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Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe.

Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe. By Mark Mazower. (New York, NY: Penguin, 2008. Pp. 725. $20.00.)

"No nation belonging to the white race has ever before had such conditions forced upon it," wrote a contemporary observer during World War II of the nature of the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia; the imposed policies "constituted the first German colonial statute in modern history for a white and civilized nation" (59-60). This idea--however peculiar its now outdated formulation may seem-serves as the point of departure for the work at hand. Mark Mazower, a first-class historian of southeastern Europe, has chosen to add another hefty volume to the existing library on Hitler's Germany, because he wants to examine Nazis as colonizers; he is investigating the Third Reich and its New Order as an especially malignant variant of nineteenth-century global imperialism.

That Nazi colonialism was radically different from others is the conclusion at which Mazower arrives as he presents a view of the Nazis' obsession with their European war and genocides as transformative or "catalytic" (11). The German Volk was to be toughened and morally reconstituted through the construction of empire, and the vast ranks of Germany's supposed enemies and human impediments were to be crushed. In pursuing these objectives, Mazower points out similarities between Wilhelmine and Hitlerian Germany, eschews the "totalitarian model" for explaining the behavior of the government and people of the Third Reich, and adopts a functionalist, rather than intentionalist, view of the origins of the Holocaust.

Mazower's work reads extremely well, and while building his argument, he supplies effective insights into a great many aspects of Nazi government and party life, especially in terms of policy, military strategy, and internal factionalism and debate. The book does not cover daily life for Germans or politics and ideology from the point of view of the occupied lands and conquered peoples--we must be content, for example, with the (correct) assertion that most Hungarians balked at the Nazi imposition of the Final Solution out of a kind of emotional-tactical calculus, because the reader is not told to what degree or why or how the Hungarians resisted these measures (397-398).

Ultimately, Mazower sees the turbo-charged fascist German version of imperialism as not only morally bankrupt but practically and intellectually flawed. Hitler's "fatal provincialism" about the "aspirations of those beyond [Germany's] borders" prevented him from making common cause with Ukraine, the Baltic States, Spain, and many others (540). And his childish belief that the world could effectively be carved up and ruled in concert by predatory nations of similarly intrepid ethnic stock, such as the Germans and the British, had little grounding in reality. In terms of less well known domestic policy, Hitler made massive use of foreign forced and slave labor even while sniffing out new bands of Lebensraum to be conquered, depopulated, and filled with German settlers he hoped to entice there--or hybridize from the local population. Mazower tellingly describes Hitler as "intoxicated by the numbers" and the potential of this pronatalist and eugenicist experiment reaching the proportions of science fiction (206).

This book is recommended for all libraries and specialists on twentieth-century Germany and on World War II.

John K. Cox

North Dakota State University
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Author:Cox, John K.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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