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German preparation for war

LAURENCE REES: And to what extent do you think the Third Reich was unprepared for a protracted war in 1939?

NORBERT FREI: Hitler himself in 1936 came up with this four year plan, the idea to get Germany ready for war within four years. And, as you can see, the war finally started a year earlier than planned in this rather ambitious plan. So as we found out as historians in the last 20 or 30 years, that there are actually good reasons to say that Germany wasn’t particularly well prepared for a long enduring war, both militarily and economically.

LAURENCE REES: And so what’s extraordinary is Hitler then will go into this war without, as the Americans would say, an exit strategy?

NORBERT FREI: Yes. Well, there was no exit strategy. There was the will to go for war and of course there were all these rather successful Blitzkrieg things in the first couple of years. So people adjusted to the idea of war despite the fact they didn’t like it in the beginning. After the victory over Poland, very fast, or more importantly after the victory over France, people were enthusiastic about Hitler again. So if this is war, if war is that easy, then we can fight it.

LAURENCE REES: And to what extent do you think the war was the creation of that one person, of Hitler?

NORBERT FREI: Well, I do think that there was a readiness for at least having a confined sort of war in the military. Hitler in 1933 made it quite clear to some of his officers, when he talked about his idea and concept of Lebensraum, that he finally would go for war. And the conservative or reactionary military elite subscribed to a certain extent to that, especially when they were reflecting upon Poland, and also when they were probably reflecting about France and the situation in Alsace Lorraine. But generally speaking he didn’t make up his mind about his full idea: what war at the end would probably mean.