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The German War: A Nation Under Arms

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As early as 1941, Allied victory in World War II seemed all but assured. How and why, then, did the Germans prolong the barbaric conflict for three and a half more years?

In The German War, acclaimed historian Nicholas Stargardt draws on an extraordinary range of primary source materials—personal diaries, court records, and military correspondence—to answer this question. He offers an unprecedented portrait of wartime Germany, bringing the hopes and expectations of the German people—from infantrymen and tank commanders on the Eastern front to civilians on the home front—to vivid life. While most historians identify the German defeat at Stalingrad as the moment when the average German citizen turned against the war effort, Stargardt demonstrates that the Wehrmacht in fact retained the staunch support of the patriotic German populace until the bitter end.

Astonishing in its breadth and humanity, The German War is a groundbreaking new interpretation of what drove the Germans to fight—and keep fighting—for a lost cause.

704 pages, Hardcover

First published September 21, 2013

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Nicholas Stargardt

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Profile Image for Matt.
935 reviews28.6k followers
May 25, 2018
Germany suffered a lot during World War II. As many as 5 million soldiers died. As many as 700,000 civilians were killed. Thousands more civilians died or were relocated during territorial dislocations at war’s end. Hundreds of cities were bombed; millions of homes were lost. These are all hard facts. Also a fact: the Germans started it. This bears repeating: The Germans started it.

On the surface, this statement has all the ethical weight of a playground argument between five year-olds. But I think it is actually a profound moral condemnation. It was the Germans who gobbled up Austria and Czechoslovakia. It was Germany that invaded Poland and divvied it up with Stalin. It was Germany that passed anti-Semitic racial laws, who euthanized the infirm and disabled, and sent undesirables to concentration camps. It was the Germans who murdered 6 million Jews and killed millions more Soviet civilians. It was the Germans who had a plan for world domination that would have made Cobra Commander envious. Germany suffered; Germany reaped what they sowed.

This is the difficult balance that has to be struck when writing about the German experience of World War II. To empathize with the human suffering, while always recognizing that it did not occur in a vacuum. Some modern historians have difficulty with this tension. For instance, in Jörg Friedrich’s The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945, the systematic air war conducted against Germany is presented outside its historical context. There is never a mention about why the Allies might be bombing Germany. Only that it occurred, and it was horrible. If you’d never read a single thing about World War II, and only Friedrich’s book, you’d be fully justified in labeling the Allies as the most terrible fiends to ever draw a breath.

The great accomplishment of Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 is that it perfectly walks this moral tightrope. It manages to look at World War II from the perspective of individual Germans; it gives voice to their own trials and tribulations; but it never lets them off the hook. Rather, by the end, Stargardt delivers a quietly powerful indictment on the “ordinary” German. You will not find the mythical good German here, the German ignorant of Hitler’s plans, the German trying to swim against an evil tide. Instead, you find people who knew the parameters of their nation’s crimes, who either participated in them or knew someone who did, and who showed enough commitment to fight a six-year war against incredible odds.

The German War begins in 1939, with the Wehrmacht poised to swarm across the Polish border. Unlike the exuberance of 1914, the public response to Hitler’s invasion is chiefly anxiety. The German public had been on a knife’s edge as their Fuhrer conducted a high stakes game of chicken with Great Britain and France. Up until this point, Hitler’s gambles had paid off bloodlessly (especially with the infamous Munich Conference). That streak ended with Poland. This war, according to Stargadt, was unwelcome, especially for those with memories of 1918.

That public sentiment started to change when the Wehrmacht smashed Poland before Great Britain or France could lift a finger to stop them. It changed even more when the Sitzkrieg ended with Germany rumbling through the Low Countries, toppling France, and sending England racing back across the Channel. Suddenly, the Germans were the masters of Europe. The German people were now part of a momentum that could only end with their total domination – or absolute ruin.

The German War is first and foremost a people’s history. Stargardt’s main focus is on the ordinary soldiers and civilians who lived through this time. He cares about things like rationing, morale, and the limits of endurance. To that end he follows roughly twenty people throughout the course of the war, and supplements their story arcs with many other personal accounts culled from diaries, letters, and postwar interviews. You meet young soldiers in the heady early days of the war, as they bask in the golden sunlight of occupied France; you follow civilians on the homefront as they spend their Christmas huddled around crackling radios, listening to radio broadcasts from a besieged Stalingrad intercut with a rendition of Stille Nacht; and finally you view the hellish collapse, as traitors are hanged from trees, as young boys are dragooned into service to fight the Soviet steamroller, and as Germany crumbles and burns.

The trick with a book like this is not simply doing primary source research. It is in choosing the best primary sources to highlight. Stargardt excels at this. He has found compelling people to follow, sometimes to their graves. At times, he manages to achieve an extraordinary level of intimacy. For instance, he devotes space to the love letters between Robert and his wife Mia. Robert was stationed in East Prussia, well away from the main action. Bored and frustrated, he tried to convince his wife to exchange dirty letters. Robert took the lead with a saucy reminiscence in which he referred to his penis as both “my giver of joy” and “my little mouse.” (As in “my little mouse was shaking with joy”). Later, he tries to convince his wife to masturbate. Yes, folks, I’m telling you there’s a passage on Nazi-era proto-sexting.

Stargardt also cleverly relies on the use of reports from the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Nazi’s security service. The SD spent a lot of time taking the weather of the German populace. They listened to what people were saying, and then typed those observations into reports that were then filed. (Which is such a German thing to do). It is, of course, impossible to know exactly how everyone felt about any one thing. These reports, however, provide a pretty good way to generalize the German mood. (It also demonstrates some odd fixations, which are the hallmark of the Nazi regime. The SD was quite worried, for instance, about teenage sexual indiscretions in the absence of fathers who were away at the front).

Stargardt’s narrative maintains a rough overall chronology that takes you through the war years. Certain chapters, however, are more thematic in nature, and allows Stargardt to explore certain issues at greater depth. One of these chapters, for example, deals with the Holocaust. This is one of the great questions of World War II: How much did the German nation know? In Stargardt’s telling, they knew a lot. He quotes letters from soldiers on the Eastern Front who witness the atrocities of the Einsatzgruppen. Some of these eyewitnesses are shocked; most are able to overcome their revulsion due to their belief that this is for the greater good. Despite the censors, a lot of these men took pictures, which they then sent home to be developed. In this way, rumors circulated on the homefront about Germany’s appalling crimes.

Stargardt also spends a good deal of time on the Allied air war against German cities. Whatever else we might say about the air campaign (its morality; its effectiveness), it certainly served to cohere German resistance to the bitter end. For a totalitarian state, the Nazi Party proved surprisingly responsive to the needs of its people. With great alacrity, it provided assistance with food and shelter, thereby binding people and Party.

A book like this – centered as it is on the experiences of ordinary people – runs the risk confusion. (The old forest verses the trees conundrum). You need a proper framework to avoid getting lost in the details. Stargardt does an excellent job accomplishing this by seamlessly transitioning between the Nazi leadership at the top, and the man (and woman) on the street. On one page, Stargardt will explain how Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels kept pushing for Germany to engage in “total war”; on the next page, he will show what that phrase actually meant for a typical German civilian. On one page you will read about a Nazi Party measure to boost civilian confidence; on the next page you get to read an SD report on how that measure went over.

This is a book that’s going to appeal mainly to readers already invested in World War II. It is not a battlefield history; indeed, mention of battle is secondary to Stargardt’s story. To that end, it’s helpful to have a rough outline of the war’s ebb and flow before embarking on this volume. The German War also does not attempt to be comprehensive. There is almost no mention of North Africa or Italy, with most of the action centered on Western Europe and the Eastern (Soviet) Front. At the same time, this doesn’t read like a book aimed solely at WWII enthusiasts. It is well structured, easy to follow, and compellingly written. It is not a World War II story, but a human one.

Stargardt does not set out to demonize the German people. He recognizes the difficult choices that each person had to make. Imagine, after all, saying “no” to your country. But he also makes clear that there is no easy separation between “German” and “Nazi.” (As though Nazis were an alien species). This is important, because history is cyclical. As Stargardt notes in a concluding chapter, there was a lot of German self-pity in the years directly following the end of the war. The Cold War gave a lot of Germans, including ex-Nazis, the cover they needed to return to normal life, often with bitterness at the way they’d been handled by the Allies. It required a different German generation to take responsibility for the crimes they inflicted against the world. Today, in stark contrast to Japan – who refuses to acknowledge their atrocities in China – Germany vigorously assumes responsibility for the Holocaust. Yet there are signs that is changing. Watch, for instance, the German miniseries Generation War, which peddles the notion that it was a few bad apples that spoiled the bunch. The German War does a masterful job in exploring the experience of the German people – and also their culpability.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,480 reviews104 followers
March 5, 2020
Although this book gives some interesting and in-depth information about the major battles of WWII, the main purpose of the author is to explain why the German volk continued to fight to the doors of the German Chancellery as Berlin was being destroyed around them. The war was lost and yet 60 year old men and 14 year old boys took up arms and sacrificed themselves for the "homeland" while the Nazi leadership huddled in the bunker below them. As one of my GR friends said in his review, "What were the Germans thinking?".

The Wiemar Republic had been a disaster and when Hitler grabbed power, he approached society in a manner that appealed to the citizens.......homeland, blood ties, Aryan supremacy, exorcism of the defeat of WWI (the "stab in the back" belief), and one nation/one people. And he had the perfect man to instill and reinvigorate these principles and doctrines - his minister and master of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The public was inundated with the Nazi philosophies through different mediums and soon became of one mind......Deutschland Uber Alles. As the Allies approached Germany, the propaganda changed to sacrifice and fight to the last man. The people obeyed.

As the "final solution" continued and the smoke continued to rise from the crematoriums , the public basically ignored what was really happening and continued to hate the Jews and abandon them from society, citizenship, and life. When the horrors of the death camps were clearly revealed at the end of the war, the average German declared that they had no responsibility and excused themselves from guilt. They insisted that it was not they who had responsibility for war leadership and politics.

The book is filled with memoirs, diaries, letters, etc. from soldiers and families who suffered and died through the last years of the defeat and provides some insight into German thought about the war. and their encroaching feeling of being victimized.

So, does this history really tell us what the Germans were thinking and how they justified their actions as their world was crumbling around them? Read this excellent book and then decide. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,410 followers
February 6, 2016
It may be good to have power based on arms, but it is better and more joyful to win and to keep the hearts of the people.
-Joseph Goebbels, speaking in Triumph of the Will

World War 2 began with German invasion of Poland - but in 1939 most Germans had a different view; they perceived the war as a defensive war, forced upon them by Polish aggression and Allied transpiration against Germany. Why did ordinary Germans see the war this way, and what made them keep fighting even when it became apparent that all was lost?

