truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (ws: hamlet)
Hitler and GeliHitler and Geli by Ronald Hayman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book has three major problems, one historical, one methodological, and one conceptual.

The historical problem is unfortunately inherent in the subject matter. We just don't know enough about Angela Raubal to provide material for an entire book. (Weirdly, this is the same problem I had with Michael Wallis's biography of Pretty Boy Floyd, Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd.) She was a woman in Nazi Germany, she was only twenty-three when she died, and almost everything she herself put to paper was destroyed. And all the information we do have about her is warped by its proximity to Hitler, who provides a distorting vortex for anything that gets near him.

There's only two things you can do with this problem. One is write a short book, more of a monograph, and we now consider that a non-viable option unless you are an academic and only interested in academic publication. The other is to find something else to fill your empty pages. In this case Hayman's got Hitler standing right there, and I have Ian Kershaw's 2 volume biography of Hitler (Hubris and Nemesis). I know how much space that bastard can take up.

Hayman provides a weak, surface-y biography of Hitler--obviously and strongly influenced by The Psychopathic God (itself a problem we'll come back to in a moment)--which really does nothing for his argument and feels very much like filler. I admit and agree that the lack of material on his subject matter is a problem that he is not responsible for--and just because we don't know very much about Geli Raubal is NOT a reason not to write about her--but I don't think his solution was a good one. He might have done better to do some social history about women's roles and options in Weimar Germany, especially as it transitioned into Nazi Germany. Angela Lambert does an excellent job in her biography of Evan Braun of showing that even without Hitler, Braun had no good path open to her, because no woman in Nazi Germany did. Hayman doesn't show much if any awareness of that side of the problem--it's unfortunately probably not inaccurate to say that he's more interested in Hitler than in Raubal. (If I don't call him Adolf, I don't call her Geli. Fair is fair.)

The second problem, the methodological, is also inherent in the first. Almost all of Hayman's evidence (and sometimes "evidence") for his argument about Hitler and Raubal's relationship and her death is secondhand and hearsay. It's what surviving members of Hitler's inner circle wrote about Raubal or told interviewers about Raubal. And sometimes what they're saying is what somebody else told them about Raubal. In all cases, they can't be trusted because they have their own narrative and their own interests and (post-war) self-exculpation--and those are serious problems because again, Hitler is a distorting vortex. (Henriette von Shirach is probably the closest thing he has to first-hand testimony, and regrettably, I don't think you can trust her as far as you can throw her.) Hayman does not discuss (or seem to be aware of) this problem about his evidence, which makes it even less trustworthy, especially when what he's using as evidence is rumors and gossip about Hitler's sex-life.

And that leads us to the third problem, the conceptual one, which is what Hayman thinks and how he thinks about, well, Hitler's sex-life. As I said, he's clearly heavily indebted to Waite, and the distinctive thing about Waite is his careful, ponderous, by-the-book Freudian analysis of the second-hand evidence, hearsay, and rumors about Hitler's sex-life. The cryptorchism, the impotence, the "deviant sexual practices": Hayman reproduces it all without apparently noticing that we have no evidence of any of it. We have only what people say other people said about Hitler (the pornographic drawings that we have not one single example of) and what can maybe be inferred from what Hitler said about himself, and that kind of inference is a very dicey proposition, even with someone as sublimely un-self-aware as Hitler. Nobody who might have had first-hand experience of Hitler in the bedroom survived the end of the war.

The major conceptual problem comes in the discussion of Hitler's "sado-masochism"--which I put in quotes because Hayman is using Freud's model, which sees sadism and masochism purely as perversions and sicknesses, and shows absolutely no awareness that our thinking has advanced since Freud and that there are other, better, more nuanced and sophisticated models available for thinking about BDSM. (This is the same thing I bitched about at length in my review of Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator.) The problem with Hitler's sexual practices, insofar as we have genuine evidence about them, isn't the sadism or the masochism or the urophilia per se; it's that he was forcing unwilling women to participate in fulfilling his sexual needs. (Hayman labels Eva Braun a "victim of Hitler's sado-masochism" and it's not at all clear that's true, either from his perspective of "sado-masochism" being a crime or from the position I would prefer to discuss about consent, just as his calling Renate Mueller a victim of Hitler's "sado-masochism" is pretty misleading. She certainly did not enjoy her relationship with Hitler, whatever it consisted of, and hers is the clearest evidence* we have, as best I can tell from Hayman, about what Hitler's sexual practices were, but the fact that she was victimized by Hitler's government and committed suicide because she thought--rightly or wrongly--that the SS were coming to arrest her is not a direct result of "sado-masochism," Hitler's or otherwise, though you can certainly make an argument it's a direct result of Hitler's paranoia.) It's consent issues, in other words, that we need to be looking at if we want to talk about Hitler's monstrosity, and those need to be carefully separated from sadism/masochism and dominance/submission. And I could really have used Hayman to have--and to impart--a better supported understanding of how all of these things were understood in 1930s Germany instead of going for sensationalism. (And there's another thing he could have been doing instead of rehashing Hitler's biography.)

But where he really goes off the rails (for me) is in his attempt to do a Freudian analysis of Hitler's career as a dictator and mass murderer, trying to use "sado-masochism" as an explanation for Hitler's aggression against his European neighbors, for his orders to massacre the Poles and the Russians and the Jews of all nationalities, for his scorched earth tactics at the end of the war. And trying to argue that Hitler's "sado-masochism" infected all of Nazi Germany, that that's the explanation for totalitarianism and the rule of terror. Leaving aside the question of how much influence Hitler's personal style had (and I'm willing to be persuaded it had a LOT, but I need some evidence), this argument is completely ignoring the entire history of the German right-wing at least back to World War I, if not much, much farther. The things that Hayman points to as the results of Hitler's "sado-masochism" are things--like everything else about Hitler--that were lying around waiting to be picked up and turned into weapons.

