“Everything is happening exactly as we predicted.” So exulted Adolf Hitler in his salad days, before he brought the world tumbling down around him.
Will there ever be an end to books about the Nazi dictator? Not as long as there are new documents to be released from the archives. Longtime students of the literature surrounding the Third Reich will find no surprises here, but journalist/historian Ullrich’s primary audience is a generation of readers of German who have no direct knowledge of events, making it a thorough but eminently readable introduction to the receding past. The author deals with the usual turns, such as Hitler’s rough years as an aspiring artist and the horrors of trench warfare in World War I, but he adds welcome observations and interesting asides along the way. Irrespective of the musings of Allied soldiers on the subject, for instance, he suggests that Hitler enjoyed a normal if perhaps not exciting physical relationship with Eva Braun. Of less prurient interest, Ullrich details the careful unfolding of the Nazi plan to isolate—extermination will come later in this two-volume biography—the Jews of Europe, which accelerated beyond the original timetable because “rapidly pursuing anti-Jewish persecution does no harm to the system [and] does not cause any economic difficulties or any loss of prestige in the world at large,” in the words of one contemporary. Hitler, writes the author, was in fact keenly sensitive to public opinion, as revealed in the wake of the discovery that a senior military officer had married a onetime prostitute, when Hitler lamented, “if a German field marshal can marry a whore then anything is possible in this world.” Above all, in this long but skillfully narrated study, Ullrich reveals Hitler to have been an eminently practical politician—and frighteningly so.
Timely, given the increase in right-wing intransigence throughout the world, and one of the best works on Hitler and the origins of the Third Reich to appear in recent years.