Nicholas Stargardt is an Australian historian who teaches modern European history at Oxford, and The German War is a comprehensive look at various strata of German society and their approach to the war. Stargardt has compiled an impressive amount of sources - from private letters and diaries to newspaper articles and official speeches - to present a compelling picture on how Germans perceived and reacted to the war, both at home and at the front lines.

With the harrowing memories of the First World War still being fresh in the minds of many, it is no surprise that the mood was generally reluctant when it came to the prospect of engaging in another. During the Munich crisis of 1938 almost the entire country was convinced that Germany simply could not win a war which would ultimately involve conflict with both Britain and France, and that such war would lead their country to complete ruin - and this was a belief shared both by civilians and the military elite. Opposition to war was so great that many prominent figures of the German military conspired to storm the Reich Chancellery and kill Adolf Hitler. Led by general major Hans Oster - who would later become a major figure in the anti-Nazi resistance - they intended to stage a coup, overthrow the Nazi government and restore the monarchy of the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II. In an ironic twist of history, their desire to keep peace was shared by the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was anxious to preserve it even at the expense of another country. By agreeing to Hitler's territorial claims in Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain succeeded in delaying the war, but also showed that the British and French were unlikely to act against Germany; after German troops occupied Prague in March 1939 and turned entire Czechoslovakia into a German protectorate, the lack of response from western powers boosted Hitler's domestic popularity and destroyed any chance of a successful plot against him.

Poland was widely hated in Germany before September 1939. In the Weimar period newly reemerged Poland was perceived as an illegitimate creation of the Versailles Treaty, a Saisonstaat (state for a season) crafted by the victors of the First World War at German expense. American historian Gerhard Weinberg noted that, irregardless of their political orientation, no leading politicians in the Weimar republic recognized any benefit in the existence of a strong and independent Poland. Instead, official German foreign policy towards Poland was one of permanent hostility, with revisionist hopes of partitioning Poland with the Soviet Union and returning to the borders of 1914, and involved trade and propaganda wars. For centuries, Polish people were seen by Germans as uneducated, intellectually and culturally inferior, unfit even for self-rule; Weinberg notes that in the interwar years Polish people were perceived in Germany as "an East European specie of cockroach". German academics drew a line between high culture and complete barbarism at the Polish border, and the term polnische wirtschaft (Polish economy) - itself dating back to the Prussian partition, where it was used as a stereotype of Polish inferiority and justification for the need of Prussian administration - was commonly used as a description of any kind of hopeless mess.

Clandestine reports by the banned political parties found that Poland and the Poles were already enormously hated, and that overwhelming majority of the population would support Hitler if he chose to act against Poland. At the same time, memories of 1918 were still very fresh and while most Germans believed that an invasion of Poland was justified, few thought it was worth another war with Britain and France. Furious at his nation for being "chicken hearted" in private, Hitler continued to present himself as a champion for peace and protector of persecuted German minorities. German propaganda blamed Poland for influencing British foreign policy, conspiring to encircle a resurging Germany and prevent it from attaining proper glory that it deserved; German newspapers accused the Polish government of tolerating or even encouraging violent ethnic cleansing of ethnic Germans living in Poland. As Hitler was publicly emphasizing his desire for peace, the SS and the police apparatus under Reinhard Heydrich enlisted the help of ethnic Germans in Poland to stage border skirmishes and create a series of false flag attacks on German newspapers, schools and cultural institutions. Named after the head of the SS, Operation Himmler culminated in an attack on a German radio station, complete with a broadcast in Polish and corpses of killed prisoners dressed in Polish uniforms left to serve as undeniable proof of Polish provocation. Flimsy as it was, combined with intense propaganda and deeply rooted hate for Poland and Poles it worked - as the Wehrmacht entered Poland, Germans were convinced that they were returning fire in a war which was forced upon them.

As Stargardt notes, the German armies were ideologically primed to fight a culturally inferior and cowardly opponent; any resistance was met with utmost hostility, since the Germans believed that whatever brutality they were capable of the Poles would exceed and stab them in the back at any possible occasion. Where Stargardt succeeds is presenting how vastly different were the experiences shared by individual soldiers serving in the Wehrmacht: Wilm Hosenfeld, a Catholic, was apalled by the scale of sheer violence against the Poles. Although he believed that the Germans had a right to occupy Poland, Hosenfeld grew increasingly isolated and detached, finding comfort only in writing letters to his wife (Hosenfeld would later help to rescue several Jews and Polish people, including the famous pianist Władysław Szpilman). Another devout Catholic, Heinrich Böll, had a totally different experience - Böll believed that he saw real hatred and fanaticism in the eyes of the Poles he encountered, and was convinced that if not for the Wehrmacht not a single ethnic German would survive. Many thought that this justified any action - even killing civilian men, women and children with great ferocity, which the soldiers observed and photographed. One German general, Johannes Blaskowitz, was so shocked by the reports of atrocities which reached him that he wrote to Hitler personally protesting the behavior of the SS and the administration as damaging to military morale. Hitler dismissed his protests by saying that "one cannot wage war with Salvation Army methods."

While to many Germans Poland was an abomination, and in the words of a German student Poles were "infinitely alien and incomprehensible to us so that there is no way to reach them(...)people whose life or death is a matter of indifference", Hitler did not pay as much attention to Poland as did his many German contemporaries. His real war aim were the vast and resource-rich lands of European Russia, which he sought to conquer and colonize with Germans, driving the "asiatic hordes" back behind the Ural mountains. As the Wehrmacht pushed further east, the environment and conditions became inhospitable, and the war much more brutal. Some soldiers viewed the war as a spiritual experience, recognizing with distaste their own transformation into brutal and harsh beings; one soldier wrote home that the war was comparable to the Apocalypse, and brought out "a new and true image of humanity(...)after we have followed a false, and increasingly distorting, image of humanity for so many hundreds of years."

Seeing the terrible destruction left behind by the retreating Red Army, soldiers became convinced that the war must never come home to Germany, and must be won decisively; both convinced Nazis and ordinary conscripts knew that they must do all in their possibility to stop "the beasts" from having even a possibility of coming to their fatherland (interestingly enough, the exact same approach was adopted by the Red Army as Stalin discovered that traditional patriotism, love for family and the motherland boosted morale much better than communist slogans). Most Germans did not share Hitler's Social Darwinist view of the war as a great racial struggle, which the German race could either win or be completely wiped out by a stronger, superior power; soldiers at the front and their families at home knew that the war had to be won to safeguard a future for their children. As Stargardt argues, they could not wish for Germany's defeat not because they identified the war with National Socialism, but because they shared a deep sense of intergenerational responsibility which served as the strongest foundation for their patriotism. One soldier wrote that he fought precisely because he was an anti-Nazi: he fought for Germany, which only after defeat, after the end of the Hitler period, can exist again(...)never for the Third Reich.".

Stargardt makes a solid argument that German war atrocities were widely known in Germany: "execution tourists" took photos of brutal murder of Polish civilians, and sent them home; soldiers wrote openly of the atrocities they either saw or committed. Soldiers often wrote quite frankly about the mass killing of Jews, even as censorship tightened; although taking photos was forbidden, spectators routinely photographed mass executions and sent the photo rolls home to be developed. As the tides of war turned and Germany found itself at war with Britain, Russia and America all at once, German propaganda began to describe the terrifying bombing of German cities as "Jewish terror"; the population was convinced that the bombing raids were retaliation for mass executions of Jews, and were even afraid that the advancing allied armies will employ their very own Jewish Einsatzgruppen, which would wage a bloody campaign of mass killings just as their own have done.

As the war neared its end, the sense of guilt increasingly gave way to a sense of victimhood. Since Germany in the Nazi period was a totalitarian society which unified the party with the state and demanded total obedience and trust in the Nazi leadership and the Fuhrer, its people used precisely these factors to absolve themselves of any personal responsibility, putting the blame precisely on those whom they were told to trust for leading them into a disastrous catastrophe. The increasingly calamitous conditions of German civilians overshadowed any sense of responsibility for the suffering of German war victims, and by the time the Allied occupation of post-war Germany began German society was united again - this time in rejecting any idea of collective guilt: for many civilians the experience of defeat, hunger, mass death and expulsion made the first post-war years far, far worse than anything they have experienced during the war itself.

In the last part of the book, Stargardt shows a truly fascinating and disturbing picture of a society emotionally detaching itself from its very recent past; theologians decrying the allied bombing of German cities while dismissing facts that it was Germany which waged war, despairing over the millions of expelled Germans while staying silent about millions killed to make space for German settlers. Worse still, allied surveyors discovered that not all wartime beliefs disappeared after the war: in 1945, "Jewish War" was still a popular explanation for American intervention - forgetting that it was Hitler who declared war on America after the Japanese army destroyed Pearl Harbor - and that the German defeat was best explained by the "power of the World Jewry". Even under Allied occupation in August 1945, interviewers found that 37% of the respondents thought that physical extermination of "Poles, Jews and other non-Aryans" was necessary to maintain security for Germany - confirming that most Germans were genuinely convinced that they fought a legitimate and defensive war. In August 1947 - two full years after the end of the war - American investigators conducted another poll, in which 55% of the respondents thought that National Socialism was "a good idea which was carried out badly". The level of support was even higher among those who were under 30, had at least a high school education, were Protestants, lived in Hesse and West Berlin - the figures reached 60-68%. To emphasize: this was a time when openly endorsing National Socialism was still a potentially capital offense.

The German War: A Nation Under Arms is an excellent book for those who wish to understand how Germans perceived and reacted to the war. Stargardt has done great research and has written a compelling account on how both civilians and soldiers lived and what they thought during the Third Reich. Although I expected history composed less of personal accounts and more of a scholarly study of propaganda and its impact on the German populace, I have thoroughly enjoyed the book from beginning to end and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing the German perspective to the war an how it has developed and changed throughout and after it.
Profile Image for Geevee.
359 reviews209 followers
February 25, 2016
A very accessible and interesting account of German life and lives at war. It covers a number of topic areas that influenced or touched daily life including religion, air-raids, propaganda and news, theatre, rationing, industry, foreign/slave workers as well as hopes and dreams of people for the war and after. It is by nature of scale and people's involvement Eastern Front focussed alongside the home front but does cover war in the west. The extermination of Jews, Poles, Russians and others is covered and is very finely balanced when linked to how the German nation was told, knew, supported and accepted (or not) the war against Jewry.

