Cover Image: A Village in the Third Reich

A Village in the Third Reich

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Member Reviews

Having read, and enjoyed, Julia Boyd’s previous book, “Travellers in the Third Reich,” I was eager to read her new title, which looks at the Third Reich from the viewpoint of the Bavarian village of Oberstdorf. This was a largely Catholic village at the time, the most southern village in Germany, a farming community which became a tourist destination thanks to the mountains and with the first concentration camp of Dachau close by. As such, this detailed look at what happened from the end of the First World War to the devastation of the end of the Second World War gives the reader a very personal view of events from a number of the village’s inhabitants.

Boyd makes full use of memoirs, local newspapers, letters, and other research to tell the story of one, rural community, during a time of national change. She takes us from soldiers returning from the trenches of WWI, through the political turmoil of hyperinflation and the Weimar Republic, to the regime of the Third Reich, which promised so much but delivered devastation.

Oberstdorf was a village where food was scarce and people poor after WWI, until tourism became a growing source of income. Alpine beauty, a new cable car, and the growth of visitors brought new prosperity to the village. Many of the villagers viewed Hitler with distrust and Bolshevism with fear, but the villages new mayor, Ernst Zeitler, was unpopular as he expected the villagers to conform to Nazi ideology and policy. Many, such as Dr Otto Reh, Chairman of the local Fishing Society, resigned when it was proposed that Jewish members should be banned – even though there were none. Others resented the suggestion Jewish shops be boycotted, even though there weren’t any Jewish shop owners. However, despite these noble intentions, Boyd is good at showing how much of life is not black or white, but shades of grey. For most inhabitants, they feared war, disliked the fact that Nazi ideology changed their lives and often took the line of least resistance and hoped to come through unscathed.

Of course, there are acts of defiance and bravery, those who worked for the regime but retained their humanity towards others, such as the new Mayor, who was moderate and generally bent the rules as far as he was able. Still, even for this small, remote village, the new regime changed all aspects of their lives, from education through to religion. Locals deemed ‘undesirable,’ or who were Jewish, were in constant danger – many killed or forced into suicide, making this an often sobering read. For most, it was obvious fairly soon that the country was headed for defeat and disaster. This is an excellent social history, which makes the reality of those years personal and immediate and shows the discomfort that many had at that time. I received a cop of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

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An insight into Germany during the war, from the perspective of the people of one town. Fascinating and shocking at times - that people have the capacity for such evil to be dealt out to their fellow man. It was a time of suspicion and mistrust; one neighbour to another; afraid to say the wrong thing for fear of the reprisals. It’s an eye opening account of real life at that awful moment of history. What I found even more shocking was that even when the declaration was signed to end the war, fighting and atrocities still went on for some time to come.
If you have an interest in history and the war, then this is definitively one for you.

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There are a lot of books written about the Second World War and how it impacted on different countries and groups but this close focus on one village really did feel a fresh take on the subject.

By following one village from around 1900 right through until the 1950s using local archives, letters, newspapers and interviews with people still living there it was fascinating to see just how life was for rural Germans in the first half of the twentieth century.

By looking at such a wide number of people you did get to see all sides of life in Germany, and this included 'hardcore' Nazis, those that went along with the system in order to survive and the resistance. Very few books offer such a rounded view.
The book carefully dismantles the idea that 'ordinary' people didn't know about labour/concentration/death camps carefully and then also doesn't shy away from the reconciliation period after the war.

The book was like being a fly on the wall in this mountainous village and fascinating from cover to cover.

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Wars come and go, but life goes on. And so it went on in the village of Oberstdorf throughout the 1930s and 1940s, with the rise and fall of Nazism an undercurrent all along – except it was one that swelled in a way that even a quiet little village couldn’t ignore.

A few years ago I took a class called Experiencing Total War, in which I learned about what it was like for the average person to live through the world wars. It was a fascinating class that highlighted the ordinary voices of war, and it remains one of my favorite classes I ever took. It was on the strength of this that I picked up this book, for that is its purpose – seeing how the Third Reich unfolded in an ordinary Bavarian village.

For the most part I found this an interesting read. The book is well-researched and delves into many aspects of life during the Third Reich, showing how the government pervaded every part of one’s daily activities. I liked that the chapters were organized thematically rather than chronologically, which made it easier to follow.

