or to never have existed):  Darth Vader vs. Adolf Hitler:

This one is just freakin’ awesome:  Albert Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking.  “I’ll give you a brief history of pain with the back of my hand.”   :D

Steve Jobs is so amazingly cocky in this one.  I love it.  Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs.  But who really wins in the end?

I mean, is this one really even a contest?  Justin Bieber vs. Ludwig von Beethoven.

This one’s pretty fun!  Dr. Suess vs. Shakespeare.  Even though Shakespeare breaks it down super fast there for a while, I think Dr. Suess gets the best of him in the end.

And, while this one’s not the best written, I couldn’t leave it out.  I mean, it’s two of my favorite characters of all time:  Gandalf vs. Dumbledore.

Check out their Youtube channel for more:  here.

Categories: Entertainment, History | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

the Hitler of History

John Lukacs, The Hitler of History (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1998).

 

Available at Amazon.com, new $14.04, used from a low as $5.00

            There is no shortage of historical literature on the Third Reich, and biographies of Adolf Hitler abound.  John Lukacs’s The Hitler of History is, as he makes abundantly clear, not another biography of Hitler; it is, as the title suggests, a history of the history of Hitler.  Lukacs provides a historiographical review of the different biographies of Hitler, gleaning from them patterns in the interpretations of Hitler’s life in order to answer certain questions that he feels have remained inadequately answered.

Lukacs begins his book with an impressive overview of the Hitler biographies that he feels contributed the most to the understanding of Hitler.  His mastery of the topic and the reviewed books is remarkable and is made evident not only in the body of his book, but in the meticulously precise footnotes, as well.  Lukacs’s review extends to over fifteen biographies of Hitler and begins with what he feels to be the “first substantial” Hitler biography, written by Konrad Heiden in 1936.  While he provides commentary on many more works, his focus (in the historiographical chapter and throughout the book) is primarily on a handful of biographies, namely those written by Andreas Hillgruber in 1965, Ernst Deuerlein in 1969 (which Lukacs considers the “best short biography of Hitler”), Percy Ernst Schramm in 1971, Joachim Fest in 1973 (the “best long biography”), John Toland in 1977 (the first “big biography” by an American), David Irving in 1977 (which receives criticism from Lukacs for rehabilitating Hitler), Rainer Zitelman in 1987, and Ian Kershaw in 1991.

After this review, Lukacs shows that during “the last fifty years many Germans did not want to think much about Hitler.  But many of their historians did” (40).  This discussion among German historians led to a dispute known as the Historikerstreit, or “Historian’s Controversy.”  This Historikerstreit was sparked by conservatives Ernst Nolke, who essentially argued that Auschwitz was not conceivable without the prior existence of the Soviet gulags, and Andreas Hillgruber, who presented the “two war theory,” which stated that in one perspective, Hitler’s war with the West, while regrettable, was a “normal war.”  Hitler’s war with Soviet Russia, on the other hand, should be seen as a separate war, a war for the defense of Western civilization against the onslaught of Communism.  While Lukacs acknowledges particular contributions made by these historians, he ultimately condemns such interpretations as rehabilitation of Nazi Germany (if not directly Hitler himself).

Lukacs also addresses the issue of historians’ handling of Hitler’s statesmanship.  Ultimately, Lukacs argues that Hitler deserves more credit as a strategist (both politically and even militarily) than has been traditionally given to him.  Perhaps most shocking from this chapter is Lukacs’s assertion that once Hitler realized that a total victory over his enemies was no longer possible, his new goal became to bring his enemies to a point where they would have to deal with him on his own terms.  Such a view of a Hitler willing to revaluate his plans stands in contrast to the view of Hitler as an unyielding ideologue portrayed by many of his biographers.

Lukacs’s book also attempts to humanize Hitler.  Lukacs argues, as have other historians, that labeling Hitler as “evil,” removes all responsibility for his actions.  Throughout the book, he stresses the duality of Hitler’s personality in order to show that Hitler was, in fact, human: “there were dualities in Hitler himself.  That, too, is a normal condition” (101), “Those are formative years in any man’s life” (55), and “there were instances when he, like every other human being…had to adjust” (130).

