The Third Reich At War, by Richard J. Evans

This book is about the Third Reich in all its aspects, it is not a history of the extermination of the Jews or a history of World War II in Europe, though both are essential to the narrative. After 1939 the Nazi government in Germany preferred the term “The Great German Reich: (Grossdeutsches Reich) rather then “Third Reich.” The Great German Reich began with the invasion of Poland in 1939 and ended with the defeat of Germany in 1945.

Readers expecting military details on the basis of the book’s title may be disappointed. The author’s military focus is on what he believes are the major turning points during World War II in Europe. The invasion and conquest of Poland, the conquest of France, and the Battle for Britain in 1939-40, the Battle of Moscow in the winter of 1941-42, the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter 1942-43, and the beginning of the mass strategic bombing of German cities and towns in 1945.

The author blends his narrative with the war’s progress and the personal testimony of many people; from army generals and SS officers to the front-line soldiers, from members of the Hitler Youth to middle-class wives, from Catholic priests to survivors of the concentration camps. Within Germany itself almost all aspects of the people’s lives were affected by the war; educational, judicial, entertainment, church, and propaganda. The author presents a Germany speeding to self-destruction.

A primary theme in the narrative is Hitler’s extermination of the Jews in the context of his genocidal plans for the racial restructuring of Europe. Eugenics, which became legal in 1933, would be the method used to breed a master German race. Hitler became interested in American eugenics and perverted this in his attempt to eliminate all Jews, gypsies and others he considered racially and physically inferior. “At the heart of German history in the war years lies the mass murder of Jews in what the Nazis called ‘the final solution’ of the Jewish question in Europe.” The mass murder of the Jews and Nazi racial policies towards others considered inferior or non-human is an inescapable part of German history.

(The Penguin Press, 2009; 926 pp., $40 — ISBN 9781594202063)