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The Scramble for Europe

Richard J. Evans: German Imperialism, 3 February 2011

Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler 
by Shelley Baranowski.
Cambridge, 380 pp., £17.99, November 2010, 978 0 521 67408 9
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... A few decades ago, historians searching for the longer-term roots of Nazism’s theory and practice looked to the ruptures and discontinuities in German history: the failed revolution of 1848; the blockage of democratic politics after unification in 1871; the continued dominance of aristocratic elites over a socially and politically supine middle class; the entrenched power of the traditionally authoritarian and belligerent Prussian military tradition – in short, everything, they argued, that had come by the outbreak of the First World War to distinguish Germany from other major European powers and set it on a ‘special path’ to modernity that ended not in the creation of a democratic political system and open society to go with an industrial economy, but in the rise and triumph of the Third Reich ...

Spot and Sink

Richard J. Evans: The End of WW1, 15 December 2011

With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 
by David Stevenson.
Allen Lane, 688 pp., £30, May 2011, 978 0 7139 9840 5
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... In November 1918, after more than four years in the trenches, Adolf Hitler was in hospital away from the front, temporarily blinded by a gas attack. As he was recovering, he was told of Germany’s surrender and the overthrow of the kaiser. ‘Again,’ he later wrote, ‘everything went black before my eyes.’ And so it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations; in vain the hunger and thirst of months which were often endless; in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; and in vain the death of two million … Was it for this that these boys of 17 sank into the earth of Flanders? Was this the meaning of the sacrifice which the German mother made to the fatherland when with sore heart she let her best-loved boys march off, never to see them again? Like many others in Germany, Hitler struggled to find an explanation for Germany’s apparently sudden collapse ...

Into Dust

Richard J. Evans: Nazis 1945, 8 September 2011

The End: Hitler’s Germany 1944-45 
by Ian Kershaw.
Allen Lane, 564 pp., £30, August 2011, 978 0 7139 9716 3
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... Why did the Germans keep on fighting to the bitter end in 1945, long after it was clear to almost everybody that the war was lost? From the catastrophic defeat of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad early in 1943, through the devastating Allied bombing raids on Hamburg in the summer of 1943, reports on popular opinion filed by secret agents of the Nazi regime record a growing belief that Germany was going to lose ...

Whiter Washing

Richard J. Evans: Nazi Journalists, 6 June 2019

Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer: From Inner Emigration to the Moral Reconstruction of West Germany 
by Volker Berghahn.
Princeton, 277 pp., £35, December 2018, 978 0 691 17963 6
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... Under​ the Weimar Republic newspapers and magazines flourished as never before in Germany. Contrary to Volker Berghahn’s claim in Journalists between Hitler and Adenauer that the press had enjoyed ‘a good deal of tolerance’ under Bismarck and the Kaiser, the imperial German state had come down hard on the newspapers, especially those on the left; no editor of a Social Democratic daily, it was said, was worthy of the name unless he had been sent to prison at least once for lèse-majesté (criticism of the Kaiser), or Beamtenbeleidigung (insulting a state official ...

These people are intolerable

Richard J. Evans: Hitler and Franco, 5 November 2015

Hitler’s Shadow Empire: Nazi Economics and the Spanish Civil War 
by Pierpaolo Barbieri.
Harvard, 349 pp., £22.95, April 2015, 978 0 674 72885 1
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... was crucial: ‘Franco,’ Hitler crowed, ‘ought to erect a monument to the glory of the Junkers Ju-52. It is this aircraft that the Spanish revolution has to thank for its victory.’ Over the course of the war the Condor Legion claimed to have shot down 320 Republican aircraft and sunk 60 ships. German anti-aircraft batteries destroyed another 52 ...

Men He Could Trust

Richard J. Evans: Hitler’s Stormtroopers, 22 February 2018

Stormtroopers: A New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts 
by Daniel Siemens.
Yale, 459 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 300 19681 8
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... When​ the International Military Tribunal convened at Nuremberg shortly after the end of the Second World War, one of the many objects of its attention were the Storm Divisions (Sturm-Abteilungen, SA) of the Nazi movement. The SA, the prosecution alleged, had been a criminal organisation involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ‘National Bolshevist’ Ernst Niekisch, imprisoned during the war, described the SA in 1953 asa counter-elite; it attracted all those characters who were rotten and frail from within ...

‘Equality exists in Valhalla’

Richard J. Evans: German Histories, 4 December 2014

Germany: Memories of a Nation 
by Neil MacGregor.
Allen Lane, 598 pp., £30, November 2014, 978 0 241 00833 1
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Germany: Memories of a Nation 
British Museum, until 25 January 2015Show More
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... Twenty-five years​ after the fall of the Berlin Wall, two major exhibitions in London take stock of German identity, history and memory, each in its own way providing a powerful reminder of the legacies of a contested past in the culture of the reunited Germany of today. One of them, the beguiling exhibition at the British Museum curated by Barrie Cook, displays objects of many kinds, from the wooden sculptures made in the late 15th century by Tilman Riemenschneider to the metallic icon of the Volkswagen Beetle, in order to address the question of Germany’s fragmented sense of itself across the ages ...