There were some quite emotional parts to the story – for example I doubt I will ever forget the chapter on how the regime murdered people with disabilities which depicted the injustice through a case study. However, for the most part I had some trouble following who was who, despite the list of townspeople at the back of the book, and this kept me from getting too emotionally invested.

Overall an interesting read about life during World War 2.

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This is more like a memoir of a village as if it's a person. In reading the stories of the experiences of the village, it brings to life the way in which normal Germans had their freedom curtailed by the Nazis without realising it until it was too late to change. A very thought provoking book.

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Two things seem to mark the Bavarian village of Oberstdorf out – one, that it's the southernmost village and holiday resort town in Germany, and two, that it would appear to have a remarkable archive of local newspapers, civic records and so on, so that the bulk of the twentieth century there can be mapped out. This book then wants to take us through all the years the Nazi Swastika was flying over southern Germany – in both peace and in war.

Yes, I can imagine some people will take against so many of the early pages being set when the Party was just that – a Party, not a fascistic war machine led by a fascistic warmonger and his ever-changing coterie of sycophantic friends. Yes, they were nasty and Nazi from the off, with the Jews and signatories of the Versailles Treaty forming their policy in equal measure, but this was an organisation not initially killing everyone left, right and centre, but having policies of state holidays, people's cars, autobahns, youth organisations and so on. People with a one-sided thinking about the Nazis and their legacy may be surprised or disgusted at how we see every day life continue, even though every family, every organisation and every school curriculum had had to get a bit more Nazified in the process.

This is quite readable stuff, although one chapter a little too early concerns itself with inter-Nazi bickering, and is not of the same interest level as how youth groups or the initial Nazi takeovers played out. And in being so wide-ranging, it shows the whole world then to be very much more nuanced than any black and white picture. The local newspaper was right-wing, editorially, but never mentioned the NSDAP until they were in power; Nazis were quite often found to be doing anti-Nazi things, such as keeping the nuns running the girls' school, against official wishes.

When war does break out, it's to the credit of the work that we see the picture fully – amazing success with Blitzkrieg, woeful inability versus the Soviets – and also the asides, such as the attempt by our villagers and others to summit Mt Elbrus and claim to lord it over Europe by literally being above all of Europe. It's not a pointless trivial piece of information to have the world's largest shoe on these pages – but it does kind of show that sometimes the forensic level of detail is a bit too heavy-handed for the average browser.

Still, the book is one of many facets, and wants us to look from afar at the greater picture it has of the decades ending post-war, and also to zoom in on the collage it's made from. We don't stay focused on the one village, either, as wartime diaries take us to the Eastern Front and all that that entailed. But the resulting pages certainly show there is both use and worth in starting from the initial restriction of one small town; I would say the book gives a bit more academic value than it does lightly-read fun, at times, but it achieves what it wanted to do.

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A Village in the Third Reich – What Happened in a Beautiful Village

Julia Boyd has once again written an enticing history of Germany, coming at it from a different perspective than usual histories. Boyd the author of the author of Travellers in the Third Reich which was a best-selling history will once again make the charts with this book. This time looking at the Third Reich through the picturesque village of Oberstdorf in the mountains of Bavaria.

Today Oberstdorf is a destination village for those who love alpine and winter sports in winter and mountain climbing in summer. It is the southernmost village in Germany and one of its highest towns, with the next stop being Austria. Before tourism arrived in the nineteenth century the village subsisted on farming.

Boyd using unpublish diaries is able to follow the lives of the villagers and their day to day encounters with the rise of the Nazis, through to the end of the war when the village was occupied first by the French and then the Americans. What emerges is a picture is how some supported the Nazis other adapted to survive and how some knew it was best not to say what they thought out aloud.

It was during the 1920s that Oberstdorf started to develop a substantial tourist trade as a holiday resort. Oberstdorf was in the main an observant Catholic village with a small Protestant church. In politics the village supported the centre-right Catholic Bavarian People’s Party. Oberstdorf was doing quite well in the 1930s and many of its were wealthy and they also had distinguished Jewish visitors.

