Originally posted on The History Girls.
Here are Hitler’s Storm Troopers, marching triumphantly after he was made Chancellor of Germany on the 30th January, 1933. That evening, the young man who became the distinguished writer Sebastian Haffner, (his real name was Raimund Pretzel), read the headline: ‘Cabinet of National Unity formed – Hitler Reichschancellor.’
His first reaction was ‘icy horror’. Then he sat down with his father to discuss it. ‘We agreed that it had a good chance of doing a lot of damage, but not much chance of surviving very long.. Even with the Nazis, this government would not have a majority in the Reichstag.’
In fact, only three members of the cabinet were Nazis, and Hitler could be dismissed at any time by the Reich President. So though opponents of Hitler were dismayed, they could see reasons for optimism.
Hilary Mantel has observed that we tend to see history backwards, ie, we know how the story ends, and cannot imagine how the people concerned could fail to see it. But history at the point of unfolding (if you can call it a point, since it is always unfolding) is murky, confusing, and uncertain.This observation is particularly relevant when people look at the Third Reich, an area of history where the desire to exhibit moral correctness frequently trumps objectivity.
What I mean by that is that there is an emotionally motivated tendency to simplistically divide people into goodies and baddies, even now. I am the last person to dismiss the reality of feeling when looking at the Nazi period and its crimes. My family was too deeply involved and scarred. At the same time, the desire to…