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Mark Mazower is an historian for whom the spectres of Fascism, Nazism and Communism haunt the continent of Europe. Driving these ideologies was a sense of national or racial superiority and this infected whole populations. In previous books, Mazower has shown with alarming clarity how many of the European states proved unable in the 20th century to safeguard liberal democracy, national frontiers or the survival of minorities. Tens of millions of people died as a result.

Adolf Hitler’s overriding purpose, as Mazower stresses in this impressive new book ­devoted to Nazism and its reach, was to gather all ­ethnic Germans into a Greater Reich clean-sed of everyone else. Pan-Germanism was not novel, but Hitler’s singular contribution was to create the opportunity for fulfilment of this racial exclusivity by reshaping Germany into the instrument of his will. One military conquest then succeeded another. Germany was to expand at the expense of Slavs — first Poles and then Russians — and this, too, was not novel. Once the Wehrmacht had also conquered France and most of western Europe, Hitler could, in theory, do what he liked.

Was there ever any prospect of a Nazified New Order that would dominate Europe indefinitely?

In the final resort, Hitler did not really care about a political outcome. In his conception, other peoples and countries existed only to satisfy Germany’s needs in war and in any future peace.

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