So. Hayman's argument is that Hitler murdered Raubal (or, more likely, would have been convicted of manslaughter), and where the book is actually interesting is in his analysis of the lies the top Nazis were telling (half an hour after they said it was suicide, they were trying to announce it was an accident) and where they contradicted each other and what we can learn from those contradictions. It's not clear whether Raubal died on the day before her body was found or the day before that. It's not clear whether her face was bruised, not clear whether her nose was broken. It's not clear whether Hitler was in the Munich flat when she died or--as everyone loudly insisted--on the way to Nuremberg. Her motive for suicide was thin at best, and the letter she broke off writing in the middle of a word was full of plans for a visit to Vienna. The path the bullet took through her body (entering above the heart and lodging at her left hip) was very peculiar and an almost impossible angle for a suicide to achieve, even if she would have wanted to. Everyone very carefully forgot to look for powder burns on her skin and clothes. Her body was whisked away to be buried in Austria before anyone could suggest an autopsy or an inquest.

It's hard to tell what's genuine hinkiness and what's the effect of Hitler's distorting vortex (and again, Hayman's refusal to admit the vortex into his analysis is a serious problem), but I ended up being fairly convinced that Raubal did not kill herself, even if I didn't buy any of the rest of Hayman's argument about Hitler.

And in the end, I suppose that's my most central disappointment in this book: it's about Hitler when the person I'm interested in is Raubal.

*The "evidence" we have from Renate Mueller is what the OSS Source Book says (quoting someone, but Hayman's citation isn't clear enough for me to figure out who) that a director named Adolf Zeissler said (and goodness knows when he said it, since it could be any time from 1936 through the end of the war) that Renate Mueller told him in 1936, four years after her experience and at a time when, blacklisted and a morphine addict, she had no incentive to be, and cannot be counted by any stretch of the imagination as, a reliable witness. Hayman does not talk at all about the problematic nature of his evidence here. Or anywhere else.

View all my reviews
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (ws: hamlet)
Bergen, Doris. Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

cut for length )
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Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris. 1998. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.
---. Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis. 2000. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

I need to start with a tiny nit-picking piece of bitchery: nobody involved in the process of publishing this book caught the vice/vise mistake, and it happened more than once. Germany may have been caught in a vise of its own vices, if you want to be smartassed about it, but it was not caught in a vice. Thank you. Never mind. Two countries separated by a single language as per usual.

This is, as you may already have inferred, a biography for which the word "monumental" is not incorrect. 591 pages for the first volume, 841 for the second. It is, unfortunately, dated, because Kershaw was writing before the David Irving libel trial (I've blogged about books discussing the trial here and here), so there are some things (mercifully, mostly incidental details rather than anything crucial) for which Irving is the only source. Other than that--and while I'm remarking on Kershaw's flaws--his prose style is adequate at best. And it's not surprising, given the length of the project, that we don't maintain a steady state of "best." So you're not reading for the prose here.

Historians of Nazi Germany can be roughly divided into two camps: intentionalists, who believe that Hitler planned every step of the Final Solution, and functionalists, who believe that Hitler didn't plan any damn thing and the functionaries and bureaucrats of the Third Reich made the Final Solution up as they went along. (This is a reductive schema, and most historians, more accurately, fall somewhere on the continuum between the two poles.) Kershaw is a functionalist--which is an interesting perspective to write a biography of Hitler from, because it means that at every turn, he's looking for the least amount of agency from Hitler commensurate with the historical outcome. And what's really interesting about his biography is the degree to which he has to admit that Hitler was indispensible to the Final Solution, that it couldn't have happened without him and that, even though he shied away from direct involvement, none of it happened without his knowledge and approval.

(Functionalism does occasionally lead him into some rather odd corners: he is the only historian of the Third Reich whom I have read who argues that the Fritsch-Blomberg debacle wasn't planned by anyone, that it was bad luck and stupidity on all sides. Even the clusterfuck surrounding poor Fritsch. Although Kershaw does seem to believe that Blomberg knew his wife had been a prostitute and was trying to keep that a secret from Hitler, which seemed to me like a dubious piece of blame-the-victim thinking. But I digress.)

Kershaw is very very good at explaining, not merely the patterns in Hitler's thinking--the way that what he said in Mein Kampf in the 20s and what he did when he came to power in the 30s are of a piece--but the way in which his habits of thought remained consistent, and the ways in which they both brought him to power and caused his downfall. In particular, Hitler habitually thought in polarized binaries. He habitually radicalized any conflict into an all-or-nothing scenario ("Here ve see," as Monty Python say, "ze life-or-death struggle between ze pantomime horse and ze other pantomime horse for ze position in the merchant bank."), and he believed, from first to last, that compromise was unacceptable. Seeing the pattern in his early life makes his "leadership" during WWII, if not exactly explicable, at least comprehensible.

As a functionalist, Kershaw is also excellent at showing the degree to which the other power-elites of Germany were culpable in the Nazi seizure of power and in Nazi Germany's unprovoked and indefensible assaults on Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Russia . . . He stresses repeatedly that even though invasion after invasion was Hitler's idea, he couldn't have done it without the willing and frequently enthusiastic cooperation of the Wehrmacht and the rest of the German government. Hitler led Germany into World War II, but he did it with his followers treading on his heels. Kershaw shows the way that "working toward the Führer"--the method by which second- and third- and fourth- tier Nazis and government officials (and the two categories were not necessarily identical) tried to anticipate what Hitler wanted--both meant that Hitler rarely if ever had to issue an explicit order and that any initiative deemed to be what Hitler wanted would inevitably snowball, as everyone tried to jump on board.

