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Posted Wednesday, March 17, 2004
New York Times
New York, Wednesday, March 17, 2004


How Seeds of Evil Germinated and Bore Deadly Fruit


By Richard J. Evans
Illustrated. 622 pages. Penguin. $34.95.


How did it happen? Looking back over the wreckage of the last century, not all its horrors are simply inexplicable. Wars killed scores of millions, but then war is as old as original sin, and although Stalin murdered many more millions, it's true (if no excuse) that czarist Russia had been a primitive peasant society.

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David Irving comments:

EVEN Geoffrey Wheatcroft, a well-known Zionist sympathiser who is no doubt wary of criticising their darling Richard Evans, comments on the professor's "quirky" approach to the German language.
   This "expert witness" appeared to have little or no knowledge of vernacular German, as I established during cross-examination of him in the Lipstadt Trial. (See particularly Day 21 -- search the trancript for "daran glauben").
   Among the quirks of this race-obsessed academic was to translate the well-known Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter as Racial Observer. We had this out in the courtroom too when we examined the word Volksschädlinge applied to professional criminals (Day 23):
      When Evans insisted that the proper primary translation of Volk is race (in fact it is people, nation) I pointed out that the VW, the people's car that Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche created, would then be called the Racial Car. Evans would probably call it the Race Car, generating even more confusion all round.

MR IRVING: "It is the other half of the word I am looking at, 'Volks-'. Would you call a Volkswagen a race car, racial car? A Volkskuche is a racial kitchen? A Volksseele is a racial soul?
Prof Evans: "A Volkswagen is a post 1945 term, even though the car was not."    

Volkswagen "a postwar term?" What about the huge Volkswagen- Werke at Fallersleben which produced the flying bombs? (Now Wolfsburg, and guess whom Wolf was named after!) So much for Lipstadt's history expert!
   Evans is one of those academics whose research is the product of reading other people's books. As Wheatcroft slyly puts it, he has "read very widely."

Penguin. Richard J. Evans, the author of "The Coming of the Third Reich."

MY correspondent who drew my attention to this review suggested incidentally that instead of his established nickname of "Skunky" (earned for his habit since childhood of squirting bile over all those around and particularly above him) Evans should now be called "Squinty".
   That would really be to descend to his own level however: and as Lord Mountbatten once said, "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

But Germany was not backward. As the 20th century began, it seemed -- and in many ways really was -- the most advanced of all nations, with a dazzling cultural heritage and a formidable industrial economy. The Reich created by Otto von Bismarck in 1871 appeared to have a rule of law as well as a democratic parliament.

By 1918 Germany had begun one war and lost it; by 1933 [Adolf] Hitler had come to power; by 1945, having devastated Europe and carried out unimagined acts of wickedness, Germany was mired in utter moral as well as physical desolation. How could it have happened?

This is the question Richard J. Evans addresses in "The Coming of the Third Reich," the first part of a planned three-volume history of the National Socialist regime. A professor at Cambridge University, Mr. Evans is, with Michael Burleigh and Sir Ian Kershaw, one of the British historians who have become eminent narrators of this terrible story, and he enjoyed a wider fame as an expert, and devastating, witness in a libel action when the historian David Irving sued an American scholar who had accused him of Holocaust denial.

Rather than delving into mistier origins, Mr. Evans starts by showing that the Bismarckian Reich's semblance of representative government was largely illusory. Even so, he insists that Hitler's rise had not "been pre-programmed by the previous course of German history," and was in no sense inevitable.

Defeat in the Great War was made worse when so many Germans failed to recognize that they had in fact lost: Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democrat leader, told the returning army in 1918, "No enemy has overcome you!" Although the new Weimar Republic survived the crazy inflation of 1923 (from January, when there were 17,000 marks to a dollar, to December, when it was notionally 4,200 billion), many Germans never accepted the republic's legitimacy.

Prominent among those who rejected it were the parties of the radical right. One such, still very small in the early 1920's, was the German Workers' Party, whose leader had picked up a ragbag of noxious notions abroad at the time: war as "biological necessity," ferocious anti-Semitism and an obsession with "racial hygiene" and the "unfit." All these were seeds that would bear hideous fruit.

Even then, with all of Hitler's hypnotic demagoguery, the Nazis could still win no more than 2.6 percent of the vote in the May 1928 election. It took the Depression to knock the republic flat. As unemployment quadrupled, political violence spiraled out of control -- 105 people were killed in Prussia during the election months of June and July 1932 -- while the Communists did everything they could to undermine democracy.

Finally came the grotesque miscalculation of the conservative politicians who brought Hitler to power in January 1933 thinking that they had hired him in order to discredit him. No hindsight was needed to see the stupidity of this: the French ambassador to Berlin, André François-Poncet, dryly said at the time that those politicians thought they were clever, "ridding themselves of the wolf by introducing him into the sheepfold."

Although Mr. Evans has read very widely, he sometimes relies too much on particular sources, like the diaries (remarkable as they are) of Victor Klemperer. Writing in a self-confident tone, Mr. Evans has a few quirks, like translating every turn of phrase, even those in common currency.

There may be something to be said for rendering Führer as "leader," but the baffling "struggle for culture" turns out to refer not to some worthy artistic aspirations but to what is well-known in English as well as German as the Kulturkampf, Bismarck's campaign against the Roman Catholic Church. And to translate the names of newspapers -- Frankfurt News for Frankfurter Zeitung, Berlin Daily News-Sheet for Berliner Tageblatt, Racial Observer for Völkischer Beobachter -- is just silly. At one point Mr. Evans cites a contemporary article from this newspaper. A German historian might well do the same, but he would call it The New York Times, not Die Neuyorker Zeiten.

"Is it wrong to begin with Bismarck?" Mr. Evans asks, and by the end of his story it looks all too right. There is a lingering fashion to admire Bismarck for his political genius and his comparative restraint, and of course he would have despised Hitler. And yet Bismarck does bear a heavy burden for having taught Germany the use of war as a cynical instrument of policy.

By waging his domestic wars against socialism and the Catholic Church (to which two of five citizens in his Reich belonged), he alienated the industrial working class and their Social Democratic party from the state, while preventing the emergence of a constitutional conservative party that could have embraced Protestants and Catholics. As it was, the Catholic Center party was born in narrow sectarianism and died betraying democracy and indeed Christendom into Hitler's hands, while cruelty and bloody persecution swept Germany.

Recently there have been a number of books by Germans recalling the sufferings of the German people at the end of Hitler's reign. This book may act as something of an antidote by reminding us how his reign began.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft's books include "The Controversy of Zion."


Our dossier on Richard Evans
David Irving on Geoffrey Wheatcroft:
"Wheatcroft: Now what name sounds more English than that? It proclaims its very Englishness in a soft Somerset burr, without a soupçon of venom in its veins."
Private Eye, June 2002, accuses Evans of lying: The Führer, The Jackal, The Professor and his Publishers
Richard Evans: Why There Are So Many Books About the Nazis. Evans looks confused for a moment. 'I've got someone flying in from the US to research the Irving trial'.
Michael Burleigh writes, "A resistible rise?" -- a review of Evans' book The Comning of the Third Reich
A reader asks Mr Irving's opinion of historians Ian Kershaw, Richard Evans, Peter Padfield
See too the review by H-German, posted Feb 6, 1998, of Richard J. Evans, "Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 1600-1987" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
Sir Ian Kershaw reviews Prof Richard Evans' book Telling Lies about Hitler
Richard Evans was one of the expert witnesses hired by Prof Deborah Lipstadt for her defence in David Irving's libel action
©Focal Point 2004 F e-mail: Irving write to David Irving