In This Review

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939–1945
The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939–1945
By Nicholas Stargardt
Basic Books, 2015, 760 pp

Why did the German people stick with the Nazis despite the terrible things that were being done in their name—even as defeat became ever more likely? That is one of the most puzzling questions of World War II, and in this enthralling book, Stargardt avoids simple answers. Not all Germans believed in Nazism (although he leaves no doubt that the fate of the Jews was common knowledge), nor were they all fooled by Nazi propaganda (although he offers fascinating insights on how Joseph Goebbels calibrated the Nazi Party’s messages to lift morale and deflect blame away from Hitler). Instead, Stargardt puts together a complex portrait of a nation gripped by patriotism and resentment, thrilled by early military victories, and proud of the fighting skills of the Wehrmacht. Germans blamed American Jews for food shortages and ferocious Allied bombing raids and wondered if such hardships were retribution for what the Nazis were doing to Europe’s Jews. As the Allies closed in, the loss of German life was horrific: Stargardt suggests that 10,000 Germans died every day, on average, during the first months of 1945. Yet until the very end, German teenagers still signed up to fight.