Aside from a much better grasp of how Nazi Germany "worked" (and I use the word loosely), I came away from Kershaw's biography of Hitler with a profound sense of the paucity of Hitler's inner life, how wretchedly little there was of him beyond three or four idées fixes (and all of them crystallized and immune to modification after about 1923), wrapped up in ambition and garnished with hate. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (ws: hamlet)
Mazower, Mark. Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe. 2008. New York: Penguin Books, 2009.

Short version: Nazis. Most incompetent Evil Overlords in the history of ever.

longer version behind the cut )
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
First! Publishers Weekly gives Somewhere Beneath Those Waves a starred review. (OMG ELEVENTY-ONE!!!1!1!)

ETA: since a couple people asked, and since apparently I am drifting along, lonely as a cloud, without a clue as to the correct answer: YES, this book will have both paper and electronic versions, and the e-book should be available near to the release date for the paper book (which is November 22).

Lukacs, John. The Hitler of History. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

There's a bit of a rant behind the cut-tag. )

Fountain pen geeks, what do you think about Pelikan inks, particularly the ones available in cartridges? I have been very disappointed in the royal blue, which is a nice enough color but fades horribly--and since I want my inks dark and vivid, this drives me nuts. Should I try any of the others, or should I just give in to my own geekiness and take a bottle of Noodler's Squeteague to live in my desk at work?

A reminder: [ profile] matociquala and I will be reading at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge MA at 6 p.m. on Saturday, November 19. Free and open to the public, so please come out!

And, for a fifth thing and happy Friday, have some lovely pictures of wet fishing cat kittens
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Evans, Richard J. Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial. Basic Books-Perseus Books Group, 2001.

Like The Case for Auschwitz, this is a book written by an expert witness for the defense in the libel suit David Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books in 2000. In this case, the expert witness is the historian: Evans is Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University; his role in the defense was to assess Irving as a historian.

His findings, briefly stated, are that Irving manipulated and misrepresented historical facts and primary sources from the very beginning of his career, and always twisting in favor of Nazi Germany and against the Allies. He goes into some detail in his discussion, but as far as I was concerned, not nearly enough. I don't care particularly about the confusion in the media about who was on trial (many commentators thought that the trial was about Irving being denied free speech) or about Evans' experience of being cross-examined by Irving--which is not to say that wasn't a nightmare, because it totally was; it's just that what I want is the process by which Evans and his research assistants retraced Irving's steps and dissected his twisting of evidence.

That's a personal bias. Leaving it aside, this is a perfectly good book; eleven years after the trial, it's not particularly illuminating--and actually, I think that is because Evans doesn't go through his 700 page expert opinion and lay out everything he discovered about Irving's quote-unquote "historiography." This is a popular book about the Irving trial--in the sense that it is written for a "popular," i.e., casual audience, and as such, it's much more ephemeral than van Pelt's book, which is partly about the trial, but mostly about the evidence, and which is written for an assumed audience that wants all the minutiae and neepery. That audience would be me. I'm never satisfied with books that only give me the surface of their topic; what I want, always, is the gears and vital organs underneath. Evans gives me some of that, but left me twitching and hungry for more.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Ayçoberry, Pierre. The Social History of the Third Reich, 1933-1945. Transl. Janet Lloyd. New York: The New Press, 1999. [library]

Fritzsche, Peter. Life and Death in the Third Reich. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard University Press, 2008. [library]

These were an interesting unintentional pairing. The Ayçoberry was exactly what it says on the tin: a social history of the Third Reich. It didn't tell me anything I hadn't read in other social histories of the Third Reich, and it stood out mostly because the author's intellectual quirks.

The Fritzsche, on the other hand, was both a social history and a determined, patient, compassionate, but unforgiving attempt to understand why the citizens of Germany went along with the Nazis. He used a lot of primary sources--diaries and letters--and while many of the diarists were people I'd encountered before, some of them weren't, and the way Fritzsche used his material offered me new insights about how and why the Third Reich happened.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Lambert, Angela. The Lost Life of Eva Braun. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006. [library]

Before the actual review, a side note: the footnotes in this book are the most badly edited footnotes I have ever seen in my life. Aside from the fact that the footnotes are frequently repetitious, the numbers in the text are sometimes on the wrong page. Sometimes there seems to be a footnote missing. Sometimes there are two different places pointing to the same footnote. It's just bafflingly awful.

And while I'm bitching about format and production, there was a very poor choice made at some point: there are occasional interpolations from the author's life (e.g., her visit to Berchtesgaden and the almost entirely eradicated ruins of the Berghof), and someone chose to set those off from the main body of the text by indenting them in the same way they indented the block quotes. This meant that, as a reader, I could never be sure when I hit an indented passage, what the species of text was going to be. It was jarring and confusing, and it would have been so easy to fix.

Okay, enough of that.

This is a strange book, since I have to call it both a success and a failure. As a biography of Eva Braun, it is definitely a success. Lambert has done her research; she's dug out the primary sources, she's talked extensively with Eva Braun's only surviving relative. She's asked (most of) the hard questions and done her best to come up with answers. It is a very good biography, and it illuminates a lot of things about, not only Braun, but about Hitler and the society of the top-level Nazis (and their wives) and about German society, specifically the expectations and opportunities of German women in the first part of the twentieth century.