I would have liked some further detail on areas such as experiences of the Bund Deutscher Mädel [League of German Girls], the Hitler Youth, Volksturm, Reich Labour Service and also how for instance the German Post Office and say air raid precautions fared and worked.

However, this is not to detract from the book but more shows the width of subjects touched and that more volumes could be covered (allowing for source material) for this reader's appetite.

Photographs are well presented and of good quality as are maps. Notes and bibliography help the reader understand the source and offer further reading.

The final chapter is illuminating in not only how some the correspondents and families fared but also how people in positions of authority ended up working in West (and East) German government offices. I found it fascinating how many former Gestapo, SS and SD men served in the West German Diplomatic Corps, the judiciary and Finance ministry. It also - briefly - covers the Victors' denazification programmes and how the German "victim" was emphasied by both East and West.

Read alongside other histories by Richard J Evans, Richard Burleigh and Roger Moorehouse plus books on the home front of Britain it adds considerable interest and understanding to both Germany at war and people in general.
Profile Image for Tim.
202 reviews92 followers
September 24, 2018
The second world war from a German perspective in the form of letters and diary entries from ordinary people. The overriding impression is how eagerly an entire civilised nation become so stupid, self-righteous and brainwashed. Even the individuals who weren't Nazis bought the idea that Germany was fighting a defensive war, forced on them by "international Jewry" or colonial ambition on the part of the British. What was more depressing that even towards the end of the war these people were still deluding themselves with sentimental notions and visions of the German soldier as some kind of paragon of honour and virtue. It was interesting to discover many Germans believed the bombing raids on German cities were revenge for Germany's annihilation of the Jews. They clung on to the idea that Jews were pulling the world's strings until the very end. Probably I've read too many accounts of Jewish suffering to feel any sympathy for German individuals during the war and I felt little for any of the people in this book. When the war is over, the tendency seems to be to play the victim. Like Austria announcing itself as the first victim of Nazi repression. If there's any proof that Austrians on the whole were any less psychotically racist than the Germans I've not seen it. Much is made of the bombing of Dresden but it should be remembered that even when it was clear Germany had lost the war they not only carried on fighting "to the death" but sent children to fight and as a result tens of thousands of allied soldiers were being needlessly slaughtered every month. Also, that the Nazis were boasting of a secret weapon which no doubt was feared to be the atomic bomb. Nor that even at this late date the majority of Germans were still very much behind Hitler. It's to the credit of Germans that later generations have taken on board culpability, unlike the generations featured in this book who remained a deluded vainglorious shameful bunch who serve to personify the evils innate in mindless chest-beating nationalism.
An interesting book rather than a must-read for me.
Profile Image for Jonny.
129 reviews69 followers
January 24, 2020
One of those oft - asked but never answered questions... Just what the hell were the Germans thinking?

Quite often, it would appear, the answer would appear to be "why us?". Nicholas Stargardt attempts to puncture the myth of a nation of "Good Germans" victimised as bystanders in a war they neither wanted not supported through the examination of the experiences of German civilians and members of the military, often using the experiences of families both at home and on the front line.

The book is eminently accessible, very readable and makes no bones that at least knowledge of, if not actual participation in, war crimes was widespread, especially in the East, and that this knowledge filtered back to the homefront, where people were pooling snippets of knowledge about the persecution of the Jews to build an incomplete, inaccurate only in the actual details, picture of the Final Solution. Indeed, by 1943 the building intensity of the British bombing campaign was blamed on "Anglo-Jewish" revenge for German Jewish policy (an awful lot of things seem to be the fault of the British, too).

The effect and subtlety of propaganda is also finely balanced in determining how the attitudes of the population could be manipulated, and frequent examination of SD reports into public attitudes and how they have reacted to Goebels propaganda pepper the book.

The final chapter with the post war period, the failure of the various de-Nazification programmes and the ridiculously rapid adoption of a cult of victimisation amongst the German populace - often ignoring or turning on its head the actual treatment meted out by Germans (the bombing war being a case in point).

Finely balanced (who'd have thought that the Gestapo balanced their investigations with examinations of the motives and backgrounds of the purple they were investigating?) this is an excellent 5* read. One everyone ought to pick up.
Profile Image for Майя Ставитская.
1,446 reviews141 followers
September 19, 2022
Before, it was only a view from the outside. I am one of many for whom the Second World War was for a long time the Great Patriotic War, in which the Soviet people defeated the Nazi invaders. After that, an Anglo-American view of the events of that time was added, there is a lot of excellent English-language literature on this topic. Jewish on the Holocaust. French for occupation. With each new one, the picture became more voluminous, more complex and scarier. Remaining a military story, which was told by the winners.

Until in the last decade (I'm talking about myself, maybe it happened to others earlier), the voices of the defeated began to seep into the cultural space. Slowly, carefully, gradually, Japan, Italy. Suddenly, sharp as "Nate!" - "Reader" by Schlink, followed by "Bella Germany" and "Piccola Sicily" by Speck. Everything is artistic, the cognitive dissonance from the change of the angle of view is somewhat mitigated by the time distance and the large specific gravity of the love line. Nicholas Stargardt's book is different. This is a documentary-based immersion into the reality of the Germans from the beginning of World War II to the defeat and denazification.

An Oxford professor, in whose veins Australian blood mixed with German and Jewish, Stargardt teaches modern European history, holds the rank of vice-president of Magdalene College, is known as a specialist in modern German history. In his writings, he pays special attention to the German idea of militarism, which it would be a mistake to think of as having arisen simultaneously with National Socialism. There is a much older and stronger tradition there, suffice it to say that one of the author's books is dedicated to this topic. The title is "The German Idea of Militarism: Radical and Socialist Critics 1866-1914"

"A mobilized nation. Germany 1939-1945"also covers a longer period than directly from the beginning of the Second World War. The aspect of militancy cultivated for quite a long time, the nation's willingness to accept militaristic ideas, should not be discounted when considering the totality of factors that led to the war. There were a lot of them, not least Nietzscheanism with ideas of the Ubermens, which were organically overlaid with racial theory.

Хотят ли немцы войны
Очень немногие – можно сказать, вообще никто – не задумывались об ответственности немцев как народа в целом. Значительное число опрошенных, даже в условиях союзнической оккупации, демонстрировали готовность поддерживать мнение, будто «уничтожение евреев, поляков и прочих неарийцев» было необходимо для «безопасности немцев».
Прежде это было только взглядом извне. Я одна из многих, для кого Вторая Мировая, долго была Великой Отечественной - войной, в которой советский народ победил немецко-фашистских захватчиков. После добавился англо-американский взгляд на события той поры, прекрасной англоязычной литературы на эту тему много. Еврейский на Холокост. Французский на оккупацию. Со всяким новым картина становилась объемнее, сложнее и страшнее. Оставаясь военной историей, которую рассказывали победители.

Пока в последнее десятилетие (говорю о себе, может быть с другими это случилось раньше) в культурное пространство не начали просачиваться голоса побежденных. Медленно, осторожно, исподволь, Япония, Италия. Вдруг, резкое как "Нате!" - "Чтец" Шлинка, а за ним уж "Bella Германия" и "Piccola Сицилия" Шпека. Все художественное, когнитивный диссонанс от смены угла зрения несколько смягчен временной дистанцией и большим удельным весом любовной линии. Книга Николаса Старгардта другая. Это основанное на документальных свидетельствах погружение в реальность немцев от начала Второй Мировой до разгрома и денацификации.

Оксфордский профессор, в чьих жилах австралийская кровь смешалась с немецкой и еврейской, Старгардт преподает современную европейскую историю, пребывает в чине вице-президента Колледжа Магдалины, известен как специалист по современной истории Германии. Особое внимание уделяет в своих трудах немецкой идее милитаризма, о которой было бы ошибочно думать, как о возникшей одновременно с национал-социализмом. Там куда более давняя и прочная традиция, достаточно сказать, что одна из книг автора, посвященная этой теме. называется "Немецкая идея милитаризма: радикальные и социалистические критики 1866-1914"

"Мобилизованная нация. Германия 1939–1945"также охватывает больший промежуток, чем непосредственно от начала Второй Мировой. Аспект культивируемой на протяжении достаточно долгого времени воинственности, готовность нации воспринять милитаристские идеи, не стоит сбрасывать со счетов, рассматривая совокупность факторов, приведших к войне. Их было немало, не в последнюю очередь ницшеанство с идеями уберменшей на которые органично наложилась расовая теория.

Тяжелая экономическая ситуация, Германия была первой страной, пережившей гиперинфляцию в последние времена Веймарской Республики, которой приход к власти национал-социалистов противопоставил некоторое возвращение стабильности. Мощное рабочее движение со все более реальной перспективой революции, которой всякое правительство стремится избежать, перенаправляя агрессию со внутреннего противника на внешнего врага. Впрочем, внутренним гитлеровская пропаганда тоже не пренебрегала, найдя источник бед в евреях и умело подогревая антисемитские настроения, всегда сильные в Германии.

И конечно реваншизм, острое желание вернуть утраченное в результате поражения в Первой Мировой, смыть унижение репараций, показать всем, что немцы лучшие. Это только идеологическая составляющая, реальным локомотивом ситуации становится экономика. Возможность нажиться за счет разорения покоренных народов. узаконенный грабеж не озвучивается при подготовке военных компаний, но подразумевается участниками. Война не только боль, кровь, насилие и разрушение, но еще и перемещение огромного количества ресурсов из одних рук в другие, возможность завладеть, не строя и не покупая.

Захватническая риторика строится, впрочем, не на предложении пойти и ограбить, которому нравственный закон внутри абсолютного большинства популяции противится, но на призыве спасти соотечественников, которых унижают и обижают соседи. В случае Германии накануне Второй Мировой, камнем преткновения стал вольный город Данциг (тот самый, что в "Жестяном барабане" Гюнтера Грасса), с довольно большим числом проживавших там немцев, которых поляки (Данциг - ныне польский Гданьск), согласно пропаганде, всячески притесняли.

Таким образом. Польша была назначена врагом, а все вообще соседние страны - посягавшими на территориальную целостность Германии. В этих условиях геббельсовская пропаганда начинает массированное наступление на сердца и умы нации. Все эти тингшпили, факельные шествия и чудовищные по сути, но невероятно яркие ночные книжные аутодафе с кострами на главных площадях играли роль "зрелищ" в условиях уменьшения второй составляющей -"хлеба".

