Anatomy of the SS State
The Arms of Krupp, 1587-1968
The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-45
The Conspiracy Against Hitler in the Twilight War
The controversy about the relations between Hitler and Germany, between National Socialism and the German people, between the Nazi present and the German past, has gone on ceaselessly since 1945. Was National Socialism implicit in German history, the culmination of völkisch trends which reached back to Arndt and Jahn and Schlegel, and of political trends which began at latest with Frederick the Great? Or was it—as the doyen of German postwar historians, Gerhard Ritter, once argued—an aberration, an Irrweg, or even (incredible and unforgivable as Ritter’s argument may seem) an infection which reached Germany from the West, at worst the German expression of a more general malaise which had afflicted the whole of European society since the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
The debate is unlikely to cease until, in a new world of Afro-Asian and Afro-American dimensions, the German question, which agitated three generations, has fallen into oblivion. Certainly it will not cease until the generation which experienced the twelve years’ tyranny of the Thousand Year Reich has passed. Too much personal anguish is involved; too much moral capital has been invested, and, alas, too much political capital as well. When the German Federal Republic was welcomed back into the Western alliance in 1954, Vansittartism suddenly fell from grace and favor in the West; while in Soviet Russia the very contrary took place. Stalin had insisted on drawing a firm line between Hitler and the German people. His successors went into reverse, suddenly discovering a continuous thread of aggressiveness in German history from Bismarck to Hitler, and on, without discernible break, to Adenauer.
The theme, of course, is central—too central to be made the ball in a game of political football. It lies at the heart of all the books mentioned here; it is, indeed, the central problem of modern German historiography. William Manchester has no doubt about the answer: The germ of all future evil was already there in the “tangled forests” and “foul marshes” where the primitive Germans foregathered. “The primeval forest,” he tells us, “may be the most important single key to the mystery of why the Germans have behaved as they have.” Such judgments tell us more about the writer’s predilections—or (some would say) prejudices—than about the real problems of German history. They are matched, at the other end of the spectrum, by Mr. Deutsch, whose attitude to the hesitations, excuses, and prevarications of the German opposition to Hitler is not far short of apologetic. “Considering the many factors stacked against him,” he writes, “it is amazing that Hitler was able to prevail.” An astounding, almost paradoxical, verdict, which directly challenges the traditional view that the powerful repressive machinery of the SS state made any form of resistance a desperate gamble.
How understandable, in this welter of subjective and emotional views, that Elizabeth Wiskemann should turn with relief to the “accurate, lucid, dispassionate examination” provided in Anatomy of the SS State. This, she writes in her Introduction, is “far and away the…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.