It is uncommon to meet someone with no knowledge of who Hitler was and his Nazi Germany; over the past seventy years the Third Reich has both shocked and fascinated people as the public memory and historiographical research has changed and expanded. The many facets of the Nazi regime are examined in Richard J. Evans’ most recent book The Third Reich In History And Memory. Memory history is still a relatively new phenomenon and Evans’ work is another attempt at highlighting how important this discourse is in shaping our understanding of the historical context.
However, the title of the book is rather misleading, in much the same way as Anne Sarah Rubin’s recent work Through The Heart Of Dixie, in that rather than solely focusing on the way the Third Reich is remembered, it looks at the different historiographical changes and its role in expanding our knowledge of Hitler’s Germany.
Firstly, Evans looks at the creation of the German nation in the late nineteenth century and its colonial pursuits in Africa. He studies the parallels between the Herero and Nama genocides in Namibia in 1904-7 and the Holocaust, in an attempt to establish a causal relationship. However, he refutes the work of Helmut Bley, South-West Africa Under German Rule 1894-1914, arguing that there is not a direct correlation between the two genocides because the ‘Jews appeared to the Nazis as a global threat; Africans…were a local obstacle to be subjugated or removed to make way for German settlers’. Evans is unafraid of confronting the “evil” aspects of the Nazi regime head-on and the Holocaust is an overarching topic throughout the book.
The change in the historiography of Nazi Germany has recently moved to viewing it in an international context. As a consequence, Evans has looked at the impact of the Nazi regime during the Second World War in a global perspective, giving consideration to the actions taken at the government level of all the allies and axis powers in their relation to Germany. This is interesting in that it gives a holistic insight into why the Second World War was fought and the most important aspects of it in a succinct fashion. Most interestingly, towards the end of the book he delves into topics that are relatively unknown about in popular memory, such as the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe at the end of the war, where many were rounded up and imprisoned in the former concentration camps.
Also, he continues the idea of the ‘international conflict’ by studying the affect that the pillaging of cultural artefacts has had, stating that it is important that ‘effective arrangements’ are made ‘in advance of future fighting to rescue and restore cultural objects and prevent looting’. This is especially relevant to the present day where Isis is actively engaged in the destruction of public historical memory in a bid to create a new nation state. The parallels that can still be drawn between Nazi Germany and conflicts today highlights how history is condemned to be repeated unless lessons are learnt and attitudes are changed.
When it comes to looking at the role of Hitler during the Third Reich, Evans demonstrates more concern for his “cult of personality” rather than his personal life. However, the two relatively small chapters he devotes to discussions over Hitler’s mental state and his relationship with Eva Braun provide some interesting light relief. Evans is most effusive when looking at the Third Reich driven by Hitler arguing that it was not a normal nation state or dictatorship because of Hitler’s obsession with racial supremacy and desire to achieve German domination. Moreover, Hitler’s cult of personality was so encompassing that it kept loyal Nazi figures in line even at the end of the war, where, for example, Goebbels, amongst others, was willing to follow Hitler to his death. Whilst Evans looks at the rationale behind the ordinary German people’s commitment to Hitler and the Nazi policies that were implemented to “better” their lives, disappointingly, he does not go into too much detail surrounding everyday life in Nazi Germany.
The Third Reich In History And Memory provides a very rich insight into the historiographical changes that have occurred over the past seventy years and into just how complex and multi-faceted Nazi Germany was. Evans is a very good writer, and at times is rather amusing when berating other historians. For example, in his review of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder he equates Snyder’s writing style to ‘a series of blows from a cudgel until eventually brain-death sets in’. One of the main issues with this book is the lack of references, but this is probably more of an annoyance to those using this book in an academic context.
Evans is the foremost scholar of modern German history and this book is a good example of why he has that title, for anyone wanting an overarching and succinct insight to the Third Reich this book is a must read.