Nazi history began in the village in 1927 when a postman, Karl Weinlein transferred into the village from Nuremberg. Weinlein had a better NSDAP party membership number than Goebbels. A low party number conferred on Weinlein hallowed status within the Party. The villages were reluctant to join, but the Wall Street crash did offer fertile ground even in Oberstdorf.

In the election of 1930 on a village turnout of 70% the NSDAP won more votes than any other of the Parties which had stood. It was found that Protestants were more likely to vote for the Nazis, but all the same they received a substantial vote from the Catholics. It also showed that in 1933 the taking over of the machinery of Government at every level. It also showed how petty the Nazis could be amongst themselves, especially when the first two Nazi mayors were “moved” rather quickly. It also shows how there could be compassionate Nazi mayors such as Mayor Fink who lasted throughout the war years until the surrender and occupation.

We learn that many of the younger members of the Village when war came were members of the 98th or 99th Mountain Battalions part of the 1st Mountain Division, which was an elite division. It also committed war crimes in the later war in Greece. But also other members of the village were part of the suppression of partisans and Jews in Ukraine. One also supervised the killing of 700 Jews in Ukraine.

Dachau was to the north of the Oberstdorf, but the villages were already aware of some of the Nazi round-ups of its citizens, especially the Jews. By 1941 most were well aware of the roundups that had been undertaken in the East in their name. This leaked out via the Feldpost, or when soldiers were on leave at home.

When it came to the end of the war the propaganda machine which they had lived under for the previous 12 years, they were fearful for their lives. Stories about what the Russians were doing were widespread and all they could do was hope that it would not be the Russians who came. In the end the village surrendered to the French in May 1945, before the Americans took over in the July.

At the end of the war a list of the Nazis in the village was completed from various sorts. From an incomplete list it was found that there were 455 names on the list, roughly 10% of the village, which also happened to mirror the Nazis membership across Germany.

Today the only visible scars of the war and the Nazi years can be found in the memorial chapel, where the names of the 286 Oberstdorfers killed in the Second World War are carved in stone. Some families never forgave their neighbours for what happened, while others tried to forget. But what cannot be seen is the invisible scars of the Third Reich which will always remain part of the village’s history.

This is a wonderful micro-history of the Third Reich using the village as an exemplar of the ordinary German in those fateful years. It brings to life some of the difficulties for some and how easy it was for others to do nothing. Everybody made their decision which is clear and had to live with it.

As a book that brings to bear what was happening in Germany at the time it brings a fresh and new perspective. Germany during the Third Reich needs to be focused on the people not just the military and political leaders. This book does that, very well.

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I found this book very interesting from several perspectives. Firstly it is an account of the rise and fall of National Socialism from WWI through until the 1950's. Secondly it is written from a German perspective and tries to address the question which likely baffled many non Germans after the war i.e. how did a nation support such a cruel and barbaric regime. Finally it tells this story through the people and the events which happened to a single town in Germany. Not a major city but the small Alpine village of Oberstdorf near the Austrian border.
The book is well researched from archive material such as town records, newspaper reports and individual memoirs / recollections. There are a lot of characters from the town and you get brief accounts of their lives including those who stayed, those who were conscripted and went off to the battle fronts, those who were imprisoned and sent to concentration camps ad those who escaped. You hear how life in the town changed under a progressively authoritarian regime, how people struggled to feed and cloth themselves and how many lived in fear of the consequences should their loyalty to the Nazis be questioned.
The postwar period is addressed and you find out about the Allies de-Nazification programs and how tough life was for ordinary German people with a fragile black market economy, widespread food shortages and an occupying force understandably focused on stamping out the remnants of the Nazis without much thought on reconstruction. I did not detect any attempt to paint the German population as victims in this regard nor the conquering Allied forces as heartless and uncaring. The authors just present these accounts as circumstance which happened. and the enormous task of trying to get life back to normal and for the Allies trying to meter our justice against war crimes when it was clear that just being a member of the Nazi party did not simply make you a war criminal.
I thoroughly recommend this book and I would like to thank Net Galley and the Publishers for allowing me to review this pre publication edition.

