Special episode on the administration of the Third Reich?

After some time I’ve finally been able to finish reading Mark Mazower’s book “Hitler’s Empire: how the Nazis ruled Europe”.

I think it could help people understand the nature of Nazi rule better if there was at some point some special dedicated episode to Nazi rule in Europe. We’ve obviously had bits and pieces so far, but a greater level of understanding could be gained from consolidation.

Mazower theorizes that the Nazis lack of sophistication them unequal to the task of ruling what they had conquered (including Germany).

Rather than well regimented and efficiently run, Nazi rule was chaotic and improvisatory. Often, for lacking detailed long term plans, Nazi officials would just plunge ahead with plans with the idea they would fix any problems whenever they arose later. This worked sometimes, but not always. And eventually, those problems became so gargantuan that they could no longer be fixed, and Nazi rule collapsed under pressure from the enemies it had made along the way.

Nazi rule being inefficient was to some degree by design. Hitler created rival power bases within the Party, the Army, the SS (and other security apparatus) and the administration of the German state and the occupied territories.

This was done partially to prevent the establishment of concerted and coordinated opposition and partially because of Hitler’s personal philosophy of struggle.

Hitler’s paladins competed to carry out what they believed to be Hitler’s wishes, this in order to find favor with him. Think of the T4 Euthanasia Program which was born when an ambitious underling (Dr. Philip Bouhler) got hold of a letter from a father requesting Hitler’s permission to have his severely disabled child euthanized. Bouhler used the letter to curry favor with Hitler by proposing that ALL severely disabled people be euthanized. Hitler, as in line with his personal philosophy, readily agreed.

Before reading Mazower’s book I had been marginally aware of some disagreements between Hitler’s acolytes, but I never knew that Nazi rule had been such utter chaos. The BBC documentary “A warning from history” (written by Laurence Rees and Ian Kershaw), aired in 1997 refers to it as “Chaos and Consent”. Yet it did not make me appreciate just how disorganized the whole mess was.

Mazower discusses many things, amongst which:

  • a vicious struggle for power between the Nazi Party and the SS which the SS were initially slowly winning but after Heydrich’s death the Party ultimately prevailed, though it was a meaningless victory since the Reich was already going under;

  • Hans Frank going on a speaking tour of German universities to denounce SS meddling in his affairs;

  • Reinhard Heydrich retaliating by investigating Gauleiters (regional leaders) for corruption and orchestrating the arrest and death of Hans Frank’s deputy;

  • the various Paladins jostling for power and control of the conquered territories, especially in the East;

  • The enormous differences and even contradictions in policies implemented by the different Gauleiters, Reichskommissars and military governors;

  • The duplication, triplication and quadruplication of tasks in order to get people to struggle with their competitors for power and prestige.

A widely mentioned example is the occupation of Soviet territory, overseen by several different ministries, organizations and individials:

  1. Alfred Rosenberg’s official Ministry of the Occupied Eastern Territories, basically ignored by all others;

  2. Hitler’s appointed Reichskommissars (Gauleiters like Kube and Koch). Koch made it very clear that he felt that since he had been appointed by Hitler, he only had to answer to Hitler and thus no one else;

  3. Göring created an economic office to administer the East, in practice Görings office did little but looting;

  4. The SS had its own office to administer conquered territories, and various secret police organizations as well as “special detachments” which all had various tasks in the East;

  5. the Wehrmacht would administer recently conquered territories under one of its own offices

Mazower comes to the conclusion that it is very unlikely that the Third Reich would have lasted long, even if they had won the war or there had been no war.

The Reich’s prospects for long-term success was vanishingly small, even absent a war: the internal contradictions, gross inefficiencies, rank ineptitude, patronage system and multiple official entities engaging in duplicative efforts, oftentimes working at cross-purposes, did not auger well for enduring success.

Mazower demolishes the myth of Nazi efficiency, economic sophistication and meticulous planning whilst simultaneously demonstrating the inherent dead-end of the racialist enterprise. Ruthless? Yes. Competent? Hardly so.