How did the Nazi dictatorship work_ a review of historiography

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					How did the Nazi dictatorship work? A review of historiography.

Author: Ron Grant                                              2010

Introduction: A trawl of Advanced Higher History past papers establishes the importance of
awareness of the personality and role of Hitler, his leadership skills – or even lack of them? –
and the changing nature of the movement led by him. How did the Nazi party change as it
moved from the struggle for power to the “Machtergreifung” of 30 January 1933 and the
consolidation of power thereafter? Tim Kirk in Nazi Germany (2007) observes: “It was an
approach to government and to leadership that contrasted very starkly with Stalin‟s obsessive
will to control all aspects of policy.” (P49).

Many years ago, Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Last Days of Hitler (1947) challenged the belief
that Nazi Germany was organized as a “totalitarian” state – totally integrated, totally mobilized,
centrally controlled. The gullible had swallowed Nazi propaganda whole. Instead, “The
structure of German politics and administration, instead of being “pyramidal” and “monolithic”,
was in fact a confusion of private empires, private armies, and private intelligence services.” In
this feudal anarchy Hitler was no weak dictator. His “personal power was in fact so undisputed
that he rode to the end above the chaos he had created.” (p53; p54).

Since this classic of historical scholarship was first published there has followed a huge number
of works on the Third Reich, daunting and intimidating to young students. How to make sense
of it all? By far the best introduction remains John Hite and Christopher Hinton; “Weimar
and Nazi Germany” (2000). With clarity and economy, they explain terms used to describe
the Nazi governing machine such as “polycratic”, “feudal” and “chaotic”, proceeding to review
“intentionalist” versus “structuralist” interpretations. “How were decisions taken? They ask,
before investigating differing notions of Hitler as dictator and the ever-quickening radical
momentum which characterised the Third Reich (pp206; 196/7; 190/2).

But it is now a decade since this essential student guide appeared. Since then the second
volume of Ian Kershaw‟s biography of “Hitler: Nemesis 1936 – 1945” (2000) Michael
Burleigh: “The Third Reich: a new history” (2000), Richard J Evans” monumental trilogy
depicting Nazism‟s rise and fall and Adam Tooze: “The Wages of Destruction: the making
and breaking of the Nazi economy” (2006) have been published (for review essays on the
Evans trilogy, Tooze and other new works on the Third Reich, “History Teaching Review:
Year Book of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History (SATH)”, 2000/2009
(inclusive) and SATH‟s twice yearly Resources Review are essential reading. Would that
Hite and Hinton find time and energy to produce an updated edition!

Neil Gregor in “How to read Hitler” (2005) deftly encapsulates recent developments in the
interpretation of Nazism and how it worked, noting “the move away from a one-sided stress on
institutional conflict as the principal motor of National Socialist radicalization in favour of a
renewed emphasis on the importance of human agency, and on cooperation and “shared
understanding” between actors. “ (P4) In such a view the Orwellian picture of Germany 1933-
1945 as a nation of rabbits duped and transfixed by stoats will not do. Propaganda and terror
cannot provide sufficient explanation of the “social contract” between Hitler, the NSDAP and
millions of Germans.

It is in this context that detailed explanation of the Dantean circles proceeds.
A      Adolf Hitler

“Who is this Hitler? What does he want?” This was the robust enquiry of the woman who
dominated the cartoons created in the 1930s by the American humorist, James Thurber. Eight
decades later the search for answers continues. One positive emerging from this is that, in
terms of Keynesian multiplier effect, Hitler and Nazism has generated significant economic
activity, from scholars, writers and teachers to all the areas of the publication industry and to the
media industries. What in monetary terms is the value of “the Hitler industry” to

In the early 21st Century political leaders chant the mantra of aspiration and upward social
mobility. Hitler‟s life before 1919 was the negation of this as he hurtled downwards from the
petit bourgeoisie to the lumpen fringes of urban life, a social bankrupt, a misfit. In 1919 he was
employed by the army to snoop on Munich‟s political extremists, and found himself in the
company of the tiny, ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic German Worker‟s Party. Finally his luck had
turned. Joining this group he developed his one real talent – for mob oratory. He quickly
became the leader of the Party. Thus, “Hitler vaulted from his post of military policy spy and
denizen of the underworld straight into a position of absolute power which he has never since
surrendered” (Sebastian Haffner: “Germany – Jekyll and Hyde…” [1940; 2008edn, p16]).
Hitler had taken the first steps on his road from Zero to Nero.

The milestones on that path are familiar to any student. But how have historians interpreted
Hitler‟s rise to power? There are two extremes. In the first, Stalinist Marxists viewed Hitler
and his movement as puppets of German capitalist tycoons, an analysis evoked by the photo
montage created by John Heartfield: “The Meaning of the Nazi Salute” At the other extreme
is the view of Hitler‟s first serious biographer Alan Bullock, a classicist by training, author of
“Hitler: a study in tyranny” (1952): “Hitler constantly exalted force over the power of ideas
and delighted to prove that men were governed by cupidity, fear and their baser passions. The
sole theme of the Nazi revolution was domination…” (p804).

