Nazi Germany: 1933-45
Christopher Culpin and Steve Mastin
Hodder Education: London, 2013
In April 2007, the T.E.A.C.H. report on the Challenges and Opportunities on Teaching Emotive and Controversial History 3-19 was released by the Historical Association in the UK. In this report, it was found that one teacher in one British school claimed that that they chose not to teach about the Holocaust at GCSE (where it was an optional subject) due to their concerns about the possible response of some Muslim pupils. The concerns aired by this one British teacher gradually became a twister in the British and later in the international media, followed by viral email campaigns. Soon thereafter, a controversy as to whether the United Kingdom would include the Holocaust in their national curriculum ensued.
Teaching about history in general, and about the Holocaust in particular, has always been continuously part of school curricula throughout England. A comprehensive report on Holocaust education, remembrance and research in Great Britain denotes this fact. In addition, the research conducted by London's Institute of Education (IOE) buttressed these findings. Moreover, in recent years new Holocaust-related online resources geared for British students have been developed such as The Holocaust Explained. The IOE is currently conducting national research into students' thinking about the Holocaust, surveying up to 10,000 young people across England, including various case studies.
As part of the Schools History Project that aims to “help Advanced Level history students in the United Kingdom to think clearly and to be more independent learners,” Nazi Germany: 1933-45 has been recently published by Christopher Culpin and Steve Mastin. This new textbook includes information about the Holocaust, but it does not only exclusively focus on the Shoah per se.
The authors highlight a number of probing questions regarding this twelve-year period under Nazi rule, including: “Who were the Germans and what were their hopes and fears?”; “What led to Germany’s descent into dictatorship?” “How successfully did the Nazis manage the German economy? “; “In what ways were Jews treated differently from other victims of Nazism?” and more.
The authors are clearly experienced history teachers who want to encourage high school students to delve into this complex history and grapple with it. The authors also seek to expose students to historical debates and the work of historians (pp. 8-9). Although they mention various views of well-known historians, they unfortunately do not note the important research of Ulrich Herbert, Eberhard Jaeckl, Yehuda Bauer or that of Christopher Browning.
Particular insights are interwoven in this textbook, focusing on “Leni Riefenstahl and the art of propaganda”; “Hitler’s right-hand men”; “Making laws in the UK and in Nazi Germany” as well as others. Unfortunately, the section on Riefenstahl is disappointing. For instance, the authors place an emphasis on how “she always maintained that she never collaborated in the work of the Nazis” (p. 50) and do not include information about how she appeared to have known about the fate of some of the “extras” in her films or about her personal relationship with members of the Nazi leadership such as with Josef Goebbels. Since the authors are clearly interested in presenting “shades of gray” in history, it is therefore surprising that such a close-up on Riefenstahl would be written in this way.
In contrast, the section on “Making laws in the UK and in Nazi Germany” is very well formulated and presented, enabling readers to grasp the legislation process in a democracy that they live in versus the dictatorship under Adolf Hitler (pp. 80-81). The close-up on the architectural plans of Albert Speer is rather interesting, but it would have been better placed earlier in the book rather than towards the end (pp. 122-23).
“How successfully did the Nazis manage the German economy?” is an important chapter as the authors encourage students to move beyond simple assertions and delve into the complexity of the economic situation in 1930s Germany. However, Nazi racial ideology was at the heart of Hitler’s regime from the beginning of his assumption of power in 1933 until the very end in 1945. This ideology had a grave impact on the economy and later on the war effort. After all, Jewish people could have been enslaved as part of the “Total War” campaign rather than being murdered during the Holocaust (p. 136). Although the authors refer to the Nazi Germany’s fixation on a racial “new order” (p. 95), the centrality of Nazi racial ideology in this chapter, as well as in earlier ones, should have been further underlined.
The chapter, “In what ways were Jews treated differently from other victims of Nazism?” is written methodically. The authors provide a clear understanding about why, which, when and how various victim groups were persecuted. Although some discussion about the issue of collaboration in carrying out the “Final Solution” is raised (especially on p. 118), additional elaboration on this important subject is needed. Unlike many other textbooks, Mastin and Culpin’s work does provide information about the “death marches” at the end of the war as well as how the Nazi regime attempted to cover up their genocidal crimes (pp. 132-33).
The layout of the book is well done including archival photos, works of art, user-friendly charts and color-coded sections placing a spotlight on questions and suggested assignments. A glossary is not provided, but rather the authors chose to highlight key terms on the side of the text so that students can easily refer to them.
Although this textbook begins with focusing on the reflections of a German boy who lived during this period (Alfons Heck), very few testimonies or memoirs are included – especially of victims of Nazi persecution. More personal stories of individuals who lived during this time would have enhanced the various chapters.
All in all, this textbook may be very useful to teachers who are teaching history to “A-level” students in the United Kingdom though additional resources would be recommended to supplement this book when teaching about the Holocaust in particular. A textbook focusing in depth on the specific topic of the Holocaust within the Schools History Project series would be very much welcomed.