At first glance the title of this book might appear to be a glaring mistake – didn’t Hitler and the Nazi party really come to power in 1933? So shouldn’t that be the true start of the Third Reich? What Andrew Rawson does here, however, is show that the Nazi Germany that went to war in 1939 was a product of developments in Germany since 1919.
Many military historians – myself included – often ignore broader social aspects. Does a battle really begin when the plan is first hatched, or when the first shot is fired? By limiting our analysis of any war to when it is declared, are we not completey ignoring years of developments that took us up to that point? The SS Panzer Divisions that fought at Arnhem in 1944 did not miraculously turn up on the battlefield from nowhere – the SS was founded in the 1920’s and its members were the product of years of Nazi youth organisations and indoctrination – no wonder they fought so fanatically.
Where this book is also useful is trying to get a handle on the numerous departments and organisations in the Third Reich. In terms of police alone, there were the Orpo, the Kripo, the Sipo, and the Gestapo – all with different functions! Confusing? Ever so slightly! It does seem that totalitarian regimes such as Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany bred incredibly complex state structures, particularly for the purpose of controlling the people.
The numerous short biographies also show how thin the line was between prospering and failing in Nazi Germany. Given that Hitler seems to have had a policy of playing rival subordinates off against each other, its not surprising that ambitious and scheming men such as Himmler and Goebels floated to the top of the pile.
The sheer number of departments, officials and conflicting intersts in the Government of Nazi Germany suggests not only how chaotic the party and the state were, but also, paradoxically, how ruthless the lower level administrators were at running the country. The more and more I read about Nazi Germany, the more of an impression I have that it was run on the whims of Hitler and a small number of leaders, backed up by a vast an remarkable administration machine.
I found this a very interesting read – full of facts and information, and well illustrated with some good photographs. It would be an ideal purchase for the military historian wanting to learn more about German Society and the development of the Nazi state, or indeed for any student studying Germany between the wars.