By the 1980s these competing interpretations had been fashioned into the rival schools of the
“functionalists”, who concentrated on the structure and institutions of the Nazi state, and the
“intentionalists”, for whom the Third Reich was the practical expression of the Führer‟s will. It
was from the first of these two schools that Ian Kershaw emerged to dominate Third Reich
historiography by 2000. Trained as a social historian in Munich‟s Institute for Contemporary
History and creating sociological models drawn from Max Weber, Kershaw subtly wedded social
analysis with the peculiar features of Hitler‟s individual personality.

Hitler is revealed by him as utterly self-absorbed. He treated humans much as he did his dogs.
Relationships with others was based on his power over them and their utter dependence on
him. He was convinced of his own genius. His leading courtiers, Göring, Goebbels, Himmler
and their like, had had their uses in fashioning his rise to power and its consolidation but he was
“the movement‟s” creator, Nazism‟s alpha and omega. “Once Hitler is uprooted, all the Göring‟s
and Goebbels will fall like leaves from a dead tree. Not one of them has Hitler‟s power of
identifying Germany with himself.”(Haffner, op.cit.,pp 30/31).

Any attempt to understand the historical phenomenon of Nazism must therefore begin with
Hitler, his core beliefs, his world view, his preaching of “a violent theology of redemptive
purification” (Adam Tooze) and the emotional volatility of a man fuelled by resentments and
hatreds. Half a century ago “Mein Kampf” was dismissed by AJP Taylor as fantasies dreamt
up behind prison bars, it was Hitler‟s “lunatic vision” (Taylor‟s description of it in conversation
with Ved Mehta (“Fly and the Fly-Bottle (1963; 1965 edn, p146). But a new generation of
historians, exemplified by Neil Gregor and Adam Tooze redirect readers to serious study of
this book and also the lesser-known “Second Book” (1928). In “The Wages of Destruction”
(2006) Tooze argues that, at critical junctures on the road to war, Hitler restated the basic
themes of “Mein Kampf”. The essence of politics was the historical struggle of nations for life.
The arch-foe was “Bolshevism” – or rather (in those hyphenated expressions constantly used by
him) “Judaeo – Bolshevism”. “Jewish-Marxism” sought to annihilate the German people.
Germany, overpopulated and encircled by the conspirators at Versailles, could only survive by a
final solution, that of “lebensraum”, the carving out of a new German empire, in the East. “Mein
Kampf” is, in Gregor‟s view, “an implicitly genocidal text” (Gregor op cit, p32).

Historians frequently describe how – once in power – politicians have found it difficult to
translate the rhetoric that helped them succeed into practice; their opponents gleefully pinpoint
their failure to deliver manifesto commitments. It is a commonplace that politicians are tamed
by their bureaucrats, the flame of missionary zeal is snuffed out by pragmatic expediency. But
in the Third Reich this did not happen. Hitler was not boxed in as von Papen had arrogantly
predicted would be the case, in January 1933. Instead a process of dynamic, “cumulative
radicalisation” characterised Nazi government as Hitler‟s core beliefs were activated.

Yet this was not the result of Hitler‟s administrative genius. In many ways he was utterly
useless as head of state, presiding over administrative chaos and creating a morass of
competing authorities. Lazy, arrogant, profoundly narcissistic, he had “contributed as good as
nothing to the running of the massively expanded Nazi Movement” after 1930. Once installed
as Chancellor and particularly after the Night of the Long Knives and the death of Hindenburg
these character deficiencies became accentuated. In crucial areas of policy he offered not a
clear programme but a set of metaphors. How was this tolerated? “Hitler‟s style of leadership
functioned precisely because of the readiness of all his subordinates to accept his unique
standing in the party, and their belief that such … behaviour had simply to be taken on board in
someone they saw as a political genius. “(Ian Kershaw: “Hitler, 1889 – 1936: Hubris” 1998,
1999 edn p343, see also Neil Gregor: “Nazism”, Oxford Readers series, 2000, pp125/8).

The “office culture” in Hitler‟s daily briefings with aides and Party luminaries was oral rather than
written. He left no diaries for posterity (to the embarrassment of Hugh Trevor-Roper fooled into
initial acceptance of their discovery in one of History‟s most famous “stings”). Hitler detested
detailed policy briefings placed before him. He would often scribble his signature to measures
which had to be shelved “because of opposition from powerful vested interests” (Richard J
Evans: “The Third Reich in Power” 2005, p613). He did, however, take speech writing
seriously and would secrete himself away to write these before special occasions in the Party
calendar such as the September Nuremberg Rally and the 30 January anniversary of “the
seizure of power”.

This indolence, it can be argued, rendered the Nazi regime “toxic”. Unable to get clear-cut
written directives and decisions from their lie-a-bed leader, aides, ministers and civil servants
struggled to anticipate the Führer‟s wishes. The “modus‟ operandi” developed by them, early in
the Third Reich‟s history, was „working towards the Führer‟        The originator of the concept
was one of the regime‟s small fry, Weiner Willikens, State Secretary in the Prussian
agriculture ministry.

