International Relations Germany in World War II
Panikos Panayi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0111


In Germany, World War II does not usually form a distinct and compact period, as it does in other states, such as Great Britain, the United States, or Russia. The most recognized phases in the history of 20th-century Germany are the Kaiserreich (1890–1919), the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), the Third Reich (1933–1945), divided Germany (1945–1989), and reunified Germany (after 1989). World War II usually receives attention as part of the history of the Third Reich. On the other hand, historians of the war often approach the conflict from a German-centered perspective. Some differences exist between German and Anglo-American historians, with the former, especially those who work on local history, more likely to examine World War II as a distinct period, although some recent major works have begun to buck this trend in Anglo-American scholarship. In recent years, the multivolume Clarendon history Germany and the Second World War, translated from the German Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, has helped to unify the Anglo-American and German perspectives. Some of the publications included in this article, however, view the war in Germany as part of the wider history of the Third Reich. From the outset, Nazi Germany, and World War II within it, has given rise to a vast literature, which began as the Nazis rose to power and has continued unabated until the present. This article can therefore only provide the briefest of introductions to this enormous historiography by outlining the key publications in these areas: General Overviews; Push to War; Invasion of Eastern Europe; Bombing of German Cities; Economic Mobilization; Genocide; Foreign Workers and Prisoners of War; Local History; Women; Children; Repression and Resistance; Religion; Propaganda; and Defeat.

General Overviews

Two major English-language books published in the early 21st century have tackled World War II as a distinct phase in 20th-century German history. Evans 2008 forms the final part of a trilogy on the history of the Third Reich and looks outward from the home front. Mazower 2008, in contrast, focuses more upon the consequences of Nazi expansion for Europe as a whole. Salewski 2005, meanwhile, takes an approach similar to that of Evans 2008. Kitchen 1994 is an older textbook aimed at students and focused upon the home front. Kleßmann 1989 takes a primarily economic and social history approach to Germany during the war. Noakes and Pridham 1988 is an outstanding collection of documents, while Black 2007 is an edited multivolume on the war. Two parts of the work focus purely upon “the German War,” while others contain useful contributions on Germany. There is also the second part of Kershaw 2001, a biography of Hitler covering the years 1936–1945, which is essentially a life–and-times account of the Nazi dictator. Similarly, Burleigh 2000 is a history of the Third Reich that focuses largely upon the war years.

  • Black, Jeremy. The Second World War. 7 vols. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

    This is a seven-volume collection of essays written by other scholars, edited by Jeremy Black. Four volumes will prove especially useful to those working on Germany during World War II. These consist of Volume 1, The German War, 1939–1942; Volume 2, The German War, 1943–1945; Volume 4, The Home Fronts, which deals with a variety of locations but includes five essays on Germany; and Volume 5, The Holocaust.

  • Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reich: A New History. London: Pan, 2000.

    Although Burleigh’s volume covers the entirety of the Nazi period in power, it focuses heavily upon the war years. Building upon his previous research on the centrality of racism for the Nazi regime, this theme guides the subjects covered in the sections on wartime, with a focus, for example, upon euthanasia, extermination, and exploitation, while not ignoring military history and the consequences of the bombing war.

  • Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich at War, 1939–1945. London: Allen Lane, 2008.

    This is a majestic study of the Third Reich at war taking a German-centered approach and examining the consequences of the conflict from the point of view of its consequences for Germans, but also for those who became victims of Nazi rule as a result of imperial expansion.

  • Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, 1936–1945: Nemesis. London: Penguin, 2001.

    While the opening chapters of the second part of Kershaw’s biography of Hitler focus on the years leading up to the outbreak of the war, the main concern consists of the life and times of Hitler and Nazi Germany after 1939.

  • Kitchen, Martin. Nazi Germany at War. London: Longman, 1994.

    Although a text aimed primarily at students, Kitchen’s work offers an excellent introduction to the realities of everyday life in Germany during the war. His twelve chapters cover a vast range of themes, including the state, economics, daily life and daily worries, social policy, women, euthanasia, ethnic minorities, resistance, the arts, bombing, and the end of the conflict.

  • Kleßmann, Christoph, ed. Nicht nur Hitlers Krieg: Der Zweite Weltkrieg in Deutschland. Düsseldorf: Droste, 1989.

    This work contains a series of incisive and important essays that examine the war and its consequences for Germans on the ground, authored by some of the leading lights in Nazi historiography of the time. The themes covered include women, the consequences of racism, and the significance of the war.

  • Mazower, Mark. Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe. London: Allen Lane, 2008.

    Mazower insightfully and thoroughly views World War II as one of imperial expansion. Beginning his narrative with the complex Slavic and German settlement patterns that had evolved in central Europe by the 19th century, he focuses upon the consequences of Nazism for those who found themselves under its control between 1939 and 1945.

  • Noakes, Jeremy, and Geoffrey Pridham, eds. Nazism, 1919–1945. Vol. 3, Foreign Policy, War and Racial Extermination: A Documentary Reader. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1988.

    Despite the increasing availability of Internet sources, this remains a valuable collection of carefully collected, collated, and translated material covering all aspects of German society, politics, and economy during the war. While mainly aimed at students, it also provides an introduction to German archives for the uninitiated. It forms part of a trilogy on the rise and fall of the Nazis, covering the years from 1919 to 1945.

  • Salewski, Michael. Deutschland und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2005.

    Along with Evans 2008, this represents perhaps the closest we have to a one-volume history of Germany during the war. Using an essentially chronological structure, Salewski constructs a narrative that marries developments at home with the major events on the various Nazi fronts.

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