A rich, comprehensive analysis of the rise and fall of Hitler's Germany, by historian Burleigh (Death and Deliverance, 1994).
The author wishes to resist "an indiscriminate condemnation of the German people in general," but he presents a devastating examination of the "almost total moral collapse" that accompanied (and permitted) the unthinkable atrocities of Adolf Hitler. Beginning with an assessment of the devastating effects of WWI on the German economy (and psyche), Burleigh moves swiftly to a biographical sketch of Hitler—with special attention to his notion of "racial fitness and purity, which was not without religious undertones." Slowly—but with insidious momentum—the Nazis' racist ethos pervaded German society, then spread throughout Europe as one country after another capitulated to the German military. Although the author writes with the disinterest of the professional historian, he also delivers appropriately harsh and often eloquent judgments of the principals involved. "Rarely," he quips about Hitler and his immediate circle, "can such an unprepossessing group of people have had so much to say about fitness and purity." Because this is a general history, Burleigh's strokes are often broad. The Normandy invasion, for example, consumes only a couple of pages. Nonetheless, he manages to include many specific incidents and details, some that freeze the blood: a brutally frank speech by Himmler (he refers to Jews as bacteria), a sympathetic view of the German civilians who endured the rather indiscriminate Allied bombing (hundreds of thousands died), and an inspiring account of the of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (hanged for his opposition to the Nazi mass murderers). Burleigh comments, too, on the irony of the alliance of the world's great democracies with the Soviet Union, "a totalitarian dictatorship of unfathomable barbarity."
A brilliant synthesis: lucid and felicitous, scholarly and compassionate.