Early in his career, Hitler took inspiration from Mussolini—this fact is widely known. But an equally important role model for Hitler has been neglected: Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, who inspired Hitler to remake Germany along nationalist, secular, totalitarian, and ethnically exclusive lines. Stefan Ihrig tells this compelling story.
In 1932 and 1933, during the months surrounding the Nazi seizure of power, Daniel Guérin, then a young French journalist, made two trips through Germany. The Brown Plague, translated here into English for the first time, is Guérin’s eyewitness account of the fall of the Weimar Republic and the first months of the Third Reich. Originally written for the popular French left press and then revised by the author into book form, The Brown Plague delivers a passionate warning to French workers about the terror and horror of fascism. Guérin chronicles the collapse of the German workers’ movement and reports on the beginnings of clandestine resistance to the Nazis. He also describes the Socialist and Communist leaderships’ inability to recognize the danger that led to their demise. Through vivid dialogs, interviews, and revealing descriptions of everyday life among the German people, he offers insight into the tragedy that was beginning to unfold. Guérin’s travels took him across the countryside and into the cities of Germany. He describes with extraordinary clarity, for example, his encounters with large groups of unemployed workers in Berlin and the spectacle of Goering presiding over the Reichstag. Staying in youth hostels, Guérin met individuals representing a range of various groups and movements, including the Wandervögel, leftist brigades, Hitler Youth, and the strange, semicriminal sexual underground of the Wild-frei. Devoting particular attention to the cultural politics of fascism and the lure of Nazism for Germany’s disaffected youth, he describes the seductive rituals by which the Nazis were able to win over much of the population. As Robert Schwartzwald makes clear in his introduction, Guérin’s interest in Germany at this time was driven, in part, by a homoerotic component that could not be stated explicitly in his published material. This excellent companion essay also places The Brown Plague within a broad historical and literary context while drawing connections between fascism, aesthetics, and sexuality. Informed by an epic view of class struggle and an admiration for German culture, The Brown Plague, a notable primary source in the literature of modern Europe, provides a unique view onto the rise of Nazism.
This new edition revisits the renowned historian George L. Mosse’s landmark work exploring the ideological foundations of Nazism in Germany. First published in 1964, this volume was among the first to examine the intellectual origins of the Third Reich. Mosse introduced readers to what is known as the völkisch ideal—the belief that the German people were united through a transcendental essence. This mindset led to the exclusion of Jews and other groups, eventually allowing Nazi leaders to take their beliefs to catastrophic extremes. The critical introduction by Steven E. Aschheim, the author of Beyond the Border: The German-Jewish Legacy Abroad and many other books, brings Mosse’s work into the present moment.
George L. Mosse (1918–99) was a legendary scholar, teacher, and mentor. A refugee from Nazi Germany, in 1955 he joined the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he was both influential and popular. Mosse was an early leader in the study of modern European cultural and intellectual history, fascism, and the history of sexuality and masculinity. Over his career he authored more than two dozen books.
A significant new look at the legacy of the Nazi regime, this book exposes the workings of past beliefs and political interests on how--and how differently--the two Germanys have recalled the crimes of Nazism, from the anti-Nazi emigration of the 1930s through the establishment of a day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism in 1996.
Although we usually think of the intellectual legacy of twentieth-century Vienna as synonymous with Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic theories, other prominent writers from Vienna were also radically reconceiving sexuality and gender. In this probing new study, David Luft recovers the work of three such writers: Otto Weininger, Robert Musil, and Heimito von Doderer. His account emphasizes the distinctive intellectual world of liberal Vienna, especially the impact of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in this highly scientific intellectual world.
According to Luft, Otto Weininger viewed human beings as bisexual and applied this theme to issues of creativity and morality. Robert Musil developed a creative ethics that was closely related to his open, flexible view of sexuality and gender. And Heimito von Doderer portrayed his own sexual obsessions as a way of understanding the power of total ideologies, including his own attraction to National Socialism. For Luft, the significance of these three writers lies in their understandings of eros and inwardness and in the roles that both play in ethical experience and the formation of meaningful relations to the world-a process that continues to engage artists, writers, and thinkers today.