On the other hand, Lambert has a second project, and that I have to call a failure. Lambert's mother was German, a month younger than Eva Braun; Edith "Ditha" Schröder married an Englishman rather than becoming Hitler's mistress, but Lambert's secondary thesis is that by comparing Eva and Ditha, we can understand them both better and empathize with them.

It is true that Lambert's memories of her mother do help to illuminate Eva Braun's largely inaccessible inner life: her resolute, willful ignorance of politics; her unthinking, culturally ingrained racism; the way in which her dependence on a mostly absent and inaccessible man (Lambert's English father seems, from Lambert's account, to have been about as much support to his wife as a pot-hole) made her life miserable and claustrophobic ... even Ditha's brutal sentimentality (when she translated her father's memoir from German to English, she bowdlerized it and inserted encomiums to her mother, and then destroyed the original). In fact, the most broadly useful insight I gained from Lambert's book is her idea that brutality and sentimentality are conjoined twins.

But the question of empathy is harder. I felt sorry for Edith Schröder Helps, but I did not like her. I did not forgive her (which seems to be Lambert's goal). And I found that that question--can we forgive Edith for being the person that she was?--actually hindered the project of understanding, because Lambert's personal need to forgive/defend her mother (and by extension her German female relatives) gets tangled up to the point that she seems to feel that she and her readers also have to forgive Eva Braun.

I can understand Eva Braun without forgiving her. I can believe that she had no idea what Hitler was doing after he came to power, and I certainly don't think she could have changed anything if she had known. I can even admire, in a way, her stubborn loyalty to Hitler. But--and this is something Lambert never discusses--even if she did not know what he was doing, she still chose, willfully, not to know that he was the sort of person who would do those things. (Hitler: not noted for hiding his light under a bushel.) And I can understand that; I can see where that choice emerged from her personality and her upbringing and the society around her. But she made the choice. She chose to pursue Hitler (Eva made all of the running in their relationship until her second suicide attempt convinced him he had to pay a little more attention to what he was doing to her); she chose to sacrifice her entire life to him, with increasing quantities of literalness as she went along. And either she made that choice knowing what he was and deciding to shut her eyes to it, or she deliberately shut her eyes before she made the choice. And she kept them shut every day from 1929 to 1945.

I can understand that. I can recognize that it was a terrible waste of whatever else Eva Braun might have been and I can regret that. I can be infuriated on her behalf that German society, patriarchal and authoritarian, gave her so few options and all of them either bad, or impossible for a woman not as obsessively driven as Leni Riefenstahl, or completely dependent on the character of the man she chose to yoke herself to. I can pity her for the caged and miserable life she led, although a gilded cage is a hell of a lot better than a concentration camp. But I still don't forgive her, and I wish Lambert had used less of her energy in trying to convince me to.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Read, Anthony. The Devil's Disciples: Hitler's Inner Circle. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004.

Massive (nine hundred plus pages), extremely readable history of the second-tier Nazis: Göring, Goebbels, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Heydrich, Bormann. After finishing this, I never want to hear anybody going on about how men are more rational than women and aren't controlled by their emotions and all the rest of that chauvinist bullshit, because these guys? In-fighting and backbiting and temper tantrums and hysterics--it's exactly like high school, only somehow, these guys are running Germany and organizing the Holocaust and, oh yeah, there's that little matter of World War II.

Read has an unfortunate tendency to accept the "homosexual"="morally bad person" equation I've complained about before (Ernst Röhm and Walther Funk were morally bad people, true, but is that really about their sexual preferences?), but he's very good at deconstructing the self-presentations, both public and private, of Göring and Goebbels, who are the only two Nazis smart enough to make it difficult.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Glass, James M. "Life Unworthy of Life": Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler's Germany. N.p.: New Republic-Basic Books, 1997.

Interesting ideas, badly expressed and badly organized. Also, he misrepresents Arendt (because she's such a useful straw man if you pretend that she meant the "banality of evil" to apply more broadly than to Eichmann himself) and Freud (the uncanny (unheimlich) is not what Glass persists in claiming it is), and although he doesn't misrepresent Kristeva (to the best of my memory), he only sort of throws around the idea of abjection without really digging into how he thinks it applies to Nazi Germany. Also, in a book that's all about purification and taboos and scapegoats, failure to mention Mary Douglas and Purity and Danger is, well, it makes me a little dubious. But mostly, this book is long on polysyllable buzzwords and woefully short on organization. (Also, if you're going to claim Germans had a phobia about touching Jews, it would help if you provided some evidence to back up that claim.) Which is a pity, because the idea that the Holocaust is about the rationalized expression (gussied up with the pseudo-science of eugenics) of a contamination phobia is one that I'd like to see dealt with by someone with the chops to do it right.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: glass cat)
Brustein, William. The Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

For better transparency, that subtitle should read "The Sociological Origins of the Nazi Party," because that's what Brustein is doing. He's analyzing the data provided by NSDAP member cards, and doing so in a very narrowly sociological framework. His thesis is that the support of ordinary Germans for the Nazi Party can be explained entirely by rational economic self-interest. No need to talk about Hitler the demagogue or the German tradition of anti-Semitism--it all comes down to the Nazis' proposed economic programs.

Don't get me wrong: Brustein's data are fascinating, and I think his work does help explain why the Nazis did better among certain social groups. But I don't buy his thesis that the rise of the NSDAP can be satisfactorily explained by people making well-informed, rational, economically-motivated decisions.

Deakin, F. W. The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler and the Fall of Italian Fascism. 1962. London: Phoenix Press, 2000.