Говорю об этом не случайно, перевод экономики на военные рельсы осуществлялся с немецкой аккуратностью еще до начала массированного вторжения в Европу. В 1939 в Германии была введена карточная система, в том числе на одежду - владелец двух пар обуви не имел права купить третью, на год выделялось 100 баллов для покупки одежды, пара носков или чулок оценивалась при этом в 5 баллов. Основу рациона составили отныне хлеб и картошка, кофе был признан продуктом роскоши, пиво стало жиже, колбаса с добавками.

Драконовские меры применялись к трудновоспитуемым подросткам, как правило, из бедных рабочих кварталов, чьи отцы ушли на фронт, а матери не могли уделять им достаточно внимания из-за занятости на работе. Таких массово забирали в исправительные заведения, где принудительный труд, скученность, скудный паек и отсутствие нормальных условий часто вели к смерти от туберкулеза спустя год-два. В отношении психических больных вводилась принудительная эвтаназия - эвфемизм для узаконенного убийства смертельной инъекцией.

То есть, как бы понятнее, чудовищное зверство Германии в отношении покоренных народов, геноцид евреев и цыган в период Второй Мировой, эта жестокость распространялась и на собственных граждан, не отвечавших высоким стандартам расовой чистоты. Гомосексуальность преследовалась тем же заключением в концентрационные лагеря,что и коммунистические взгляды. За религиозные убеждения, предполагающие пацифизм, как у адвентистов седьмого дня, казнили.

Шесть частей книги: от "Отражая нападение" до "Полный разгром" охватывают историю войны, зафиксированную письмами и дневниками немцев, среди которых были как горячие сторонники режима. так и не принимавшие его. Чтение трудное, иногда болезненно мучительное, но оно насыщает культурное пространство подробностями и позволяет максимально расширить взгляд на картину той войны.

Profile Image for Mikey B..
1,005 reviews374 followers
May 7, 2019
This is a very thorough examination of 1939-45 through German eyes. It takes us from the exultation of the conquering of France to the abyss of 1944-45.

The author makes no excuses for this genocidal and racist regime. The German people supported the war, more so after their traditional enemy France was subdued in June of 1940.

Several issues stand-out in this book:

From the letters written from Poland and then from the Soviet Union there could be little doubt that the vast majority of the German populace knew that their soldiers were complicit in mass atrocities in eastern Europe.

Page 233 (my book)

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1941 there were many German eyewitnesses, and photographic evidence flooded back to Germany… spectators at mass executions routinely snapped pictures, including images of each other photographing the scene.
The Red Army found thousands of images of killing sites in the uniform pockets of German prisoners and dead, kept next to pictures of their families, wives, and children.

The German people also saw the war as an avenge reversal for 1918. For myriad reasons they did not feel defeated in 1918, they felt betrayed and humiliated.

Page 77

Holding out against the “spirit of November 1918” featured as a measure of their own salvation. To fail for a second time would prove that Germany was not God’s chosen nation. This national Protestant version of German redemption was just a variant in an anti-liberal and anti-democratic culture which strove to overcome the German disaster of 1918… In the early 1920’s German culture had been awash with predictions of post-war decay, decline and degeneration. These dire predictions had been overturned by the “national rebirth” in 1933.

They saw the invasion and defeat of France and then the attack on the Soviet Union as inevitable – as a task to be done now, so as to avoid passing the “problem” to future generations.

The Nazi leadership, particularly Goebbels, were masters of propaganda. For example, the Katyn massacre by the NKVD (Soviet secret police) was blamed on the Jewish Bolsheviks and gave a foretaste of what could happen if Soviet troops and Jewry ever reached Germany. Also, Katyn was used successfully to divide the Allies, creating a gulf between the Soviet Union and Britain/U.S.

As mentioned, the German populace, while avoiding direct discussion of the Final Solution was aware of what was happening. Hitler’s prophecy speech of January 1939 in which he stated that a new world war would lead not to the destruction of the Germans, but to the destruction of the Jews was used again.

Page 243

Hitler repeated his “prophecy” in his public speeches no less than four times in 1942, now using the unmistakable “Ausrottung” – extermination. The Volkische Beobachter followed its’ masters voice on 27 of February 1942, screaming, “The Jew will be exterminated!”

Page 244

The deportation to the death camps also involved too many different authorities for them ever to have been kept secret. Whether they were soldiers observing the shootings, railwaymen running the deportation trains or local government officials making sure that keys were handed over before their occupants left, all these people… passed their nuggets of knowledge into the general circulation of information.

The Germans were convinced of their racial superiority over other people. In many ways Word War II was a race war for the German people to get what they felt was rightfully there’s. Slavs, Poles, Russians, Roma and especially Jews were seen as unworthy of life. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Ukraine were to be used as part of Germany’s colonial empire and settled by Germans. The lands, villages and homes were simply expropriated of their inhabitants.

Page 138

A student volunteer reflected on her own reaction to watching the SS herd Polish villagers into a shed during one such eviction.
“Sympathy with these creatures? No, at most I felt quietly appalled that such people exist, people who are in their very being so infinitely alien and incomprehensible to us that there is no way to reach them. For the first time in our lives, people whose life or death is a matter of indifference.”

Page 207 by February 1942

Two million Soviet prisoners had perished in German custody.

Page 299

At least 2.4 million people were worked to death in Germany itself following the military crisis of 1941-42.

Interestingly when Allied bombing (called “terror bombing”) started to destroy large tracts of German cities this was blamed on Jewish revenge for what had happened to them. This pulverisation fitted well into German cultures obsession with a descent into the abyss. This became a fixation of an apocalyptic struggle in 1944-45. War was viewed as an essential part of human nature.

Page 467 Lisa de Boor November/1944

“The most miraculous stroke of fate that the German always brings his inner strength, the power of his spirit, to fruition when the trends of the outward world are most unfavourable.”

This outlook of struggle and survival contributed to avoiding the prime issue of responsibility.

The author has an excellent last chapter on after the war citing several religious leaders (Protestant and Catholic) revering the German soldier as being honourable and doing their heroic duty.

This book presents many aspects of the German War and how they were troubled by their own predicament of their sons, husbands, and/or brothers dying or missing at the front, their homes burnt or obliterated by Allied bombing – but also their obfuscation of what caused this -the invasions of Poland, Belgium, Holland, France, the Soviet Union… the millions of destitute foreign workers in their country, the forced removal of German Jews from their homes – and the subsequent bidding for their belongings and houses.

The author mentions that some were anti-Nazis, but they still supported the war which raises the question of how this was different from being a Nazi?

This book is powerful indictment of Germany for this time period. But one cannot but be impressed that today Germany is a wonderful example of a democratic country.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,694 reviews595 followers
August 25, 2017
I have read many books about the Second World War, including many about the Home Front. However, this really is something different – a look at how the German people experienced the war and how those, from many viewpoints, witnessed unfolding events. This book takes us from 1939 and the outbreak of war to the total destruction of 1945. The author takes many different witnesses and uses letters, and diaries, from the time, to help give us a clear picture of how people responded to events. There are soldiers, their wives, girlfriends and parents, Jewish Germans, Jehovah’s Witnesses and people from every walk of life.

It is clear that most Germans, like those people caught up in events in other countries, did not want war – it is also clear that most blamed England for not accepting Hitler’s attempts to make peace. As Hitler blustered about not wanting war, while fearing that he would not get the chance to have military success after the humiliation of World War I, then most people convinced themselves that war was forced upon them. However, while war was distant for most German people in the early days, it was clear that disturbing events were being voiced. While victory seemed easy and France fell, Germany conquered Poland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands, Hitler continually offered Britain peace in his speeches and laid the responsibility for prolonging war at their door. Meanwhile, the Church reported on the murder of the handicapped, those unwilling to fight were killed, or sent to camps, and rumours abounded.

For those who suggest that the Germans knew nothing about the Holocaust, or the murder of the handicapped, and others, in their country, it is clear that – even if many did not know the facts – letters returned to wives, girlfriends and parents, which were oddly un-censored. There were lots of reports from the front about the burning of villages, the killings of Jews and civilians, and, much disquiet from many of the men involved. Some tried to justify the massacres they had been involved in. Gradually, the men became brutalised and harder to shock. They were involved in terrible events and wondered what they could report home safely. Meanwhile, there is much about the role of the Church in this times and the way they were outraged about some events, but not others; most notably most not coming to the aid of the Jews.

This book looks at the Russian front, the starvation of those in the East, the shock of bombs falling on Germany and, finally, the ‘total war,’ as it became apparent that Germany was going to lose. Again, with those from the concentration camps being used to clear up, the prisoners were actually visible to those living in the bombed out cities. Many felt shame, or realised that they would have to answer for what had happened. Others poured scorn and blame on the pitiable people before them, perhaps feeling a confusion of shame and outrage for the situation they found themselves in.

This is certainly a fascinating, interesting, and often moving, read. It helps explain the feelings of normal, German people, who started with the heady excitement of success and descended into the reality of fear, loss, death and collective guilt. Abandoned by their leaders, faced with the savage anger of an invading Russian army and besieged, this really is a tragic tale of the many witnesses of war. Although often uncomfortable reading, I am glad that I read it and felt it gave many different perspectives, to help you understand the experience of the average person. This would make an excellent documentary series.

Profile Image for Numidica.
386 reviews8 followers
February 25, 2020
I chose this book hoping to get a better understanding of why the German people went to war and fought so desperately hard, right to the end, for what many of them thought at the time was a bad cause, or at least a cause unlikely to succeed. I learned a bit of the answer, but certainly not as much as I was hoping to. I lived in Germany for three years in the 1980's, and a very close friend's wife is German; I have dealt with Germans on an ongoing basis for work for the last 25 years, so I think I understand them a bit. There is a quote from Goethe: "I have often felt a bitter sorrow at the thought of the German people, which is so estimable in the individual and so wretched in the generality." Germans really do fit the stereotype of being reliable, punctual, hard-working, and so on, or they did in my experience. And they are rule-followers. Hitler knew this, and he used it to wreck Europe, Germany included, but this does not absolve the Germans of responsibility for the war, and the book reveals this in the words of the people who lived through 1939-45.

Stargardt starts his account in 1939 with the invasion of Poland by the Wehrmacht, but anyone wanting to learn the context must go back to the militarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss with Austria, and finally the negotiated acquisition by Hitler of the Sudetenland, followed by the occupation of the rump Czech lands. Fortunately, I recently finished a history of the Habsburg Empire, which helped me understand the pre-WW1 antecedents, e.g., why there were German “colonies” in the Sudetenland, Poland, Hungary, Romania and elsewhere. Hitler leveraged the presence of these ethnic Germans to fabricate claims in the east, but generally Hitler was fairly direct about his desire for Lebensraum, and he forthrightly declared that might makes right, and that he would eradicate Poles, and later, Russians, to create new German states.

