The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945
The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939–1945 by Nicholas Stargardt. (Basic Books, 760 pp. $35)
Although there are vast numbers of scholarly books on the Shoah, The German War draws on a wealth of firsthand testimony provided by German soldiers in their personal diaries, court records and military correspondence. These document how German soldiers as well as the German public reacted to the mass killings in Eastern Europe. This important book seeks to answer the question historians have long grappled with: How did Germany, a cultured
and highly educated society, evolve into a nation that actively condoned genocide?
A professor of modern European history at Magdalen College, Oxford, in England, author Nicholas Stargardt describes what ordinary Germans believed they were fighting for and why they remained loyal to Hitler long after it was apparent that Germany was losing the war. He also explores how the German armed forces and the paramilitary death squads rationalized the mass murder of Jewish men, women and children.
Stargardt contends that German soldiers were primarily induced to kill Jews because they believed in Hitler as a savior delivering Germany from the threat of Judeo-Bolshevism. Nazi propaganda persuaded German citizens and soldiers that Jews were behind the humiliating surrender to the Allies in November 1918, and framed the war as revenge against the “perfidious Jews” who betrayed Germany. Above all, soldiers were guided by their patriotism. Even if they were horrified by the mass murder of the Jews, duty to the Reich trumped their conscience.
How much did the German people know about what was happening in Eastern Europe? Quite a lot, says Stargardt, because they received letters from the front, heard stories from returning wounded soldiers and even saw photos of the Jewish dead. German civilians believed the Allies’ intense bombing of German cities between 1941 and 1944 was revenge for the murder of the Jews. Ironically, after the Allied bombings, ordinary Germans viewed themselves as victims—their suffering commensurate to that of the Jews.