Dan McMillan: Review of Stephen G. Fritz's " Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East"

Roundup: Books

Dan McMillan is an independent scholar.

In his thoughtful and beautifully written history of Nazi Germany’s war against the Soviet Union, Stephen G. Fritz has two ambitious and important objectives. Fritz aims in the first place to provide a narrative that, while still structured by the unfolding of military operations, seamlessly integrates military events with the ideological convictions, economic imperatives, and social conditions that did so much to shape the course of the war. Fritz also seeks to illuminate the ways in which the war in the East (the Ostkrieg of the book’s title) radicalized Nazi policy toward the Jews, producing the Holocaust and shaping the pace and manner by which it developed. Aimed chiefly at upper-division undergraduates and lay readers interested in military history and the Holocaust, this book will also be helpful to historians of genocide who want to improve their understanding of the larger context in which the Holocaust was embedded. 

Fritz efficiently develops the ways in which the war provided the necessary ideological context for the radicalization of Nazi Jewish policy into genocide, beginning with Adolf Hitler’s worldview, from which both the Holocaust and the war in the East sprang. Hitler saw the Jews as Germany’s deadly and implacable enemy, protagonists of a worldwide conspiracy that controlled the nations of the world partly through the manipulation of the financial system, and partly by a strategy of divide and conquer, fostering class conflict by promoting Marxism. The 1918 revolution, supposedly fomented by Jewish socialists, had (in Hitler’s view) caused Germany to lose the First World War; throughout his political career, Hitler was driven by a burning thirst for revenge against those he blamed for this national humiliation, Jews foremost among them. Hitler’s fear and hatred of Jews fused with a second strand of his thinking, racial Darwinism, to provide the necessary context for the Holocaust and the war against the Soviet Union. Hitler saw history as a Darwinian struggle for survival among races, in which inferior races would be exterminated. To survive this merciless struggle, Germany needed more industrial capacity and natural resources, and fertile farmland to feed a larger population, the better to produce the weapons and breed the soldiers for future wars. Germany could gain land and resources by attacking and destroying the Soviet Union, annexing huge swaths of land, and killing or driving out the “inferior” Slavic inhabitants. Destroying the Soviet Union was both necessary and desirable for a second reason: as the world’s only Communist state, it was presumably governed by Jews, and constituted the center of a worldwide “Judeo-Bolshevik” conspiracy that posed a permanent and deadly threat to Germany. At its ideological roots, Fritz notes, the war against the Soviet Union was thus also a war against the Jews.

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