The author uses excerpts from hundreds of letters from ordinary Germans to show what they were thinking at the time, and he weaves in data from German government polls and surveys conducted during the war to illustrate the national mood. With few exceptions, Stargardt does not cover battles in detail, but he gives the flow of events context through the letters. One thing it is easy to forget is that in 1939, the Great Depression was still had Germany firmly in its grip, and countries’ poverty increased the further east one went. So while Germans were astounded by the bounty they found in France (“real butter, real coffee!”) they were equally appalled by the conditions in which they found Russians living. The letters reveal what historians have pointed out: Stalin had so mistreated his people that Germans were often greeted as liberators – until the SS showed up to deal with rear area security. There were at least two ways in which Hitler threw away any chance of victory in Russia: first he started his invasion at least a month too late, so that the Russian winter stopped the Wehrmacht before it could get to Moscow, and second, the harsh treatment (murder) of the Russians in the territories occupied by German forces meant the Wehrmacht was always hamstrung by the need to secure its rear areas against partisan attacks. A third way he ensured defeat, is that Hitler’s Armies were in no way prepared for the Russian winter, or for the logistical challenges of supplying themselves over the thousand-mile distances from the Reich to the front lines.

At times, one feels for the average German who perhaps did not even support Hitler (and it is a fact that the majority of Germans did not vote for him for Chancellor in 1933), but felt duty-bound to answer his call-up notice and report for service in the Army. But then a comment will emerge from a page of a letter about “the necessity to deal with the Jews (or Poles, or Russians)”, or even something more explicitly worded about killing the "lesser races", and that sympathy collapses. As the war went on, Germans began to feel, perhaps rightly, that having mounted the tiger, it was best to remain in the saddle than to try to get off. But a few disagreed. I chuckled at the story of a German veteran of the invasion of Poland and the Battle of France, a grizzled sergeant, who was sent to the Russian front. As his unit made its way east, this NCO talked to more and more German soldiers returning from the front who explained how bad it was. Finally, the sergeant said to himself, “this is just too stupid”, and he slipped away from his unit and headed west, using his gruff, laconic veteran NCO exterior to bluff his way all the way back to Germany. He then boarded a train whose route came close to the Swiss border, where he jumped the train, crossed into Switzerland, and turned himself in. His answer to the Swiss interrogators as to why he deserted, was simple, “I saw no reason to die in Russia”. He lived out the war in Switzerland and then returned to his farm in Austria, where he lived and farmed for another sixty years, unrepentant for deserting. In the general population, however, a significant drop-off in support for the Nazi Party did not come until 1945, when it was becoming clear that the war was lost.

Despite a handful of resistors, like The White Rose group, and the July 20th plotters, the majority followed orders even when the orders included shooting civilians - including children. Feelings of shame for their actions finally began to emerge as the war ground on in the letters soldiers sent home to wives and sweethearts. In fairness, one must remember how the Nazis dealt with backsliders; in the US, conscientious objectors during WW2 had the option to become medics; in Germany, they were executed. In the US Army in WW2, one (1) soldier was shot for desertion; in Germany, at least 50,000 deserters were shot, and it is likely the number was higher. So if one chose to follow one’s conscience, death was likely to attend your steps, as they say. Germans also fought because they felt they were protecting their country from "the Asiatic hordes", and they had seen enough of how Stalin treated his own people to know how he would treat Germans. But the reason the German Army survived the winter of 1941-42 in Russia was the inherent grit and sense of duty of common German soldiers, even in the face of inadequate food, clothing, and equipment. After the failure to take Moscow, and with the entry of the US into the war in December 1941, the war was effectively over (as Charles de Gaulle declared on the day he learned that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor), but Germany would not let it be over for three and a half more years. Some Germans were disgusted enough by the wanton killing of prisoners, Jews, and other marginalized groups to say so in their letters, but a vanishingly small number were willing to act. And even if the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler had succeeded, it is likely that Himmler or Bormann would have taken charge, quashed the plotters, and the war would have gone on.

And so then, the Holocaust. This is the hardest thing to understand. I must find a book to explain anti-semitism to me, because I don’t understand it. A major finding in the contemporary letters, by Stargardt and others, is that Germans did know what was happening to the Jews; perhaps not in detail, but they knew they were being killed, exterminated, not "re-settled" as the Nazis claimed initially. The letters reveal this knowledge over and over in lesser or greater detail, and it was most clear in the last year of the war, when many letters expressed the belief that Germany was being punished "for what we did to the Jews". It was not until years after the war, in Richard von Weisacker’s famous speech of 1985 that a high official of Germany accepted full responsibility for what happened to the Jews, whereas in the ten to twenty years following the war, there were concerted efforts to conceal the extent of the collaboration of the people with their leaders in the Final Solution. There were a small number of Germans during the war who refused to believe that “such things are really being done”, but that was willful ignorance. They knew.

As the war entered its last year, the German Army finally felt the massive resources of the Allies begin to crush them. There has been a lot of nonsense written about German “miracle weapons” like the V2, and jet fighters, and Tiger tanks. Did the Germans have some very high-quality weapons? Yes, but such weapons are useless without the fuel to run them, the pilots to fly them, or ability to manufacture them in significant numbers. Exempli gratia: the Germans built 2,000 Tiger Tanks in WW2; but the Russians built 64,000 T-34 tanks, and the US built 50,000 Sherman tanks. The German fighters were handily outclassed by American P-51 fighters in both quality and numbers. Virtually every U-boat which left harbor after 1943 was destroyed because Germany had lost its surface navy, and the sheer numbers of Allied vessels made each U-boat sortie a suicide mission. As one German arms ministry director said, by January 1945 the German effort against the Allies was not really a war, it was an imitation of a war. The Germans never developed an arms industry equal to the task that Hitler had set the nation to perform.

By the way, in a truly impartial post-war court, not only would Nazis have gone to the gallows, but Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris and Churchill would have been convicted of war crimes for at least the bombing of Dresden, if not many other cities. In the case of Dresden, they knew, knew for certain that there was no military reason for destroying that city. Even Churchill called it a "terror bombing".
Nothing justifies the incineration of children, not even when the parents of those children may have incinerated Jews or others. If killing children is not a crime, then nothing is a crime. It is a sad fact that more than 50% of all civilian deaths from bombing in Germany occurred in the last six months of the war, when everyone knew that Germany was already defeated.

One of the things that resonated with me is the degree to which many educated German soldiers fell back on literature and poetry as a key spiritual support to get them through whatever horrendous experience they found themselves in. Many, many soldiers remembered poetry from Holderlin, quotes from Goethe, arias from Mozart to help them cope. Sadly, this love of culture did not seem to increase their compassion or empathy, or at least, not enough.

So why did the Germans fight for six long years? In the beginning, because Hitler told them to, and most people initially had confidence in Hitler, who, up until 1941 had always been a successful gambler. Later they fought because they knew they had to defeat Russia to prevent the destruction of Germany via retribution. And in some ways they fought because it became a habit after years of war. Such a sad vicious circle and such disgusting ringmasters in the form of the Nazi leadership. The only analog in American history is the Civil War, in which the South fought for a cause which was demonstrably wrong and equally unlikely to succeed – perhaps that is a starting point for Americans trying to understand the German point of view.
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books239 followers
May 10, 2022
Stargardt's massive survey of correspondence among ordinary Germans during WWII gives a new level of objectivity on how people experienced the war. And the thing that struck me most was how familiar it all sounded. The tendency to see conflicts as caused by others. The willingness to embrace great moral crusades against evil. The sense of reverence for the honor and sacrifice of the armed forces. The urge to blame wrongs on other people. The compromises and ingenuities needed to just get by. We hear it said that it's unacceptable to compare anyone with the Nazis. But I think Stargardt does us a great service, helping us to honestly compare them with ourselves.
Profile Image for Paul.
888 reviews71 followers
November 15, 2015
The German War – What the Germans Really Knew

Since 1945 many books have been written about Germany and the action of its people’s during the Second World War, what we have not had in that time is what the German people actually thought. Nicholas Stargardt attempts to change that with The German War, using testimony from those who lived through the period, as well as letters home from the front. One thing I do need to state for a book that is an academic study is that this book is an enjoyable read whether you agree with the conclusion that is a different matter.

One of the important things about this book is that Stargardt brings together so many different sources, from a wide range of people. This book takes its testimony from all sections of German society of the time as all views are important in this book, so we receive the views of soldier, housewives, teachers as well as active Nazis, Christians and the persecuted Jews. So what we, the reader, learn of the political concerns, but also of their hopes and fears. One of the biggest themes throughout the book is that the war is viewed as an ‘intrusion’ in their daily lives.

Also in The German War, Stargardt challenges the idea that the ordinary citizen did not know anything about the round up and murder of Jews. Especially as soldiers returning home on leave or injured tell about the round ups and the systematic murder of Jews in all territories they occupy.

1943 is seen as an important year for the Germans when they had suffered on the battlefield with loss after loss and territory given up. But when there is an attempt on Hitler’s life, the population were relieved that Hilter had survived.

Stargardt also shows the losses that were felt on the home front due to the allied bombing campaign in which 420,000 lost their lives many after August 1944 when the German’s were losing on all fronts. The author also suggests that on every day in 1945 until the surrender cost 10,000 German soldiers lives, a heavy toll indeed. Even with these losses the German people still felt that the war was legitimate, which may seem odd to those of us not from Germany at the time.

As any student of German History is aware that throughout the 1920s and 30s, most German’s felt the humiliation of the Great War betrayal at Versailles, which helped to motivate the people. This also helped the Nazi’s messages of humiliation by German Jews at Versailles in surrendering so much to the victors.

What The German War does do is challenge the perceptions about what the German’s knew about what was going on in their name throughout the war. That this was not a war of honour, but a very cruel and callous war that led ultimately to the use of genocide. The book is brilliant at bringing a personal context to the theme of the war and what happened after the invasion of Poland.

An important history of Germany that has been needed for a long time and also certainly challenges a lot of what we thought we knew and uses excellent source material to prove his arguments. An excellent and very readable book that has the opportunity to open one’s eyes to what German’s actually knew.
Profile Image for Perato.
124 reviews8 followers
February 9, 2022
A necessary book for anyone interested in World War 2, reasons of World War 2/Holocaust and anyone interested in German history. 4,5 stars rounded down.

