Nazi History: Some Cliff’s Notes

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 at 6:13 am

Some people figure that the internet makes books obsolete.

Why buy a book, why spend money and space on a paper copy of something when you can find it all online anyway?

Encyclopedias, once the hallmark of a well-educated home, have all but disappeared as wikipedia and online subscription “encyclopedias” rush to take their place.

For my part, I won’t be throwing away my books any time soon.

‘Cause while the internet is great for looking stuff up quickly or following rabbit trails endlessly, books are still best for immersing yourself in a topic.

Like when Bodie Thoene’s Zion Covenant series turned me into a fan of history.

I suddenly wanted to learn everything I could about World War II and the events leading up to it.

That’s a rather vague topic for the internet to handle.

Instead, I turned to my (not-so-local-anymore) library.

As per my M.O., I headed to the children’s section first for my Cliff’s Notes.

What I found was three excellent resources for immersing myself in World War II (particularly in the events leading up to World War II): The Rise of the Nazis by Charles Freeman, The Nazis by William W. Lace, and Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Nazi History books

The Rise of the Nazis begins its coverage with the opening of a new session of the Reichstag, this time with Adolf Hitler as the chancellor of Germany. Having described the crux of German history as it relates to the Nazi party, Freeman moves back in time to the events that led up to that fateful moment: the Versailles treaty and it’s crippling demands on Germany, Hitler’s educational and military background, the early life of the German Socialist Worker’s Party that would become the Nazis, Hitler’s entrance to the party and rapid domination of its politics, the failed coup staged by the Nazis, and the imprisonment during which Hitler wrote his Mein Kampf.

By the last chapter, Freeman is ready to move past the opening scene. He quickly describes how Hitler, once appointed as chancellor, took over the presidency and ultimately, the country.

This story ends, as promised, just as the Nazi party reaches its political pinnacle: at the declaration of Adolf Hitler as Germany’s Fuhrer (supreme leader).

William W. Lace’s The Nazis covers this same material, but with a different emphasis. While The Rise of the Nazis focuses on how the party and Hitler came into power, The Nazis (a book in the Holocaust Library) focuses on the Nazis’ attitude towards the Jews and how the Nazi takeover of Germany affected the Jews.

The events leading up to Hitler’s takeover of the German government take up about two-thirds of the book, while the final third rushes quickly through the high (or perhaps low?) points of the War in Europe, how the war ended, and what the results of the Nuremberg trials were.

Unlike The Rise of the Nazis, which is simply an informative book, The Nazis introduces a question for the reader: What were the moral or spiritual causes that allowed Nazism’s blatant evil to run rampant in Germany–and how can such an evil never be allowed to rise again?

In this sense, The Nazis is an ideological story. Every event is told in such a way as to inspire horror and repugnance in the eyes of the reader. (Not that one should not be horrified by the acts of the Nazi party…) The goal of this book is to impress upon its readers the necessity of never again allowing evil to reign as it did in Nazi Germany. (Which isn’t a bad goal, but it’s a goal beyond just information nevertheless.)

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow takes a completely different approach to the Nazis than the previous two books.

While The Rise of the Nazis informs the reader and The Nazis convinces the reader, Hitler Youth enjoins the reader to empathize–this time not with the Jews against whom the Nazis rage was focused, but with the children who joined the Nazi party, the children who couldn’t join because they were racially “unfit”, the children who spoke out against the Nazi party.

Hitler Youth describes the incredible pull of the scout-like community the Hitler Youth movement created, the heady sense of power its organization imparted to youth, the voluntary-and-then-compulsory character of participation.

Telling the true stories of specific, individual children–Germans, Jews, girls, boys, loyal Nazis, and subversive anti-propagandists–Hitler Youth describes the double tragedy of Hitler’s methods.

In raising up a children’s army, he destroyed both the children that he lured through adventure and false loyalty and the rest of the world through those children.

This was an intensely moving book.

All in all, I am glad to have had a look at the Nazi party through the very different viewpoints of each of these books.

Certainly, there is still much that I do not know (especially since these barely glanced on the war itself–or the Holocaust “proper”)–but I feel that these three books gave me a good introduction to some of the historical and moral dilemmas that surround World War II.

I’m heading back to my library on Saturday, and I’m ready for the big guns now. It’s time to start looking for adult histories.

Sorry internet, you’re just not cutting it for this newly-minted history lover.

Reader Comments (2):

  1. What fantastic reviews!

    Getting to the children was a deliberate policy. I don’t want to get on my soap box, but I see it all being repeated in Europe and here (in the UK). I first began to take real note of it when I realised that a common phrase was, ‘You mustn’t say that’. It sounds harmless enough, but I soon realised that a whole generation had come through the state system (and were now parents themselves) and had no problem with Big Brother telling them they could or could not say something.

    Get the kids. Alienate others. Make the State large. Make people’s dependence on it great. ….

    We’re well on our way…:(

    • bekahcubed says:

      You’re absolutely right, Anne. Reading all of these books, but especially the Hitler Youth one, made me realize how very important preserving basic freedoms is–even in the face of economic and political difficulties. The German people traded freedom for the promise of stability–and I’m afraid many of us are willing to do the same.

      May it never be!

      Nebraska’s state capitol has a motto carved over it’s main doors: “The salvation of the state is the watchfulness of it’s citizens.” While I’m not sure that’s ALL there is to the salvation of the state (or anything else), I see the value of that sentiment. What happens when good people don’t watch or don’t speak? Things like Nazi Germany.

      May it never be!

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