By Chris Bambery
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High Society in the Third Reich

This article is over 15 years, 3 months old
Fabrice d'Almeida, Polity, £16.99
Issue 332

This book provides a wealth of information about the Nazis and their relationship with the ruling class in Germany. What it shows is that the Nazis did not have the support of most of the ruling class until the final months before they took power, and in some cases after. But from their earliest days they enjoyed a degree of support.

As early as 1922 wealthy supporters gave Hitler a Mercedes car and paid for flights from Munich to Berlin. Hitler had been brought up in a bourgeois household and had sufficient manners to pass muster in the best circles. Before becoming chancellor he was already a wealthy man thanks to sales of Mein Kampf. Even the Munich beer halls, where Hitler first gained mass audiences, were not working class pubs but places where white collar workers, then regarded as middle class, could eat with their families at a reasonable price.

The early backers of Hitler from the upper classes were largely on the fringes of the bourgeoisie. Many aristocrats were nostalgic for the old empire destroyed in 1918 – but not all. Hermann Göring and steel magnate Fritz Thyssen, an early supporter, provided Hitler with entry to elite circles in the course of 1932. But by then the industrialists, generals and bankers wanted a radical solution to the crisis (elimination of the welfare state, suppression of the left and the unions, and imperialist expansion in central and eastern Europe) and a stable right wing government.

Their preference might have been to have the Nazis contained within a coalition government but they lived happily with the one-party state that emerged. As d’Almeida argues, “They were first led to support an alliance between Nazism and conservatism and then allowed themselves to be infected by an ideological radicalisation.”

The way Hitler presided over a state where power was divided between big business, the chiefs of staff, the Nazi Party, the SS and other components of the Third Reich is fascinating.

The chapter on how the Jewish upper classes faired under Hitler’s rule is chilling. Many allowed themselves to believe fascism would be a transient affair or it would only target poor, foreign Jews from the east. When Hitler gobbled up Austria he even got his hands on a member of the wealthy Jewish Rothschild family who had to hand over his property and pay a ransom to secure release after months in jail.

Within the highest circles people knew what was happening to the Jews. Many top figures moved into houses in Berlin seized from wealthy Jews. Within days of Hitler’s takeover Jews were blackballed from the ruling class salons, and by 1941 and 1942 stories of the death camps and genocidal war in the east resounded throughout those same salons.

The mad chase for recognition from Hitler – and the wealth and favour that followed, with access to game and other foodstuffs to get round rationing and invites to the best social events – continued until almost the fall of Berlin and Vienna.

Few of those involved in that social whirl received any punishment or even shaming in the new democratic republic which came into being after the war.

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