On 21 February 1934 in a speech to fellow civil servants, he said:

“Everyone with opportunity to observe it knows that the Führer can only with great difficulty
order from above everything that he intends to carry out sooner or later … (so) it is the duty of
every single person to attempt, in the spirit of the Führer, to work towards him.        Anyone
making mistakes will come to notice it soon enough. But the one who works correctly towards
the Führer along his lines and towards his aim will have the finest rewards of one day suddenly
attaining the legal confirmation of his work.”
(Found in Kershaw: “Hitler: Hubris “op cit p529)
A leading historian of Nazi Germany had thus found a Teutonic version of the Stalybridge
gingerbread vendor. (For further explanation see Ron Grant: “Hitler and the Historians” in
History Teaching Review: Yearbook of Scottish Association of Teachers of History,
Vol.16, 2002, pp48150). In creating the model of “working towards the Führer” had Kershaw
treated Nazism as both the outcome of complex social structures and the role of the “great man
of History”, Hitler? Is it in tune with what Karl Marx wrote in “The Eighteenth Brumaire?”
“Men make history, but they do not make it just as they please: they do not make it under
circumstances chosen by themselves”.

Assessing the relative weight of the role of the individual and of the structures in which (s)he
operates is a measure of any historian‟s credibility. Thus, Richard J Evans warns of the danger
of under-estimating Hitler‟s input into decision-making. His perspective on the Kershaw model
is one in which, “basically, the men at the top gave orders deliberately couched in vague terms,
and their underlings had learned over the years to interpret their meaning. Significantly, where
Hitler was not interested in intervening (e.g. in musical life), Nazi policy was not consistently
applied.     People may have thought they were working towards the Führer, but they had
different ideas of what that meant.     If Hitler made a pronouncement on an issue, they all had
to work in the same direction” (Richard J Evans to R Grant, 15 July 2004).

And further, “In areas where he did take a real interest, he did not hesitate to give a direct lead,
even on matters of detail … it was Hitler who laid down the broad, general principles that policy
had to follow.” This may be seen, argues Evans, in the areas of racial policy, foreign policy and
preparation for war.” There is a danger when studying these of viewing Hitler as merely
reacting to initiatives from his subordinates. (Richard J Evans: “The Third Reich in Power”,
op.cit., pp614/5. Accordingly, the arrows in the “circles model” reflect Evans‟ argument.

Circle A: Aides, cronies, servants.

Who were the people who saw Hitler most frequently? His valet, Karl Krause, would lay out his
clothes for the day and run his late morning bath without ever seeing the Führer disrobed.
Krause was to be sacked and replaced by Heinz Linge who stayed with Hitler to the end.
Imprisoned by the Soviets until his release in the mid 1950s Linge cashed in, selling his story to
the News of the World (Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Last Days of Hitler (1947; 1972edn, p48).
Just as Stalin liked to be amused by his jester, Poskrybyshev, so too Hitler was entertained by
his butler, Artur Kannenberg, whose forte was singing schmaltzy songs to the accompaniment
of an accordion. There is no evidence, however, of Kannenberg aspiring to play Jeeves to the
Führer’s Wooster.

Historians of the Third Reich comment on the duality of State power after Hitler became “Leader
of the German Reich and People” on Hindenburg‟s death. On the one hand there continued to
exist the “normative state”, the existing machinery of Ministries, civil servants and bureaucracy
governed by existing laws and conventions. But alongside it “there was the „prerogative state‟,
an essentially extra-legal system that derived its legitimation entirely from the supra-legal
authority of the leader” (Evans, “Third Reich in Power”, op.cit.p45)

The duality can be observed in this inner circle. Thus, Hans Heinrich Lammers, head of the
Reich Chancellor‟s Office was there on a daily basis in Berlin, delivering reports to Hitler, sorting
and sifting the Führer‟s heavily-laden in-tray, aiding his leader on matters of law and getting the
Führer‟s signature when necessary. A member of the aristocratic “old gentry”, Lammers had to
tolerate the presence in the Chancellery of men whom Kershaw labels as Hitler‟s “Bavarian
entourage”, adjutants, chauffeurs and minders, Brückner, the thuggish Schaub and Schreck
(the replacement driver for Emil Maurice who had had enjoyed some from of liaison with the
tragic Geli Raubal). Schaub was a typical “Alte Kämpfer”, at Hitler‟s side during the Röhm
purge and in his element during “Reichskristallnacht.”       This group was nicknamed “the
Chauffeureska” by the Falstaffian “Putzi” Hanfstaengl.      Their pretence must surely have
irritated Lammers with their omnipresence, “often hindering contact, frequently interfering in a
conversation with some form of distraction, invariably listening, later backing Hitler‟s own
impressions and prejudices” (Kershaw, “Hitler: Hubris .. “, op.cit. p485)

But even more odious to Lammers, and embodiment of the “prerogative state” was the
emergent figure of Martin Bormann, another “Alte Kämpfer” whose c.v. included an active part
in the murder of his former school teacher Walther Kadow. Bormann owed his elevation to
Rudolf Hess, having been appointed his Chief of Staff in 1933.        Bormann created his own
secretariat, emerging as a rival to Lammer‟s authority. In 1935, he took over the running of the
Obersalzberg, a residence much preferred by Hitler over the Berlin Chancellery. Lammers
could do little to thwart Bormann‟s ambitions when the Führer was there. Winning the war for
Hitler‟s ear, having direct access to the Führer, was crucial to the frequently feuding Party
barons. As they began to discover, having Bormann onside was of crucial significance.

Circle B: Nazi Leaders.

That it was a coalition government that Hitler headed from 30 January 1933 is perhaps partial
explanation for the duality of state power in the Third Reich‟s early years. This is why non
Nazis such as Konstantin von Neurath, Hjalmar Schacht and Franz von Papen are to be found
in this circle.

