Anatomy of the SS State
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 most informative and illuminating statement about Hitlerism that there has been in the last thirty years.” It is certainly an antidote to “superficiality,” “emotionalism,” and “moralistic theorizing,” “an effective counterweight to the widespread habit of painting a highly emotional picture of the past in order to highlight certain major truths, but at the price of historical exactitude regarding facts and circumstances.” Anatomy of the SS State tells us many things we ought to know. It reminds us once again, for example, that the “final solution” of the Jewish question—the decision that the Jews must be physically exterminated—was not decreed until 1941, and forces us to remember, what most of us would prefer to forget, that the United States, Great Britain, and other countries that could have acted but didn’t, must share the dreadful responsibility. But halfway through this book I asked myself—as other readers, I think, will ask themselves—just what it tells us. And what it tells us, briefly, is that even “totalitarian tyranny” had its own rules; that murder should be carried out this way and not that; that even the slave labor on which German wartime industry depended was protected, at least in theory—not, naturally, for its own sake but for the sake of efficiency and better results.
In a country as bureaucratic and bound by red tape as Germany this is no more than we should expect, and it is amply borne out by William Manchester’s account of the exploitation of slave labor by the firm of Krupp. Time and again in his account we find SS officials protesting that they cannot hand over squads of workers to Krupp’s because the accommodation provided is inadequate, or so far from the factory that they would be exhausted before they had got there; they even protest that the meager rations—Krupp’s notorious Bunkersuppe—are far below any tolerable standard.
It was much the same, as Dr. Conway indicates, in the conflict between the Nazis and the Christian churches. “Unauthorized attacks on the clergy” by “irresponsible local party elements,” which went beyond the Führer’s directives, were forbidden. But what does not really come out clearly in Anatomy of the SS State—though it does in Mr. Manchester’s book—is that the regulations and directives were largely inoperative, that the SS man or squad supervisor who shot a worker, or beat him or her to death for no reason and contrary to all rules, was almost certain to go unpunished. Nor is it clear that those who committed “actual violations of the law” were worse—if we consider the nature of the law—than those who acted as willing instruments of legal torture and legal murder. It is no doubt necessary to be aware of the machinery of the Nazi tyranny. But such a book as Anatomy of the SS State, which is concerned not with “what the SS did,” but with “how it functioned,” seems to me to sidestep the really searching questions. As background it is extremely useful; but it does not help us much when we come to the fundamental problem, the question of the complicity of the Germans in the Nazi tyranny.
In individual cases the answer may not be difficult. But what do individual cases—even so outstanding a case as the great steel and armaments firm of Krupp of Essen—really tell us? The record of Krupp’s war crimes is unspeakably sordid, the complicity of Alfried Krupp and his father Gustav proven up to the hilt. Here I am in full agreement with William Manchester, though apparently others aren’t. But at this point the more fundamental questions arise. Was Krupp’s a special instance—even though there may be scores or hundreds like it—or was it representative of a common German attitude? It is characteristic of Mr. Manchester’s whole approach that he has no hesitation about the answer. Krupps were “symbols of the Father land’s national mood”; National Socialism was “the ultimate realization of Kruppdom.” The Krupps story, as Mr. Manchester tells it, is a paradigm of German history; perhaps, indeed, this is the main reason why he tells it. The question, of course, is whether, or to what degree, his interpretation is correct. My own view is that it will convince those whose minds are already made up; it will not convert those who cannot believe that things were quite so simple.
The story Mr. Manchester unfolds is really the story of a grand conspiracy, a huge offensive by German Junkers, German industrialists, and successive German governments—which apparently has not ceased today—to bring the world under German domination. As the balance of his book indicates (630 out of its 873 pages deal with the twentieth century) Mr. Manchester is really concerned with Hitlerism, its antecedents and its consequences. But for the sake of continuity, to establish the conspiracy in all its amplitude, he goes back—right back to the first appearance of a Krupp in 1587.
Ever “since the dawn of modern history,” he tells us, “the mysterious, powerful Krupp dynasty had flourished on war and rumors of war.” In my view, these early sections, where Mr. Manchester is least engaged, are the best part of the book; but it is significant that even here he cannot resist the temptation to twist the facts to fit his preconceived pattern. For Krupps, in the first place, were certainly not “powerful” between 1587 and 1826, and if they were “mysterious,” it was only because they were obscure and insignificant. By 1826 the little firm with its seven employees was on the edge of bankruptcy. And when Alfred—the real founder and fabulous “cannon king”—then took over, he built his fortunes not on arms but, prosaically enough, on spoons and forks, and then on cast steel axles and weldless steel railroad tires. It was the railway boom, in Europe and America, that accounted for Krupp’s success. Alfred himself had no doubt about it: “it was only through the manufacture of tires,” he wrote, “that the works was able to make enough profit to lay down the gun-making plant.”
And what about the connection between Krupp’s and the Prussian government? It certainly came about, but surprisingly late and slowly. “The history of the house of Krupp,” Mr. Manchester writes, “supported the argument that the closer the ties between Essen and the country’s rulers, the greater the chances for national glory and Krupp prosperity.” But that was not the view the Prussian War Ministry took. It is ironic that the orders which finally established Alfred Krupp as “cannon king” came from almost every country in Europe—Russia, England, Holland, Spain, and Austria—except his own. Even after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, when Krupp’s guns proved their superiority, little love was lost between Alfred and the German General Staff. Only after Alfred’s death in 1887 and the accession of a new emperor in 1888 does the decisive change occur. William II was a man of a new generation, with ideas of his own. On his orders, the generals came to heel, and the alliance with Krupp, which was to last until 1945, was sealed. The effects were immediately visible. “The firm’s business with Berlin rose from 33 percent of its gross product to 67 percent.” Krupp’s had become a national institution—almost “a branch of the government,” as The Nation observed at the time of the firm’s centenary in 1912.
Looking back over the first century of Krupp history from 1812 to 1912, one finds it striking that there was nothing particularly distinctive about it, certainly nothing peculiarly German. Alfred himself was a typical roughhewn buccaneer and martinet of the early industrial age, whose career can be paralleled in every country of Europe and in the United States as well. Even in the age of imperialism the firm’s affinities were with the other great steel and armaments combines—Armstrong and Vickers in England, Schneider-Creusot in France, Bethlehem Steel and DuPont in the United States. The reorganization which took place when Fritz succeeded in 1887 was part of a worldwide process of trustification and cartellization, not evidence of some peculiar German original sin. No doubt the process operated differently in different countries and reached extreme lengths in Germany; but if we are to see it in any sort of perspective, we must see it as the international phenomenon it was, just as imperialism, neo-mercantilism, and the trend to economic autarchy were international. But Mr. Manchester is too interested in making an indictment to do this. The result is a picture which is colorful, but out of focus.