Eros and Inwardness in Vienna will profoundly reshape our understanding of Vienna's intellectual history. It will be important for anyone interested in Austrian or German history, literature, or philosophy.
The Fascist Revolution is the culmination of George L. Mosse's groundbreaking work on fascism. Originally published posthumously in 1999, the volume covers a broad spectrum of topics related to cultural interpretations of fascism from its origins through the twentieth century. In a series of magisterial turns, Mosse examines fascism's role in the French Revolution, its relationship with nationalism and racism, its use by intellectuals to foment insurrection, and more as a means to define and understand it as a popular phenomenon on its own terms. This new edition features a critical introduction by Roger Griffin, professor emeritus of modern history at Oxford Brookes University, contextualizing Mosse's research as fascism makes a global resurgence.
In paperback for the first time, From Racism to Genocide is an explosive, richly detailed account of how Nazi anthropologists justified racism, developed practical applications of racist theory, and eventually participated in every phase of the Holocaust.
Using original sources and previously unpublished documentation, Gretchen E. Schafft shows the total range of anti-human activity from within the confines of a particular discipline. Based on seven years of archival research in the United States and abroad, the work includes many original photos and documents, most of which have never before been published. It uses primary data and original texts whenever possible, including correspondence written by perpetrators. The book also reveals that the United States was not merely a bystander in this research, but instead contributed professional and financial support to early racial research that continued through the first five years of Hitler’s regime.
The German Patient takes an original look at fascist constructions of health and illness, arguing that the idea of a healthy "national body"---propagated by the Nazis as justification for the brutal elimination of various unwanted populations---continued to shape post-1945 discussions about the state of national culture. Through an examination of literature, film, and popular media of the era, Jennifer M. Kapczynski demonstrates the ways in which postwar German thinkers inverted the illness metaphor, portraying fascism as a national malady and the nation as a body struggling to recover. Yet, in working to heal the German wounds of war and restore national vigor through the excising of "sick" elements, artists and writers often betrayed a troubling affinity for the very biopolitical rhetoric they were struggling against. Through its exploration of the discourse of collective illness, The German Patient tells a larger story about ideological continuities in pre- and post-1945 German culture.
Jennifer M. Kapczynski is Assistant Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the coeditor of the anthology A New History of German Cinema.
Cover art: From The Murderers Are Among Us (1946). Reprinted courtesy of the Deutsche Kinemathek.
"A highly evocative work of meticulous scholarship, Kapczynski's deftly argued German Patient advances the current revaluation of Germany's postwar reconstruction in wholly original and even exciting ways: its insights into discussions of collective sickness and health resonate well beyond postwar Germany."
---Jaimey Fischer, University of California, Davis
"The German Patient provides an important historical backdrop and a richly specific cultural context for thinking about German guilt and responsibility after Hitler. An eminently readable and engaging text."
---Johannes von Moltke, University of Michigan
"This is a polished, eloquently written, and highly informative study speaking to the most pressing debates in contemporary Germany. The German Patient will be essential reading for anyone interested in mass death, genocide, and memory."
---Paul Lerner, University of Southern California
Franco-German cultural exchange reached its height at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, where the Third Reich worked to promote an illusion of friendship between the two countries. Through the prism of this decisive event, Grand Illusion examines the overlooked relationships among Nazi elites and French intellectuals. Their interaction, Karen Fiss argues, profoundly influenced cultural production and normalized aspects of fascist ideology in 1930s France, laying the groundwork for the country’s eventual collaboration with its German occupiers.
Tracing related developments across fine arts, film, architecture, and mass pageantry, Fiss illuminates the role of National Socialist propaganda in the French decision to ignore Hitler’s war preparations and pursue an untenable policy of appeasement. France’s receptiveness toward Nazi culture, Fiss contends, was rooted in its troubled identity and deep-seated insecurities. With their government in crisis, French intellectuals from both the left and the right demanded a new national culture that could rival those of the totalitarian states. By examining how this cultural exchange shifted toward political collaboration, Grand Illusion casts new light on the power of art to influence history.
