In April 1933, during the early months after the Nazis ascended to power in Germany, a law which commonly came to be termed as the Aryan Paragraph came into effect. It outlawed any person of Jewish descent from government employment. This was the first piece of legislature to be effected in a then heightening assault on Jews led by the Third Reich Hitler and evidently expressed in his toxic rhetoric and ideological imperatives. This placed German Churches at a focal point: They either had to resist these attacks on Jews or dismiss all Jewish preachers and employees so as to preserve their subsidies. Most of the churches publicly or silently fell in line with Hitler’s demands. These in effect became the onset of the world’s bloodiest World War II and the context of Roderick Stackelberg’s book on Hitler’s Germany: Origins, Interpretations, and Legacies which provide an interesting read and meets its chief objective of introducing any reader to the history and the atrocities committed in the Nazi Germany. The book extends from the abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch to the World War II and the aftermath in the 1940’s. This, therefore, gives Stackelberg’s novel a wide coverage while ensuring the reader is totally engrossed in the narrative as the story unfolds. Stackelberg, a humanities professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane, he cogently sets out to argue out that the Nazi Regime was supported and maintained through a mass consensus by the majority of the German citizens rather than the implied coercion by most authors. He is hence in agreement with Daniel Goldhagen and his views as phrased in his narrative, Hitler’s Willing Executioners of which he has recognized and praised. He points out that Germans expressed conviction and expediency in their support and collaboration with the Nazi regime. He endeavors to balance ‘intentionalist’ versus ‘functionalist’ approaches to the Holocaust committed against Jews so as to amply show the Nazi’s adherence to the fatal eugenic belief of exterminating all those deemed to be “life unworthy of life”. This resulted in the death of two-thirds of the Jews in Europe at the time. Stackelberg successfully combines dramatic writing with a dispassionate analysis so as to aptly provide a rich historical context the barbaric behavior and actions of the Third Reich by boldly depicting a pre-history of Nazism such as the absolutist rule put forward by his predecessor Otto Van Bismarck, the 19th-century nationalist propagandists and the Free Corps hooligan squads who not only crushed the 1919 Spartacist revolt but also murdered Rosa Luxemburg. He further covers the Nuremberg trials, the German denazification and the modern-day resurgence of militant neo-Nazi extremists. Although the work presented herein has already been documented in other books, he manages to author an interesting and engrossing superb read on the Nazi Germany history.
The book first provides a detailed coverage of the roots of fascist ideologies, its constituency and the conditions that facilitated its growth in Germany. It then reflects on the key problems facing German unity which Stackelberg clearly and comprehensively covers as absolutism and particularism. This serves as a basis as to why the German Empire changed from a democratic state to social imperialism and finally landed on the path to war. Stackelberg clinically examines the Germanic ideology that was instituted into the masses by the political class so as to influence support. He finds that the politicians managed to drive the cause of nationalism towards fanatism while coupling this with vulgarized idealism and anti-Semitism. Stackelberg has also provided a rich context for German’s history and involvement in the First World War and the resultant crisis in imperial Germany under Bismarck. He goes on further to examine the Weimar Republic through a well-documented study and the weakness of liberal democracy in Germany. This led to the consequent fall of the Weimar republic and the rise of Nazism further facilitated by the Great Depression. The Nazis managed to consolidate power in the 1933-1934 under the Third Reich Hitler whose governance in the 1933-1939 period has been fully analyzed under the aspects of politics, society, and culture hence providing a rich and diverse read. Further, Stackelberg manages to depict hideous details of the persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust in this period. The origins of the Second World War, its spread from a European to a global war and its ensuing transformation from triumph to defeat in 1942-1945 have been elaborately covered while providing ample contextual information that leaves a clear imaginative image in the readers’ minds. Finally, the book evaluates the aftermath of the war and Germany’s National Socialism. The last chapter examines Hitler’s place in history and memory and the vital lessons learned from the ordeal.