But it is “Hitler‟s Henchmen” (the title of six studies of leading Nazis by the journalist and
Head of History for ZDF [German tv channel] Guido Knopp [1996; UK edn, 2000]) who were
the chief executives of power. Each of these “courtiers” (the descriptive label used by Trevor-
Roper) were masters of the black arts, sycophancy and intrigue, skilled in outmanoeuvring any
rival in the ceaseless struggle to win access to the Führer. In this Darwinian struggle weaklings
such as Darré, the alcoholic Ley, and the utterly incompetent Hess, were sidelined. (An
electronic, inter-active version of this paper might enable users to better understand the shifts
and changing balance of power at the court of the Führer. For example by the last six months
of the Third Reich “, power beneath Hitler had largely shifted towards four individuals:
Goebbels, Bormann, Himmler and Speer (Ian Kershaw to R Grant, 25 January 2010). By
this time, Hitler‟s designated successor, Göring was a physical wreck, addicted to
morphine and grotesquely obese).

An insight into life in this circle is provided by examination of Joachim von Ribbentrop. A late
recruit (1 May 1932) to the NSDAP he quickly ingratiated himself with Hitler who in 1933 set up
a foreign policy “think tank”, the eponymous Ribbentrop Bureau as a rival to von Neurath‟s
Foreign Ministry which he considered too conservative. There was no such problem with the
oleaginous von Ribbentrop, for whom a desire to please the Führer and ensure his own
advancement were two sides of the same coin. His “modus operandi” was, according to an
assistant, Erich Kordt, to anticipate Hitler‟s opinions “and, if anything to be in advance of Hitler
along the path he might follow.” He took to hanging around the lobbies of the Chancellery to
“learn from the hangers on what Hitler was thinking” so that he could support the policy as if it
were his own (Michael Block: “Ribbentrop”, 1992edn.p82 found in Benjamin Carter Hett:
“Crossing Hitler”, 2008, p233).

As Laurence Rees wryly comments, “Hitler, not surprisingly, felt Ribbentrop had fine
judgement.” But, in addition, according to Reinhard Spitzy, an official in Germany‟s Embassy in
London von Ribbentrop always urged the most radical policy options to Hitler. (Laurence
Rees: “The Nazis : a warning from history, “ 1997; 1998edn. Pp93;95). Thus von
Ribbentrop had calibrated “working towards the Führer” to operate to his advantage and to
ensure that Foreign policy careered down the most radical roads.
Some historians have argued that this radicalism is most evident in the sphere of “Jewish
policy”. The aims of the Party Leaders, those who rolled their wagons behind the Führer‟s
chariot maximalised in an environment where their leader had expressed policy targets in
broadbrush terms and where an alphabet soup of Party a genius confronted existing State
ministries and bureaucracies . There developed a struggle for power and influence among the
Nazi satraps. Given Hitler‟s obsessive anti-Semitism the most radical initiatives would win his

Such an argument has been advanced to explain the role of Goebbels in the pogrom of
Reichskristallnacht (9/10 November 1938). Notoriously priapic, the Propaganda Minister had
been forced by Hitler to end his affair with the Czech born Lida Baarova. Anxious at all costs to
redeem himself Goebbels seized the opportunity provided by the murder of the diplomat von
Rath by the Jewish youth, Grynszpan: “it gave him the chance to vent his hate against the
“criminal Jewish rabble” and pose as the most radical of hell-raisers … The man pulling the
strings took a furtive delight in the widespread devastation that he had sparked off” (Guido
Knopp, “Hitler‟s Henchmen, “ op cit. pp 39/40).

However, in his forensic demolition of David Irving‟s claims to be regarded as a serious
historian, Richard J Evans demonstrated that it was Hitler who gave the signal for the program
to proceed (see “Days in the Life of Hitler”, No 3). It had been Hitler who gave the two orders
of 9/10 November to ensure that the police would not interfere with the nationwide actions
against Jewish families, businesses and synagogues (Richard J Evans: “Telling Lies about
Hitler”, 2002, p15; also pp58/75).

Thus the notion of the Party barons jousting for power with an essentially weak Führer
needs to be labelled “Handle with care!”

Circle C: Apparatchiks, Fixers – the executive Force of the “Triumph of the Will”.

Some of the names in this circle will be familiar to students: Heydrich and Eichmann especially
so. All of the others can be found in the texts referred to in this article. These are the “middle
managers” of Nazism, people with mastery of technical, legal, fiscal and military detail. They
provide “the knowledge” … and the action.

Were these people mere careerists, making the appropriate loyal noises or were they driven?
Did they share Hitler‟s anti-Semitism? The Nazi movement, argues Michael Burleigh in “The
Third Reich … “ op.cit., was not just a political party. It was a religion with Hitler displacing
Christ as redeemer: “The faith which Hitler‟s earliest and most committed followers invested in
their Führer became a mass phenomenon” (p266). Nazi liturgy dispensed a licence to kill.
Neil Gregor has recognised the importance of this in his essay. “Nazism – a political
religion?” in “Nazism, War and Genocide: essays in honour of Jeremy Noakes” 2005: “it
provides the possibility of an interpretation which combines recognition of the presence of
uncontested authority with acknowledgement of the fact that people willingly submitted to it”

But Burleigh‟s book is flawed. His analysis of the Third Reich elides into a tiresome right-wing
rant which married to pompous verbosity produces a self-indulgent cleverness. To illustrate: “In
brief, scientific certitude, so useful to assail the Church, fused with a Gnostic apodicticism
derived from Pelagian heresies within Christianity itself” (Burleigh, op.cit.,p254) Discuss!