Short version: No matter what he says, Hitler is not your friend.

Slightly longer version: This is a very top-down history of the Italian involvement in World War II. It deals only with Mussolini (and Hitler) and the ministers and generals and Party bigshots. One of the blurbs describes it as "impersonal," and I would agree. Deakin's interested in untangling the incredibly snarled political knot of the end of Italian fascism. He's not interested in any of the players as people, and he's certainly not interested in the Italian workers or soldiers (or, god forbid, women) whose lives were being destroyed by the machinations of these petty tin gods.

At the same time, as long as you're willing to go on the ride he wants to take you on, this is an excellent book. Deakin is painstaking and exhaustive; he makes no excuses for anyone; and although he does not discuss ideology or the reprehensible things that the Nazis were doing in other parts of Europe, he's not trying to make them look like anything but the toxic assholes that they were. And he does an excellent job of showing how Italy was doomed by the irrational, self-deluding decisions made by Mussolini, and by the really terrifying inability of anyone to say no to Hitler. (It's pathetic watching the German generals make puppy dog eyes at Mussolini in the hopes he can talk sense to Hitler about Russia.) It's frightening and appalling how much of World War II can be reduced to these two men, and the fact that they were both destroyed by it is very cold comfort.

Koch, H. W. Hitler Youth: The Duped Generation. Ballantine's Illustrated History of the Violent Century. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972.

I bought this book mostly for the pictures, which is not a decision I'm feeling bad about. Koch's other book about the Hitler Youth provides all the history and detail, and the pictures are fascinating, revealing, and OMG creepy. Koch also offers a few more tidbits about his own experiences in the HJ, such as this comment on induction into the Jungvolk:
This [probationary] period was concluded with a special test, combining sport, close combat, and questions of an "ideological" nature (mainly a knowledge of the history of the NSDAP) and culminating in a "test of bravery" which (as in the author's case) could take the form of having to jump in full dress and boots from the window of a first floor [American second floor] block of flats.
(Koch 78)

Not great on its own, but fantastic as supplementary material.

Overy, Richard. Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945. New York: Viking-Penguin Books, 2001.

About half this massive book is transcripts of interrogations; the other half describes and explores the circumstances under which the interrogations were conducted in the run up to the Nuremberg trials. Fascinating particularly for the ways in and degrees to which the Nazi criminals avoided admitting their culpability (ranging from Ley's suicide to Hess' half-faked, half-genuine hysterical amnesia to Speer's calculated self-reinvention); fascinating (also infuriating and appalling) for the hypocrisy of the Allies, who were not only retroactively creating crimes to try the Nazis for, but were very carefully tailoring those crimes so as to avoid tarring themselves with the same brush. It's not that I think the Nazis shouldn't have been held accountable--because obviously I don't think that; it's the way in which the Allies deliberately rigged the game so as to hide their own questionable actions.

Both Hitler and Mussolini were convinced, near the end of World War II, that they could make a deal with England and America so as to turn and go after Stalin. And the problem is that there's a lot of ways in which that's what should have happened. Not the deal-making part, which was a bedtime story for frightened dictators, but the unconscionable double standard whereby England and America condemn the Nazis but ignore the exact same crimes being committed by the Soviets (not to mention turning over Russian POWs who are begging to be protected from their own government, Winston Churchill, I am looking at you) . . . I don't know what the right answer would have been, or if there even was one, but that wasn't it.

Roseman, Mark. The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

This is my very favorite kind of history, the kind that says, "here's a mysterious thing that happened, let's look at all the evidence we have and see if we can figure it out." Roseman's mysterious thing is the conference at Wannsee (notorious for being the one place where you can actually pin down Nazi leaders talking about exterminating the Jews), and he does a wonderful job of contextualizing it and analyzing the evidence we have, and ultimately situating it persuasively in the progress of the Final Solution and the dance in the upper echelons of the Nazi government between amassing as much power for yourself as you could and sharing out the culpability to as many patsies as possible. This book is concise and elegant and I'd love to be able to write history like this.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (ws: poets)
I'm reading F. W. Deakin's The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism (1962), and for some reason a minor exchange Deakin mentions between the King of Italy and one of his marshals insists on being rewritten in iambic pentameter, as if it were a quote from some time-traveling Elizabethan playwright*:

VICTOR EMMANUEL: The old guard . . . ghosts, all of them.
BADOGLIO: Then we, sir, we two are also ghosts.

--The Fall of Mussolini

If anyone wants to do anything with this, you may consider yourself to have my blessing. Because I'm not ABOUT to write a five-act blank verse tragedy about Mussolini--despite the sudden, ridiculous temptation of writing the Hitler scenes.

*This is oddly appropriate, since February 26 was the day of Christopher Marlowe's baptism in 1564, and in [ profile] matociquala's excellent story, "This Tragic Glass," Marlowe is exactly that: a time-traveling Elizabethan playwright. Happy approximate birthday, Kit, and next time, just pay for the fucking fish, all right?
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Kater, Michael H. Hitler Youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

This was a very disappointing book. My early disquiet and dissatisfaction were not assuaged by more nuanced and careful argument later in the book. Particularly on issues of sexuality, Kater's discussion ranged from the vague to the infuriating. He never reliably distinguished between "sexual promiscuity" and sexual assault,* nor did he ever explain whether he was measuring "sexual promiscuity" by the Nazis' yardstick or some other measure, or indeed trying to analyze it at all. Although he did at least discuss the experience of German girls, he did so with a semi-covert chauvinism.