Growing Up Female in Nazi Germany
Dagmar Reese, Translated by William Templer University of Michigan Press, 2006 Library of Congress HQ1210.R4713 2006 | Dewey Decimal 305.235209430904
Growing Up Female in Nazi Germany explores the world of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), the female section within the Hitler Youth that included almost all German girls aged 10 to 14. The BDM is often enveloped in myths; German girls were brought up to be the compliant handmaidens of National Socialism, their mental horizon restricted to the "three Ks" of Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, and church).
Dagmar Reese, however, depicts another picture of life in the BDM. She explores how and in what way the National Socialists were successful in linking up with the interests of contemporary girls and young women and providing them a social life of their own. The girls in the BDM found latitude for their own development while taking on responsibilities that integrated them within the folds of the National Socialist state.
"At last available in English, this pioneering study provides fresh insights into the ways in which the Nazi regime changed young 'Aryan' women's lives through appeals to female self-esteem that were not obviously defined by Nazi ideology, but drove a wedge between parents and children. Thoughtful analysis of detailed interviews reveals the day-to-day functioning of the Third Reich in different social milieus and its impact on women's lives beyond 1945. A must-read for anyone interested in the gendered dynamics of Nazi modernity and the lack of sustained opposition to National Socialism."
--Uta Poiger, University of Washington
"In this highly readable translation, Reese provocatively identifies Nazi girls league members' surprisingly positive memories and reveals significant implications for the functioning of Nazi society. Reaching across disciplines, this work is for experts and for the classroom alike."
--Belinda Davis, Rutgers University
Dagmar Reese is The Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum Potsdam researcher on the DFG-project "Georg Simmels Geschlechtertheorien im ‚fin de siecle' Berlin", 2004
William Templer is a widely published translator from German and Hebrew and is on the staff of Rajamangala University of Technology Srivijaya.
Beginning in 1949, Theodor W. Adorno and other members of the reconstituted Frankfurt Institute for Social Research undertook a massive empirical study of German opinions about the legacies of the Nazis, applying and modifying techniques they had learned during their U.S. exile. They published their results in 1955 as a research monograph edited by Friedrich Pollock. The study's qualitative results are published here for the first time in English as Guilt and Defense, a psychoanalytically informed analysis of the rhetorical and conceptual mechanisms with which postwar Germans most often denied responsibility for the Nazi past. In their editorial introduction, Jeffrey K. Olick and Andrew J. Perrin show how Adorno’s famous 1959 essay “The Meaning of Working through the Past,” is comprehensible only as a conclusion to his long-standing research and as a reaction to the debate it stirred; this volume also includes a critique by psychologist Peter R. Hoffstater as well as Adorno’s rejoinder. This previously little-known debate provides important new perspectives on postwar German political culture, on the dynamics of collective memory, and on Adorno’s intellectual legacies, which have contributed more to empirical social research than has been acknowledged. A companion volume, Group Experiment and Other Writings, will present the first book-length English translation of the Frankfurt Group's conceptual, methodological, and theoretical innovations in public opinion research.
Although fascism is typically associated with Europe, the threat of fascism in the United States haunted the imaginations of activists, writers, and artists, spurring them to create a rich, elaborate body of cultural and political work. Traversing the Popular Front of the 1930s, the struggle against McCarthyism in the 1950s, the Black Power movement of the 1960s, and the AIDS activism of the 1980s, Haunted by Hitler highlights the value of "antifascist" cultural politics, showing how it helped to frame the national discourse.
Christopher Vials examines the ways in which anxieties about fascism in the United States have been expressed in the public sphere, through American television shows, Off-Broadway theater, party newspapers, bestselling works of history, journalism, popular sociology, political theory, and other media. He argues that twentieth-century liberals and leftists were more deeply unsettled by the problem of fascism than those at the center or the right and that they tirelessly and often successfully worked to counter America's fascist equivalents.
