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The Defeat of the Nazis

LAURENCE REES: And at what point do you think that defeat for the Nazis in the war was inevitable? I was very struck with what Adam Tooze said to me, which was that defeat was almost inevitable from September 1939.

RICHARD EVANS: Defeat of course depends on what they were trying to achieve. If you think that the Nazis were simply trying to achieve a limited war of conquest then defeat was not inevitable if they had stopped, say, in the summer of 1940. Then it would have been a very long time before they’d be dislodged from France and other countries. The crucial change was made in June/July 1941 with the invasion on the 22nd of June of the Soviet Union, I think from that point on defeat was inevitable. If you think that was what Hitler was planning from the start anyway then the whole thing was a doomed enterprise from the beginning, that’s certainly true.

You can tot up the different resources of the different countries involved. When you’ve got the Soviet Union versus Germany the Soviet Union has greater and deeper resources. Hitler thought that the Soviet Union consisted of a small clique of Jews at the top, which was completely wrong. Stalin was indeed quite anti-Semitic himself, ruling a mass of discontented peasantry and workers who really didn’t like the regime at all, so all you had to do was give it one push and the whole edifice would collapse. And this didn’t happen. You could argue almost that it might have happened had Stalin completely lost his nerve as he did for a couple of days at the beginning but once Stalin had recovered his nerve he broadcast this to the Soviet people.

And also crucially once the nature of German rule had become clear they were turned against the German rule. I mean many of the Ukrainians and Russians (particularly peasantry) welcomed the German Armies with traditional bread and salt, because they were so fed up with being oppressed by collectivization, the purges and the rule of the party and simply wanted freedom. The Germans repaid them by seizing their possessions, burning their villages and shooting them in unimaginable numbers, turning them against German rule. Now you could argue therefore that had the Germans actually treated the people in the invaded countries much better they would have had a chance of winning, but again that was what the whole war was about, treating them badly. That was one of the aims of the whole thing.

So I think to talk about where the turning point was is slightly false in a way. If you think of the limitless aims and the unimaginable brutality of the Nazi enterprise from the beginning, then it was always doomed to failure.