In This Review

Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe

Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe
By Mark Mazower
768 pp, Penguin Press, 2008

The Nazis are rightly better remembered for their capacity to wage war than for their ability to consolidate peace. In this impressive work, Mazower demonstrates just how incompetent they were at the latter task. Indeed, for a party so obsessed with the virtue of order, the Nazis were surprisingly disorganized and inefficient when it came to trying to govern those whose armies they had so efficiently defeated. It was not just that the brutal tactics of mass execution (including of many of the most talented members of society), forced labor, and the inhumane treatment of local populations turned those populations against them and made governance more difficult. It was also that the Nazis do not seem even to have given much serious thought to the imperial role they were so determined to acquire. The Nazi occupation was improvised and disorganized, and it vastly underestimated the political, logistical, and demographic challenges it would face. There were not enough ethnic Germans to rule the vast conquered regions by an iron fist alone, yet the Nazis' tactics made any alternative to such rule impossible. "Germany," Mazower points out, "could have racial purity or imperial domination, but it could not have both."