- Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany by Nathan Stoltzfus
Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature on the decision-making process of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and state bureaucracies. As he did in his book on the 1943 Rosenstrasse protest in Berlin over the deportation of Jewish spouses in mixed marriages, Nathan Stoltzfus challenges popular perceptions of the Nazi state as an uncompromising “behemoth” that invariably resorted to force to quash any sign of popular opposition to its wishes. He also tempers, once again, the notion that ordinary Germans always responded obediently to the wishes and policies of their Führer and his dictatorship. In his latest book, Stoltzfus further examines several examples showing that Hitler and the Nazi bureaucracy often responded to significant societal dissent in prewar and wartime Germany with important and timely compromises. He begins by tracing this inclination back to Hitler’s determination, after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, to secure the loyalty and devotion of the German people by achieving power through legal and democratic means. Once in office as Reich Chancellor in late January 1933, Hitler was able to cultivate and exploit the popular support he and his Party had generated by making timely compromises on key issues that otherwise separated him, and the ideology of National Socialism, from the people and their institutions. Of course, as Stoltzfus reminds us throughout the book, Hitler’s success or failure in reaching some degree of compromise depended also on popular perceptions of the regime’s political and military successes before and during the war.
Instances of compromise by Hitler’s regime are many. The book highlights several significant examples of Hitler’s tendency to avoid any manifestations of public criticism of state policy, as well as his promotion of popular adulation for the Führer and enthusiasm for his policies. For instance, two chapters focus on the always complex and often delicate relationship between the Nazi state and the Christian churches, a relationship that was often directly affected by the continuing affinity of most Germans for their respective churches. Stoltzfus examines the regime’s efforts to cope with institutional and popular resistance to the creation of a single, unified “Reich Church,” and to the general encroachment of state power into whatever autonomy the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany exercised. In the end, the regime had little success, for example, in pressuring the Catholic Church to replace crucifixes with pictures of Hitler in classrooms in Catholic schools. The author reviews in detail the opposition of many in the churches to the forced sterilization, beginning in July 1933, of mentally and physically disabled Germans, as well as the much more overt institutional and popular opposition to the “euthanasia” program carried out between 1939 and 1941. [End Page 505]
On the other hand, Hitler was able to exploit his considerable popular support as he easily established his full control over the military in February 1938. That support was largely the result of his successful re-militarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, and was bolstered by the successful annexation of Austria in March 1938—both accomplished without going to war. Furthermore, the non-compliance of some Germans with wartime evacuations in the face of massive Allied bombing of German cities was, in the end, largely tolerated by Hitler’s government. This was true especially later in the war, when faith in the Führer and in military victory was waning. Finally, in this larger context, Stoltzfus re-visits the question of the 1943 arrest and attempted deportation from Berlin of Jewish spouses in mixed marriages. In the face of public demonstrations in Berlin and elsewhere, Nazi authorities decided to rescind Goebbels’s order and to release most of the inter-married Jews who had been arrested.
This book also addresses, at least indirectly, a broader, more fundamental question—one that is certainly not new: Why did a majority of Germans opt to believe in...