The German War: A Nation Under Arms

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Nicholas Stargardt is a Professor of History at Oxford University. According to his biography on Oxford University’s webpage, Stargardt’s research is in modern German History, understood within a European context. He started his career as an intellectual and political historian. Since 1994 he turned his work towards history of children and childhood, and to social and cultural history of Nazi Germany.

Stargardt was born to a German-Jewish father and an Australian mother. He was in Melbourne, Australia, living there, but also living in Japan, Germany, and England studying at King’s College in Cambridge becoming a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford in the United Kingdom where he teaches modern European history. Stargardt champions three books: The German Idea of Militarism: Radical and Social Critics (1994), Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under Nazis (2005), and lastly The German War: A Nation Under Arms 1939-1945 which explores the citizens of Germany attitudes about World War II.

World War II is arguably the bloodiest, inhumane war in Germany’s history. The Nazi regime was gruesome and horrific, creating conflict that resulted in genocide practices well before gas chambers were occupied in Poland. In 1939 many Germans did not want war when it came. After Hitler invades Poland, there was no happiness only sadness and low spirits. The Third Reich took over their neighbors while Germans hoped for a swift war. Stargardt indicates that the Nazi regime was at its peak popularity when they promised the people peace, prosperity, and easy victories. Yet Germany would continuously have long lasting battles that were even more barbaric.

Stargardt creates the book The German War assessing German life under the Third Reich. Other than pin pointing entirely on the encounters of either solder nor civilians, he maneuvers both narratives into a different picture. He takes from substantial archival records, war letters, and diaries of regular German citizens and soldiers, building around the structure of military actions in conjunction with stories from the individuals involved in the war. Stargardt addresses many vital and traumatic events in the wake of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Babi Yar and Katyn massacres, large bombings of German cities, Normandy landings, and Stalingrad. He orchestrates pivotal questions: Were the Germans victims or were they perpetrators? What was said by the Germans during the war and after the war? How did they behave as they found out genocide was being committed? And why did the fight continue?

Germany lacked in national solidarity and became fatigued by the war, yet the Germans continued the fight. Stargardt proposes that their feelings and patriotic defiance surfaced less commonly from fanatical Nazism than familial bonds. In order to make Germany impregnable, soldiers believed that they must win the war at any and all cost. Nazi propaganda charged their will to win, which turned into a defensive war, agitated by the enemies of Germany, therefore meaning that a loss would mean liquidating Germany.

It seems that Stargardt announces two themes in his historical assessment; propaganda and popular opinion. The war’s main focus point was German, but the suffering of the other European nations did not go unnoticed: numerous victims, demolished cities, and pillaged countryside. The brutality, murder, and destruction brought by Nazi Germany was not hidden from society; Stargardt calls it an “open secret”. Germans knew that the Nazis depended on violence and propaganda to survive. They were supported by raw materials and Jewish slave labor; they also knew a mass number of Jews had been massacred in East Germany. The propaganda used by the Nazi heavily indicated cruelty amongst Jews. For instance, displayed all across German the Nazi party ornamented posters of Hitler threatening a world war leading to the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe. German citizens watched as the Jewish extermination was at their front doors.

Towards the end of the war in 1945, the Germans evaluated the remains of their country. They faced harsh ridicule and judgement for the savage and bloodthirsty policies and efforts of the Third Reich. During this time, the Germans informed the Allies that they had no knowledge of the attempted genocide of the Jews nor did they realize the pervasive subjugation and murder of Polish and Russian citizens. In November 1945, Germans started to decipher distinct lines between Wehrmacht, offenders of the law, and the evil SS. They met around the time of the Nuremberg Trials.

Stargardt evenly balances his opinion, identifying a difficult and deeply sewn lack of harmony that oppose the Nazi concept of community while eroding the ideas of the historians who see the Third Reich as a dictatorship. He also combats the historians who paint the regime as fighting against a constant sense of opposition. An unanswered question I had about The German War, is why weren’t the German citizens held accountable for aiding the regime? Stargardt finishes his book, “So many German men and women played active roles in the mass organizations of the party that no sharp line can be drawn between regime and society.” He gives important insight on the overall psyche of Germans during wartime.

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The German War: A Nation Under Arms. (2021, Aug 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-german-war-a-nation-under-arms/

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