The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Tatyana Deryugina
4 min readMar 29, 2024

For a long time, I did not enjoy learning history and thought that the saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” had lost its relevance. After all, hadn’t humanity made a lot of progress in the second half of the twentieth century? Surely, we evolved beyond the societies that engaged in enslavement, colonization, and wars driven by territorial and personal ambitions. Our worldview had become more scientific and enlightened. Now I’m seeing the past repeat itself, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that a thorough understanding of history is not just valuable but essential for avoiding the misery of the first half of the twentieth century.

With this in mind, the goal of today’s blog post is to convince you (yes, you!) to read one of most captivating books I’ve ever encountered: “ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich “ by William L. Shirer. An American journalist and author, Shirer was stationed in Berlin in the 1930s, where he witnessed firsthand the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Supplemented by rigorous research, the book covers the period from the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany to its eventual defeat in World War II. The book is long, but it’s worth your time to read. Below, I briefly recap the events that have a clear parallel to Russia’s history over the past 25 years.

The book starts with the basics, including Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1920s-1930s Germany. E xploiting economic and social unrest, his Nazi Party gained popularity through propaganda, promising to restore Germany’s greatness after its defeat in World War I. Following the 1932 elections, when the Nazi party emerged as the largest one but did not hold a majority, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933 through a combination of clever political maneuvering and backroom deals (but not violence).

Hitler then consolidated power by dismantling democratic institutions and establishing a dictatorship. He quickly purged opposition parties, imprisoned, or killed political opponents, and established the Gestapo, the secret police, in April of 1933. Importantly, much of these actions were carried out under the guise of legality, as the Nazis exploited existing laws and institutions to serve their agenda. Putin has similarly-albeit more slowly-consolidated his power in Russia after being elected President in 1999. He has gone to great lengths to hold “elections” and to maintain the appearance of adherence to Russian laws, even though he has de facto ruled Russia for almost 25 years. His regime systematically disqualifies or incarcerates any opposition figures who pose a credible threat to his rule, always purportedly within the bounds of the existing legal framework. Since the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, crackdowns on freedom of expression-which have always been there-have been taken to a new level, with swift beatings, arrests, and imprisonment for ordinary people, journalists, lawyers, and others who do not fall 100% in line.

Back to Hitler. In March of 1936, he ordered the remilitarization of the Rhineland, violating the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties. This move was a significant gamble for Hitler, as it challenged the Western powers’ resolve. But the remilitarization ultimately went unopposed, emboldening Nazi expansionism. In 1938, Hitler annexed Austria, which further expanded Nazi influence in Europe and raised concerns among neighboring countries. But Italy and Japan recognized and supported Hitler’s annexation of Austria, and Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania maintained friendly relations with the Nazis and did not oppose it. The UK, US, and France considered economic sanctions against Nazi Germany, but ultimately decided not to impose them out of the same fear of “escalation” that we hear about today. Overall, the response was weak, and largely limited to diplomatic protests. The clear parallel here is Putin’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea and fomenting of war in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Although there were some sanctions imposed in response to Putin’s brazen tactics, they were weak and limited and obviously failed to deter Russian aggression.

Later in 1938, Hitler demanded the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia with a significant ethnic German population that he claimed were being persecuted and oppressed by the Czechoslovak government. In the Munich Agreement, Britain and France allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland in exchange for Hitler’s promise of no further territorial expansion. Czechoslovakia was not consulted in this agreement. Likewise, the Minsk Agreements were negotiated by Western leaders to address the war in the Donbas; however, the Agreements were akin to a Band-Aid applied to a deep-seated bullet wound. Despite assurances given at Munich, Hitler continued his expansionist policies. In 1939, he occupied the remaining Czech territories, violating the Munich Agreement. Again, the pretext was that ethnic Germans living in these regions were being mistreated and oppressed by the Czechoslovak authorities. In the 21 stcentury parallel, despite the Minsk Agreements, Russia continued the war in Donbas.

Finally, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Despite warnings from Britain and France that aggression against Poland would lead to war, Hitler proceeded with the invasion. In response to the invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. This marked the beginning of World War II in Europe. Russia had it much easier in early 2022 when it was contemplating invading Ukraine. No one threatened to declare war on Russia, and even the question of whether to provide weapons to Ukraine was very much in the air. Two years after the full-scale invasion, history indeed seems to be repeating itself.

Are these parallels merely coincidental? Perhaps. However, Putin has a deep understanding of history, particularly World War II. He may well be using Hitler’s playbook deliberately, banking on the fact that those who forget history are destined to repeat it and paving the way for a resurgence of conquest. I encourage you to read the book and draw your own conclusions.

Originally published at https://ukraineinsights.substack.com.

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