"[These] essays together form an extraordinary response, and radical but not self-righteous challenge, to Heidegger's unambiguous complicity with Hitler and Nazism....This book will provoke intense dialogue and controversy about issues which, for too long, too many philosophers have chosen either to gloss over or ignore."
--Ronald E. Santoni
The relation between Martin Heidegger's philosophical thought and his political commitment has been widely discussed in recent years, following the publication of Victor FarÃas's controversial study, Heidegger and Nazism, published in this country by Temple University Press. The Heidegger Case is a collection of original essays, by both American and European philosophers, on issues raised by Heidegger's involvement with the Nazis. The contributors consider such matters as the relationship between Heidegger's philosophical theories and his public statements and activities, the ways in which his ideas on social and political life compare with those of other philosophers, and the role of philosophy with respect to politics.
Lebensraum: the entitlement of “legitimate” Germans to living space. Entfernung: the expulsion of “undesirables” to create empty space for German resettlement. During his thirteen years leading Germany, Hitler developed and made use of a number of powerful geostrategical concepts such as these in order to justify his imperialist expansion, exploitation, and genocide. As his twisted manifestation of spatial theory grew in Nazi ideology, it created a new and violent relationship between people and space in Germany and beyond.
With Hitler’s Geographies, editors Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca examine the variety of ways in which spatial theory evolved and was translated into real-world action under the Third Reich. They have gathered an outstanding collection by leading scholars, presenting key concepts and figures as well exploring the undeniable link between biopolitical power and spatial expansion and exclusion.
The collective memories of Nazism that developed in postwar Germany have helped define a new paradigm of memory politics. From Europe to South Africa and from Latin America to Iraq, scholars have studied the German case to learn how to overcome internal division and regain international recognition.
In Pursuit of German Memory: History, Television, and Politics after Auschwitz examines three arenas of German memory politics—professional historiography, national politics, and national public television—that have played key roles in the reinvention of the Nazi past in the last sixty years. Wulf Kansteiner shows that the interpretations of the past proposed by historians, politicians, and television producers reflect political and generational divisions and an extraordinary concern for Germany's image abroad. At the same time, each of these theaters of memory has developed its own dynamics and formats of historical reflection.
Kansteiner’s analysis of the German scene reveals a complex social geography of collective memory. In Pursuit of German Memory underscores the fact that German memories of Nazism, like many other collective memories, combine two seemingly contradictory qualities: They are highly mediated and part of a global exchange of images and story fragments but, at the same time, they can be reproduced only locally, in narrowly circumscribed networks of communication.
The scale and the depth of Nazi brutality seem to defy understanding. What could drive people to fight, kill, and destroy with such ruthless ambition? Observers and historians have offered countless explanations since the 1930s. According to Johann Chapoutot, we need to understand better how the Nazis explained it themselves. We need a clearer view, in particular, of how they were steeped in and spread the idea that history gave them no choice: it was either kill or die.
Chapoutot, one of France’s leading historians, spent years immersing himself in the texts and images that reflected and shaped the mental world of Nazi ideologues, and that the Nazis disseminated to the German public. The party had no official ur-text of ideology, values, and history. But a clear narrative emerges from the myriad works of intellectuals, apparatchiks, journalists, and movie-makers that Chapoutot explores.
The story went like this: In the ancient world, the Nordic-German race lived in harmony with the laws of nature. But since Late Antiquity, corrupt foreign norms and values—Jewish values in particular—had alienated Germany from itself and from all that was natural. The time had come, under the Nazis, to return to the fundamental law of blood. Germany must fight, conquer, and procreate, or perish. History did not concern itself with right and wrong, only brute necessity. A remarkable work of scholarship and insight, The Law of Blood recreates the chilling ideas and outlook that would cost millions their lives.
In the Law under the Swastika, Michael Stolleis examines the evolution of legal history, theory, and practice in Nazi Germany, paying close attention to its impact on the Federal Republic and on the German legal profession. Until the late 1960s, historians of the Nazi judicial system were mostly judges and administrators from the Nazi era. According to Stolleis, they were reluctant to investigate this legal history and maintained the ideal that law could not be affected by politics. Michael Stolleis is part of a younger generation and is determined to honestly confront the past in hopes of preventing the same injustices from happening in the future.
