Winfried Suess, Dietmar Suess, eds. Das "Dritte Reich": Eine Einführung. Munich: Pantheon, 2008. 400 pp. EUR 14.95 (paper), ISBN 978-3-570-55044-1.
Reviewed by Waitman W. Beorn (University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill)
Published on H-German (April, 2010)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing
An Introduction to the Third Reich
Any edited volume attempting to provide an introduction to the Third Reich faces many challenges. In this work, the editors and contributors must be credited with success in crafting a wide-ranging, yet academically rigorous collection. The themes they have included here represent only one of the many difficult decisions in this undertaking. Other questions are equally important: How should it be organized? Should the focus be on dissemination of facts, or a discussion of relevant historiography? It is, indeed, an overwhelming proposition; this book is thus a welcome addition to the historical literature.
The editors begin by presenting four guiding perspectives as a conceptual framework. The first is geographic. National Socialism must, they argue, be considered as part of a "European history of violence" (p. 9). The history of the Third Reich should then be examined not only in Germany but also in its relation to the larger European context (such as Italian fascism) and in its exportation to other parts of Europe (as seen, for example, in Nazi occupation policy). The second perspective is an "adjustment of the temporal perspective" (p. 10). 1933 is often the focal and beginning point for the history of the Third Reich, highlighting the fall of Weimar democracy and the Nazi rise to power. The editors focus, however, on 1939 as a jumping-off point, arguing that the "radicalization dynamic" of the dictatorship and the context of the racial war begun by Germany are important unifying concepts and deserve more emphasis. A third focus of this work is the integration of both the persecution of political enemies and the "development of individual political institutions in Hitler's state" (p. 10). Here the editors included contributions that examine the development and uses of power in both the political and social realms. A last perspective is the postwar repercussions of the Nazi period. The editors thus aim for nothing less than an inclusion of the physical, social, psychological, legal, and memory effects of the Third Reich.
With these four unifying perspectives, Dietmar and Winfried Süß have assembled sixteen chapters that provide syntheses of a variety of subjects. The book's chronological organization begins with a discussion of fascism and the rise of the Nazis, and ends with the aftermath and memory of the Third Reich. Every chapter contains both a discussion of the subject and a historiographical contextualization as well as a short bibliography of suggested readings. The essays cover important aspects of the Third Reich, such as the Volksgemeinschaft, industry, the church, women, etc. Although concepts such as resistance and the Gleichschaltung of language receive attention, this collection remains structurally focused on organizations rather than individuals. Thus, the goal of addressing memory and the postwar history of the Third Reich remains unfulfilled in several of the essays. The two final chapters discuss the issue of coping with the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) in East and West Germany, as well as postwar legal and reparations issues. Yet, due in part to limited space, many issues of memory, memorialization, and confrontation with the Nazi past remain untouched. Nonetheless, one of the strengths of this book is that many of the individual chapters attempt to cover the postwar history of their topics and, in some cases, their historiographical development.
Most of these chapters offer valuable summaries of important topics regarding Nazi Germany, including historical interpretations; others offer insights that non-experts will find useful. Michael Schneider's chapter on business and industry is an example. He argues that the trend in much Holocaust and Nazi historiography toward local investigations should be applied to the behavior of businesses in the Nazi period. He continues with a very useful discussion of the various motivations and responses of businesses to the benefits and limitations of Nazi rule. Thomas Schlemmer's chapter on the Wehrmacht, in contrast, focuses primarily on high-level relationships between the army and the regime and neglects much of the recent scholarship on the participation of the military in the Nazi genocidal project.
One potential criticism by experts on the Third Reich might be that this introduction to the Third Reich does not break new ground in its arguments. Here it is necessary to consider the objectives of this work. This is a text aimed primarily at students, not scholars. As such, its largest drawback, at least for an English-speaking audience, is that it is in German. Until it is translated, the book will require a reader's solid grasp of German for it to be accessible. For those Anglo-American historians with strong language skills, it is an important work for a variety of students. For the undergraduate, it provides a general overview of many of the issues and debates regarding the Nazi period. It will not replace a textbook, but it provides a clear outline of the historiographic discussions that will introduce students to important scholarly debates. Moreover, the volume includes a bibliography of major works, as well as a useful timeline. A particularly welcome addition is a three-page list of scholarly Internet sources that undergraduates embarking on a research paper may find quite helpful (and that professors assigning papers will welcome).
This volume is also a useful resource for graduate students of the period. For beginning students, it provides a quick survey of the scholarly landscape, helpful in refining a research project. For more advanced students, it provides a concise source with which to broaden their understanding of the Third Reich into areas with which they are less familiar. Its bibliography also provides a useful collection of German scholarship that will be especially helpful to non-German scholars. In conclusion, although this book does not present innovative new research or new arguments, it offers students at the graduate and undergraduate level (as well as professors teaching them) a guide to major historical topics and important historiographical debates in one collection.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Waitman W. Beorn. Review of Suess, Winfried; Suess, Dietmar, eds., Das "Dritte Reich": Eine Einführung.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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