on ‘The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45’ by Nicholas Stargardt

Cherbourg France1944Nikolaus Wachsmann at The Guardian:

Most Germans did not want war in 1939. When it came, following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, there was no euphoria and flag-waving, as there had been in 1914, but dejection; the people were downcast, one diarist noted. The mood soon lifted, as the Third Reich overran its neighbours, but most Germans still hoped for a quick conclusion. As Nicholas Stargardt points out in his outstanding history of Germany during the second world war, the Nazi regime was most popular “when it promised peace, prosperity and easy victories”. And yet, German troops continued to fight an ever more protracted battle, with ever more brutality, while the home front held tight. Even when it was clear that all was lost, there was no collapse or uprising, as in 1918. Why?

There are two easy answers. After the war, many Germans claimed to have been cowed by an omnipotent terror apparatus. More recently, some historians have argued the opposite: the Nazi regime was buoyed by fervent support, with ordinary Germans backing Hitler to the end. Stargardt dismisses both answers convincingly. Domestic terror alone, though ever-present, did not ensure the war’s continuation. Neither did popular enthusiasm for nazism. Of course there was significant support for Hitler’s regime, at least as long as the campaign went well. “God couldn’t have sent us a better war,” one soldier wrote to his wife in summer 1940, as the Wehrmacht routed France. But opinion was fickle, fluctuating with the fortunes of war.

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