He also had a bizarre double standard. When talking about German boys, he expanded the category of "boy" to include "young soldiers" and then, less explicitly, "all soldiers," and thus spent a great deal of time talking about things, such as the siege of Stalingrad, that had no direct relevance to his ostensible topic. (Also, although he mentioned the atrocities committed by them and the effect on his "young soldiers," the Einsatzgruppen appear in his text like inclusions of alien material. There cannot possibly be any Hitler Youth or former Hitler Youth in them.) He remembers to put in the verses about German war crimes and the brutality of German soldiers, but over all, he presents the "young soldiers" as victims. And then, in the section on German girls in war-time, comes this sentence: "However, insofar as many young and older women had assisted their male superiors in creating a system that facilitated ever-greater human abuses, including their own continuous exploitation, German women were by no means without blame" (Kater 232). Here, he's using the opposite rhetorical strategy. Where, with the male Germans, he expanded the category of "boy" to include men, here he's expanding the category of "woman" to include girls, and saying that, where the men are tragic victims just like the boys, the girls are complicit criminals just like the women.

To be clear: I think the question of guilt and complicity in Nazi Germany is an incredibly complicated and difficult one. It's not that I think that women should be exonerated, or that the soldiers of the Wehrmacht were not cruelly exploited by their officers and government. But I object to the shoddy way Kater has constructed his argument.

I also object, while I'm at it, to Kater's tendency toward moral judgments, especially his unexamined belief that democracy must be morally good. While I agree that Nazi totalitarianism was certainly morally bad, I'm too aware of the corruption endemic in, say, the entire history of the American government to think that democracy is automatically going to be better or that it's somehow a sign of the stunted growth of German youth that they did not immediately embrace democracy with great glad cries at the end of World War II.

So. Poor prose style, poor organization (by which I mean his paragraphs were a mess, not the overall structure of the book, which was fine), fallacious rhetoric, and flatly unnuanced argument full of unexamined assumptions about morality, politics, warfare and violence, sexuality, and gender roles. This book did provide an English-language synthesis/summary of material on the HJ and the BDM that hasn't been translated, and for that I found it useful, even if still frustrating.

*It's bad enough when he's talking about the youth groups of Nazi Germany, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, but his discussion of German girls and Allied soldiers is really not any better: "Rapes by French occupation soldiers, in addition to the Russians, were notorious, whereas in American and British zones of influence, the borderline between rape and consensual sex became blurred, since the use of chocolate, lingerie, and cigarettes as barter encouraged covert prostitution" (Kater 241). The line being blurred here is not between rape and consensual sex, but between consensual sex and prostitution--or possibly between rape and prostitution. It's hard to say, since this sentence is all the details we get. All other considerations aside, this is sloppy writing and sloppy historiography, and I'm disappointed in Harvard University Press for letting it slide.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
[ETA: Disambiguation: the book I am talking about is Michael H. Kater, Hitler Youth, Harvard University Press, 2004. NOT Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow, Scholastic, 2005.]

There's a curious phenomenon in historiography of the Nazis; I've mentioned it before: the insidious way in which, if you aren't very careful, you will find yourself reinscribing the terms of the very discourse you're supposed to be studying. Hitler's ignorance and therefore innocence of the genocide of the Jews is probably the creepiest of these memes. It was a popular defense of the Fuehrer during his reign, and then got picked up by Hitler apologist David Irving on his long descent from fire-eating muckraker to Holocaust denier. Another example is the idea of the "ethnic German" which historiographers have a distressing tendency to treat as unproblematic despite its clear ideological freight. And a third, brought again and forcibly to my attention tonight by Michael H. Kater's Hitler Youth, is "homosexuality."

In discussing the endemic problem of discipline in the Hitler-Jugend, Kater says:
As early as 1933, Hitler told Schirach that Reich President Paul von Hindenburg was cross with him because "the young people did not show the necessary respect to old officers, teachers, and ministers of the church." Later in the Third Reich, HJ miscreants in their early teens were known for committing petty theft, obstructing railroad tracks, and accosting civilians in the streets. As for the older ones, traffic violations such as racing with staff cars became a serious problem, sometimes resulting in the injury of innocent bystanders. HJ leaders were habitually driving their cars with such speed that often "they cannot be brought to a necessary stop," according to an official complaint. Homosexuality and sadism became rampant among HJ members. In one notorious case in the summer of 1938, a mid-level teenage leader inflicted long-lasting torture on his charges by tying their wrists and ankles during an outing and then beating them with his steel-studded belt.

And again, just down the page:
During the war years boys and girls continued to engage in crimes like theft, impersonation, or gross acts of vandalism. [...] Nazi character training notwithstanding, homosexuality could not be curbed, and more women were being sexually molested than had been the case in peace time.

In both cases "homosexuality" is being vaguely lumped together with vandalism, rape, insubordination, theft, and joy-riding (the longer I look at these passages, the longer my list of problems gets), and Kater doesn't define either the Nazi use of the term or his own. He seems perfectly willing to accept homosexuality, like sadism, as nothing more nor less than a problem that crops up when discipline among teenagers is lax.

