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Zentner, Christian and Friedemann Bedurftig. (editors) The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Da Capo, 1997. English translation edited by Amy Hackett.
Preliminary Remarks; Preface; Contributors; Photos; Bibliography; Index.
This weighty tome is a one-volume, unabridged, softcover reprint of the two-volume English edition published in 1991 which is in turn a translation of the original German-language edition of 1985.
Between its covers are hundreds of rigorously scholarly entries on every aspect of the Third Reich from 1933 through 1945, with a leavening of broader material to place the Hitler years in context. The Second World War exists here as an organic, inseparable component but the encyclopedia transcends the war itself and delves equally into politics and finance, art and literature, and countless subjects profound and mundane, from philosophy to fashion.
The majority of the entries seem to be biographical in nature. These usually offer the complete life story of the individual, albeit with an emphasis on the years of the Reich. Besides politicians and government officials and generals there are actors and actresses, writers, composers, resistance leaders, and theologians. Not all are German. Charlie Chaplin (with a photo from "The Great Dictator"), Herbert Hoover, and Unity Mitford are all here.
Mitford, Unity Valkyrie, b. London, August 8 1914; d. Swinbrook, March 28, 1948, English aristocrat. Through her brother-in-law, the British fascist leader Sir Oswald MOSLEY, Mitford came into contact with the German National Socialists and became a fanatical admirer of Hitler, to whose private circle in Munich she belonged as of 1933. Rumors about intimate relations between them were fueled by her "Nordic" outward appearance (buxom, tall, blond), which Hitler valued, and led to Eva BRAUN's jealousy of the "Valkyrie." When Mitford heard of the British declaration of war on September 3, 1939, she attempted to shoot herself. Cared for by Hitler's physicians, she survived, and was sent back to England via Switzerland.
While nothing seems to be too trivial for an entry -- March music, Revue film, Postage stamps, Carpet biter -- neither does the book shy away from serious topics. Many of these are dealt with in a series of about 30 lengthy essays far more substantial than the ordinary entries. These essays include:
It's useful to compare this Encyclopedia of the Third Reich with another hefty reference work, The Oxford Companion to World War II. While the intersection of entries is considerable, each title excludes much covered by the other. While Zentner and Bedurftig dig into the minutiae of life in the Third Reich and provide a reasonably complete overview of World War II, they intentionally avoid weapons, tactics, and details of battles, especially in Asia and the Pacific. Dear and Foot, on the other hand, while they don't completely ignore the pre-war years, art and literature, or all the lesser personalities of the Reich, focus on the war itself and its military aspects in particular.
In that sense, the Encyclopedia is rather less valuable for the study of the Second World War. Within its area of specialization, however, it is unsurpassed and provides a worthwhile complement to readings which emphasize the years 1939-1945 and the actual war itself. It's also worth mentioning that contributors, editors, and translators have maintained a scrupulously academic approach to their material.
The single failing here proves to be the photographs which are for the most part blurred and grainy copies of copies.
Available from online booksellers and local bookshops or directly from Da Capo.
Thanks to Da Capo for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 9 November 1997
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