Kisses for the Duce

Richard J. Evans: Letters to Mussolini, 7 February 2013

Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy 
by Christopher Duggan.
Bodley Head, 501 pp., £25, November 2012, 978 1 84792 103 1
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The Fascist Party and Popular Opinion in Mussolini’s Italy 
by Paul Corner.
Oxford, 320 pp., £65, July 2012, 978 0 19 873069 9
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... Shortly after he was forced out of office in November 2011, Italy’s longest serving postwar prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, told the press he was spending his time reading the last letters written by Mussolini to his mistress Clara Petacci. ‘I have to say,’ he confessed, ‘that I see myself in many aspects of those letters.’ In the Duce’s view, according to Berlusconi, Italy was ungovernable ...

Prophet in a Tuxedo

Richard J. Evans: Walter Rathenau, 22 November 2012

Walther Rathenau: Weimar’s Fallen Statesman 
by Shulamit Volkov.
Yale, 240 pp., £18.99, April 2012, 978 0 300 14431 4
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... On the morning of 24 June 1922, Walther Rathenau, the German foreign minister, set off for work from his villa in the Berlin suburb of Grunewald. The weather was fine, so he instructed his chauffeur to use the open-top limousine. The minister sat alone in the back. He took no security precautions, used the same route every day, and had dismissed the police protection he had been offered ...

Nuts about the Occult

Richard J. Evans: ‘Hitler’s Monsters’, 2 August 2018

Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich 
by Eric Kurlander.
Yale, 422 pp., £12.99, May 2018, 978 0 300 23454 1
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... A couple​ of years ago, a Russian television channel asked if they could interview me for a programme they were making about Hitler. I get these requests every so often, and agreed in the usual hope that I would be able to pour some cold water on whatever outlandish theories they came up with. On previous occasions I have been confronted with claims that the entire German population was drugged up to the eyeballs for the duration of the Third Reich, thus making life bearable; that Hitler escaped the bunker and went to live in Argentina with Eva Braun (and in some versions, Blondi the dog); that Unity Mitford gave birth to Hitler’s child early in the war; that 2014 was going to be, like 1914, a year in which world war broke out; and so on ...

Your Soft German Heart

Richard J. Evans: ‘The German War’, 14 July 2016

The German War: A Nation under Arms, 1939-45 
by Nicholas Stargardt.
Bodley Head, 701 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 1 84792 099 7
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... We still​ do not know what Germans thought they were fighting for,’ Nicholas Stargardt announces at the outset of his ambitious and absorbing new book, ‘or how they managed to continue their war until the bitter end.’ This is not for want of trying: numerous historians have analysed German opinion and behaviour at every stage of the Second World War, using above all the Meldungen aus dem Reich, the regular confidential reports on civilian morale made by SS Security Service and local and regional government officials, together with diaries and correspondence, especially field-post letters to and from soldiers at the front, to chart the diverse and changing attitudes to victory and defeat ...

Staying Alive in the Ruins

Richard J. Evans: Plato to Nato, 22 April 2021

Ruin and Renewal: Civilising Europe after World War Two 
by Paul Betts.
Profile, 536 pp., £25, November 2020, 978 1 78816 109 1
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... Just​ over forty years ago, in 1980, I found myself by chance teaching for a semester at Columbia University, armed with the grandiose title of Visiting Associate Professor of European History, provided with a free apartment and paid a salary not far short of what I earned in a whole year as a lowly lecturer in the UK. I’d never been to the US and knew nothing about Columbia or indeed any other American university ...

The Conspiracists

Richard J. Evans: The Reichstag Fire, 8 May 2014

Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich’s Enduring Mystery 
by Benjamin Carter Hett.
Oxford, 413 pp., £18.09, February 2014, 978 0 19 932232 9
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... of two interviews with Hitler allegedly conducted in 1931 by a senior newspaper editor called Richard Breiting, and subsequently supposedly buried by him in a canister in his garden because he feared for his life should they be discovered. The interviews showed Hitler was making plans to burn the Reichstag two years before the event. ‘In my ...

Marx v. The Rest

Richard J. Evans: Marx in His Time, 23 May 2013

Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life 
by Jonathan Sperber.
Norton, 648 pp., £25, May 2013, 978 0 87140 467 1
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... Do we need another biography of Marx to go alongside the many we already have? The justification given by Jonathan Sperber is compelling. Previous accounts of Marx’s life have gone one of two ways. Either he is seen as a prophet of modern times, a seer whose theories help us understand the predicament we are in, especially in times of economic crisis, an inspiration to everyone who wishes to see state and society emancipated and transformed ...

Nothing They Wouldn’t Do

Richard J. Evans: Krupp, 21 June 2012

Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm 
by Harold James.
Princeton, 360 pp., £24.95, March 2012, 978 0 691 15340 7
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... Of all the names which have become associated with the Nuremberg Trials,’ declared the prosecutor at the proceedings intended to bring the surviving Nazi leaders to justice at the end of the Second World War, ‘I suppose that none has been a household name for so many decades – indeed for nearly a century – as that of Krupp.’ Its history, the indictment continued, had made the firm ‘the focus, the symbol and the beneficiary of the most sinister forces engaged in menacing the peace of Europe ...

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