I know basically nothing at all about LGBTQ issues in Germany between the beginning of the twentieth century and the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, but I do know, from reading about the Nazis, that there seems to have been a general association between thuggishness, love of (para)military social groups and structures, and what is referred to as homosexuality (also "perversion"), typified by Ernst Röhm, the SA leader murdered in the so-called "Röhm Putsch" of 1934. Röhm is invariably tagged as a "notorious homosexual" by historiographers of the Nazis; it's an epithet like rosy-fingered Dawn or ox-eyed Hera, and like those epithets, its meaning is actually kind of slippery. Certainly it is used, by both Röhm's contemporaries and historiographers of the Nazis, as code for "pervert" and "degenerate," a way to emphasize Röhm's bad character and general undesirability. I have no idea how Röhm understood his sexual identity, if he ever thought about it at all, but using the word "homosexual," as it was applied to Röhm by his contemporaries--or to these Hitler Youths--without stopping to interrogate it, unpack it, or even signal that it is a loaded term and neither transparent nor value-neutral, is sloppy scholarship, if nothing worse.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Sigmund, Anna Maria. Women of the Third Reich. [Die Frauen der Nazis]. 1998. Richmond Hill, Ontario: NDE Publishing, 2000.

I don't know whether this book was poorly written or poorly translated or both (my money's on both). The language is clumsy; the scholarship is mediocre to poor (I grant that Leni Riefenstahl's post-WWII, self-exculpating memoir is not a trustworthy source, but when you're countering with Goebbels . . . um, maybe this needs a little more unpacking?); and as a historiographical endeavor, this is a set of eight biographical sketches, to varying degrees of sketchy, devoid of an argument even in those cases when an argument is absolutely crying out to be made. As for example, Geli Raubal. Or the fantastically hypocritical Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, who made a public career out of telling women to stay out of the public sector:
She wanted to communicate to other women her fervent conviction that fulfilling one's duty--quietly in the background and without demanding recognition--was an essential part of the female psyche.

"For mothers it is true that they come to a very quiet and understated power through service, whose sole purpose for ever and ever remains service."

Scholtz-Klink, of course, never served quietly, but traveled constantly from one congress to the next, giving speeches and putting her simple ideas down on paper. In 1938, when her husband started complaining about her numerous party duties, she divorced him.

And overarchingly, demandingly, the central question about Carin Goering, Magda Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, Gertrud Schotz-Klink, Henriette von Schirach, and even Eva Braun: what was it that made intelligent, ambitious women devote themselves to Nazism and to Hitler, who made no secret at all of the fact that he had no use, either personally or politically, for women who were intelligent and/or ambitious? Some of it is attributable to Hitler's legendary magnetism, but not all of it. Some of it is attributable to the Nazi habit of making exceptions: Leni Riefenstahl, for instance, was able to achieve extraordinary things with Nazi support, and Hanna Reitsch, who isn't covered in this book, is another example. But right at the center of the whole thing is this question that Sigmund doesn't even formulate, much less try to answer: why did these women devote their entire lives--and in the case of Magda Goebbels, her death--to an ideological cause that, from the beginning, utterly and unhesitatingly rejected them?
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

(Part 1 is the part that's been getting all the buzz: a Holocaust survivor, his daughter, and his grandchildren dancing to "I Will Survive" at Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites. But I wanted to point out that, utterly marvelous as it is, it's only part of Jane Korman's I Will Survive: Dancing Auschwitz installation.)
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
[ profile] jaylake has asked a question about fantasy and politics (which I answer here with an addendum here).

[ETA: my answers are also provided behind the cut-tag, as I realized this morning (02/16/10) that the rest of the post makes more sense if you know what I've just been saying/thinking about the ideology and idealization of monarchy.]

Fantasy and politics. )

[And now on with the original post!]

Politics and epistemology. Also, I demonstrate Godwin's Law )

Neumann, Franz. Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944. 1942. Expanded ed. 1944. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2009.

Yeats, W. B. "The Second Coming."
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
I'm about fifty pages into Franz Neumann's Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944 (1942, 1944), and I just want to note that he's already, more or less in passing, demolished the "we are simple soldiers!" defense. In talking about the Weimar Republic, he says:
The Reichswehr, reduced to 100,000 men by the Versailles Treaty, continued to be the stronghold of conservatism and nationalism. With army careers now closed to many and promotion slow, there is little wonder that the officers' corps became militantly anti-democratic, despising parliamentarianism because it pried too closely into the secrets of army expenditure, and detesting the Socialists because they had accepted the Versailles Treaty and the destruction of the supremacy of German militarism. Whenever a political crisis arose, the army invariably sided with the anti-democratic elements.

And let's not forget the role of the Reichswehr in the end of World War I and the "stab in the back" myth. The Reichswehr was intensely involved in politics, and that was hardly a secret.

There was certainly less scope for officers to wield political power in the Wehrmacht, with the shift from a pluralist, struggling government which always stood in a suppliant relationship to the army, to a single-party dictatorship in which the army stood suppliant to the Führer, and the generals may have wanted to be ignorant of Nazi politics, but they got there by trying to make a political deal with Hitler. The fact that the deal went so very badly for them--like any deal Hitler made with anyone, it was "heads I win, tails you lose"--is not a sign of political naivete on their part, but a sign of just how disruptive a force Hitler was in the political arena.

Liddell Hart seems to have accepted the German generals' pose as political naifs in good faith, but a pose is all it was.

Neumann, Franz. Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944. 1942. Expanded ed. 1944. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2009.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: glass cat)
Liddell Hart, B. H. The German Generals Talk. 1948. New York: Quill 1979.

Reading this book was a very strange experience, a little like reading alternate history, because it is a dispatch from the world of the gentleman professional soldier. Each of those three words, "gentleman," "professional," and "soldier," is crucial.

