How Guilty Were the Germans?

The Germans

by Gordon A. Craig
Putnam’s, New American Library, 350 pp., $8.95 (paper)

Modern Germany: Society, Economy and Politics in the Twentieth Century

by V. R. Berghahn
Cambridge University Press, 314 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich: Bavaria, 1933–1945

by Ian Kershaw
Oxford University Press, 425 pp., $49.50

The Nazi Movement in Baden, 1920–1945

by Johnpeter Horst Grill
University of North Carolina Press, 720 pp., $32.00

The Nazi Party: A Social Profile of Members and Leaders, 1919–1945

by Michael H. Kater
Harvard University Press, 415 pp., $25.00

The Rise of Hitler: Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany, 1918–1933

by Simon Taylor
Universe Books, 131 pp., $9.95 (paper)

The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922–1945

by William Sheridan Allen
Franklin Watts, revised edition, 388 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Beating the Fascists? The German Communists and Political Violence, 1929–1933

by Eve Rosenhaft
Cambridge University Press, 273 pp., $39.50

The Black Corps: The Structure and Power Struggles of the Nazi SS

by Robert Lewis Koehl
University of Wisconsin Press, 437 pp., $27.50

Someday, perhaps, the popular and scholarly fascination with a few insane years out of Germany’s history will fade away, but that day is not yet in sight. In American bookshops, illustrated books on Hitler, the Luftwaffe, U-boats, and SS Death’s Head formations seem to out-number cookbooks. In university libraries, the quantity of monographs on National Socialist voters, German-Jewish relations, the ties of German industrialists with the Nazis, and Hitler himself surpasses the number of scholarly works on virtually any other historical subject.

There are many reasons for the abundance of publications. One is that the documentation on Hitlerism, in contrast to that on such other totalitarian systems as Stalinism and Maoism, is immense, and easily accessible. Another is that we have not yet succeeded in mastering the shock suffered by civilization when one of the world’s most highly developed nations went mad. Moreover, Germany’s terrible years fascinate us because—although it is hard to admit—National Socialism was immensely successful. It appealed to a huge number of people by responding to emotional and material needs that no other party in Germany had been able to satisfy.

The nagging question is whether the same needs do not continue to exist today; whether we would not, given an appropriate turn of circumstances, welcome the same kind of remedy that Hitler offered the Germans. Does Nazism or fascism in its great variety belong only to the past, or to the present and future as well? The world around us is teeming with dictators, one-party systems, cults of personality, the exaltation of youth, doctrines of unconditional loyalty, the glorification of war (and of martyrdom in war), secret-police surveillance, and torture. Each day, in dozens of contemporary states, masses of uniformed children march in step, carrying flags and rifles. Forty years after the alleged death of fascism, state-organized mass demonstrations are as common as the spectacle of parliamentary deputies rhythmically chanting and clapping in obedience and adulation. State television stations pour out messages of religious hatred, violence, and unbridled nationalism. One would have to be blind not to notice that Hitlerism, Nazism, fascism, or whatever one wants to call it is still very much a part of our present.

True, no one can precisely define the phenomenon we are describing, and no contemporary political movement or established state precisely fits the interwar German or Italian mold. Still, the thing exists. We simply have not come up with the term to denote it properly. After all, not even the Third Reich itself was completely Nazified, nor was it completely totalitarian: it overlooked a certain amount of free personal behavior, and it was more chaotic than its monolithic doctrines would suggest. Nonetheless, it represented a mortal threat to humanity.

What matters, then, is not names and precise identification, but the fact that, just as in the 1930s, ideologized brutality is there, along with the widespread belief that any and all means are justifiable to correct perceived wrongs. Dr. Goebbels would sincerely envy the …

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Letters

Fascism and Fanaticism January 17, 1985

Fascism and Fanaticism January 17, 1985