For me the Nazi Party and the top players of it have been somewhat less interesting aspect of World War 2. They're quite often covered in books covering other parts of the war and one gets about tad too much of Hitler, Himmler and the lot.

BUT this a book that mostly avoids that subject even though the focus is on war time German Reich. The books focus is more about the average people inside the Reich, mostly covered using contemporary letter correspondences. Stargardt paints a vivid picture of the life of people of average German. On occasion he writes about other aspects of goverment and civil society, like the treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals and the food situation or church, but all fall into the sphere of what was important to Germans during war. The letters tell us about what Germans knew about holocaust but also what they wanted to do in peacetime, their sexual thoughts and political opinions, so the picture is quite varied and colorful instead of trying to just prove a point.

Maybe on occasion the book focuses too much on the religious side of the society, especially some individual priests and their opinions, although usually it gives some information what was allowed to been said in German Reich. Towards the end, the book feels somewhat rushed and the average experience loses the battle to the armies moving from both directions. I also would've liked a bit more fleshed out part of the life after the capitulation.

306 reviews69 followers
May 20, 2021
This has to be one of the most psychologically moving & disturbing books I have ever read. The sheer enormity of the atrocities and the duration of the war make this an intense read. The audiobook was excellent.
These people accepted deceptive propaganda until it changed their minds and their society. From the decimation of Poland onward most of the Germans in the book thought they were fighting in a defensive nationalistic War against Jewry.
The details of the wars shows a level of barbarism that is beyond my comprehension.
Profile Image for Kate.
337 reviews10 followers
March 5, 2017
One thing always bothers any Western scholar is to understand how a modern nation could so completely buy into a genocidal war. How could a nation with brilliant writers, composers and intellectuals buy into, in a wholesale way, the conspiracy theory that the Jews, this small subgroup, actually ruled the entire world, had absolute power over every nation...the very concept defies logic. That almost an entire nation could believe that Slavs were so sub-human that their extermination whether through slaughter or starvation was totally acceptable so that Germans could have more farmland and forests to hike through.
One thing that has to be understood is that Antisemitism was rife throughout Europe and Russia and that few national governments could absolve themselves of their complicity in the Holocaust. It is something that has haunted me since my 20s. One thing I think of is the reality that Europe had been at war for hundreds and hundreds of years with its neighboring nations, experiencing ever changing borders, taking turns occupying each others territories. This allowed them to culturally create their own myths about themselves and those they perceived as enemies. It is hard not to see the communal hatred of the 'other', regardless of past alliances to wage war against the enemy of the moment.
It is not that I am blind to the excesses of my own nation, the genocidal war we waged against Native Americans, the dehumanization and violence perpetrated against Negros and Mexicans, or the Filipinos who we incarcerated in concentration camps every bit as horrid as any Nazi camp. But as large and as populated as our country is, I could never imagine that it could rise in one voice and belief that entire races of peoples could be eliminated for the greater good.
Nicholas Stargardt focuses this text on the attitudes, beliefs and motivations of the German populace at large, how they internalized Nazi propaganda, and bought into genocidal policies and rationalized their implementation...this was a very religious nation where 94% of the German population were practicing Christians and Catholics.
The book opens on the German move into the territories they felt they rightfully owned and against their enemy Poland. I was drawn to a paragraph on page 41 and read it several times:
'...Heydrick grasped their opportunity to organize the 'action against the intelligentsia' - the liquidation of the Polish elite. Key targets were teachers, priests, academics, officers and officials, landowners, politicians and journalists. All became libel to arrest, summary execution or deportation to concentration camps where further mass executions could be carried out. Pursuing their own ideological common sense, militias and 'Einstatzkommandos' routinely included Jews as well as psychiatric patents in their 'actions' without seeking further clarification.
The largest massacres were conducted by ethnic German militias, often acting under SD and Gestapo command, in former West Prussian towns. Six thousand were shot in the woods around Piasnica/Neustadt, 7000 in Szpedawsk (PreuBish-Stargard), and at Kochborowo 1,692 asylum patients were killed. On the Gruppa parade ground 6,500 Poles and Jews from Graudenz were shot while 3,000 were killed in Lszkowko. In Minsk 10,000-12,000 Poles and Jews from the Schwetz area were shot in gravel pits. Some 3,000 Jews and Poles were killed on the airstrip at Fordon and in the sand dunes of Miedzyn by Gestapo, SS and militiamen. In the woodland of Rusinowo (Kreis Rippin) the militia shot 4,200 people, and by 15 November members of the militia and the Wermacht had executed 8,000 people in the forests near Karlshof. In the absence of complete figures, some order of magnitude is suggested by the fact that these major 'actions', in each of which more than a thousand people had been killed, alone accounted for over 65,000 deaths. Of these 20,000-30,000 people were killed by local German militias. The overall death toll in the first months of German occupation must be far higher still. Already, these massacres set a new precedent even in the bloodstained annals of Hitler's regime. They would serve as the starting point for the future campaigns in the east."
It is hard to grasp, these were not mobs run a muck like the Irish riots which swept New York against Negros where the death toll reached 120, and petered out from exhaustion of chasing and beating and killing. These were not combat deaths, they were organized and orchestrated 'actions' that occurred after the governments' surrendered: where people were rounded up, and marched and/or transported to sites where bullet by bullet men raised their guns in close quarters and shot over 65,000 people to death in two months. Not that there had never been state violence against civilians, but the scale of slaughter aimed racially at Poles, Jews and Slavs as part of a theory of pacification and the cleansing of occupied territories is still beyond imagination.
I think of the men of my father's generation and can not imagine any circumstance that could induce them to personally kill 65,000 human beings standing just feet away from them in any time period much less with in two months, not that there were not misdeeds in the chaos of war, because I know full well there was...but such a personal and intimate slaughter of civilians at this rate: not possible.
I have known survivors of that war, who were both German who were perpetrators and have know survivors from the camps and from forests and basements that somehow held out for five long years.
I have read many of the immediate post-war histories that absolved the German people...it was only a few bad apples, those ideologues...the SS the SD the true Nazis, regular Germans had no idea what was being done in their names. Yet survivors I met were well aware of the killings and later the death camps. One acquaintance who was a teenager at the time told me how when visiting her grandmother the whole town could smell the sickly sweet smoke from the crematories, if she knew at 13 I know the adults knew full well.
This one paragraph listing the known massacres in the first months after Poland fell was particularly chilling because when they occurred the reader knows that the concept of a genocidal 'total war' against the east was forth coming, with deliberation that their actions would cause the deaths of 30,000,000 plus people either through the hunger wars or outright murder: and those figures while they ended up being a grave under estimate were totally acceptable.
My father and my uncles knew full well that they killed many enemy soldiers, they knew that there was going to be considerable civilian causalities that were part of their assignments of bombing or shelling targets, but they took no pleasure in the killing, and to some extent it wore on them, but they knew that in war there would be causalities. The wholesale slaughter of civilians, or even the belief that any group of people were so sub-human that they could be treated in this way was beyond their frame of reference.
It is interesting how churches and religious people rationalized this concept of an existential 'total war' wherein the land would be cleansed of all enemies, each man woman and child. The people the author selected to be followed through this period and their letters and recollections is a very reveling look into the minds of a nation who perceived that others had started and were waging the war against them, and that they were in mortal fear of having others do unto them what they had done.
Profile Image for Lee Osborne.
315 reviews5 followers
August 21, 2017
This book is a fascinating account of World War 2 as it was experienced by a wide range of different people - civilians, soldiers, Nazis and their victims. The author uses letters and diaries to follow and examine the opinions and motivations of Germans as the war first went in their favour before later going very badly wrong, causing the country to collapse in almost apocalyptic destruction.

Moving, detailed and very engrossing, although extremely sobering - the ruination and death resulting from the war was just unbelievable. There's lessons here for all who will listen, for sure.
Profile Image for Natalia.
143 reviews4 followers
March 31, 2023
Важная и грустная книга. Печально, что прочитают ее не те, кому она нужна прежде всего.
Какой долгий и трудный путь нам предстоит...
120 reviews51 followers
May 3, 2016
Unlike 1918 Hohenzollern Germany, Nazi Germany did not collapse either militarily or socially; it ended when most of Germany’s cities were destroyed, most of its armed forces were lost by combat attrition, and most of its territory was occupied. This books provides some explanation for Nazi Germany’s extraordinary cohesion down to the bitter end, via the documented war experiences of a cross-section of mostly ordinary German soldiers and civilians.
Profile Image for Melinda.
1,885 reviews18 followers
June 25, 2016
Brilliant. What an ineresting way to look at history - through the lens of letters and correspondence between husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, colleagues, managers and subordinates. Add in some futher more ' official' historical documentation and marry that with general history timelines and what you get is a fascinating look at what real Germans were thinking and doing in the lead up to, during, and just after WW2. Really really compelling stuff.
Profile Image for Ryan.
168 reviews12 followers
April 2, 2022
I was talking about this book with my sister the other day, and I ended up just repeating two words, over and over again, while describing different aspects. And I think they serve as an appropriate sum up of my review :


I worried initially that this was going to be very pro-German, but while it does humanize the home front, it does not shy away from exploring how Germans managed to rationalize to themselves what their regime was up to. It wasn't a question of whether or not their government was murdering Jews, it was a question of how each person managed to convince themselves it was ok. Some more eagerly, some less, but almost everyone got there eventually. Some standout points to me :

* Apparently the mass of German opinion solidly believed that WW2 started on September 3, not September 1 -- a key difference, as the former date is when Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the latter is when Germany invaded Poland. To Germans, this was not the start of a war, it was a counterattack against Polish border incidents, and at most a regional skirmish. It was all the West's fault that things blew up, and thus, the deeper they got the more they were able to convince themselves that their reactions were justified and the Nazis were fighting a defensive war. Which is insane.

* As other reviews have mentioned, many, many German soldiers were found with photos of the murder orgies they committed on the eastern front in their wallets, right next to their sweethearts and children. As the author points out : this film had to be sent back home for processing, so the developers saw them, and then passed back to relatives, who also saw them, before being mailed back to soldiers at the front. They knew.

* There's an interesting interweaving here between talking about Goebbels' propaganda efforts, and how he tried to manage public opinion, and then seeing how people reacted to it and whether it worked or not. There was a conspiracy of open silence about the gas chambers where everyone knew about it but officially didn't talk, progressing as the war turned against Germany into OPEN PUBLIC ADMISSIONS that they had done it. So everyone had better buckle up because we did such terrible things that if we lose the allies will do equally terrible things to us. It was also interesting to me that the bombing of German cities was widely attributed to "Jewish terror-bombing"...as revenge for the extermination camps. Which is weird to me but I guess in that propaganda environment it wouldn't be terribly difficult to draw a line between.

