chapter  7
6 Pages

The Verdict of Historians on the Third Reich

Broadly in agreement with the crude slogans of Allied war propaganda, early postwar interpretations by foreign authors who treated Hitler’s state as a more or less consistent result of the (faulty) development of the German nation: ‘from Luther to Hitler’, as William Montgomery McGovern put it (The History of Fascist-Nazi Philosophy, Boston, Mass., 1941). William L. Schirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York, 1959; London, 1960) likewise took the view that Nazism was basically the inevitable outcome of German history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 1953-4 the French historian Edmond Vermeil in his two-volume work L’Allemagne contemporaine 1890-1950 (Paris) attributed the rise and development of Nazi Germany to authoritarian and imperialistic traditions which he traced back to the medieval empire. The quest for a discreditable pedigree was not confined to Anglo-American and French authors. As Wolfgang Wippermann has pointed out, Soviet and Polish historians in the immediate postwar period-‘in clear contrast to Marxist theory’—put forward similar interpretations in terms of national history and nationalism, linking the medieval Drang nach Osten with the ambitions of ‘imperialist Junkerdom’.