Lukacs’s strongest argument comes in his handling of whether Hitler should be considered a reactionary or a revolutionary.  He points out that many people have been reluctant to label anything to do with Hitler as “revolutionary.”  However, he defines a reactionary as someone who wants to turn history backward, or return to a previous point in time, and a revolutionary as someone who looks to the future, as an advocate of progress (76).  Lukacs then points out how Hitler strove for a radical break with the Modern Age.  This new age resembled the “tyranny of the majority” predicted by Tocqueville, but Lukacs stresses that by utilizing the power of the masses, Hitler had established a new type of democracy, a “tyranny through the majority” (117), and this new power, which gained its legitimacy from the “will of the German Volk” was revolutionary.  In fact, Lukacs states that, because of this change in the relationship of power, “In the Hitler movement Germany experienced its only genuine revolution” (108) and asserts in his conclusion that Hitler “was the greatest revolutionary of the twentieth century” (258).

Lukacs guides the readers through these topics and others with ease.  His style is both conversational and inviting to readers.  Any critique of the book cannot be leveled against his knowledge of the subject matter, but instead against his handling of particular issues.  While he makes it clear that this is not a history of Hitler and that his purpose is not to discuss details in length, Lukacs sometimes makes sweeping or definitive remarks and then simply moves on without first adequately substantiating his statement.  For example, he explains Hitler’s seemingly irrational declaration of war on the United States, a matter that he admits has baffled historians for years, simply as Hitler’s loyalty to the treaty he had with Japan (154).  Also, Lukacs’s argument that Hitler was more nationalistic than racist, highlighted by Hitler’s quote that “there is no such thing as the Jewish race,” (123) may leave readers wanting further explanation.  Furthermore, whereas Lukacs is careful to define the many terms he uses throughout the book, his harshest criticism of other authors is that they are engaging in a rehabilitation of Hitler; he does this without ever providing a clear definition of what he means by “rehabilitation.”

Overall, Lukacs’s book is a significant contribution to Hitler studies and also sheds light on the relationship between history and biography.  It perhaps raises more questions than it does provide definitive answers; however, it does not seem likely that Lukacs would regard this as something negative, because as he said, history “is not the pure truth but the pursuit of truth” (223).

Categories: Book Review | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

It’s all Greek to Me

Teaching ancient Greek history at the moment and I found a couple of videos to go along with the textbook material.  I’ve already warned my students that I’m about two-and-a-half thousand years out of my time period with this stuff, BUT that they shouldn’t worry – I would somehow find a way to tie in my research field (modern & contemporary German history) with whatever we’re studying.

And now, thanks to YouTube, I can tie in the Nazis to the Spartans.  Even better:  I can tie in Hitler with King Leonidas!

And who said history can’t be fun?

 

Categories: History, Humor | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Snapshots of my Life

I’ve been many places and along the way I’ve seen some magnificent things.  On the other hand, right here in my home(s) I’ve seen some things that have either made me laugh, or just stop and stare, wondering, WTF? Luckily in this technology-steeped world, every cell phone is also a camera.  So, here are a few random snapshots from my life…some from the Deep South, others from the Buffalo Rust Belt. (You can click on each picture to enlarge it.)

I went to an amusement park about a month ago and saw this uber-patriotic couple strolling around, with Old Glory in places that I had never seen it before!  Now, take a look at the little boy checking out Lady Liberty.  You know what he’s thinking:  God Bless America!

The first leaves have started changing, and I know that Jack the Ripper, I mean Frost, is on his way to beat the life out of Buffalo again.  I saw this advertisement on the way to work and felt like driving straight to the airport…

I was wandering around one of the university libraries when I stumbled upon this door.  A treasure room?! Don’t mind if I do…Wait, what the hell is Halon 1301?! And why is it in the library?

Buffalo is known for it’s high fashion, I know.  And the city’s full of unique, one of a kind shops, such as Hair u Wear – which has mad styles of human hair, and precisely 307 styles of wigs.  Thank goodness.  308 might have been just too much to handle.

And while next door may only have 301 styles of wigs, Big Daddy has 1001 styles of human hair!  Boo-yah bitches!

I was just performing the normal procedure of surveying (the lot), praying (that that really is a parking spot, not just..shit! a small car), stalking (a student coming down the sidewalk from class), and protecting (your prey/student from other car-space predators) when I saw this good old fashioned meat wagon!  I applaud you sir.  You know that graduate school is a killer, and like a good boy scout, you came prepared.

You know you’re from the South when “doing yard work” involves cleaning out the old slave quarters/tenant house.

Hot Wings/Soul Food, BBQ Ribs, AND “Exotic Scents and Things” all in once place? (I had to resist any “pulled pork” jokes…) This must be heaven :D

I sat down in the lounge the other day to read and take some notes and then was struck before I sat down.  Who doesn’t take their notes on Adolf Hitler in a pink butterfly notebook?

Categories: Entertainment | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.