* This gut-churning passage from near the end of the book, talking about German POWs in Soviet camps, which were both less extensive than the Germans thought, and obviously much better than Auschwitz (admittedly a very low bar to clear) :

"As if to displace the real concentration camps in Germany, which the Americans had made some local residents visit, special traveling exhibitions were mounted so that Germans could walk up to the barbed-wire fences and the watchtowers of models of Soviet prison camps. It was German men and women who were sent to the left and to the right, German corpses that were piled in makeshift mortuaries and their gold teeth that were pulled out before the bodies were interned in a Soviet camp's mass grave. While the tales of suffering of the prisoners of war in the 1950s or those of German expellees, carefully compiled and published in a multi-volume edition by the West German government, were widely publicised, few Germans wanted to discuss the genocide of the Jews, whose details had been silently borrowed for the tales they were now telling about their own suffering."


Growing up, I had an attachment to lost causes. I don't know if that's an American thing, "rooting for the underdog" or whatever, but I was fascinated with the Civil War and WW2. I read Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in seventh grade, and have again many times since then. I am ashamed to say that I was much more interested in the South (the Civil War was fought over states' rights!) and the Germans (sure, Nazis are bad, but what an amazing army and battle doctrine they had! Rommel was awesome! And those uniforms!) than I was in the people who fought to defeat them. My views have evolved since then and I view my childhood affinities with much embarrassment. They're still my favorite historical field of study, but I recognize that those sides respectively were absolutely wrong, and deserve no sympathy.

I say this particularly because even after reaching that conclusion, the myth of "good Germans" stuck with me for a very long time. I finally got over the "clean Wehrmacht" part of it by reading an excellent biography of Erich von Manstein almost ten years ago. The main thrust of that was that there was no clean Wehrmacht, and that Manstein et. al. carefully engineered that myth in the 50s to rehabilitate themselves in the 50s and pin all the blame for any war crimes on the SS, and the West was only too eager to lap it up so they could employ the Bundeswehr in the Cold War. I started to get over the "clean home front" watching an episode of Band of Brothers called "Why We Fight", wherein numerous Germans in a town right next to a concentration camp all profess to have had no idea, and everyone claims they weren't Nazis, were never Nazis, etc. And you realize that that strains credulity. These camps were everywhere. Prisoners didn't stay in the camps either - they were brought out to work in industries *in towns*, or to manage flak batteries or do rubble cleanup towards the end of the war, etc. There was no way you could not see them, and know what was happening. This book puts the nail in the coffin for me of that myth. Were there good Germans? Of course there were. We should not paint everyone with the same brush. But all the same, good Germans or ardent Nazis, enthusiastic soldiers or isolated resistance fighters or even people who only wrote down their misgivings and reservations in their personal diaries...

they knew.
Profile Image for Ian Beardsell.
238 reviews24 followers
November 15, 2019
This was a fascinating account of life for the people "on the other side" in WWII. Although Nicholas Stargardt is an Oxonian academic, he certainly does not write like one. Through historical research, diaries, and letters, this author brings a realistic and highly readable depiction of daily life and the moods the German population went through from the outbreak of the war to its devastating conclusion with the Allied occupation.

Although I was concerned that it would be difficult to track all of the various persons whose accounts he outlines, Stargardt had a knack for mentioning at least the key personae frequently enough so that you can, with some effort, keep track of who was who. Neither does he get bogged down into personal day-to-day details; he instead is able to bring forth the philosophical and psychological aspects, which is something I am most interested in learning about when it comes to German thinking under the Nazis.

Probably one of the most interesting psychological effects discussed in the book, is Stargardt's examination of what he calls "the spiral of silence", in which the German people are subtly allowed access to enough rumours and second-hand evidence to "know about" what is happening to the Jews in their name, but not enough to quite openly discuss it and potentially act against it. Foreign criticism of Germany's treatment of the Jews is scoffed at by the high leaders, but never really denied. In this way, Goebbels, who Stargardt believed actively managed this effect, was able to put a Sword of Damocles above the head of each citizen. The terrible deeds happening in the east are known but not known. They are subtly and privately realized in the imagination of each German, and this in itself is a powerful deterrent from surrendering to the Allies. Goebbels doesn't quite need to say openly, "Do you dare to surrender, given the terrible persecution and killing of the Jews done in your name?" It is unspoken, but suggested, and ultimately understood.

This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the events of WWII and how they affected the German people as individuals and as a nation.
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,746 reviews604 followers
February 7, 2022
Thorough and with good primary source material consulted, Stargardt presents a balanced examination of the German people's attitude towards the war and the atrocities through diaries, letters, interviews, archived data files, etc., to provide an answer to the question of why exactly did Germany fight so obstinately until the brutal end.
Profile Image for Gerbrand.
324 reviews12 followers
January 2, 2016
After I read earlier this year The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littel I became interested in the Second World War written from a German perspective. Nicholas Stargardt is exactly doing that.

From 1939 to 1945 we follow ordinary Germans. At the front and at home. Stargardt uses their letters and diary entries and we learn what goes on in their minds and hearts. And how they experience the various phases of the war. Throughout the book you also get a better understanding of the importance of Nazi propaganda. Almost everything was blamed on the Jews.

The allied bombing of Hamburg (July 1943) and Berlin (November 1943) and all other bombings later were referred to by the public as Allied punishment or Jewish retaliation.

If these bombings or the losing battle in the east let to defeatism, the Nazi regime reacted like this:

“On 6 October 1943, Himmler took the unprecedented step of addressing the wider Nazi leadership gathered in Posen, telling them how he had dealt with ‘the problem of defeatism’ through a small number of exemplary executions of those talking out of turn:

We will never catch every winger and neither do we want to do so…Those who are caught have to pay the price – that is after all the point of any law – and by their death serve as a lesson and a warning to thousands of others, so that they don’t unwisely do the same.

The small, selective wave of terror against individuals accused of spreading the same ‘defeatist rumours’ which the SD continued to report from all across Germany was meant to demonstrate where the limits of public speech lay. In the same address at Posen, Himmler made the first explicit announcement about the extermination of the Jews. This was hardly news to his audience, but it was different for the Reich leaders and Gauleiters to be told officially and bound to secrecy. Himmler told them, ‘I believe it is better, we – we collectively – have done this for our people, have taken the responsibility on ourselves – the responsibility for a deed not just for an idea – and we then carry the secret with us to our graves.”

After the war, the Americans held several polls in Germany. In August 1947 still 55% endorsed the proposition that National Socialism had been ‘a good idea carried out badly’.

A fascinating read.
Profile Image for Rick Slane reads more reviews less.
577 reviews62 followers
April 28, 2017
I have been looking for books like this. The focus here is not on the leaders but more on common men and women. I always wondered how the masses could follow the Nazis through to the end of the war. The answers are complicated by many factors many going back to World War I. The support of the Nazis does not necessarily make sense to me but I understand it better after reading this history. One of the chilling lines from the author was that at the beginning of 1942 most of the Jews in Europe were still alive but at the end of 1942 the majority were not. Many Germans thought the Allied bombing was a response to what was being done to the Jews.
Profile Image for Kamil Bryl.
93 reviews8 followers
March 29, 2021
Właściwie 3,5

Ogrom pracy, którą autor włożył w stworzenie tej książki imponuje. Przypisy i bibliografia zajmują kilkadziesiąt stron, choć to pewnie norma w pozycjach takiego typu. Autor mógłby się jednak pokusić o więcej wniosków, skoro sam na wstępie zaznacza, że będzie kontestował przyjęte w historiografii nurty. Mimo to warto przeczytać, bo niewiele się mówi i pisze o tym, co działo się po "drugiej stronie".

POTĘŻNY tłumacz POTĘŻNIE upodobał sobie POTĘŻNY przymiotnik "POTĘŻNY" do tego stopnia, że czasami zagęszczenie POTĘŻNYCH wynosiło POTĘŻNE kilka przypadków na stronę.
Profile Image for Randy  Reigstad.
32 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2023
I'm very happy I could read this book. It gave me an inside look into the citizens of Germany during the war. I was intrigued how much of the citizens continued to back Hitler even unto the end. I will recommend the book to everyone interested in World War 2.

Randy Reigstad
Profile Image for Kieran Healy.
211 reviews
April 1, 2022
Seventy years on – despite whole libraries of books about the war’s origins, course and atrocities – we still do not know what Germans thought they were fighting for or how they managed to continue their war until the bitter end. This book is about how the German people experienced and sustained this war.... both scholarly and popular representations tend towards a fundamentally split view of the conflict, casting Germans as either victims or perpetrators.

Nicholas Stargardt attempts what seems to be impossible, cutting through myth-making, polemics and foregone conclusions to investigate what, exactly, in the hell Germany thought it was doing. In the introduction, he claims to have spent 15 years researching primary sources, SD reports, letters, diaries, speeches, photographs... and it completely shows in this masterful work. By juxtaposing the intents and actions of the Nazi leadership with the diaries and personal letters of ordinary citizens, the cause and effect of both the war and the propaganda.

Stargardt focuses mainly on the regular German citizen and soldier. Generals rarely make an appearance, with battles barely mentioned except when in context of one of the soldiers he follows. Hitler's inner circle is only mentioned in context of propaganda and wartime manufacturing, the things which affected normal German citizenry rather than the war at large. The result is a remarkable look into the average German's mindset at the start of the war and through it. With few exceptions, Stargardt never gets lost in the weeds of minutiae or goes too wide in perspective. One or two cases presented a sort of "exception to the rule" regarding citizens and soldiers, which could have used a little prefacing in order to avoid confusion. He answers questions such as How much of a role did propaganda play? How much did they know about the extermination of Jews? Were they willing participants? Dupes? Why did they support such a catastrophic undertaking? Were they all Nazis? Where was the church in all this? as well as any other question one might have. As he asks early on:

How could they confuse a deliberate and brutal war of colonial conquest with a war of national defence? How could they see themselves as beleaguered patriots, rather than as warriors for Hitler’s master race?

I began this book hoping to gain insight into my own country, observing the rise of a strongman and his unwavering support, and how we can avoid falling into such calamitous circumstances. Since then, Russia invaded Ukraine with what appears to be the full-throated support of the Russian populace. Why? The answers are quite uncomfortable. Generally following a couple dozen people from 1939 through Germany's collapse in 1945, Stargardt manages to let the Germans do their own talking, and thus damns them or absolves with their own words. Damning is the more common result. In short, while it was terrible and atrocity filled, what happened to Germany was it's own making.