Of infinitely greater value is the taut narrative and well-corralled arguments of Mark Roseman
in “The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution” (2002; 2003edn).
Roseman identifies a generation gap among Nazi bureaucrats which is reflected in the nature of
their anti-Semitism.
Thus the Gauleiters typify the thuggish brutality and baiting of “old-style” pogroms. Drawing on
the research of Peter Hüttenberger and his sample of twenty-nine Gauleiters. Jeremy Noakes
describes their average age in 1933 as 40, with 14 drawn from the so-called “front generation”,
born between 1890 and 1900. “Hitler was exceptionally loyal to his Gauleiters, showing
remarkable tolerance of their excuses.” (Jeremy Noakes: “Viceroys of the Reich”?
Gauleiters 1925-45” in “Working Towards the Führer: essays in honour of Sir Ian
Kershaw”, 2003, p124) .

In contrast, “With the expansion of the SD (the SS Intelligence Branch) and the security police a
new kind of anti-Semitic grouping emerged – as fanatic and committed as the Party rank and
file, but hostile to street violence, seeking a rational and organised solution”. These men were
to spearhead the wartime genocide. But they were younger. Heydrich (born 1904) headed a
staff of whom in 1939 two thirds of those in leadership positions were aged 36 or under (Mark
Roseman, op.cit., p17)

Mark Mazower: “Hitlers Empire: Nazi rule in Occupied Europe,” 2008) reviewed in SATH
Resources Review, No. 41, September 2009) charts the radiating waves of policy pulsing
from Himmler to Heydrich and to loyal satraps such as Odibo Globocnic.

In addition when exploring the role of the Nazi judiciary the essay by Anthony McElligott in
Anthony McElligott and Tim Kirk (editors) “Working Towards the Führer” op cit is
rewarding reading. The contribution by Jeremy Noakes: “Hitler and the Nazi state:
leadership, hierarchy and power” in Jane Caplan (editor): “Nazi Germany” 2008 (reviewed
in SATH Resources Review, No. 40, February 2009) is crucial to arriving at an understanding
of how the Nazi dictatorship operated.

Circle D: “Ordinary Men” … and Women

For decades historians – understandably – focussed on Hitler and the inner circles (making
Louis L Snyder: “Encyclopedia of the Third Reich,” 1976 and several subsequent
editions an indispensable companion). But in the 21st Century there has been an increasing
emphasis on “grass roots history” and it is now widely accepted that awareness of and
complicity in, Nazism‟s radical, and criminal, policies was widespread in Germany. Götz Aly,
author of “Hitler‟s Beneficiaries: how the Nazis bought the German people” (2005; UK
edn 2007) has been labelled as “German historiography‟s Jonathan Swift” in SATH Year
Book, Volume 22, 2008 for the ghastly picture he drew of his compatriots, downplaying
coercion and terror, and instead emphasising what he labels as “the accommodating
dictatorship” .

Equally important is Peter Fritzsche: “Life and Death in the Third Reich”, 2008 – “history
from below” in its exploration of issues such as “How far did Germans support the Nazis?” and
enabling students to add further names to Circle D. Fritzsche has written a fascinating
description of “writing letters” in his chapter “Empire of Destruction”.

This makes William Sheridan Allen: “The Nazi Seizure of Power: the experience of a
single German town, 1922-1945 (1965) all the more remarkable. It was a book years ahead
of its time. Five decades later it remains essential reading. Also in this category is Victor
Klemperer: “I shall Bear Witness”: the diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1933-1941”(1995; UK
edn 1998). Curmudgeon and hypochondriac (rather like that other Victor … Meldrew) his
diaries provide a running evaluation of Nazism and its bonds with the people of Dresden. The
second volume “To the Bitter End” covers 1941 to 1945 and the remarkable story of how
Victor and his wife, Eva, owed their lives to the RAF and its destruction of Dresden (around
25000 Germans died) in February 1945.

But what of the book which gives this circle its label? Christopher Browning: “Ordinary Men:
Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland”(1992; 2001 edn) might at
first glance appear to be outside the syllabus. However, its author has conducted a remarkable
analysis of the mind-set and values of those humdrum Hamburgers who in 1942 were asked to
commit terrible crimes. In the methods used by Browning and in his exploration of the blanket
term “anti-Semitism “ it is a further addition to the “must read” category and a crucial rebuff to
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen: “Hitler‟s Willing Executioners: ordinary Germans and the
Holocaust”, 1996; 1997 edn. It is instructive to compare the two authors‟ treatment of Captain
Julius Wohlauf and his bride Vera and their bizarre honeymoon.

As historians focus less on Nazism‟s inner circles and more on the history of everyday life in the
Third Reich so our understanding and reworking of interpretative tools such as “working towards
the Führer” will become increasingly sophisticated.

