24 October: Richard Evans, ‘The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination’ (ZOOM)

The idea that nothing happens by chance in history, that nothing is quite what it seems to be at first sight, that everything that occurs is the result of the secret machinations of malign groups of people manipulating everything from behind the scenes is as old as history itself. But conspiracy theories are becoming more popular and more widespread in the twenty-first century. Nowhere have they become more obvious than in revisionist accounts of the history of the Third Reich. Long-discredited conspiracy theories have taken on a new lease of life, given credence by claims of freshly discovered evidence and novel angles of investigation. Evans takes five widely discussed claims involving Hitler and the Nazis and subjects them to forensic scrutiny: that the Jews were conspiring to undermine civilization, as outlined in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; that the German army was ‘stabbed in the back’ by socialists and Jews in 1918; that the Nazis burned down the Reichstag in order to seize power; that Rudolf Hess’ flight to the UK in 1941 was sanctioned by Hitler and conveyed peace terms suppressed by Churchill; and that Hitler escaped the bunker in 1945 and fled to South America. In doing so, he teases out some surprising features these, and other conspiracy theories, have in common.

Richard J. Evans is the author of numerous books on modern German history, including The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War, all available as Penguin paperbacks. He is Regius Professor Emeritus of History at Cambridge University, and until recently was Provost of Gresham College, London. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and was knighted in 2012 for services to scholarship. His most recent book is The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination, a Penguin paperback published in June 2021.

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Filed under 5782 / 2021-22 Programme