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The Role of Terror
One of the main sources of contention between the arguments provided in Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich, Laurence Rees’, A Warning From History and Robert Gellately’s Backing Hitler lies in the role played by terror in determining the Nazi Party’s popularity. In particular, the three reach differing conclusions on the extent to which the Gestapo contributed to this atmosphere of terror, and whether this created a climate of artificial popularity, or whether the German people were complicit in rendering it a successful component of the Nazi regime.
Michael Burleigh stresses the importance and omnipresence of the Gestapo. He argues that the “supercession of the rule of law by arbitrary police terror” was not a “side issue but the most important departure from civilised values engineered by the Nazi government”, and that it is “in need of more emphasis than it nowadays tends to receive”. As such we can safely surmise that Bureligh seeks to stress that the enforcement of police terror is, contrary to contemporary opinion, one of the primary pillars for understanding the behaviour of the populace in Germany form 1933 to 1939. He goes on to say that, “the police assumed responsibility for enforcing a mood of Panglossian optimism, by punishing even the most…innocent of remarks. Contentment and happiness were enforced”. Here Burleigh suggests that the Nazi regime’s apparent popularity resided on a veneer underneath of which existed a deeply oppressed and opposing population. This is true to a certain extent: the 1933 Decree against Malicious Attacks criminalised hostile remarks about the leadership, party and state, effectively suppressing opposition from the population and, in effect, creating the illusion of full-scale popularity. However, Burleigh’s suggestion that this contentment and happiness was a complete façade and totally enforced by regime is something that Laurence Rees questions and profoundly disagrees with. Instead he dismisses such a view as a fabrication: “In popular myth the Gestapo have a terrifying role as the all-powerful, all-seeing instrument of terror which suppressed an unwilling population. But this is far from the truth.”, and presents the argument that, because of the party’s popularity with ‘ordinary people’ and the latter’s eagerness to assist with the former, that the Gestapo were able to run so successfully. Rees comes to this conclusion based on the fact that only around 10 per cent of political crimes committed between 1933 and 1945 were actually discovered by the Gestapo, another 10 per cent of cases passed onto the Gestapo by the regular police force or the Nazi Party, which leaves the inevitability that 80 per cent of all political crime was discovered by the ordinary citizens who in turn turned the information over to the Gestapo. Rees stresses that there was never a duty to denounce or inform, however, and further highlights that this cooperation was “unpaid”. His assertion is, then, that ordinary people did this from an internal impetus stirred not by self-gain but devotion towards the Nazi party.
 Burleigh, M. ‘The Third Reich: A New History’ (Pan Books, 2001) – pg.157
 Burleigh, M. ‘The Third Reich’ – pg.166
 Rees, L. ‘The Nazis: A Warning From History’ (BBC Books 1998) – pg. 64
 The Nazis – pg. 65
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