Not my usual sort of read, but I’ve joined an online library, and to be honest, I don’t read nearly enough history, so I thought this was worth a shot. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are A LOT of books about the war, and quite a few of them examine the Germany during the conflict. (You’re probably familiar with the saying: The first country the Nazis invaded was Germany).
I made it to the end (even read the endnotes), which I rarely manage with historical non-fiction, which made me wonder what set it apart from similar books that I struggled to finish. Two things spring to mind:
- The people. Rather than looking at Germany as a whole, or the Nazis in particular, the writer has focussed on a small number of ordinary folk from very diverse backgrounds, going into great detail on how individuals coped with the country’s rapid slide into fascism, the impending war, the defeat, and the aftermath. The villagers were an eclectic mix of die-hard Nazis, persecuted Jews, nuns, heroic mountaineers (drafted into the German army’s elite Mountain Division), and members of the National Socialist Party who did their best to save the Jews living in the village.
- The Location. The village in question (Obersterdorf) is located in the mountainous southern region of the country (Bavaria). It’s extremely cold, remote, and breeds the kind of folk who are tough, self-reliant, and loyal. Being so far away from the country’s main population centres meant that it was difficult for the Nazis to know whether their laws were being obeyed or not. Even the mayor was applying a fairly soft version of Nazi doctrine.
The book was a fascinating read, and though it was very firm in its criticism of the Nazis (quite right too), I think it was also sympathetic to the party members whose loyalty lay with their fellow villagers.
Through recorded anecdotes, diary entries, and newspaper articles, the authors covered the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, through to the outbreak of war, and the eventual fall of Germany. By focussing on the stories of individuals and families, the book provides a surprisingly intimate, non-judgmental view of how the times affected the average citizen.
Unsurprisingly, A Village in the Third Reich is a lesson in how fascism can rapidly become the norm without the vigilance of ordinary people. Case in point: here’s a review snippet from taken from the book’s opening:
Bit of a strange flex for the Mail on Sunday.