Drawing on an unprecedented variety of sources, Mark Mazower reveals how the Nazis designed, maintained, and ultimately lost their European empire and offers a chilling vision of the world Hitler would have made had he won the war.
Germany’s forces achieved, in just a few years, the astounding domination of a landmass and population larger than that of the United States. Control of this vast territory was meant to provide the basis for Germany’s rise to unquestioned world power.
Eastern Europe was to be the Reich’s Wild West, transformed by massacre and colonial settlement. Western Europe was to provide the economic resources that would knit an authoritarian and racially cleansed continent together. But the brutality and short-sightedness of Nazi politics lost what German arms had won and brought their equally rapid downfall.
Time and again, the speed of the Germans’ victories caught them unprepared for the economic or psychological intricacies of running such a far-flung dominion. Politically impoverished, they had no idea how to rule the millions of people they suddenly controlled, except by bludgeon.
Mazower forces us to set aside the timeworn notion that the Nazis’ worldview was their own invention. Their desire for land and their racist attitudes toward Slavs and other nationalities emerged from ideas that had driven their Prussian forebears into Poland and beyond.
They also drew inspiration on imperial expansion from the Americans and especially the British, whose empire they idolized. Their signal innovation was to exploit Europe’s peoples and resources much as the British or French had done in India and Africa. Crushed and disheartened, many of the peoples they conquered collaborated with them to a degree that we have largely forgotten. Ultimately, the Third Reich would be beaten as much by its own hand as by the enemy.
Throughout this book are fascinating, chilling glimpses of the world that might have been. Russians, Poles, and other ethnic groups would have been slaughtered or enslaved. Germans would have been settled upon now empty lands as far east as the Black Sea—the new “Greater Germany”.
Europe’s treasuries would have been sacked, its great cities impoverished and recast as dormitories for forced laborers when they were not deliberately demolished. As dire as all this sounds, it was merely the planned extension of what actually happened in Europe under Nazi rule as recounted in this authoritative, absorbing book.