New Book Examines German Fanaticism in World War II

July 18th, 2008 by eyal | Filed under Facts, People. | Print This Post Print This Post

This post is primarily a note to myself to keep some parts that stood out to me in this interesting research.

New Book Examines German Fanaticism in World War II | Germany | Deutsche Welle | 17.07.2008

A monumental war history in German, which has just been completed after 30 years of work, explores a question that preoccupies modern Germans: why Nazi Germany fought on, defying all military logic, to the bitter end.

It took more than two years of fighting to establish that Hitler’s war aims were unachievable. Hitler probably realized that himself.

Yet it took nearly three more years to end the war. The Wehrmacht did not capitulate until after the Fuehrer had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker in April 1945.

To the very end, the Nazi regime required Germans to recite their belief in “ultimate victory.” But in the final years of the war, part 8 suggested, Hitler’s mind gradually focused on staging a vain but heroic last stand.

Hitler’s all-or-nothing approach has been described by his biographers as a key to his rise, and an exiled German writer, Sebastian Haffner, suggested as early as 1940 that the method was also the mark of a “potential self-killer.”

The volume’s account of the war on the western front in 1944 and 1945 describes the German military fighting on towards self-destruction under mottoes such as “for honor” and “for the fatherland,” believing they were “doing their duty.”

“That was their common denominator with a majority of the Germans, who had been simply sticking to what they were doing, or had not sought any alternative, or had not been able to visualize any other way,” the book says.

On their own responsibility and often risking execution for treason, some of the German military openly disobeyed orders or subtly wasted time so that the Allied invasion of Germany could proceed quickly without even more loss of lives and property.

“To the Germans, no alternative appeared feasible, other than the unconditional surrender demanded by the enemy,” the book adds.

Most of the rest of the world was needed to defeat the most efficient fighting machine of its generation, which had battled on despite Hitler’s strategic blunders.

Explaining modern Germany’s reluctance to fight the Taliban and its focus on collective defense, the last part says the war taught post-war Germans an abiding lesson and they deliberately renounced any capacity to wage a war of their own ever again.


Germany’s submission to NATO [note: why is this considered a submission?] has meant that the Second World War was the “last war of the Germans” in history. [note: I think the entire world sure hopes so]

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8 Responses to “New Book Examines German Fanaticism in World War II”

  1. Jean-Philippe | 18/07/08

    “why Nazi Germany fought on, defying all military logic, to the bitter end”

    This question is addressed by JL Borges in “The Aleph” (1962) in a short story called “Deutsches Requiem”.
    Borges defends the thesis that the german attitude is to be understood as a Nietzschean sacrifice, a reply to Jesus sacrifice:

    “An intransigeant time now hovers about the world. We forged it, us who are now its victim. No matter if England is the hammer and we the anvil. The important is that violence rules, and not the slavish christian timidity. If the Victory, the injustice and tha happiness are not for Germany, let it be for other nations. Let the sky exist, even if our place is in hell.”

    The complete text, in spanish, is found here:

    That may seem a bit poetical, romantic even, but let’s keep in mind that Germany, above all, was the cradle of romanticism.

  2. eyal | 18/07/08

    Interesting. If I understand this correctly then Borges’s interpretation of the spirit back then goes against the above mentioned research, saying there was a desire for a conclusive crushing outcome that will glorify the victor whoever it is. Not just tiredness, apathy, lack of alternatives, being loyal to their leader etc.

    That portrays not just Hitler but the entire leadership of the Wehrmacht and people of Germany of that time as a very suicidal and manic people.

  3. Jean-Philippe | 18/07/08

    Not necessarily so.
    Many people in Germany may just have followed the leaders, especially since these leaders were clearly hiding the truth as to the evolution of the war.
    What, I think, Borges brought to our attention is that there was, in german nazism, a significant part of romanticism, some feeling of transcendence, that may explain the radicality of some behaviour, and possibly the behaviour of the leading class.

    There is an undeniable charm in fascism and in nazism. It’s actually the title of Zeev Sternhell epilogue in his study “Birth of the fascist ideology”: The secret charm of Fascism.
    And once under its charm, death may become a desirable thing, not something to avoid anyway.
    The structure of fascism also facilitates that, it is after all the sacrifice of the individual for the nation, the sacrifice of the nation for the even higher community of mankind is therefore logical.

    The same idea can be felt in at least one novel by Herman Hesse: Demian.

