Friday, 30 November 2012

The Book I Read In November

‘Germany 1866-1945’ by Gordon A. Craig
Though published in 1978 this book comes over as a work of an earlier era.  There is an assumption that the reader has a good grasp of German.  Though there is a list of translations of the longer passages at the back of the book, I imagine on the insistence of the publisher rather the author, Craig keeps on slipping in short terms and phrases untranslated.  I studied at a German university for a period, but often I could not make out the correct meaning of these phrases and this often made it difficult to comprehend the precise point the author was making.

Another factor that I doubt one would see in a modern history of Germany is on the cultural wellbeing of Germany during this period.  These days I do not think many readers would be overly concerned if classical composers or literary authors were supportive of authoritarian government or not, in fact we would often assume that they were.  Certainly we would expect a greater focus on the popular media which influenced the viewpoints of many more Germans.

I find Craig’s conclusions on the Nazi regime and the resistance to it, unpalatable.  Craig emphasises that a redeeming feature of Hitler’s regime was that it so destroyed everything that had been inherent in Germany since the 1860s.  He sees the reduction of the influence of the Army into the shadows of the SS and especially the purge of the nobles following the failed 20th July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler as necessary for Germany ever to change.  He is very disparaging of the plotters of 20th July, seeing them as simply want to install a different form of dictatorship, little better than the Nazi system.  I have often been struck by how people of Craig’s generation (he lived 1913-2005), A.J.P. Taylor (1906-90) is another example, so dismiss the resistance to Hitler either as foolishly idealistic or sinister.  I guess, in a quiet way, our views on this topic have shifted over the past three decades.  Similarly the view that Germany had its ‘Stunde Null’ as Craig puts it, i.e. its Zero Hour, in 1945 marking a whole new beginning has also been discredited.  These days historians note the vast continuities that persisted from the Nazi regime and before right into the post-war Germanies, in fact, in different ways in both West and East Germany.  Many on the left and in the centre would argue that Germany did not have the clean break in 1945 it actually needed; even in East Germany, the regime was in many ways little different from the preceding one.

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