How did the Nazi dictatorship work? The model based on Dante‟s vision of Hell-Health

Open any packet of prescribed medicine and inside it is a manufacturers‟ leaflet carrying dire
warnings about potential side effects of what your doctor has decided should be your treatment.
It is likewise with the explanatory models and metaphors used by historians to explain complex

What cautions apply to the “circles” model? A draft version (November 2009) warned that “the
diagram does not take into accounts conflicts and tensions between rival individuals and
groups. An example is the hostility of many in the SS to the older cadre of Party leaders and

It is important also to remember changes and movements within the circles. Thus within Circle
B, the leading Nazis, the draft version reminded readers that “The composition of this peer
group changed across the two decades of the Third Reich‟s rise and fall. Thus Schacht, Darré
and Göring are sidelined or became less influential, in contrast to Goebbels and Himmler.”

Ian Kershaw kindly took time to read the draft version and has made several helpful comments:

      “The main problem I have with your Dante‟s Inferno view of the Third Reich is that it
       makes the structures, seen in the concentric circles, appear more rational than they
       were. It is difficult in this way to show the overlaps of Party and State at different levels,
       as well as the various powers of individuals (such as Göring) and the conflicting
       competencies of, say, The Four-Year Plan and The Economics Ministry etc.”
      He notes the “the picture provided by the model is static, whereas there were important
       shifts and rises and falls of power during the twelve years of the dictatorship.”
      “the “military-industrial complex” … needs incorporating properly in the structural
       framework rather than just being tagged onto the side of it. The military leaders, in
       particular, were central to the working of the dictatorship in one of its central functions:
       planning for, then waging, war.”
      “However, these points should not be taken to be a negative view of your diagram, even
       if, for me, the Third Reich seems more like a tangled spider‟s web with Hitler at the end
       of every thread than a clearly shaped set of concentric circles”.

Taking these points into consideration, the disadvantage of the circles model is its static nature,
owing to the format in which it is presented. An inter-active digitalised model would enable
users to more effectively trace movements within and across the circles, noting the relegation of
characters such as Hess and the elevation of his nominal inferior, Bormann.

The circles model would appear much different if applied to Stalin‟s dictatorship, where the
executioner‟s bullet permanently removed many of the elite, allowing others to become more

As we have seen (on P1 above) Ian Kershaw‟s metaphor “Working towards the Führer” was a
rejection of the Third Reich as “totalitarian” state and was rooted in the “functionalist-
structionalist” interpretation. His crowning triumph was the 2-volume biography of Hitler (1998-
2000). It was “a neat trick to colonise the natural territory of the intentionalists with a
structuralist biography,” demonstrating “that there was more to Nazism than Hitler‟s will”
(“Working toward the Führer: essays … “, op.cit. p7)

How has Kershaw written of Hitler since then? Have there been any shifts of emphasis in his
explanation of how the Nazi dictatorship worked? In November 2006 he completed “Fateful
Choices: ten decisions that changed the world, 1940-1941”(pubd. 2007) in the course of
which he described the key features of decision-making in the Nazi regime and the peculiar
features of Hitler‟s dictatorship.

“Hitler,” Kershaw wrote, “disliked the potential check to his authority posed by any collective
body.” Cabinet government atrophied from 1934 as the dualism of party and state created
confusion. “Positions on paper often meant little or nothing in reality as power rested with those
individuals who could fight their way to the top and had immediate access to Hitler” (ibid, p 59)

Reverting to the bohemianism of his teens and twenties Hitler did not make decisions in the
conventional sense of signatures to policy documents or after collaborative discussion. Yet at
critical times he could be decisive: “there can be no doubt that the big decisions of foreign policy
…. were his.” Ibid, p60)

In “Fateful Choices” Kershaw went no further than 1941. In 2010 his study of the Third Reich in
its months of disintegration and collapse will appear, giving readers a final encounter with the
Nazi dictatorship at work.

How have younger historians of the Third Reich integrated Kershaw‟s model into their own
writing? One of the most significant studies of this century‟s first decade is the economic
history of the Third Reich by Adam Tooze. He pays generous tribute to his predecessors:
“Thanks to the work of two generations of historians, we now have a far better understanding of
the way in which Nazi ideology conditioned the thought and action of the Nazi leadership and
wider German society” (Tooze, op.cit., p (xx)) But, Tooze argues, in so doing, historians have
paid insufficient attention to the economy. Hitler took a direct interest in economic policy.

Tooze reminds us that Hitler was not in the habit of writing policy statements “and did so only at
decisive moments in the history of the regime” (ibid., p219) Late summer 1936 was one such
pivotal moment. Hitler rejected the cautious projections of his Economics Minister, the banker,
Hjalmar Schacht, and Reichsbank economists who sought limitation of arms production and
diplomatic detente. Instead Hitler launched a strategy of autarky. An umbilical cord linked the
Four Year Plan to the Hossbach Memorandum of 5 November 1937. This was further
dramatic, and decisive, intervention by Hitler, indicating to his closest advisers that he planned
war and so “catapulted the German economy into a dramatically higher level of mobilization”. It
was, says Tooze, a process driven by Hitler. No matter that, like Göring, who was put in
charge of the Four Year Plan, Hitler was ignorant of economics, with no stomach for mastering
the minutiae of industrial policy. What counted was the assertion by Hitler of his authority over
economic policy (ibid, p242,; p243) In building his argument on the need to link industrial to
military and diplomatic policy Tooze includes a barbed footnote: “ In Kershaw‟s monumental
biography, the essential issue of steel merits not even a single index entry”. (ibid p719 fn139 to