In the introduction, Stackelberg clarifies why he wrote the book despite a myriad number of historical books in the market dealing with a similar subject matter. He feels there is a need to write a book that not only covers the Nazi regime but also the 19th-century background and the aftermath. Despite the book’s title, only seven out of sixteen chapters are dedicated to the Nazi regime. It provides a rich and essential understanding of the Hitler-led Nazi regime. This was a decision he reached at after having taught the subject matter for over twenty years. Stackelberg feels that the book approaches the Nazi regime under a two dimension: He provides an accurate and complete account of Nazi rule and goes further to provide an interpretive framework that endeavors to explore the reasons as to the extraordinary occurrence in German history. The book provides a clear guideline to the reader whereas incorporating the complex and vast complexities of historical causation as experienced by the contemporary figures that lived in that turbulent and violent era.
In creating a rich analysis and reconstruction of the Nazi regime in 1933 to 1945, the author places the period in a larger context which enables him to ably provide a sufficient background of the regime while ensuring various critical arguments are brought forward.
First, Stackelberg feels that history is inseparable from its interpretative analysis. No author, in Stackelberg’s view should present the bare facts of a historical occurrence without endeavoring to provide a parallel interpretive theory as to why the historical phenomenon took place. Historical books and journals have always depicted the Nazi era under a barbaric and destructive scope and it is almost viewed entirely as the world’s greatest battle of evil versus good. This approach is rather heightened by the atrocities committed such as the irrational racial obsessions and the Holocaust with an aim to wipe out all Jews. Any other approach, such as a metaphysical approach, would definitely not successfully account for the success and popularity of Nazism in Germany. However, rather than approach the Nazi era under a moral and evil conception as multiple authors’ have, Stackelberg endeavors to define the rise of the Nazi regime under a political analysis. Stackelberg feels it is essential to establish why the Germans at the time felt that Nazism was a reconstructive force in the quest for National Socialism that would utterly propel them into a superpower state. He critically notes in a catchy headline that history is past politics, hence, even the atrocities committed under the anti-Semitism drive must have a cognitive understanding. Unlike facts which if in dispute can easily be ratified among historians, an analysis of the reasons as to why German Nazism was widely popular can only be perceived under the analysts own political and societal values. These are highly diverse among historians and are therefore bound to bring forth a degree of controversy.
In a review of egalitarian governments, Stackelberg depicts how left-wing movements can easily gain popularity through “championing for emancipation from oppressive governments whereas the right-wing lobbyists defend traditional and hierarchical governments.” The left extremists can effortlessly apply authority in the running of governments so as to create egalitarian societies as depicted by the 21st century communist governments. The conservatives in the right-wing endeavor to create liberal societies through curtailing government power and promotion of individual freedom. In this book, Stackelberg addresses this contemporary left-right spectacle in their respective egalitarian perspectives by a case scenario of American politics. American conservatives have been documented as in opposition of powerful governments bringing them closer to the left’s camp but with absolutely diverse goals which are the key to any government. In their campaign against the powerful government and their defense for laissez-faire, American conservatives have been found to depict similar traits to those of 19th-century conservatives in continental Europe and the Nazis’ fascism. In America, the highly liberal society either leans on personal freedom or social equality. The leftists rather lean on social equality while the right conservatives opt for freedom. Stackelberg further provides a distinction between moderates and extremists in which extremists are rather authoritative, prejudiced and inclined towards violence, deception, and collectivism across the left-right extremists. They are intolerant of any opposition or deviations from the ideal entailed by freedom and seek to forcefully impose these ideas on individuals. Communism bordered on the left while fascism was composed of right extremist. However, most authors, with the exception of the well-sourced Stackelberg’s book, feel that communism and fascism are inherently related which a critical evaluation in Hitler’s Germany depicts that they are fundamental opposites. While communism mainly appealed to workers who owned minimal properties due to its enhancement of a greater degree of equality, fascism mainly appealed to the middle class and properties workers who felt that they would, in essence, lose from the implementation of egalitarian principles. Therefore, proponents of each group were arch enemies since communism maltreated the higher and mighty classes while fascism greatly victimized the “lower races” and poor classes of humanity.
