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Publisher's Summary

In The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Thomas Childers shows how the young Hitler became passionately political and anti-Semitic as he lived on the margins of society. Fueled by outrage at the punitive terms imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty, he found his voice and drew a loyal following.

As his views developed, Hitler attracted like-minded colleagues who formed the nucleus of the nascent Nazi party. Between 1924 and 1929, Hitler and his party languished in obscurity on the radical fringes of German politics, but the onset of the Great Depression gave them the opportunity to move into the mainstream. Hitler blamed Germany's misery on the victorious allies, the Marxists, the Jews, and big business - and the political parties that represented them. By 1932 the Nazis had become the largest political party in Germany, and within six months they transformed a dysfunctional democracy into a totalitarian state and began the inexorable march to World War II and the Holocaust.

It is these fraught times that Childers brings to life: the Nazis' unlikely rise and how they consolidated their power once they achieved it. This is the most comprehensive one-volume history of Nazi Germany since the classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

©2017 Thomas Childers (P)2020 Tantor

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Superb and important history

Thomas Childers has written extensively on Hitler and the Third Reich. Previous accounts I've read by him — like his Great Courses entry on the same subject — gave a lot of attention to the rise of Hitler’s government but little to its fall. He's taken a more comprehensive approach here, and the results are much more satisfying: this is truly a detailed, cradle-to-grave history of the Third Reich. He takes us back into Vienna and Munich to watch Hitler’s slow transformation from a penniless street painter into a dynamic and captivating public speaker. He came into the German Workers Party (DAP) as a police spy and, sensing an opportunity, began taking over as their main attraction. His speeches were consistent in blaming Germany’s defeat in the Great War on the bankers, industrialists, and Jews who were more interested, he said, in turning a profit than in defending the Fatherland. Under his leadership, the DAP became the NSDAP — the National Socialist German Workers Party: the Nazis. Bavaria in general and Munich in particular were hotbeds of right-wing resistance to the Weimar Republic. And that Republic had failed, miserably, partly because of the blindness and tunnel vision of the allies who had defeated Germany. One detail from Childers illustrates how badly Weimar had failed. Workers were paid three times a day. The morning’s pay was handed over to a family member waiting outside to buy lunch, because by lunchtime inflation would have rendered the morning’s pay worthless. The Great Depression in 1929 wreaked even greater havoc in the German economy and opened the way for the NSDAP, until then a tiny minority party, to begin gaining influence and winning seats in the Reichstag. Antisemitism was the core of its message from the start. Childers confesses to some puzzlement as to when this ideology became central for Hitler: people who knew him when he was penniless in Vienna saw no signs of any particular hostility toward Jews. But certainly by the time he assumed leadership of the NSDAP, there was no question that the extermination of European Jews was part of his agenda. He started small, though, with a vow to save German owners of small shops from the “pestilence of Jewish department stores.” When the NSDAP controlled the government, he said, there would “be no place for Jews,” and International Capitalism would at last be brought to heel. This threat was fulfilled in 1935 with the passage of the Nuremberg laws and their several supplements, stripping Jews of German citizenship, forbidding intermarriage, and closing all professions to Jews. Those Jews who could afford to leave Germany left — which was at least partly the point. Hitler won the lottery by refusing to play. Offered a place in a coalition government — a place, but not the top place — he refused. He then made his refusal to compromise a central part of his campaign for a government completely controlled by the NSDAP. By backroom intrigue, he managed to secure for himself the position of chancellor; and almost immediately the Reichstag fire precipitated a crisis that allowed him to suspend all civil liberties. The stormtroopers went wild in the streets, beating, arresting, and murdering thousands of Jews and communists. (Childers suggests the fire was most likely set by a lone arsonist, but acknowledges there is some evidence it was part of the overall Nazi conspiracy.) Consolidation followed rapidly, and soon the NSDAP was the only legal party in Germany. Hitler’s ruthlessness came to the fore in 1934 when his old pal Ernst Röhm, leader of the Brownshirts, became a serious threat to the army. Over the course of three days, Hitler personally directed the arrest and execution of Röhm and a hundred or more other leaders of the Brownshirts as well as a select list of anti-Nazi political enemies. Some were shot on the spot; some were dragged into a nearby field and hacked to death. The Night of the Long Knives was made legal retroactively by legislative fiat. The final nail fell into place shortly afterwards when the war hero President Hindenburg died, and Hitler declared that he was taking on that office as well. He now had absolute power and a field cleared of his worst enemies. Childers tries to convey a sense of the cultural changes that took place under the Nazis as well. Almost immediately, Jews were by law removed from public life. Universities offered little resistance as their faculties were decimated and their libraries purged of “non-Aryan” material. Many scientists, writers, and artists fled, but a surprising number remained and adapted. Nazi propaganda invaded every aspect of life. It was there in the youth groups, on the factory floor, in the arts, in