  4. Eshin | 19/07/08

    Obviously not as well-read as either of you, it should be obvious no?

    Hitler initially promised greatness to a German people humiliated from WWI and coming out of the Depression. Despite a few early setbacks, I think the German people and army still believed that. As the war dragged on, military set-backs probably weren’t broadcast as freely.

    And when you have most of the world pointing guns at you after having invaded most of them, brutalized them and plundered their wealth, wouldn’t you want to fight to the bitter end knowing payback is sure to come?

    It was a different era then. It’s hard for us to look from this era of half-measured wars where there might be an intervention from the UN. We’re also a little more educated into world politics as a whole. Today’s freedom of information means there are far more channels of knowledge than the average WW2 European citizen had access to.

  5. dc | 20/07/08

    good reference to Borges’s “Deutsches Requiem”.

    “Requiem” has always been for me one of Borges’s darker writings, not so much for the larger social themes but the movements of mind and heart at a personal level:
    how the eminently erudite German protagonist in the story can, despite being moved by the works of a captured Jewish poet, choose to have him killed.

    i think “Requiem” was Borges’s response to Nazi fanaticism as well as a lament to the tragic mis-step that Germanic culture took in the early-mid 20th century. Borges chose to have his German character, though well-schooled in the German classics and philosophy, execute his extremist actions with conviction of heart and mind.

    however, Borges was far from being a Nazi apologist.
    indeed, Borges was known to have a fascination with Jewish cultural symbols and have populated several of his stories with Jewish protagonists.
    in fact, in response to accusations from anti-semitic nationalistic Argentinians that he was a Jew, he wrote a short essay “I, a Jew”, where he said that he would be proud to be a Jew, but he’s not.

  6. Jean-Philippe | 22/07/08

    While we are in literary references, one more may be worthy to consider here; it is “Death is my trade” by Robert Merle, it’s basically a novelized transcript of Rudolph Hoess’s testimonies he wrote in jail and of Nuremberg trial records.
    There, Hoess is described as “simply sticking to what they were doing, or had not sought any alternative, or had not been able to visualize any other way,” as the book says. So it may be so that such case have existed even in the higher level of leadership, however, Robert Merle’s account is directly from Hoess himself who may well have used this thesis as a defense of his own doings.

    On the whole, I think it’s quite impossible to come up with a general unique reason that would explain nazi fanaticism (even this expression is almost a pleonasm). There is something irrational in the essence of fascism, something mystical, mythological (wagnerian for Nazism) that lies beyond the rationality of survival or of war strategy.
    In Deutsches Requiem, Borges focuses on this mystical drive, that certainly motivated a lot of people, even though, their wording, their undertanding of it may have not matched the one from Borges’hero.

    On the book Eyal referred to, I also agree with Eshin, the difference of perspective is just too important for us to judge nazi stubborness in too definite terms.
    What I wish to emphasize though, is that some reasons for that are to be found in the structure of Nazism itself, rather than in the mental health of a few leaders.

  7. dc | 24/07/08

    the idea of an “irrational romanticism” in fascism is intriguing…
    but far be it for me to comment on the etymological Hydra (in respect of multiplicity rather than any impugned pejorative) that is the topic of fascism.

    from the hermetic collective, to perhaps a more light-hearted and free-spirited offering:

    “I am too high born to be propertied,
    To be a second at control,
    Or useful serving-man and instrument
    To any sovereign state throughout the world.”

    and from my favorite Taoist in Concord, Mass.,

    “That government is best which governs least”

  8. Jean-Philippe | 25/07/08

    With regard to the irrationality inherent to Fascism, it might be helpful to quote the following passage from Zeev Sternhell, whose overall thesis is to identify the ideological root of Fascism in the sorelian revision of Marxism:

    “Sorel is going to use the myth as a genuine working tool, an engine for action, and he will endow it with an absolute value.[…]This is where lies the originality of the sorelian revision of marxism. This approach refuses to surrender to reality, it wants itself to be faithful to the vague revolutionary desire of marxism, even at the price of what constitute the intellectual content of marxism. This is how, in front of all variations of marxism, Sorel stands as a true rebel.[…]Therefore, with the help of this irrational component -the myth- is realised the social polarisation. The class struggle, which was not produced by the capitalist process, becomes an historical force.” (Birth of the fascist ideology, chapter I-2)

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