In exploring the causative force behind the Fascism variant Nazism, Stackelberg examines counter-revolutionary concepts in contrast to revolutionary concepts in his apt and wide description of the Hitler Regime. He feels that in contrast to neo-conservatism in the United States, fascism in Germany is much related to the traditional continental Europe conservatism though it has some anti-conservative features. Multiple radical methods were adopted into German Nazism from the practices of its arch-foe, communism such as mass mobilization techniques, violence, and propaganda. This was a highly critical countermeasure identified by Stackelberg in which the Nazis used the tactics employed by the left against the left. Counter-revolutionary concepts, however, did not characterize the left-right distinction as much as the core goal of preventing equality much agitated for by the left by a vehement denial of its existence through the structure governing various races and their coexistence. In this book, therefore, Stackelberg finds it crucial that most historians have neglected the fact that these ruthless and radical measures were put in place to counter socialism by purported National Socialists through the eradication of the significant proportion of production contributed by private property. Stackelberg, therefore, feels that the term socialist has been misused since the party was not true to the doctrines it purported to support and further. Hence, he feels that the Nazis were counter-revolutionary since it endeavored to curb developments in the transformation of the property sector while upholding the Purist nature of the fascist regime.
This book also makes a very interesting and engrossing read since it answers the contentious question on the relationship between fascism and Nazism and their relation to other political movements of the past centuries. It further answers the crucial questions on how Nazism managed to ascend to power in such a civilized, industrialized and urbanized context. In a well-analyzed and well-sourced background study, Stackelberg examines the rise in popularity of Nazism by interpreting it basing heavily on the Sonderweg thesis. This is categorically analyzed in chapter 2 whereby the variation in the development of democracy in Germany was remarkably different from other European nations. Most authors have neglected to write a detailed account of the pre-Hitler administrations which would otherwise provide vital historical clues to the rise of Nazism. This is utterly reflected in the book. However, Stackelberg expresses caution that a study to chiefly analyze pre-Nazi Germany in the 19th century as a pure preliminary stage to the Nazi regime and its aftermath would not only be a narrow-minded approach but also historically inadequate and unjustifiable. Although Stackelberg feels that greater and much more vital events such as Russian Bolshevik Revolution, the defeat in the First World War and the conflict of political interests in the Weimar Republic provide a crucial basis for evaluation of Nazism, the lack of the development of democracy can partially be attributed to Nazism.
Finally, Stackelberg furthers debate as to whether Nazism is a modernizing or anti-modern debate. At the time, Germany’s economy was at its peak but the inability of political liberalization and democracy to keep pace with the advances in technology led to a flaw in its development hence depicting a rejection of modernity. This point of analysis as put forward by Stackelberg is further supported by the Sonderweg thesis whereby major evidence of anti-modernity such as “blood and soil” ideology that depicts a German-only agrarian culture under threat of urbanization and the resultant industrialization. This was in effect promoting capitalism whereby the Jews were viewed as the major beneficiaries at the expense of the former chief producers, the Mittelstand. However, Stackelberg also evaluates Nazism as a facilitator of modernity through the implementation of advanced technology in the military during World War II. Though this is highly complemented by pioneer studies in space technology, the rejection of Jewry physics in the development of nuclear weapons further served as a major factor in deterring modernism.
Stackelberg has used a wide variety of sources that span from The German Empire, ideologies, the First World War, the Weimar Republic and its collapse, the Nazi consolidation of power, the society, culture and politics during Hitler’s rule, the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism, the Second World War, the Aftermath and the modernity debate. For instance, it is crucial to note on Stackelberg’s reference to Taylor’s famous and controversial book, The origins of the Second World War in which he strongly criticizes The failure of the British to conclusively put in place a pact with the then Soviet Union so as to put an end to the war. The sources used herein in this book are highly relevant and serve in meeting the objective of the book. It gives this work a high credential. Further, Stackelberg has written the sources in a well-organized and presentable manner depicting that the book was written after a conducting a research for a period of twenty years during which he was teaching a similar course. This, therefore, enables Stackelberg to write an objective, chronological account and a must-read book that not only expands on Hitler’s Germany but also on the 19th-century pre-Nazi period and the 20th Century post-war period and the aftermath. This serves to give the book an edge over other historical books written at the time. (Stackelberg, 1999)
Stackelberg, R. (1999). Hitler’s Germany: origins, interpretations, legacies. Routledge Press.