The Third Reich in Power: 1933-1939
By Richard J. Evans
Penguin, 941 pp., illustrated, $37.95
In his ''The Third Reich in Power: 1933-1939," the British historian Richard J. Evans, professor of modern history at Cambridge University, continues his account of Nazi Germany. This volume follows ''The Coming of the Third Reich," which takes the story of the Nazis to Adolf Hitler's coming to power in January 1933. This magnificent trilogy will be completed by the volume that will consider Nazi Germany at war, 1939-45.
''The revolution we have made," Joseph Goebbels declared in November 1933, ''is a total one. It has encompassed every area of public life and fundamentally restructured them all. It has completely changed and reshaped people's relationship with each other, to the state, and questions of existence." Evans considers the implementation and institutionalization of state violence and terror, as the Nazis inserted themselves into virtually every aspect of German life. He places the totalitarianism of the Nazi state in the context of Hitler's relentless drive to war.
This is a work drawn from a mountain of scholarship by a generation of other historians. As a readable, compelling synthesis of the period, Evans's second volume, like its predecessor, is a major achievement. He brings to life the rapid, brutal consolidation of Hitler's power after his coming to the chancellery in January 1933. The SS (Schutzstaffel), Hitler's personal ''Protection Squad," and the Gestapo enjoyed free run. Wealthy businessmen, who had hated the Weimar Republic but imagined other kinds of authoritarian outcomes, now readily accepted honorary titles in the SS as rewards for their loyalty and financial contributions.
The concentration camp at Dachau was set up within months, the first of many. Within about a year, the Gestapo completed the decimation of the Communist opposition, as brutal murders and death sentences imposed by judges took their toll, using new laws and ignoring others. Prison sentences and executions were proudly announced in newspapers. The trade unions collapsed under vicious assault. The Nazi state quickly eliminated basically all human and civil rights that had existed under the Weimar Republic. The fate of Jews and others considered ''racial outsiders," and homosexuals and Gypsies, as well as those considered ''asocial" (prostitutes were added to the list) or ''work-shy," became increasingly clear. Laws banning Jews from civil service, the judiciary, and teaching prepared the way for the Nuremberg Laws in 1935.
Organized opposition rapidly disappeared. The Protestant churches, which provided a disproportionate number of Hitler's earlier followers, and the Catholic Church were quiescent. As the Hitler Youth Organization increased its membership dramatically, reaching 2.3 million boys and girls by the end of 1933 (8.7 million in 1939), teachers had to avoid letting a critical word slip, lest they be denounced by a pupil. Idle gossip and jokes could be dangerous. One joke had a group of rabbits turning up at the Belgian frontier, asking for status as political refugees. ''The Gestapo wants to arrest all giraffes as enemies of the state," they explained. ''But you are not giraffes," a border guard noted. ''We know that," the rabbits insisted, ''but try explaining that to the Gestapo." The very same joke circulated in Stalin's Soviet Union at the same time, with the KGB replacing the Gestapo.
Culling details from memoirs and other contemporary accounts, Evans pictures a Gestapo office with young women typing beneath portraits of Hitler and other major Nazi figures, keeping the records updated, oblivious to the screams of people being beaten and tortured. The atomization of German society and the loss of individuality continued unabated. Despite Hitler's overwhelming popularity, the Nazis did not achieve a total identification of the individual German with his or her race and the Nazi state. Millions of ordinary Germans simply retreated into their homes.
Evans is extremely good on the Nazi cultural revolution. The theater was purged. Music proved harder to control, although Jews were soon out of the business and jazz banned from the airways because it was created by black artists. Modernist art had no place in Nazi Germany, denigrated in the famous Degenerate Art exhibit, which included works by Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, and Oscar Kokoschka. The Bayreuth Festival became a Hitler festival. The sculptor Arno Breker did well, producing oversize, muscular, nude Aryan Übermenschen in stone. The failed artist Hitler knew what he liked. The Nazis mobilized the German language itself: Words like ''fanatical," ''ruthless," ''brutal," and ''uncompromising" were transformed into words of praise.
Nazi propaganda posters, newspapers, and magazines (such as the Racial Observer and the SA Man), newsreels, and Leni Riefenstahl's ''Triumph of the Will" made the cult of Hitler a modern phenomenon. By 1939, 70 percent of German households owned a radio, from which they listened to Hitler.
Evans evaluates the impact of the Nazi regime on social groups and on individuals. The Führer benefited from the economic recovery, taking credit for the relative speed with which Germany rose from the Depression, in part because of rebuilding the country's military. Yet Germany suffered from a shortage of consumer goods, sacrificed for iron and steel needed for the coming war (storm troopers tore down iron railings around tombs in cemeteries) or stockpiled for future needs in wartime. And much was for show, including the first stages of the construction of the autobahn, plans for the ''People's Car," or
Just before launching the invasion of Poland, on Sept. 1, 1939, an event that began World War II, Hitler told his generals: ''Act brutally! The stronger man is right! . . . The greatest harshness!" It had been that way from the day Hitler came to power in 1933, as it had been intended to be. The monstrousness of the Holocaust lay just ahead.
John Merriman is Charles Seymour Professor of History at Yale University and the author, most recently, of ''Police Stories: Making the French State, 1815-1851" (Oxford University) and of ''The Stones of Balazuc" (Norton).