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Dec 2005 Journal

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A fitting epitaph (book review)

A SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE THIRD REICH
by Richard Grunberger
Orion Publishing Group (tel 020 7240 3444): Phoenix, 2005, 663 pp.

Alongside the AJR Journal, which he edited with such distinction, Richard Grunberger's most lasting intellectual legacy is probably his study A Social History of the Third Reich. First published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1971, then in paperback by Penguin in 1974, the book has re-appeared this year in a paperback version under Weidenfeld's Phoenix Paperbacks imprint.

It is a remarkable tribute to the book that its analysis of everyday life under the Nazi dictatorship has not been overhauled by the myriad studies on National Socialism that have appeared over the last 30 years. Its meticulously detailed examination of 30 areas of life under the Nazis can still be read with great benefit since it succeeds in bringing to life for its readers the facets of German society that it covers. These range from 'The Party' and 'The Army' to 'Justice' and 'Corruption', 'Consumption' and 'The Family' and - inevitably, knowing Richard - 'Humour' and 'The Cinema'. The book was in advance of its time in its selection of subject areas: the chapter on 'Denunciation' anticipated Robert Gellately's work on Gestapo methods of control, as that on 'Ritual and Führer Worship' foreshadowed Ian Kershaw's early work on the public acclamation of Hitler.

Though the book has remained popular with readers for decades, its initial reception was surprisingly cool. In the early 1970s, academic work on Nazism was strongly influenced by class-based, Marxist analyses that concentrated on the links between capitalism and the various brands of Fascism, of which National Socialism was seen as just one variant. One of the principal disadvantages of this long discarded view was its downplaying of the Holocaust: how could the murder of six million Jews fit into a pattern of class conflict based on economic motives rather than on racial ideology?

Richard saw things differently. Now that the centrality of the Holocaust to the National Socialist project is almost universally accepted, his closing words on the destruction of European Jewry have come resonantly into their own: 'This will be Hitler's permanent memorial - and he would hardly have wished for another. History will record that just as hatred of the Jews was the kernel of Nazi theory so their murder was the culmination of Nazi practice.'
Anthony Grenville

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