Stolleis studies a wide range of legal fields—constitutional, judicial, agrarian, administrative, civil, and business—arguing that all types of law were affected by the political realities of National Socialism. Moreover, he shows that legal traditions were not relinquished immediately with the onset of a new regime. For the first time we can see clearly the continuities between the Nazi period and the postwar period. The law under National Socialism did not make a complete break with the law during the Weimar Republic, nor did the law of the Federal Republic nullify all of the laws under National Socialism. Through a rich and subtle investigation, Stolleis shows how the legal profession and the political regime both reacted to the conditions of the period and molded the judicial system accordingly.
Breaking the conspiracy of silence held by the justices in the postwar period, Stolleis stresses the importance of researching Nazi law in order to confront ethical problems in today's legal profession.
Fritzsche deciphers the puzzle of Nazism's ideological grip. Its basic appeal lay in the Volksgemeinschaft - a "people’s community" that appealed to Germans to be part of a great project to redress the wrongs of the Versailles treaty, make the country strong and vital, and rid the body politic of unhealthy elements. Diaries and letters reveal Germans' fears, desires, and reservations, while showing how Nazi concepts saturated everyday life.
The harsh Armistice terms of 1918, the short-lived Weimar Republic, Hindenburg's senile vacillations, and behind-the-scene power plays form the backbone of this excellent study covering German history during the first three-and-a-half decades of the century.
In this first English translation of Erika Thurner's National Socialism and Gypsies in Austria, Gilya Gerda Schmidt makes available Thurner’s investigation of Camps Salzburg and Lackenbach, the two central areas of Gypsy persecution in Austria. Two factors made Thurner’s research especially difficult: the Roma and Sinti have more an oral tradition than a written one, and scholarship on the plight of the Gypsies is sparse. Through painstaking research, Thurner has been able to piece together fragments from Nazi documents, recollections of victims, accounts of bystanders and other eyewitnesses, and formal records to present her account. The result is a volume that truly enhances our understanding of the Gypsies’ experiences during this period.
The volume also focuses on broader aspects of the Gypsies’ ordeals: the ideological foundations and legal ordinances regarding Gypsies, the discrimination and persecution in Burgenland as a whole, the transports from Austria to Lodz and Chelmo, and the medical experimentation. The book has also been expanded, with a new study of Camp Salzburg, an updated bibliography, and numerous photographs, which were not included in the German edition.
The recent upsurge of anti-Gypsy violence in Austria illustrates both the horror of the treatment of Gypsy tribes and the timeliness of the subject of this volume.
The Nazi Conscience
Claudia Koonz Harvard University Press, 2003 Library of Congress DD256.5.K6185 2003 | Dewey Decimal 943.086019
The Nazi conscience is not an oxymoron. In fact, the perpetrators of genocide had a powerful sense of right and wrong, based on civic values that exalted the moral righteousness of the ethnic community and denounced outsiders.
Claudia Koonz’s latest work reveals how racial popularizers developed the infrastructure and rationale for genocide during the so-called normal years before World War II. Her careful reading of the voluminous Nazi writings on race traces the transformation of longtime Nazis’ vulgar anti-Semitism into a racial ideology that seemed credible to the vast majority of ordinary Germans who never joined the Nazi Party. Challenging conventional assumptions about Hitler, Koonz locates the source of his charisma not in his summons to hate, but in his appeal to the collective virtue of his people, the Volk.
From 1933 to 1939, Nazi public culture was saturated with a blend of racial fear and ethnic pride that Koonz calls ethnic fundamentalism. Ordinary Germans were prepared for wartime atrocities by racial concepts widely disseminated in media not perceived as political: academic research, documentary films, mass-market magazines, racial hygiene and art exhibits, slide lectures, textbooks, and humor. By showing how Germans learned to countenance the everyday persecution of fellow citizens labeled as alien, Koonz makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust.
The Nazi Conscience chronicles the chilling saga of a modern state so powerful that it extinguished neighborliness, respect, and, ultimately, compassion for all those banished from the ethnic majority.
