X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Books

A conflict of loyalty

What was life like in Hitler’s Germany? This question has long fascinated authors and readers alike, as books like Alone in Berlin, The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief bear witness.

21 May 2011

12:00 AM

21 May 2011

12:00 AM

Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War Giles Milton

Sceptre, pp.352, 20

Reluctant Accomplice edited by Konrad H. Jarausch

Princeton, pp.412, 24.95

What was life like in Hitler’s Germany? This question has long fascinated authors and readers alike, as books like Alone in Berlin, The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief bear witness.

What was life like in Hitler’s Germany? This question has long fascinated authors and readers alike, as books like Alone in Berlin, The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief bear witness. Nazi Germany, it has often been argued, was a totalitarian dictatorship. Through force, indoctrination and even common consent, such an interpretation contends, Hitler wielded total power and had complete control of the German population.

But were the tentacles of the Nazi state as strong as this understanding suggests? Were Germans simply passive pawns who submitted to the will of the regime? Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War overturns these common assumptions about the function of the Nazi regime. It shows that there was no single uniform experience of Nazism, and that crucially, among ordinary Germans, a reservoir of opinion counter to Nazi ideology continued to exist in the Third Reich.

Wolfram Aichele, the author’s father-in-law, was a young boy when Hitler came to power. He had an unconventional upbringing in a free-thinking artistic family, where his parents encouraged him to work things out for himself. This non-conformity and independence of mind ran entirely counter to the Nazi leadership’s desire for total control of the populace, and would see Wolfram’s parents get into trouble for failing to put up the Nazi flag on the days that the regime demanded this. Nazi rhetoric may have implied that the Party had total control, but as Wolfram’s story shows, rhetoric and reality were not the same thing. Indeed, even after membership of the Hitler Youth became compulsory for young Germans in 1936, Wolfram’s father colluded with a sympathetic doctor to secure a sick note for his son. Whilst maybe not representative of the wider picture, the story of the Aichele family reveals an undercurrent of passive resistance that existed among ordinary Germans.


Histories of Nazism and the second world war so often employ the dichotomous categorisations of victims or perpetrators in their analyses. In considering what Germans went through during the war, Milton’s book shows that our understanding should not be so clear cut. With the horrific memories of the first world war still fresh in their minds, most Germans did not want to fight in 1939, a fact that was reflected in the muted response to its outbreak in September that year. Many men like Wolfram then were called up to the Wehrmacht to fight for a cause they did not believe in. Not only this; Milton’s account reveals that Germans, too, experienced real suffering in wartime, whether it was through separation from loved ones, chronic food shortages or the Allied bombing. Without forgetting or denying the crimes perpetrated in Nazi death camps, Milton’s close analysis of the experiences of Germans demonstrates that they too could be victims of the war.

The impact of Nazism certainly did not end with defeat in May 1945. Imagine, for example, how young Germans growing up in the immediate post-war era coped with the realisation that their families had been complicit with the Nazi regime. Their parents often brushed this subject under the carpet after 1945, wanting to put some distance between themselves and the past. But as the post-war baby-boomers came of age in the 1960s they became increasingly critical of the previous generation, who, they felt, had failed to examine critically their role in the Third Reich.

If the 1960s was a period of acrimonious recriminations and generational conflict, what happened to those whose parents had died in the war? One and a quarter million German children were rendered fatherless. Their fathers simply were not there to ask or challenge. The author of Reluctant Accomplice, the acclaimed German historian Konrad Jarausch, was one such semi-orphan, as his father died of typhoid in Russia at the beginning of 1942. He recalls how his memory was sanctified, and the issue of his father’s involvement with the Nazis became too sensitive to ask his mother about. Indeed Jarausch explains that the reason he ended up as a historian of Nazi Germany and its aftermath was his determination to understand why educated Germans like his father had supported Hitler.

His father’s letters from the field, which form the main body of The Reluctant Accomplice, offer a contradictory picture, of one man’s simultaneous consent to and consternation about the Nazi war. Jarausch’s father, also named Konrad, served in the reserve battalion of the German Army in Poland and Russia. As a particularly high-minded secondary school teacher, his correspondence is unusually reflective about the war. While his patriotic support for German territorial expansion is palpable in the early letters, by 1941, when he is charged with feeding up to 20, 000 starving Russian prisoners of war every day, his certainty in the rectitude of the cause begins to waver. Like many others, Konrad senior was frustrated that doing his duty left little or no time for doing the things that interested him, namely reading works by the likes of Aristotle.

But for all his complaints about the lack of free time, Konrad was evidently fascinated by the local languages and cultures, both in Poland and Russia. He asked his wife to send books that would allow him to understand better the psyche of the people among whom he was stationed. Indeed, amid the chaos of distributing too little food to too many prisoners, he got to know some of the Russians, eagerly recounting what he learned to his wife via letter. And with the help of a few prisoners he also began to learn Russian.

It was his close contact with Russian prisoners of war, whose quarters were rife with disease, which probably contributed to his early death from typhoid. But it was also this close contact with thousands of starving prisoners which led him to question the morality of the Nazi mission. The Russians he encountered were first and foremost people rather than a Slavic enemy, and thus the polarising discourse of the National Socialists lost its resonance. And yet despite his desire to ensure that the prisoners all received their daily rations, the supplies allocated to them were inadequate, and there was little he could do to prevent their eventual starvation.

German soldiers had a spectrum of beliefs and experiences: from Wolfram, who hailed from a non-conformist anti-Nazi family, to Konrad, who supported Nazi goals but whose compassion for individual Russians led him to question National Socialist ends. If two accounts of life under Nazism throw up such different pictures, this suggests that hasty categorisations of ‘bad Germans’ mask a far more complex reality.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close