Tooze also traces the “world view” shaped by Hitler and the apparatchiks of the Nazi military-
industrial complex, particularly Herbert Backe. The entry on Backe in Snyder (op cit) needs
updating as it ignores Backe‟s cooperation with Himmler in the 1940s “in the execution of
genocide on an epic scale.” (Tooze, op.cit. p173) This venomous anti-Semite was the author
of the “Hunger Plan” prepared at the end of 1940 “which openly envisioned the killing of tens of
millions of people within the first twelve months of the German occupation” of the Soviet Union
(ibid, p477). Given the discrete features of the structure of politics in the Third Reich, Backe‟s
radicalism was in tune with that of Himmler. By this time his nominal superior, Darré, was in
effect a spent force. Confirmation came as his protégé vaulted over him and became ever
more influential.

Racial policy and its evolution within the Nazi dictatorship has been succinctly reviewed by Mark
Roseman (Mark Roseman: “The Villa…” op cit). He encapsulates the extreme structuralist
view as seeing in “the competition between Hitler‟s satraps the driving force that eventually led
to genocide … with neither a coherent vision nor a master hand to guide them” (ibid, p11) It
envisions Hitler as an indolent, weak dictator. The road to Auschwitz was thus, “a twisted one”
(in the phrase used by Karl A. Schlevnes) with no “sat-nav” guiding the Nazi functionaries
speedily to their goal.

Roseman urges caution. Firstly, Hitler‟s authority over both Party and state was
unchallengeable after the events of 1934. The broad mass of Germans were loyal to their
Führer: “Hitler, true enough, was often slow to act. But the system became so attuned to his
signals that a raised finger was enough.”(ibid, p12) Further, “it was Hitler who set the radical
new tone in the second half of the 1930s” (ibid p13) in the policy areas of mobilizing the
economy for war, ramping up Foreign policy (and, as we have seen, jettisoning conservative,
cautionary voices) and intensifying anti-Jewish measures.

A final point to be made when assessing how the dictatorship functioned and what metaphors or
images help explain this is that there must be a recognition of historians‟ intensified focus on the
outermost of the circles: “where once historians focussed on the coercive dimensions of Nazi
rule, they are now inclined to see it as rooted in consensus … (one of) collaborators enacting a
shared vision. Where once historians entertained the idea that most Germans were passive
bystanders to the crimes of a relatively small number of activists, they now focus on the
participation of the many.” (Neil Gregor: “Nazism – a political relgion …?” op.cit., p8)
How the Nazi dictatorship worked : Student tasks

Task 1 : Use the circles and accompanying notes to explain the concept of “Working towards
the Führer.” Illustrate your writing with “case histories” drawn from the mini-biographies created
by you of the people in the circles.

       This can be done on your own or with a fellow student.
       Share and discuss your findings as a group.
       You may also, as a group, wish to prepare a group evaluation of the concept.

Remember that the circles only contain a representative sample. As your studies proceed, as
you read more, you will be able to add more characters to the circles. (For example, where
would you place Hans Frank?)

At the moment Circle D is sparsely inhabited. But increasingly historians are populating this
circle. See, for example Peter Fritzsche: “Life and Death in the Third Reich”(2008). On
reading it you may wish to add Erich Ebermayer and Elisabeth Gebensleben to Circle D. Blank
circles sheets are available for your use.

It is now widely accepted that awareness, knowledge and understanding of Nazism‟s criminal
policies was widespread among the German people. Although it lies beyond 1939
Christopher Browning‟s “Ordinary Men”, op.cit. , will help you understand the responsibility
and culpability of many Germans in the outermost circle.

       To help you here are some “pathways” across the circles:

      Hitler        Bouhler          Eggert                   Hitler      von Ribbentrop
      Hitler        Himmler          Laundau                  Hitler      Goebbels
      Hitler        Mutschmann              Girmann           Hitler    Himmler     Heydrich
      Hitler        Göring           Todt                     Globocnic
      Hitler        Scholtz-Klink           Maschmann

   Task 2: The issue is this: “Adolf Hitler: strong leader or weak dictator?”
   Use the sheets in the “Days in the Life of Adolf Hitler” series to enable you to answer the
   question above.

   Task 3: Essay [NQ Advanced Higher Paper 2009]

   “To what extent is it an exaggeration to claim that Hitler was a strong dictator?”

        Use the Marks Scheme posted on the SQA web-site to assist you.
        But, try to find and use historians other than those referred to in the Marks Scheme.

Task 4: Source Practice

Source A from Questions on German History, introduction by Lothar Gall (1998).

“Government in the Third Reich was characterised by power struggles, conflicts of jurisdiction,
growing frictions and inefficiency … the administrative chaos gave leading figures in the party a
chance to pursue goals of their own, and created a vacuum in which radical National Socialist
policies could evolve without hindrance. Hitler himself refused to be bound by any rational
criteria of efficient government or to commit himself to a specific programme.”