On European Ground
Alan Cohen University of Chicago Press, 2001 Library of Congress D424.C58 2001 | Dewey Decimal 940
A profound visual meditation on the trauma that scars twentieth-century Europe, Alan Cohen's On European Ground considers the battlefields of World War I, the Nazi death camps, and the Berlin Wall, and records the distance between what we remember about these places and what we can still observe in them today. By walking these sites and photographing the very ground in which their history has dissolved, Cohen opens a space for reflection on their complex gravity and legacy.
Cohen's images achieve a solemn beauty even as they engage history at its most topical. Pictures of trenches and bunkers at the battlefields of Somme and Verdun explore the tension between the violence of the past and the inscrutability of its remnants. Photographs from the grounds of Dachau and Auschwitz solicit a provocative dialogue between the ordinariness of these sites today and their haunting memory. They teach us, as the New Art Examiner notes, "that the living perceptual connection to the Holocaust is vanishing." Images of the Berlin Wall show only the footprint of the barricade that once separated two hostile ideologies. They record the physical erosion and looming disappearance of the Wall while capturing its reappearance as a memorialized abstraction.
Accompanying the photographs in On European Ground are essays by Sander Gilman and Jonathan Bordo, as well as an interview with Cohen by critic Roberta Smith of the New York Times. The essays present both an introduction to and aesthetic analysis of Cohen's work, while the interview discusses the intractable problems of history and memory that his photographs so uniquely capture.
The catastrophe and holocaust brought about by the two powerful movements of fascism and national socialism will mark human life always. Now, as we feel our hatred for them, we find it difficult to understand how they could have been so powerful, how they could have appealed so strongly to millions of people of a modern age.
To understand our own times, it is necessary to understand these movements. And to understand them, we must read the basic philosophical and political documents which show the force of the ideas which moved a world to the brink of disaster.
This collection of readings has been selected to encourage students to clarify their thinking on social philosophy. They will accordingly need to determine whether the readings contain more or less coherent body of ideas which constitutes a social philosophy. They will also need to raise the more far-reaching question of whether the ideas are acceptable. To arrive at any satisfactory answer to this latter question, they will necessarily have to compare the ideas of fascism and their practical meanings with the alternatives, real and ideal, that are the substance of live philosophical issues.
Jurgen Herbst’s account of growing up in Nazi Germany from 1928 to 1948 is a boy’s experience of anti-Semitism and militarism from the inside. Herbst was a middle-class boy in a Lutheran family that saw value in Prussian military ideals and a mythic German past. His memoir is a compelling, understated tale of moral awakening.
A landmark book, David Pan’s Sacrifice in the Modern World seeks to explain the continuing emphasis, in modern times, on sacrifice. Pan specifically turns to the culture of sacrifice—ritualized and sanctified death—in Nazi Germany, showing how that regime co-opted an existing discussion of sacrifice and infused it with its own mythology. Pan suggests that sacrifice is a key value in every society but that there is a preponderance of association of sacrifice with Nazi culture and therefore a largely pejorative treatment of sacrifice.
Surveying the arguments of philosopher Alfred Baeumler and other symptomatic Nazi texts, Pan shows how the Nazis’ reactionary intellectual culture unraveled much of the Enlightenment project. In so doing, he is able to offer a compelling new perspective on basic theoretical concepts in the work of Kant, Nietzsche, Adorno, Bataille, Girard, and others. He posits that it is only by clearing our way through the Nazis’ misuse of sacrifice that we can understand the durability of sacrificial structures that—following several of the theorists he discusses— establish the fundamental values by which we live our lives.
Rather than condemning the Nazi appeal to sacrifice itself, this book looks at the particular ways in which sacrifice was distributed and structured within that society. All cultures must grapple with the existential violence of the human condition, and they frequently do so through aesthetic treatments of sacrifice, rooted in myths and traditions. Pan argues that our task is not to eradicate these traditions but to engage them by carefully evaluating the commitments and values that they imply.
