I offered some reflections on the first volume, The Coming of the Third Reich last fall.
In the second part, The Third Reich in Power, Evans recounts what the Nazis were doing with and to Germany in the period of uneasy "peace" between Hitler's accession to power on January 30, 1933 and the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 which set off the European conflagration we call World War II.
Most of the volume is devoted to exactly the questions likely to be paramount to contemporary English speaking readers: what was it like for ordinary Germans to live in the Third Reich? Were they frightened? Did Germans enthusiastically embrace the brutish fanatics who had so efficiently seized the machinery of the state? -- or did they just try to keep their heads down? Did they believe the Nazi propaganda? How did the Nazis sell most of them on the belief that national difficulties and disappointments were the fault of a one percent minority (500,000 out of 67 million Germans) who were Jewish?
Evans does a terrific job of making answers accessible to contemporary readers who may find the material and intellectual circumstances in the middle of the last century in central Europe a far stretch indeed.
First to what seems the obvious question: did some awful combination of secret police terror and more conventional "legal" constraints simply frighten people -- including the third or so of the population who had recently been Communists or Social Democrats -- into adopting Nazi beliefs? As is true of many questions like that, Evans seems to answer both yes … and no.
Evans' subsequent discussion of Nazi efforts to impose their own cultural beliefs on the population is fascinating. Living as we do with our own clashes of cultures, modern Americans can perhaps imagine something analogous to his characterization of a reaction to a Nazi art exhibit designed to expose Germans to what was labelled "Degenerate Art" -- that would be Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Klee, etc.
I'm reminded of our periodic cultural conflicts such as those over the "offensive" art of Robert Mapplethorpe or Andres Serrano … only mobilized deliberately by a police state.
The Nazis were "determined to reduce, and if possible eliminate, the Churches as centers of real or potential alternative ideologies to its own." Evans recounts how they overwhelmingly succeeded in silencing almost all resistance from German Christians, Protestant and Catholic.
Evans includes a a long discussion of whether thinking of Nazism as a species of religion is an appropriate metaphor; he makes the case that it is just as correct to frame Nazism as kind of militarism. I have to say that all of this reminded me of Brent Nongbri's insight that among Western academics, "religion is anything that sufficiently resembles modern Protestant Christianity …" I think Evans is in that trap here.
Evans relies heavily on accounts from ordinary Germans to convey what life was like. Here he turns to one Melita Maschmann to describe how Nazi anti-semitic race hatred came to be incorporated in her thinking, obliterating her previous familiarity with actual German Jews.
Very few ordinary Germans kept their moral compasses intact under the Third Reich in Evans' telling; he makes the rationale for their accommodations utterly understandable. Hitler and his followers really did have a genius for exploiting the particular intellectual and moral weaknesses of their countrymen. Evan's sums up the result this way:
All of this was in preparation for a war of conquest to come, a race war. That's Evans' third volume which I'll write up here in due time.