       How fully does Source A explain the way government operated in Nazi Germany?
                                                                           12 marks
        [refer 2003 Paper for Source and for the Marks Scheme. The 2003 question has
        been reworded to conform with current practice]
“How did the Nazi dictatorship work?” – Creating mini biographies of some of the figures found
in the four circles.
        Compiling thumb-nail sketches of the characters listed below will help you understand
        their role and significance in the Third Reich. Not all of the characters in Circle B have
        been listed as you should already by fairly familiar with them. The bullet-pointed texts
        are all referred to in the earlier notes. Be prepared to add in new names to the circles.
        You can also search the internet but be aware of the limitations of some sites.
1. Herbert Backe                C 2. Hans Biebow                  D 3. Werner Best
     Tooze                               Rees                           Snyder
     See also R Grant‟s                                                  Mazower
        review of Tooze in
        SATH Year Book 2007
     Snyder
     Mazower
4. Blockwartführers              D 5. Philipp Bouhler             A 6. Martin Bormann              A
“Blockwardens” (collective)               Rees                           Evans “Third Reich in
     Allen                               Snyder                           Power” (“Trip”)
     Hite and Hinton                     Burleigh                       Snyder
     Evans:”Third Reich in                                               Trevor-Roper
        Power”                                                            Hite and Hinton
7. Wilhelm Brückner              A 8. Kurt Daluege               C 9. Richard Walther Darré
     Kershaw “Hitler:                    Snyder                         Tooze
        Hubris”                           Mazower                        Evans: “Trip”
     Evans “Trip”                                                        Snyder
10. Rudolf Diels                C 11. Josef “Sepp” Dietrich       A 12. Otto Dietrich              C
     Snyder                         A                                    Snyder
     Kershaw: “Hitler:                   Snyder                         Evans: “Trip”
        Hubris”                           Evans: “Trip”                  Kershaw: “Hitler:
                                          Kershaw “Hitler:                 Hubris”
                                            Hubris” + “Hitler:
13. Paul Eggert                      14. Adolf Eichmann          C 15. Roland Freisler             C
     Rees                                Snyder                         Snyder
                                          Evans “Trip” + “Third          Evans: “Trip”, “Traw”
                                            Reich at War” (“Traw”)        Roseman
                                          Mazower
                                          Roseman
16. Walther Funk                A 17. Ernst Girmann              D 18. Odilo Globocnic            C
     Snyder                              Allen                          Tooze
     Kershaw: “Hitler:                                                   Snyder
        Hubris” + “Hitler:                                                Roseman
19. Reinhard Heydrich           C    20. Heinrich Hoffman       A     21. Reinhard Höhn            C
     Snyder                              Kershaw: “Hitler:              Mazower
     Roseman                               Hubris”
     Kershaw: “Hitler:                   Snyder
22. Mayor Kalix                 D 23. Hans Kammler               C 24. Hans Kerrl                 C
     Klemperer                           Mazower                        Snyder
                                                                  Evans: “Trip”
                                                                  Kershaw: “Hiter:
25. Dr Kleinstuck and son   D 26. Erich Koch            C    27. Maria Kraus              D
    Klemperer                    Noakes in McElligott          Rees
                                     and Kirk
                                  Mazower
28. Hans Lammers            B 29. Felix Landau          D    30.Hartmann Lauterbacher C
    Evans: “Trip”                Rees                          Do an internet search
    Snyder                                                         (that goes beyond
    Kershaw: “Hitler:                                              Wikipedia)
      Hubris”                                                    Research texts on the
                                                                    Hitler Youth
31. Robert Ley              B   32. Heinz Linge          A   33. Victor Lutze           C
    Evans: “Trip”                  Kershaw: “Hitler:           Snyder
    Tooze                            Nemesis”                   Trevor-Roper
    Snyder                         Trevor-Roper                Evans: “Trip”
                                                                 Kershaw: “Hitler:
34. Melita Maschmann        D   35. Otto Meissner        A   36. Theodor Morell         A
    Evans                          Snyder                      Trevor – Roper
                                    Kershaw: “Hitler:           Snyder
                                       Hubris”                   Kershaw:
37. Martin Mutschmann     C     38. Oswald Pohl          C   39. Walter “Panzer”
    Noakes in McElligott           Mazower                 Rowland/Rohland            C
      and Kirk                      Snyder                      Tooze
    Klemperer                                                   Kershaw: “Hitler:
    Burleigh                                                       Nemesis”

40. Bernhard Rust           B   41. Fritz Sauckel        C   42. Julius Schaub            A
    Evans: “Trip”                  Snyder                      Kershaw: “Hitler:
    Snyder                         Tooze                           Hubris”
                                                                 Evans: “Trip”
43. Gertrud Scholtz-Klink   C   44. Julius Schreck       A   45. Luise Solmitz            D
    Snyder                         Evans:”Trip”                Evans: “Trip”, “Traw”
    Evans: “Trip”                  Kershaw: “Hitler:           Kershaw: “Hitler:
                                       Hubris”                       Hubris”
46. Walter Steineck         D   47. General Georg Thomas     48. Fritz Todt               C
    Allen                      C                                Tooze
                                    Tooze                       Snyder
                                    Kershaw: “Hitler:           Evans: “Trip”; “Traw”
                                       Nemesis”                  Kershaw: “Hitler:
49. Heinrich Voge           D   50. Fritz Wiedemann      A   51. Werner Willikens         C
    Allen                          Snyder                      Kershaw: “Hitler:
                                    Rees                            Hubris”
                                    Kershaw: “Hitler:           Rees

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