the newspapers, over the airwaves. Books were burned and “degenerate” art prohibited and confiscated. The swastika was everywhere: even tubes of toothpaste bore them. The Catholic Church was officially ridiculed and (mostly unsuccessful) attempts were made to establish a German Christian Church founded firmly on a doctrine of antisemitism and racial purity. As racial purity came to dominate policy, experiments in bringing it about by artificial means were carried out. This began with a massive program of involuntary sterilization, and universities and medical schools began running courses on eugenics. As red lines were crossed, the medical profession began cooperating in the effort to identify children with physical and mental defects, and hospitals were fitted out with various means of exterminating them. When war came, cover was provided for a massive increase in the use of death camps to remove millions of people considered undesirable, chief among them the Jews who became part of the Reich as a result of conquest. In the last quarter of the book, Childers turns his attention to the Second World War and the Holocaust. The two were inextricably linked. Hitler’s plans from the beginning had included the conquest of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, if not the world itself, and he began with a series of small challenges to see what the reaction would be. As he rebuilt the army and the Air Force, sent troops into the Rhineland, incorporated the whole of Austria into the Reich, the protests from the victors of the Great War were feeble or nonexistent. When he threatened to incorporate the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia, the protests were noisier but remained impotent. And so a Hitler made bold by success invaded and conquered Poland, starting the Second World War, and was finally able to make good on his promise to open up “living space” for the German people. This of course required the wholesale relocation or extermination of millions. His account of the war is sparing and is strictly limited to those parts that affected the Third Reich. One aspect of the war was consistent with Nazi ideology but actually began as a crime of opportunity: the industrial-scale destruction of European Jews. Childers provides a concise but powerful account of the Holocaust: how it happened, why it happened, who made it happen, and how it was carried out. Some of the images from this section of the book are searing and unforgettable. Given that this is only part of a larger narrative, there is much that is left unsaid, and Childers could provide a great service by giving us a book-length treatment of that topic. But it’s hard to think how he could have made it any more clear, in the space he had available, what the Nazis intended and how close they came to accomplishing it. The book obviously overlaps with William Shirer’s masterpiece The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The two books are not competing with each other. Shirer’s account has the immediacy of someone who was there, a reporter with a trained eye for the telling detail. Childers’ account is an historian’s narrative based on an additional 60 years of research in the archives. Don’t force yourself to make an artificial choice between them: read both books, each one as a commentary on the other. Pay particular attention to the early chapters, the ones that cover Hitler’s rise to power. The most vital lesson to take away from a study of this period is how easily a democratic republic can be subverted by someone with no respect for its norms. I would also recommend The Nuremberg Trials by John and Ann Tusa. It’s gratifying to see how the good guys, having finally won, dissected the Nazi regime and made irrefutable proof of their crimes a permanent part of the historical record. (Yes, the trials were imperfect, and sometimes there was a colossal amount of hypocrisy involved, especially on the part of the Russian delegation, but it was better to try than not to try.) The narrator David De Vries has a “public” reading style — in other words he sounds like he's reading the book to a live audience, and at times he tends toward the declamatory. But he can be low and quiet too, as he is when recounting the crimes of the Holocaust or the last days of Hitler in his Berlin bunker. Childers’ book ends with a passionate plea for everyone to be vigilant: if rights are lost by one group, no matter how small, he says, rights are lost by all. De Vries delivers this plea with passion and sincerity.

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Not the greatest

When one is halfway through And you’re still waiting ? It’s not high praise So save your money and buy bubble gum

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Very good overall history

I've listened to a lot of WWII histories and histories of the Third Reich. I thought this was a great overall history, good for someone who is interested in the subject and looking for an introduction. I also thought the narration was really well done.

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  • LolaB
  • 09-18-20

Great Overview

Well written is a brusque manner which i think is required in such a vast subject. A revisionist perspective with excellent use of the diaries of Viktor Klemperer and Ian Kershaw bio of Hitler. A detailed and precise description of the full horrors of the regime and a decent mention of resistance peppered throughout the chapters. Narration was great too. It is a great intro to the subject and does not assume any prior knowledge which is a tricky path to navigate when it comes the the Third Reich

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-27-20

Okay bar one or two things

A good introduction to the horrors of the Nazi regime that properly highlights Hitler’s and his followers' inexcusable atrocities. Mr Childers does however downplay the deal done with the Vatican, but that is a matter of degree and opinion. Plain wrong are his frequent references to England, when England ceased to exist on the world stage after 1707. This is as jarring as it would be to say that Pearl Harbour brought California into the War.