A major problem in understanding World War II is dealing with its ironies.
Germans mastered most of the military lessons of World War I, but lost; Anglo-
Americans and Russians learned little or nothing from the earlier conflict, but
won. Germans hailed Adolf Hitler as the greatest German in history; but had
Otto von Bismarck rather than Hitler ruled the Third Reich, there would probably
not have been a Holocaust and a German Century might have begun after the
French collapse, in 1940. Instead, National Socialism's "Thousand-Year Reich"
ended twelve years, four months, and eight days after it began, the worst
genocide in history occurred between 1941 and 1945, Hitler committed suicide
in his bunker, and terrified Germans hid in ruins on V-E Day.
Describing the Third Reich's near miss ending Western Civilization has
understandably interested tens of thousands of writers during the past fifty
years. Unfortunately, many scholarly as well as popular histories have been long
repeating conventional wisdom and short reviewing evidence. Yet, unless we
know the precise how, why, when, and in what ways Germans interpreted and
reacted to National Socialism and its ironies, and the precise how, why, when,
and in what ways Hitler interpreted and reacted to domestic and foreign
developments (including ironies), the Nazi experience becomes difficult, if not
impossible, to comprehend.
Noakes and Pridham analyze National Socialism between 1919 and 1945 in a
particularly useful way. First, they judiciously chose documents to buttress
concise commentaries and, like conscientious attorneys (no irony intended),
prove what they advocate. And second, they see the history of the Third Reich
as a whole, an increasingly infrequent phenomenon as writers deal (sometimes
at great length) with previously unexplored details.
Thus the editors view the Holocaust not as a separate Nazi total war against
Jews during total wars against Anglo-Americans and Russians but as a
continuation of the Jew-hatred that was integral to Hitler's Weltanschauung
from his first anti-Semitic writing in September 1919 (Vol. 1, pp. 12-14) to his
"Political Testament," written in the bunker on April 1945 (Vol. 4, pp. 668-670).
From beginning to end, Hitler was convinced that the war was about Jews, a
belief not shared by Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, or
any other wartime leader.
Noakes and Pridham's preparation for this series cannot have been easy. Major
decisions had to be made about which documents to put in and which to leave
out. Not only are there countless published documents available from which to
choose and/or documents cataloged in American, British, and German archives
but countless uncataloged documents in Washington's National Archives. No
one will even venture a guess how many unknown but possibly critical
documents exist in Moscow's archives. The editors had to curtail numbers of documents and discussions of some
topics or the series would have been of infinite length. Whether or not these
omissions are critical will depend on an individual's interests; for example, a
reader searching for a detailed analysis of the New Order in theory and practice
will not find it here. What they will find is a highly-useful introduction to the
ways in which National Socialists approached this desideratum.
Volume One takes us from the founding of the Nazi Party in 1919 to the
machtergreifung, in January 1933. Some documents will be immediately familiar
to readers of Third Reich histories. These include the Party's 1921 "Unalterable
Program" (pp. 111-16), which was, in fact, altered. Another such document is
Hitler's remarks to construction workers at his Berchtesgaden estate in May
1937 (Vol. 2, pp. 264-5):
I am not there to subsidize incompetent business leaders for the sake of the
State. I wouldn't dream of it. I place orders. Who completes them I regard as
irrelevant. If you tell me that a thousand will go bust if I don't subsidize them,
they'll go bust. That's fine by me.
On the other hand, what was not fine by him was super-aggressive National
Socialists mucking about in the economy. When Nazi radicals went too far
attempting to eliminate free enterprise at the beginning of the Third Reich, Hitler
and the SS had no compunctions about murdering old comrades to calm down
conservatives. Eventually, the super-radical SS, whose membership included
few highly competent business leaders, would become a "State Within A State."
To this, Hitler had no objections.
Other documents in Volume One may be less familiar but of particular help in
grasping how Hitler raised money for a relatively insignificant Bavarian Party
during the 1920s, and how he curried favor with national conservative media--
both essential activities if he intended to bring himself and National Socialism
to the attention of a mass public.
With respect to the latter objective, during the autumn of 1929 Alfred
Hugenberg, a press and film mogul, called on Germans to reject the Young
Plan and that blueprint's implication that war guilt articles in the Versailles
Treaty and German reparations were justified. When he invited "all willing to
cooperate" (pp. 64-65) to join him in demanding an end to German reparation
payments, Hugenberg, a far better mogul than politician, brought National
Socialism into the limelight at exactly the wrong time for mankind.
In connection with Party finances, it would have been useful for the editors to
have included selections from such works as Otto Wagener's memoirs.
From Wagener, a Hitler confidant and head of the Economic Policy Section of the Party during its early days, we learn that Hitler was extraordinarily adept at
finding opportunities to argue his message, although (another irony) it would be
wrong to see him as an opportunist. Large numbers of people wanted to hear
him speak, and the Party (under Hitler's tight control) charged admission fees
to rallies at which he appeared. It was the only political party in Germany to levy
such charges. Big Business, it develops, had little use during the 1920s for that
"nobody" from Vienna.
Volume Two offers views of National Socialism's workings after the
machtergreifung and prior to World War II. Its documents should put to rest any
lingering beliefs that Germans supported Hitler during the 1930s mainly
because they lived in constant terror of the Gestapo and the SS. It should also
put to rest any lingering beliefs that Hitler knew what he was doing in the
economy. Through mid-1945, no one abroad or in Germany, including Hitler,
was clear what a Nat