The Third Reich

by Henri Lichtenberger, tr. by Koppel S. Pinson
[Greystone Press, $3.00]
BITTER irony and sparkling fireworks might well be expected in a book by a Frenchman on Hitler’s Germany. But M. Lichtenberger, distinguished French interpreter of German literature and culture, has written the most fair-minded study of the ideas and feelings behind National-Socialist Germany which has yet come to hand. His treatment is free from the fanciful interpretations by which so many discussions of contem-
porary Germany are marred. There prevails in France at the moment a rather unusual interest in the Nazi dictatorship. Though Lichtenberger does not touch upon it, the glories of the Napoleonic era are dimly reflected in Hitler’s rising influence. But apart from such risky historical parallels an undercurrent of sympathetic comment on Hitler has appeared amongst right-wing Frenchmen. Lichtenberger himself says: ‘Certain groups “oriented to the right" . . . have been seized with tenderness for the dictatorship established across the Rhine by Hitler.’ The movement, toward the left has profoundly disturbed French conservative circles, has threatened their sense of security even more than Hitler’s Germany. These people have watched with deep distrust Blum’s rapprochement with Soviet Russia, and his policy toward Spain.
While M. Lichtenberger is not personally identified with these groups, he is inclined toward their views. Of the proposal of neutrality in which France took the initiative he writes that the Germans were right in suspecting that this move was merely to cover up an attempt ‘secretly to come to the aid of the Spanish frente popular with munitions, money and volunteers.’ On the other hand, M. Lichtenberger is too well acquainted with Germany to believe Hitler’s claim that he saved Germany from Communism, or that a similar method will have to be adopted at home. Nevertheless, he emphasizes how widespread this belief was at the time Hitler seized power. Who does not know that a similar belief in a Communist threat in France is spreading?
It is from this vantage point of French fears and apprehensions that the present volume can best be understood. Its generous desire to unfold the deeper ideological background of contemporary Germany is matched by its inclination to overestimate the achievements along political, economic, and military lines. The remark is very commonly heard at present that German Naziism is more firmly entrenched than ever. M. Lichtenberger does not commit himself in so unqualified a manner. He recognizes that ‘many people are convinced that Hitlerism . . . might disappear one fine day as suddenly as it came upon the scene.”But he does seem to believe that Hitler has been ‘able to rally behind him almost the entire German nation’ (p. 291).
Yet, in other places, he disagrees with himself. There are many signs which support the conclusion that opposition, is widespread, and M. Lichtenberger himself offers evidence in support, of such a contention. His discussion of the religious issues, and of the problems in industry and agriculture, while by no means exhaustive, shows clearly that the number of malcontents must be considerable. For that reason he is profoundly right in saying. ’I feel . . . that the “eternal" Germany still lives under the brown shirt of Hitlerism as it did under the tinsel of the era of Wilhelm.’ It renews one’s faith in the tradition of spiritual comradeship which has been the lasting mortar of European civilization to hear a French thinker emphatically say so.
But what does this ‘eternal’ Germany, muzzled by the official propagandists, murmur at home and abroad? Scarcely that Hitler is a statesman, as M. Lichtenberger once or twice intimates. The Hitlerite version of idealism Babbittized and materialized into a faith in blood and race and military force, backing an insatiable striving for national aggrandizement, and forcing literature and art and science to become the handmaidens of propaganda, is detested by those who believe in the ‘eternal’ Germany. Does M. Lichtenberger forget the countless acts of martyrdom that men and women have suffered during the last four years? Do they support the stereotype that the Germans love to follow authority, move in crowds, and so forth, and so forth?
M. Lichtenberger’s difficulties arise wherever shrewd judgment and literary evaluation are not enough. As a student of literature, he fails to offer extensive factual support. Such evidence cannot always be gathered; indeed, on many of the most important problems it is utterly impossible to secure reliable information. What, for example, caused Hitler to make his pacific protestations in May 1933? No one can with assurance answer that crucial question even to-day. Still, we know enough to be quite sure that a gamut of devious diplomacy is connected with these declarations. Again, might we not question the figures of the popular plebiscites? What light do the Napoleonic plebiscites throw on them? These and many similar questions are treated rather inadequately.
These deficiencies must be pointed out, because the book comes to us under a general title. They do not detract from the brilliant and well-balanced discussion of the present ideological setting of Germany, and the exposition of its more apparent policies in foreign and domestic affairs. This volume certainly gives the best picture yet available of the beliefs current in contemporary Germany.