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A historical work is most easily followed when tightly centered around a main figure or a few main figures and one can see how they chia done over time. Here, the author follows a whole village. It is impossible to keep all the villagers clear in one’s head, and the book just goes on and on and on. The chapters are well organized but the pacing feels incredibly slow. Also this book very much minimized what has tended to the Jews, just by picking a town that didn’t have a lot of Jews in the first place.
Unfortunately, this book reads like a 400 page Wikipedia article. It is clearly well-researched and informative, but there’s no story, no coherence. Would not recommend.

I am grateful for the opportunity to read this book pre-publication through the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Brilliant, engrossing and definitely worth reading.
Gives a very rounded view of a German village during a particularly difficult time in their history. The setting is Obersdorf, in the Bavarian Alps; and the population includes Nazi officials, Jewish residents and evacuees - some who survived, and some didn't - children, soldiers, farmers, many with very different opinions. Well-written, and researched with details from the archives, letters and interviews with villagers.

Highly recommended.

With thanks to NetGalley and Elliott & Thompson for an ARC.

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A nation in crisis. Propaganda. A population that wants simple answers to complex problems. People who know how to exploit these things for their own gain. Voters who vote for the people who tell them what they want to hear while hoping the extreme element will settle down once they’re in office. Denial about what is really going on. It all seems so current—we can see these things playing out in various countries around the world. But this book is about how they led to the Nazi era in Germany, using one small village as a case study.

The village in question is Oberstdorf, the southernmost village in Germany. The authors are clear that what happened in this village is specific to that particular place—every spot experienced these times differently, depending on different factors such as demographics and location. But there are commonalities and Oberstdorf is a place with good archival preservation of documents, personal stories in the form of diaries and unpublished memoirs, and local media. The authors do a wonderful job of putting together a story that illustrates the situation in the village before the rise of the Nazis, how things changed from inside and outside once they came to power, how the war was experienced by supporters, resisters, residents, and soldiers in the village, and how they dealt with the end of the war and its aftermath.

The book reads almost like a novel—it’s very readable. By structuring it this way, the authors bring readers inside the story and make the history seem less remote. The focus on one place allows readers to get deeper into the culture and to have a better understanding about how people’s thinking changed and why they did what they did.

My paternal grandparents were Nazis so I have a particular interest in trying to understand how people can get to a point where they are open to the messages of hate and are willing to treat other human beings in such horrific ways. I never knew my grandfather, who died in the war, but I did know my grandmother and have yet to reconcile my memories of her sitting there knitting with the fact that she was the wife of an SS officer.

It’s important to understand how such things happen as we see forms of it repeated across time and space. This book is useful in that regard.

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I very much enjoyed reading Julia Boyd's 'Travellers in the Third Reich', and 'A Village in the Third Reich' did not disappoint. A greatly interesting read about fascism and the everyday people living within this significant place and time. Boyd's writing keeps you engaged and is easy to read and understand throughout. I highly recommend this read.

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I was really impressed (and perhaps surprised) by how well the author was able to present a fair, balanced explanation of such a shameful part of German history. Boyd crafted a rich, engaging, and factual story about how a tiny Bavarian town like Oberstdorf reacted (or didn't react) to the rise, rule, and fall of the Third Reich, and successfully used a cast of villagers to exemplify how ordinary Germans survived the horrors of Nazism and World War II.

When I first read the book's description I was a little concerned that the author's stance would align closely with Hannah Arendt's apologia, but she really did an excellent job of showing how otherwise decent people could support (or simply accept) the Nazi party and turn a blind eye to the persecution of Jews and so many other victims across Europe, without being too sympathetic to the characters or minimizing the crimes they nonetheless committed or chose to ignore. She delicately presented straightforward facts and how everyday concerns (and larger, more personal issues like hunger and mourning the loss of loved ones) often outweighed national and global political concerns, and thoughtfully outlined how the Treaty of Versailles fuelled acceptance of Nazism.

I also appreciated how the book was divided into chapters about specific topics (e.g., concentration camps, anti-Semitism) that helped organize the narrative quite nicely while still following a generally chronological order of events. There are so many elements of the Third Reich to consider, and I thought Boyd did well to encapsulate some of the key subjects in chapters without jumping back and forth across timelines. This book will be a very worthwhile and enjoyable read for anyone who has an interest in World War II topics.

Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review an ARC!

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This book showed that there was no place in Europe spared the evil of the Nazi's including a remote Bavarian village

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