The effects of German Nazism are horrific and indelible. The overall death toll in World War II, which began eighty years ago this summer, “dwarfs the mortality figures for the Great War of 1914–18, obscene as those were,” observes historian Tony Judt. “No other conflict in recorded history killed so many people in so short a time.” By one reckoning, between September 1939 and the war’s end in 1945, an average of 27,000 people died each day as a result of the global conflict.
But what was the cause of all this carnage? Before the war, Germany was renowned for its elevated culture, famed as the land of poets and philosophers. And yet, it became the land of the secret police, concentration camps, the Holocaust.
Hitler had spelled out his vile ambition and perverse views in a book, which sold more than two hundred thousand copies between 1925 and 1932. Voters knew what the Nazi ideology stood for. And yet Hitler became chancellor of Germany and transformed the country into a totalitarian state.
What explains the rise of Hitler’s Germany?