What fueled the sense of crisis in the summer of 1943 was a widespread fear that Germans could not escape the consequences of a ruthless racial war of their own making. In overcoming that moment of crisis, people not only had to scrap their earlier expectations and prognoses about the course of the war: they also shed traditional moral inhibitions, overstepping existing notions of decency and shame. Germans did not have to be Nazis to fight for Hitler, but they would discover that it was impossible to remain untouched by the ruthlessness of the war and the apocalyptic mentality it created... However unpopular the war became, it still remained legitimate – more so than Nazism itself. Germany’s mid-war crises resulted not in defeatism but in a hardening of social attitudes.

The beauty in this book, however, is not the conclusions one draws from it. It is the understanding of how Germany, despite all evidence to the contrary, truly believed it was fighting a defensive war. A justified "preemptive strike" against "World Jewry." The propaganda played a role, to be sure, but Goebbels was quick to pivot and recast messages in ways palatable to Germans. To tell them things they wanted to hear, in ways they wanted to hear it. I felt completely enlightened as to how Germany saw itself in the context of it's rise from the ashes of WWI, in which it was cast low and shamed into feeling like victims. How they convinced themselves of the enemy within and outside the Reich.

Very early on, we see that the German populace were not duped into accepting government run mass-murder. They were just not told enough so they could look the other way. I found myself enraged upon learning the atrocities I had no idea about, in addition to the Holocaust and rampant executions of "conscientious objectors" and "defeatists."

The so-called ‘euthanasia action’ began with the children. On 18 August 1939, the Reich Committee for the Registration of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses made it compulsory for doctors to report all newborn children suffering from idiocy, Down’s syndrome, microcephaly, hydrocephaly, spastic paralysis or missing limbs. The registration forms were initially forwarded to three medical experts. As a result of this pilot study, about 5,000 children were killed, and soon thirty psychiatric asylums had established their own so-called ‘children’s units’ where they killed children through a mixture of drugs and starvation.... In September 1940, pastor Ludwig Schlaich, the director of the asylum at Stetten, received notice that another 150 patients would be collected from his asylum... Schlaich took the unprecedented step of contacting the relatives of his patients, telling them to come to the asylum before it was too late to save their loved ones: many came to say heart-rending farewells, leaving highly agitated patients behind. Of the 441 patients at Stetten who were put on successive transport lists, a mere 16 were saved by their relatives. Few families took this opportunity, even, Schlaich ruefully noted, amongst those with sufficient means to care for someone with a disability at home... The civic courage displayed by Schlaich remained highly unusual.

Imagine being told that your sick loved one is going to get carted away and murdered, and your response is to maybe stop by and say goodbye before the deed it done. It gets worse and worse, and as German citizens were made aware of the atrocities committed on their behalf, their response is not to try and stop it but to continue supporting the war in order to not be punished for it. Stargardt expertly shows how normal citizens justify to themselves the actions of their government.

As the war progresses and ultimately ends, there is no mistake about the trajectory of German thinking, a major credit to Stargardt's writing and organization. The finale is a sad, quickly explained transition from aggressor to victim. The German people recast themselves as victims, and the myth stuck for generations.

I could go on and on about this book, and the effect it had on me, but this review is disjointed and rambling enough. I would say if you know very little about WWII, this is not the place to start. But if you want to learn about the ways in which a populace can justify it's own barbaric conduct, perhaps to avoid repeating it or at least recognize it as it occurs, then it's a must-read. I will leave you with one of the most haunting passages I have ever read in my life, and that's saying something.

In June 1942, Erna Petri arrived with her 3-year-old son in Lwów. They had left their farm in order to join her SS husband, and they took over the former manor house of a Polish noble outside the city. With its white-pillared portico and wide meadows, it looked more like the dwelling of a plantation owner than the modest family farm she had left in Thuringia. True to the precept that the Germans should assert themselves physically over the natives, within two days of her arrival she witnessed her husband flogging his farm labourers. Soon, Erna too was beating the workers. As she served coffee and cake to her husband’s SS and police colleagues on the villa’s balcony overlooking the gardens, talk inevitably turned to the mass shootings of Jews. In the summer of 1943, she was returning from shopping in Lwów when she saw a group of nearly naked children crouching by the side of the road. She stopped the carriage, calmed the six frightened children and took them home, where she gave them some food and waited for her husband to return. When he did not turn up, she took matters into her own hands. Pocketing an old service revolver which her father had given her as a parting gift, Erna Petri led the children through the woods to a pit where she knew other Jews had been shot and buried. There she lined them up in front of the ditch and went along the line firing into the back of each child’s neck. She remembered that after the first two, the others ‘began to cry’, but ‘not loudly, they whimpered’.

Profile Image for Carlos.
617 reviews291 followers
June 3, 2016
this book really delivers what it promises . You get the point view of the war from the people that were not necessarily active members of it, you get to see how normal lives were affected by a war that touched every aspect of the German nation. It doesn't give you a really deep look inside the war but there are plenty of books out there about that, no this book deals with the changes that civilians had to put up with at the beginning of the war and it also deals sparsely with the why the german people felt like they "had" to fight with the tenacity in which they did, all the way to the end. A great read altogether.
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69 reviews
July 23, 2022
I found this perspective on WWII captivating and incredibly interesting. As a history book, there is a great balance of exposition, first-hand accounts, and gradual progression through the German psyche that makes it very approachable. Great for casual history readers like myself.

Taking time to read what many Germans experienced, both soldier and civilian, add more depth to this absolutely crazy time in history. I think the author did a great job representing the everyday people that make up "Total War".

I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was... there are a few sexually explicit memoirs, both from the romantic letters between lovers, and accounts of atrocities committed. Especially as the Eastern front is concerned. If you aren't exposed to some of the history on the Eastern front, there may be some hard things to discover as the book accounts some civilian experiences during this time.
February 1, 2023
Как говорят настоящие историки, а не бункерные маразматики, история не повторяется и каждая ситуация уникальна. И все же, и все же когда я читала эту книгу, меня прошибал холодный пот, слезы бессилия и отчаяния.

Про то что, они ничего не начинали: «Прошедшей ночью регулярные польские войска впервые обстреляли нашу территорию, –заявил фюрер наскоро собранным депутатам рейхстага. –В 5: 45 утра [фактически в   4: 45] наши солдаты открыли ответный огонь». Затем Гитлер пообещал ликующим парламентариям «надеть серую полевую форму и не снимать ее, пока не кончится война». Объявления войны не было –Польша такой чести не удостоилась. Слова фюрера служили скорее оправданием «самозащиты» в глазах немцев. Фраза «открыть ответный огонь» прочно вошла в официальный лексикон.

Про стирание городов с лица земли: В сентябре 1939 г. германские военные открыли для себя способ ведения «тотальной» войны нового типа с помощью прочесывания из пулеметов и осыпания бомбами колонн беженцев, беспощадных бомбежек городов и проведения массовых казней военнопленных и гражданских лиц, почти или вовсе без оглядки на какие бы то ни было правила.

Холодильник или телевизор?: Во многих других уголках протектората Богемия и   Моравия студенты и интеллектуалы устраивали тихие протесты и бдения. На них обрушился режим, не собиравшийся терпеть беспорядков среди ненемецких подданных. Если говорить о  « соплеменниках»  –германских и австрийских немцах, тут дело ограничилось саркастическими шутками, рисунками и надписями, но не вылилось в политические акции. Даже эмигранты-социалисты, надеявшиеся на революцию на протяжении предыдущих шести лет нацистской диктатуры, на исходе октября 1939   ��. вынужденно признавали тщетность перспектив восстания: «Только если разразится голод, если он измотает их психику и, сверх всего прочего, если западные державы добьются успехов на западе и займут значительные территории Германии, лишь тогда может прийти время и начнет зреть революция».

Про западных партнёров: Убежденный сторонник нацистов, столяр-краснодеревщик из Тюрингии вовсе не принадлежал к лагерю милитаристов. Скорее он просто разделял общие для соотечественников взгляды на то, будто войну Германии навязали махинации западных держав. «Лучше сразу расчистить стол, – писал он жене Хильдегард, – тогда можно надеяться, что нам больше не придется воевать».

Про убийства детей: События 10 мая постоянно подавались как «убийство детей во Фрайбурге». В действительности гибель мирных жителей стала следствием ошибки пилотов и штурманов немецких бомбардировщиков, которые сбились с маршрута в густой облачности и отработали вместо Дижона по Фрайбургу. Позднее СМИ внесли поправку, хотя вовсе не признали вину немцев: просто французские самолеты сделались британскими. «Англичане развязали войну против детей»

Про спираль молчания: Создалось ощущение «знания без знания», которое как будто не требовало от публики выражения поддержки, одобрения или вообще чувства моральной ответственности. Такая схема демонстрировала способность функционировать очень долго – до тех пор, пока не будет пробита искусственная граница того, что дозволено сказать.

Про защиту родины: Речь Геринга представляла собой высший образец пафоса националистского культа героической смерти –традиции, унаследованной, но не изобретенной нацистами. Фермопильское сражение нашло сильнейший отклик в душах образованных немцев, прозвучав у   Фридриха Шиллера и у солдата и поэта «войны за освобождение» против Наполеона Теодора Кёрнера. Воззвание рейхсмаршала: «В будущем станут говорить так: когда вернешься домой в   Германию, скажи, что видел нас лежащими под Сталинградом, как велел нам закон ради безопасности нашего народа».

Про распятых мальчиков: Один из высокопоставленных приглашенных лиц утверждал в дневнике, будто видел женщин и детей прибитыми к дверям сараев. Хотя сотрудники военной полиции не зафиксировали ни одного подобного свидетельства, истории о распятых женщинах и детях представляли собой очень соблазнительный материал для массового освещения в германских СМИ.

После войны: В своей версии патриархальной семьи образца 1950-х гг., выступающей основой всего и вся, западные немцы стремились компенсировать длительную паузу в прерванном обычном бытии. Нельзя назвать нетипичным случай, когда, обеспечив наконец экономические основы семейной идиллии, родители вдруг обнаруживали, что не знают, о чем рассказать детям. Сами они могли и дальше верить в то, будто «всё было оправдано», однако во многих семьях между поколениями вырастали новые барьеры. В то время как молодежь задавалась вопросом, почему немцы ввергли весь мир в такое ужасное бедствие, старшее поколение по-прежнему оставалось в плену пережитой катастрофы.
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