Sunday, May 20, 2007

Story of evil: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

For people in this age, this book, published in 1960 (written by William L Shirer) may seem totally out of date, and something that is of a different age. Further, the end of Nazi Germany and World War 2 in Europe happened in 1945 (more than 60 years ago), so why bother. Read this book, and you will know why this book is still relevant today. That's also the reason why this book, though 47 years old now, is still being published and sold in fairly high volumes.
There are a lot of people nowadays who don't know what the period of World War II, and Germany before that, were like. My understanding of that stage got clear after reading this book, and once you read such a book, the most common reaction is 'Never Again'. The book is a fairly big book, over 11oo pages, so may slightly over-whelming initially, but the book is written in a fairly engaging manner, and does not seem like a historical work. It focuses on the personalities involved.
The book is based on the massive amount of captured documents that detailed the work of the Third Reich, details from the Nuremberg trials, and the experience of the author in Germany till 1940. The book details the rise of the Third Reich from the time after the defeat in the first world war, and the efforts by Hitler to build up a platform, the way he starts to build his platform of hate, and attracts a lot of people disillusioned by the current goings on. In addition, there are a number of people who blamed the jewish community, and communism for the current state of Germany and he starts to become their natural leader. There is a lot of detail in these sections, explaining how Hitler managed to plot his way to the leader of Germany and then dispense with democracy.
The growth of the Nazis pushes a set of leaders such as Goering, Goebbels, Rommel, etc who are powerful, and push aside all other power structures that existed till now, a lot of this having to do with setting up agencies such as the Gestapo that enforced a rule of terror. He systematically kept the army on a short leash, making sure that the army was totally subservient to the Nazi structure. In addition, weak European rulers and an insular US provided Hitler the stage to disregard earlier obligations, enhance military abilities and slowly take over other European countries.
Hitler realized that he had to break the Soviet and British regimes so that he would be the unchallenged autocrat. He almost achieved his goals, trying to bombard Britain into submission and attack the Soviet Union when they were not ready. However, he failed to break Britain, and then after the invasion of the Soviet Union was an initial spectacular success, it ground to a halt. Even though the Soviet Union suffered incredible casualties, they managed to halt the feared panzer divisions and then the course of the war changed. The red army managed to push the German army back from the Soviet Union and ultimately conquered Germany along with the western allies. At the peak of its conquest, Germany ruled over almost all of Europe, and was all powerful, including large sections of Africa along with its ally Italy.
Once the Nazi regime was defeated, Hitler committed suicide, rather than be displayed in a cage in Moscow (as Stalin threatened). The remaining leaders were tried in Nuremberg in the first such trial of people for genocide, and a number of them were sentenced to death.
When the German army was being pushed back, the world was witness to an inhuman spectacle. The Nazi's had come up with a Final Solution to the jewish problem, and the Final Solution involved the use of concentration camps, gas chambers, gory medical experiments and other such inhumanity. In addition to jews, those butchered included others deemed unsuitable by the Nazis - homosexuals, gypsies, communists. The loss of humanity during the Nazi rule included such thing as killing large numbers of people because a Nazi was killed, treating prisoners of war very inhumanely, and treating captured civilians without any humanity.
Read this book, it will give an idea of what humankind can do to each other, and then you will realize why the motto should be 'Never again'.

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