Title: The German War
Author: Nicholas Stargardt
Stargardt, Nicholas (2015). The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945: Citizens And Soldiers. New York: Basic Books
D744.7.G3 S73 2015
- World War, 1939-1945–Social aspects–Germany.
- World War, 1939-1945–Causes.
- War and society–Germany–History–20th century.
- Germany–Social conditions–1933-1945.
Date Posted: November 14, 2016
Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).
Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden
Given German barbarity, I shan’t feign concern for the discomforts suffered by the country’s citizens during World War Two, whose active participation and support kept the horrendous conflict alive to the bitter end. Even the supposedly fanatical Japanese did not fight to the gates of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as the Germans fought for the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.
Nicholas Stargardt, a British historian, records that Hitler’s minister of armaments, Fritz Todt, conceded on November 29, 1941, that “this war can no longer be won by military means.” Yet Hitler and the German military persisted in fighting for three and a half more years. Hitler was bolstered by “overwhelming public support”–even when each day of fighting “cost the lives of 10,000 German soldiers.”
The current “victim narrative” pushed by many Germans equates the fire-bombing of Dresden and other cities with the murder of the Jews. (For whatever perverted reasons, many “historians” in the West, both the US and Britain, swallow this odious thesis without a token look at reality.)
Based on a painstaking study of diaries and letters from frontline soldiers, which spoke candidly of mass murders in Poland and elsewhere, Stargardt flatly refutes the “good German/bad German” distinction claimed in the post-war period and beyond. The general populace was aware early on what was happening in the death camps and elsewhere. Yet the majority of Germans continued blind support of Hitler and his regime.
Be forewarned that Stargardt’s book is sickening reading. As a German report stated, “Women on the train [to work camps] gave birth to children who were tossed from the open window.” More than 40 offenses warranted the death sentence–for instance, telling jokes “that undermined the morale of the armed forces,” listening to foreign radio, or refusing to work on Sundays. But the regime was careful to steer clear of the “social majority,” concentrating the most draconian measures against “undesirables”—Jews, communists, and homosexuals.
Surprisingly, a large police force was not required, for lay citizens were happy to do the dirty work. The under-staffed Gestapo “depended to a large extent on public compliance and denunciations to assist it in spotting transgressors.”
Psychiatric patients were a special target, with life or death decisions being made “by medical doctors and bureaucrats working in the normal health and provincial administrations.” Beginning in 1939, physicians were required to report “all newborn children suffering from idiocy, Down’s syndrome… spastic paralysis or missing limbs.” Some 30 psychiatric asylums established special units where “they killed children through a mixture of drugs and starvation.” By May 1945, at least 246,000 persons had been killed, according to German records found by Stargardt.
Chronic food shortages were the norm. By devastating agricultural regions of western Russia, Germany could no longer rely on imports of grain and meat. Queues formed as early as 2 a.m. Meat, milk, and fresh vegetables vanished from most menus. “Meatballs” were fashioned from potatoes, lentils, and white cabbage.
The regime relied heavily on lies to bolster morale. Newsreels showed long-range German guns firing across the English Channel at Dover, and squadrons of planes attacking the mainland. (Lacking authentic footage, these presentations relied on inserts of circus performance, football, “and, of course, the Fhrer.”)
Bogus reports spoke of the “imminent invasion of Britain.” Stargardt quotes a “wit” as saying, “they lie, and we are lying also.”
What immediate lesson did Germans learn from the tragedy they inflicted on the world? Not much, according to public opinion surveys conducted by US intelligence soon after the war. As Stargardt writes, “Interviewers found that the ‘Jewish war’ still provided the key explanation for American actions against Germany. Further, the German defeat seemed only to have enhanced the ‘power of world Jewry.’ A large minority of the respondents—37 percent—still endorsed the view that the extermination of the Jews and the Poles and other non-Aryans had been necessary for the security of the Germans.’”
As late of August 1947, 55 percent of those polled endorsed the proposition that National Socialism had been a “good idea carried out badly.” The level supporting this view was even higher—60 to 68 percent—among persons under 30 years of age. As Stargardt notes, these views were expressed “at a time when openly advocating National Socialism still potentially carried the death penalty.”
Thankfully, Germany was soon to rejoin the fraternity of decent nations. Although no further opinion polls concerning lingering support of Nazism are cited, Germany eventually achieved tight political bonds with former adversaries such as the US, whose occupation policies kept ardent Nazis out of public life. Flickering support of the war effort are still seen from time to time
But can Germans get away with the excuse that they were unaware of the atrocities committed in their name? Such a self-serving (and false) shield crumbles under the impact of evidence—133 pages of notes amassed in Stargardt’ss exhaustive book. A first-rate historical read.
 On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]
 Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, pp. 104-105). Joseph C. Goulden’s 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books. Goulden is a long-time reviewer of espionage and spy books for The Washington Times, for AFIO’s Intelligencer, for law journals, and other publications. Some of the reviews appeared in prior editons of The Washington Times or The Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association) and are reprinted by permission of the author. Goulden’s most recent book [as of 2016] is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.