If there is one book over the course of my studies that really changed the way that I thought about a historical event, it would be this book. The world knows what happened during World War II and the Holocaust, but for years people have asked how a group as radical as the Nazis could have possibly garnered enough support to take over. Obviously not everyone from back then was bent on the extermination of entire groups of people, so then what factors would there need to be to open the doors to such atrocities?
Fritzsche does a wonderful job detailing Germany’s social and political atmosphere from World War I leading all the way up to the beginning of World War II. It gives new insight in understanding the state of Germany following the downfall of the German monarchy and the gradual shift toward a democratic republic. The abdication of the Emperor left a power vacuum that allowed new political ideologies to flourish. It’s an especially interesting study into how World War I changed the world’s views of politics and the rise of the working middle class.
“The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”
I loved this book for covering details that are often overlooked in discussions about the Holocaust and World War II in general. There are already plenty of books covering anti-Semitism, eugenics, the Treaty of Versailles, and of course Hitler’s role as leader of the Nazi party. Fritzsche fills in the gap that has always been missing: where Germany was as a country, fresh off the heels of revolution and trying to re-establish itself with a new form of government.
His argument is powerful and gave me a lot to chew on. Over the years I’ve found myself referencing this book often when discussing my studies about the Holocaust and the rise of Fascism in Europe. I feel that this book is absolutely essential for any reader wanting to study the politics of Europe in the 20th century. Just be mindful that this book is extremely dense and dry, it is not a light read.
Why did ordinary Germans vote for Hitler? In this dramatically plotted book, organized around crucial turning points in 1914, 1918, and 1933, Peter Fritzsche explains why the Nazis were so popular and what was behind the political choice made by the German people.
Rejecting the view that Germans voted for the Nazis simply because they hated the Jews, or had been humiliated in World War I, or had been ruined by the Great Depression, Fritzsche makes the controversial argument that Nazism was part of a larger process of democratization and political invigoration that began with the outbreak of World War I.
The twenty-year period beginning in 1914 was characterized by the steady advance of a broad populist revolution that was animated by war, drew strength from the Revolution of 1918, menaced the Weimar Republic, and finally culminated in the rise of the Nazis. Better than anyone else, the Nazis twisted together ideas from the political Left and Right, crossing nationalism with social reform, anti-Semitism with democracy, fear of the future with hope for a new beginning. This radical rebelliousness destroyed old authoritarian structures as much as it attacked liberal principles.
The outcome of this dramatic social revolution was a surprisingly popular regime that drew on public support to realize its horrible racial goals. Within a generation, Germans had grown increasingly self-reliant and sovereign, while intensely nationalistic and chauvinistic. They had recast the nation, but put it on the road to war and genocide.