Shifting Memories explores the contours and genealogies of non-Jewish Germans' public memories of the Nazi past in the Federal Republic of Germany, asking how the crimes committed by Nazi Germany are reflected in the present. The study illuminates particular aspects of public remembering by focusing on case studies, telling a number of stories which at times appear parallel and at times intersect.
The case studies address, for example, the legacy of the so-called Celler Hasenjagd (the hunting down of concentration camp prisoners who survived an Allied air raid in April 1945 in a town in Lower Saxony); efforts by the City of Hildesheim to memorialize the Kristallnacht pogrom; attempts by Italian, Jewish, and Sinti survivors to commemorate their suffering in two West German towns; the posthumous reputation of a German communist imprisoned in Buchenwald and credited with having saved the lives of 159 Jewish children; and the public memories of the Ravensbrück and Buchenwald concentration camps in East Germany.
Directed at an audience curious about contemporary Germany, this book will appeal to those interested in issues of public and social memory, and in the legacy of Auschwitz.
Klaus Neumann is a historian who has taught in universities in Germany and Australia and written about social memories in the Pacific Islands, Australia, and Germany. Previous books include Not the Way It Really Was and Rabaul Yu Swit Moa Yet. He lives in Richmond, Australia.
“When this book was first published it received some attention from the critics but none at all from the public. Nazism was finished in the bunker in Berlin and its death warrant signed on the bench at Nuremberg.”
That’s Milton Mayer, writing in a foreword to the 1966 edition of They Thought They Were Free. He’s right about the critics: the book was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1956. General readers may have been slower to take notice, but over time they did—what we’ve seen over decades is that any time people, across the political spectrum, start to feel that freedom is threatened, the book experiences a ripple of word-of-mouth interest. And that interest has never been more prominent or potent than what we’ve seen in the past year.
They Thought They Were Free is an eloquent and provocative examination of the development of fascism in Germany. Mayer’s book is a study of ten Germans and their lives from 1933-45, based on interviews he conducted after the war when he lived in Germany. Mayer had a position as a research professor at the University of Frankfurt and lived in a nearby small Hessian town which he disguised with the name “Kronenberg.” “These ten men were not men of distinction,” Mayer noted, but they had been members of the Nazi Party; Mayer wanted to discover what had made them Nazis. His discussions with them of Nazism, the rise of the Reich, and mass complicity with evil became the backbone of this book, an indictment of the ordinary German that is all the more powerful for its refusal to let the rest of us pretend that our moment, our society, our country are fundamentally immune.
A new foreword to this edition by eminent historian of the Reich Richard J. Evans puts the book in historical and contemporary context. We live in an age of fervid politics and hyperbolic rhetoric. They Thought They Were Free cuts through that, revealing instead the slow, quiet accretions of change, complicity, and abdication of moral authority that quietly mark the rise of evil.
First published in 1955, They Thought They Were Free is an eloquent and provocative examination of the development of fascism in Germany. Mayer’s book is a study of ten Germans and their lives from 1933-45, based on interviews he conducted after the war when he lived in Germany. Mayer had a position as a research professor at the University of Frankfurt and lived in a nearby small Hessian town which he disguised with the name “Kronenberg.” “These ten men were not men of distinction,” Mayer noted, but they had been members of the Nazi Party; Mayer wanted to discover what had made them Nazis.
“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.”--from Chapter 13, “But Then It Was Too Late”
How does a young German who has been a member of the Hitler Youth and has competed in Nazi-organized athletic competitions become, over the span of two years, an eighty-pound, tuberculosis-stricken concentration camp escapee?
In this larger-than-life memoir, Walter Meyer leads readers from one harrowing moment to the next as he recounts his experiences during and after Hitler's reign. As a teenager, Meyer refused to conform to institutional rules. While serving in the Hitler Youth, he rebelled by joining a subversive group that focused its efforts on pranks against the youth organization. During World War II, Meyer was arrested, interrogated, and beaten for stealing shoes, but he received a sentence of one to four years, as opposed to the standard penalty for looting—death.
