Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich
This insightful book into the characters of The Reich Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, and his closest National Socialist consorts goes some way to explaining the almost inexplicable power that bound its leaders. At the core of National Socialism lies the idea of racial superiority. As Fest explains in his chapter on Reinhard Heydrich. ‘It was directed at will against whatever groups those in power wished to destroy … beginning with the sterilization and euthanasia programmes and ending with the Final Solution.’
What I found most interesting in this somewhat out-of-date book is the variety of characters who bound themselves whole-heartedly to Hitler, at least until his downfall. From Goring, the infantile gormand who loved playing with toy soldiers to the cultured Goebels and the non-Aryan Heydrich all found cover for their insecurities in racism. The same went for Hess, Ribbentrop and Himmler. Although ‘The Moscow Pact struck a decisive blow against Alfred Rosenberg’s naïve loyalty to his Führer,’ only Albert Speer disputed Hitler’s invulnerability.
Although Rudolf Höss was the commandant of the extermination camp at Auschwitz he found he was ‘not suited to concentration camp sevice.’ But in his autobiography, this man whose father intended him for the priesthood bowed down to authority; ‘from my earliest youth I was brought up with a strong awareness of duty. In my parents’ house it was insisted that every task be exactly and conscientiously carried out.’ The thought of refusing an order never entered his head.
When the book was published in 1963, Germany was divided into zones and Fest shows considerable fear of the ‘totalitarian infection’ of the German people. But since then we have had gladnost and an enlarged European community. Nationalism in Europe is comparatively benign these days, but who knows for how long the sleeping giant will remain comatose?