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(D) ‘WORLD POWER OR DESTRUCTION’, 1943–5

From the turn of the year 1942/3 Germany was strategically on the defensive. Hitler, the prisoner of his own doctrine and actions, declared himself to be the defender of ‘fortress Europe’. From this point on the regime gave a European slant to the struggle, claiming that the Third Reich was defending Western civilisation against the ‘pluto-democracies’ and above all against Soviet Bolshevism; but this was little more than a threadbare cloak for its own designs of conquest. Such propaganda met with very limited response in the occupied countries, where it had been too obvious in the preceding years that Hitler’s sole object was to establish a brutal, alien and racist regime. In Russia immediately after the invasion it might have been possible, for example, to win over the Ukrainian population, which at first welcomed the German troops as liberators from the Stalinist yoke, but such opportunities were squandered by the Nazis’ foolish and criminal policy. Before long it was clear to the peoples of the USSR that the new masters were at least as cruel as Stalin’s henchmen, if not more so. Choosing between two evils, they rejected the aggressor who had proved not to be a liberator and fought to preserve Stalin’s dictatorship in the ‘great patriotic war’. While Nazi propaganda strove with little success to enlist volunteer units from all the continental countries for the war in the East, it was clear to all that Nazi doctrine was a more and more decisive factor in the policy and strategy of the Third Reich, and that there was no thought of sacrificing it to rational calculations based on European solidarity or the need to increase Germany’s military striking-power. Hitler’s ultimate aims were at all times so dominant in his mind and in the regime’s policy that they were bound in the end to challenge the whole world and consequently to prove unworkable for that very reason.