Liddell Hart was himself a professional soldier1, and he clearly approached the German generals, not just on that basis, but with that as a kind of secret handshake: a tacit promise not to ask certain questions or bring up certain unpleasant facts. The word "Jew" does not appear in The German Generals Talk, nor do the words "Russian prisoners of war." There are no Einsatzgruppen; there is no Babi Yar; there is no deliberate policy of starvation against the population of Ukraine. (N.b., this book was published in 1948; the Nuremberg Trials were held in 1945 and 1946; those unasked questions may be partly, but cannot be entirely, the result of innocent ignorance.) In this book, World War II is a textbook war, fought for political reasons which gentlemen professional soldiers do not understand.2

"We are but simple soldiers!" goes the refrain. "We are uncomplicated manly men, with manly maps and manly tanks, doing the gentlemanly work of warfare! We are as innocent of politics as babes unborn!" Now, Liddell Hart recognizes that this ostrich-like attitude caused a lot of problems for the generals in terms of their failure to oppose Hitler while they still could, but he never seems to consider the possibility that it is disingenuous, even though his descriptions of the infighting among the officers of the Reichswehr and later the Wehrmacht make it perfectly perfectly plain that the German generals were not innocent of politics in the social sense, even if they vehemently preferred not to know what Germany's right hand was doing. He accepts the generals at face-value--and as gentlemen.

That, too, is a recurring refrain. Liddell Hart tells us how gentlemanly and pleasant the German generals are; the German generals remark on how gentlemanly and pleasant Polish generals are . . . around and around in a mutual admiration society circle jerk. All of the German generals seem to have read Liddell Hart's books on military theory; certainly, they all go out of their way to tell him how much they admire them. They bear their unpleasant imprisonment with dignity and understated humor, and Liddell Hart never seems to wonder just how carefully they might be tailoring their performance to their audience.

And he responds by believing them when they tell him they were professional soldiers and held themselves apart from politics; he joins them in pretending they didn't know and weren't responsible. He only asks them about the conduct of the fighting, not what went on in German-occupied territory, and he never asks "why" beyond loyalty to the Fatherland. (The only general described as an ardent Nazi in the entire book is one who is conveniently dead. Ditto the only one specified to have died still asserting his loyalty to Hitler.) And he empathizes with them, as if their imprisonment were unfair--ETA to clarify, as if the international brotherhood of the gentleman professional soldier did transcend national and ideological loyalties and should be understood to transcend national and ideological loyalties. As if the reasons for the war should be treated as irrelevant in assessing the men responsible for conducting it. (Notice, please, "conducting," not "fighting.") As if those reasons did not exist after war was declared.

Obviously, I don't agree with Liddell Hart's attitude, but that's because I don't accept the construct of the "gentleman professional soldier" as a good thing. It seems to me to be a shield behind which commanding officers can hide from the reality, on one side, of why they're being asked to fight (it's particularly brutal in this case, what with the Holocaust we aren't talking about), and on the other, of what they're ordering men to do: go out and die by the millions. It lets them talk about "the troops" as an undifferentiated and unimportant mass; the only thing that matters is whether you have enough of them to shove about on your manly map and beat your manly opponent. Who will shake your hand with a cry of "Well played!" and make an appointment for a rematch on Tuesday. Dead men (and women and children) have nothing to do with you.

It makes me a little angry.

With that very long caveat, this was, in fact, an interesting book; it gave me a very clear understanding of Hitler's mistakes in the invasion of Russia and thereafter (basically, after the winter of 1941, it's all the same mistake: the refusal to allow any retreat for any reason). And it gives a very clear sense of the generals' frustration, on the professional level, with Hitler and Hitler's lapdog generals Keitel and Jodl, who made their plans and gave their orders from bunkers nowhere near the front and without any understanding that their manly maps were not the territory.

And it was a window on a mindset I don't understand.

1His Wikipedia entry says that, though highly decorated, he only saw about seven weeks of actual combat--though he was gassed badly enough that he eventually had to retire from the army. I hypothesize unkindly, and probably unfairly, that this may be part of why he was able to hang onto the "gentleman professional soldier" idealization for so long. My judgment, I should make clear, is not on Liddell Hart's bravery, ability, or indeed his own sense of honor and gentlemanly behavior, merely on his (possibly willful) naivete.

ETA 01/02/2016: Sadly, this anecdote is untrue. I can't bring myself to delete it, because it's such a marvelous story, but it is PURE FICTION.
Wikipedia also offers this anecdote (from a biography of the Dulles family by Leonard Mosley), which I include here because it makes me like Liddell Hart a good deal better:
During the planning for the Suez Crisis, Hart had been asked by Anthony Eden to submit plans for a campaign against Egypt. After his first four drafts were rejected for a combination of contradictory reasons, Hart was nettled and sent back the original when asked for a fifth version. Eden liked it this time; he called for Hart and patronizingly said; "Captain Liddell Hart, here I am at a critical moment in Britain's history, arranging matters which might mean the life of the British Empire. And what happens? I ask you to do a simple military chore for me, and it takes you five attempts-plus my vigilance amid all my worries-before you get it right." Hart replied, "But sir, it hasn't taken five attempts. That version, which you now say is just what you wanted, is the original version." According to Leonard Mosley, there was a nasty silence while the prime minister's face reddened. Then he reached for an antique inkstand and, maddened, threw it at Hart. Hart sat still for a moment and then, with a tactician's instinct for the devastating counterstrike, stood up, seized a wastepaper basket, and jammed it over Eden's head.

2I see from that Wikipedia article that this is the American "condensed" version of the book published in the U.K., The Other Side of the Hill. But since that title is an explicit reference to Liddell Hart's program of showing the German generals as gentlemanly professional soldiers just like the gentlemanly professional soldiers of the Allies, I doubt this tactful ellipsis is corrected there. If someone has read The Other Side of the Hill and can comment one way or the other, please do!


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