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Aufstieg und Herrschaft des Nationalsozialismus in einer industriellen Kleinstadt: Osterode am harz 1918-1945.

Sixty years after the birth of the Third Reich questions about who supported Nazism and why remain current. Anti-foreigner violence in the Federal Republic and the ethnic-national warfare in the Balkans reveal that many of the ideas which animated Nazism (or fascism in general) are still alive. Such events makes Struve's insights on the causes and effects of Nazism all the more important. Using both a wide range of archival sources and numerous interviews with local residents Struve offers a meticulously researched and finely detailed portrait of life in small, moderately industrialized town in northern Germany during the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. However, as the author takes pains to point out in various places, the book is not just Alltagsgeschichte but an effort to test various theses and theories that have been advanced about National Socialism and the Third Reich over the years.

While Osterode was a small town, it possessed a substantial if somewhat sluggish industrial sector. The town's economy showed signs of structural weakness long before the Depression, creating a persistent source of anxiety among many inhabitants. The local working class was numerous and Struve argues they were every bit as class conscious as their compatriots in larger and newer industrial centers (with a sizeable contingent of Communists as well as Socialists). In contrast, he says the local bourgeoisie lacked the wealth or political clout of the "national bourgeoisie." Later in the book he repeatedly suggests the former's relationship with the Nazis was weaker and less effectual than that of the latter. However, he never adequately defines this "national bourgeoisie" or illustrates how it contributed to the rise of Nazism.

Struve argues that it was the primarily the local bourgeoisie's fear of the organized working class which led them to support Nazism, although such support was slow in coming and never complete. The Revolution of 1918-19 and the turmoil of the early Republic naturally alarmed the local middle class, which responded by creating a broad spectrum of "protective organizations." Among the latter, of course, were the Nazis. Yet Struve convincingly demonstrates the Nazis were few in number and had little political significance during the crisis years of 1919-23 or Weimar's "good years" of 1924-28. From 1929 on though the party won a growing local following, primarily in terms of electoral support rather than in actual membership. Struve argues this turnabout was largely caused by the success of the SPD in 1928 elections which reawakened the fears of the local Buergertum. The political violence which accompanied the last years of Weimar at both the national and local level reinforced these fears. The economic impact of the Depression on the town's already sluggish economy also played a role, but precisely how this affected the middle class remains a bit hazy.

Struve provides a wealth of detail on local Nazi activists and their activities in 1929-33. His examination of local party membership produces few surprises: most were lower middle class, with a handful of factory owners and professionals, and only a few workers. However, in contrast to other researchers Struve argues that the success of the local party was largely due to financial and organizational help it received from regional leadership.(1) In his view it was only this outside help which allowed local party leaders to carry out its activities, many of which were dictated by the same Gau or national officials.

The image of the local party as a transmission belt carrying out directives from above is even stronger for the period after 1933. According to Struve, Gleichschaltung in Osterode proceeded more slowly than at the national level and was constantly prodded along by commands from above. While he details how local Communists and Socialists were victims of repression and how members of the middle class were cajoled or coerced into conformity, Struve suggests these measures owed more to central direction than local initiative. Yet he stresses that once Gleichschaltung was accomplished by 1934, resistance was all but impossible because of the nature of small town life. On numerous occasions he emphasizes that while the intimacy and informality of local life allowed individuals some scope for "oppositional" attitudes and behavior, it prevented the development of any type of conspiratorial "resistance" groups similar to those noted by other authors in larger cities.(2)

According to Struve, the initiative for the persecution of Jews and Jehova's Witnesses (and much else) in Osterode also lay primarily with the national NSDAP and government. He argues that little animosity existed toward either group locally and that the government's persecution of both groups upset many inhabitants and led some residents to express sympathy and solidarity with the victims. In many cases, though, those who provided financial or moral support were workers who had borne the brunt of Gleichschaltung rather than members of the middle class. Later in the book Struve notes that wartime economic developments led to a dramatic growth in foreign laborers in the town. Here too he argues that their harsh treatment was primarily due to national policy and that many local residents were disturbed by such cruelty. Less striking but perhaps of greater concern to many local bourgeois was how Nazi encouragement of new local industries undermined their traditional economic and social predominance. While not quite a "social revolution," Struve presents this as another example of how Osterode's middle class had to make painful readjustments to forces outside their control throughout the Third Reich.

While Struve insists his focus on outside forces does not excuse the actions of local Nazis, nor even the inaction of many local bourgeois, this point is not developed as thoroughly as it might. Although it is clear that Nazism was never universally supported by the local Buergertum and the latter did not anticipate or approve of all its consequences, its hold on Osterode was strong. Many local activists willingly carried out even the most brutal government policies, while even larger numbers of ordinary citizens quickly learned to play by the new rules. While their motives were complex, the behavior of many of Osterode's inhabitants aided the regime and, as Gellately's The Gestapo and German Society shows, the government's ability to enforce policies depended at least in part on such cooperation.(3) This dialectic relationship between center and locality (or state and society), which Struve himself notes in various places, could possibly have been pursued a bit more systematically. This and other minor caveats aside, Struve's book is a remarkably rich addition to the literature on Nazism and the Third Reich, and one would hope that an abridged English version will eventually emerge to make its findings available to a broader audience.
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Author:Patton, Craig D.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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