‘’The Jew is guilty for everything, always.’’  

Such words, as quoted by Arnon Tamir in this book’s chapter ‘The Road To Treblinka,’ validate the harrowing depths to which humanity can sometimes plunge.  Just like the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the early nineties, or Rwandan society shortly thereafter; said seven words compound the ease with which a culpable culture of blame can so readily be accepted, and become the norm. For this reason alone (and there are countless others), The Nazis – A Warning from History by Laurence Rees, is a crucial contribution to the pantheon of books already written on the odious Nazi regime.

Described as ‘one of the greatest documentary series of all times’ The Nazis – A Warning from History won an array of awards, including a Bafta and an International Documentary Award.  As a result, this substantially revised and exceedingly well-written accompanying book breaks much new ground.  

Eminently, in relation to the understanding of Nazi ideology - if indeed, such an understanding is politically permissible.

Like much of Rees’s work, this powerhouse of a book is both balanced and provocative, as well as easy to read and enlightening: ‘’’Let’s learn from the English,’ Hitler said over dinner on 27 July 1941, ‘who with 250,000 men in all, including 50,000 soldiers, govern 400 million Indians.’  Here, according to Hitler, was clear evidence of the superiority of the ‘Aryan’ race: the English could rule India with a relatively tiny force because of their better blood.  ‘What India was for England […] the territories of Russia will be for us.  If only I could make the German people understand what this space means for our future!’’

Furthermore, in ‘Chaos and Consent,’ Rees writes of a populace that was more than willing to comply, if not promote, the inevitable harsh execution and subsequent heartbreak of Nazi/Gestapo policy:  ‘’The idea that the Gestapo itself was constantly spying on the population is demonstrably a myth.  So how was it possible that so few people exercised such control?  The simple answer is because the Gestapo received enormous help from ordinary Germans.  Like all modern policing systems, the Gestapo was only as good or bad as the cooperation it received – and the files reveal that it received a high level of cooperation, making it a very good secret police force indeed.  Only around 10 per cent of political crimes committed between 1933 and 1945 were actually discovered by the Gestapo; another 10 per cent of cases were passed on to the Gestapo by the regular police force or the Nazi Party.  This means that around 80 per cent of all political crime was discovered by ordinary citizens who turned the information over to the police or the Gestapo.  The files also show that most of this unpaid cooperation came from people who were not members of the Nazi Party – they were ‘ordinary’ citizens.  Yet there was never a duty to denounce or inform.’’

As taken from the citation awarding Rees an honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield in July 2005, scholars across the world invariably ‘’owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Laurence Rees for his immense and unique contribution to historical understanding.’’  As the more one discovers about the Nazis, the more acute this warning from history becomes.  

Especially now, with the recent upsurge of xenophobic, right wing action(s) throughout much of Western Europe.   

David Marx
The Nazis - A Warning From History
By Laurence Rees
BBC Books/Ebury Publishing - £8.99