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Hitler's Home Front: Wurttemberg under the Nazis.

Hitler's Home Front: Wurttemberg under the Nazis. By Jill Stephenson. (New York, N.Y.: Hambledon Continuum, 2006. Pp. xvi, 512. $34.95.)

How effective was the Hitler state at realizing the regimented "national community" of Nazi rhetoric? Not very, argues Jill Stephenson. Her finely textured analysis of the politics of everyday life in the hinterlands of southwestern Germany underscores the widely acknowledged difficulty of reducing grassroots behavior in the Third Reich to simple categories of support and opposition. Focusing on rural Wurttemberg, Stephenson explores local ramifications of Nazi racial and religious policies and details the impact of wartime exigencies on communal values and relationships. Despite a decade of propaganda and coercion, she concludes, the regime's "quest for total control was not achieved and, furthermore, was not realistic" (350).

This was as a result in part of the weakness of the local Nazi infrastructure; in hundreds of small Wurttemberg communes there was no party apparatus whatsoever. As a result, implementation of official policy was often inefficient, inconsistent, and colored by local customs and assumptions. More broadly, Stephenson argues, Nazi priorities ran counter to the deeply ingrained values of backwater communities shaped by nonmechanized family farming, endogamous social networks, and time-honored religious attachments. The regime's emphasis on industrial expansion and rearmament threatened to ignore rural needs, despite ritual obeisance to the primacy of blood and soil. Many country folk instinctively distrusted the new order as another centralized exercise in urban condescension, an affront to commonsense traditional ways that remote functionaries neither understood nor respected. As Stephenson shows in considerable detail, rural resentment against externally imposed change grew exponentially during wartime, fueled by intrusive commodity regulations, military call-ups that stripped farm villages of desperately needed manpower, and waves of refugees and forced laborers billeted on resource-strapped communities congenitally skeptical of incomers and their alien outlooks. In most cases, villagers' responses reflected a rough and ready ethic of self-interest; if they sometimes accommodated "subhuman" forced laborers more readily than they did Aryan "national comrades" from bombed-out cities, this bespoke not so much disagreement with Nazi racial dictates as the simple fact that such laborers usually made better farm hands than displaced city dwellers.

Much of Stephenson's account echoes themes found in previous studies; it clearly invites comparison with Ian Kershaw's well-known 1983 study of popular opinion in neighboring Bavaria. Stephenson's findings touch on several classic debates in Third Reich historiography, including the extent to which National Socialism should be viewed as a modernizing force, and although specialists may quarrel, for example, with where she elects to locate rural Wurttemberg on the continuum of conformity and dissent, all readers will likely appreciate the wealth of local detail she has unearthed to support her conclusions. This meticulously documented volume adds to a growing list of recent studies--those of David Blackbourn, Alon Confino, and Helmut Walser Smith, for example--whose careful attention to the idiosyncrasies of Wurttemberg culture and society simultaneously serves to illuminate and recast broader questions of identity and experience in modern Germany.

David J. Diephouse

Calvin College
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Author:Diephouse, David J.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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