The sixteen-year-old Meyer's refusal to conform to prison regulations and his foiled escape attempts resulted in solitary confinement on several occasions. His fiery spirit eventually landed him in a Nazi work camp. Unbeknownst to his family, Meyer became a concentration camp prisoner. Transported to Ravensbrueck, he was forced to work under grueling conditions in a quarry. He struggled to reach his daily work quota so he could dine on watery broth and bits of bread. In these subhuman conditions, Meyer developed tuberculosis. Knowing he would soon die in the camp, he again plotted his escape. This time he succeeded.
Upon returning home to Duesseldorf, Meyer despaired at the destruction of his hometown. He lamented the pallor that had spread throughout the town and the country itself. After recovering his health, he regained his youthful lust for adventure. His postwar travels began with his infiltration of the Russian-occupied zone of Germany to retrieve his family's possessions. Meyer then began a whirlwind odyssey, ducking into train cars and stowing away on ships, occasionally landing in jail for traveling without a passport—from France to Spain, Belgium to Holland, and finally to South America--in pursuit of something other than the aftermath of war.
Meyer's memoir gives insight into the climate in Germany during World War II and in the defeated nation after the war. His experience as a non-Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps provides an enlightening and varied perspective to the Holocaust dialogue.
In An Uncompromising Generation, Michael Wildt follows the journey of a strikingly homogenous group of young academics—who came from the educated, bourgeois stratum of society—as they started to identify with the Nazi concept of Volksgemeinschaft, which labeled Jews as enemies of the people and justified their murder.
Wildt’s study traces the intellectual evolution of key members of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) from their days as students until the end of World War II. Established in 1939, this office fused together the Gestapo, the Criminal Police, and the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) of the SS. Far from being small cogs in a big bureaucratic machine, Wildt finds that the people who made up the RSHA constructed the concepts and operated the apparatus that carried out the Holocaust.
At the center of both theory and practice of persecution and genocide in Nazi-occupied Europe, these young men of the RSHA—none of whom envisioned the systematic annihilation of the European Jews—became radicalized. How this occurred is the central question of Wildt’s book. Wildt also discusses the postwar careers of the members of the RSHA. Strikingly, he shows how the leaders of the RSHA evaded the consequences of their actions under the Nazi regime and went on to have important careers in the rebuilt West Germany.
An alternate selection of the History Book Club and Military Book Club
Bringing his book up to date with reflections since its first publication a decade ago, Charles S. Maier writes that the historians’ controversy gave Germany a chance to air the issues immediately before unification and, in effect, the controversy substituted for the constitutional debate that a united Germany never got around to holding. The premises of national community, whether formulated in terms of legal culture, inherited collective responsibilities, or patriotic habits of the heart, had already been subjects for vigorous discussion.
This book is a fictional account of the life of German film and theatre actor Werner Krauss, eponymous star of the classic silent film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Upon gaining worldwide recognition in this film, Krauss was co-opted into the Nazi hate campaign of the 1930s and 1940s. He featured in the vicious propaganda film Jud Suss, and he was complicit in giving anti-Semitic performances onstage, most notably as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The book focuses on three distinct eras in Krauss' life: the struggling, exuberant actor of the 1920s; the philandering pragmatist of the 1930s; and the elderly, neurotic outcast of the 1940s. Despite his honourable intentions, Krauss was all-too-often undermined by his inability to say 'no' to women, alcohol and the egregious Joseph Goebbels. In this fictional re-imagining of his life, Krauss' motives and decisions are explored in an attempt to discover why he collaborated with the Nazis in the way that he did, as well as demonstrating the personal and political consequences of his actions. Krauss' story tells the wider story of the role of the arts and media in Nazi Germany. Extensively researched, including contemporary news stories, archived film material, critical essays on Krauss and translated passages from his autobiography, Das Schauspiel Meines Lebens, this fictional reconstruction of Krauss' life and career is preceded by a substantive Introduction by the author, setting the novel in the context of the genre of Holocaust fiction, emulating and reminiscent of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin and Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark. Revised Dissertation. [Subject: Fiction, Holocaust Fiction, Historical Fiction]