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Life and Death in the Third Reich

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674027930
ISBN-10: 0674027930
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

University of Illinois historian Fritz (Germans into Nazis) effectively takes up one of the key controversies surrounding the Third Reich: to what extent were the German people accomplices of the regime? Over the years, the answers have ranged widely. Daniel Goldhagen's argument that the annihilation of the Jews was what the German people had always wanted has never persuaded specialists. Others have argued that the German people were either manipulated and deceived by, or converted to, Nazism. Fritzsche provides a more nuanced argument that the Nazis were quite successful in winning the people's support, but it took time and effort. He cites diaries showing that individuals had to examine how they could become reconciled, or converted, to National Socialism. The fabled Volksgemeinschaft—people's community—was not mere propaganda but had a powerful allure that drew Germans into the Nazi orbit. Fritzsche mines diaries and letters written by the famous and well-placed as well as the unknown, to show that the prospects of German grandeur and unity resonated deeply with many people, even when it meant a hugely destructive war and the genocide of the Jews. Fritzsche offers a significant interpretation of Nazism and the German people, and writes with a vibrancy that is not often found in studies of the Third Reich. (Mar.)
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Review

Fritzsche effectively takes up one of the key controversies surrounding the Third Reich: to what extent were the German people accomplices of the regime?...Others have argued that the German people were either manipulated and deceived by, or converted to, Nazism. Fritzsche provides a more nuanced argument that the Nazis were quite successful in winning the people's support, but it took time and effort...Fritzsche mines diaries and letters written by the famous and well-placed as well as the unknown, to show that the prospects of German grandeur and unity resonated deeply with many people, even when it meant a hugely destructive war and the genocide of the Jews. Fritzsche offers a significant interpretation of Nazism and the German people, and writes with a vibrancy that is not often found in studies of the Third Reich. (Publishers Weekly 2008-01-07)

[A] fascinating book...Fritzsche's book demolishes the myth of contemporary ignorance about the Shoah and the artificial divide between the apolitical Wehrmacht and the evil SS. As the aerial bombing campaign destroyed German cities, the citizenry transformed their status as perpetrators and beneficiaries of Nazi policy into that of victims, thereby quelling postwar confrontation with reality for more than a generation. Fritzsche's book demonstrates that there are still numerous areas of the Nazi era in which historians may delve. (Frederic Krome Library Journal (starred review) 2008-03-01)

Peter Fritzsche's book is one that will undoubtedly court controversy. His aim is to show that "more Germans were Nazis" and that Germans were "more National Socialist" than had been previously accepted...This book combines a compelling historical narrative with a thought-provoking analysis. (Lisa Pine Times Higher Education Supplement 2008-04-03)

Fritzsche writes with his customary flair and verve, and packs an enormous amount into a relatively short volume...His immensely readable and intelligent book makes superb use of letters and diaries to communicate the experience of ordinary people under Nazism in a way that few other historians have been able to do. (Richard J. Evans New York Review of Books 2008-06-26)

What Peter Fritzsche does so well in his new book, Life and Death in the Third Reich, is show the systematic breakdown and reshaping of a society...Fritzsche paints such a nuanced and exhaustively researched portrait of German National Socialism that in the end it just doesn't suffice simply to call the Nazis architects of death. They were, of course, but the political wave they rode in on was something of a phenomenon. So adroit were the Nazis at all-consuming manipulation that they were able to essentially recast the entire destiny of a country in such a way as to make the Holocaust actually seem to make sense, at least in the context of their own barbaric political framework. (Jeffrey White PopMatters.com 2008-09-02)

Fritzsche combines the most recent research with his own investigation of primary sources to create an important synthesis of National Socialist goals and ideology among the ordinary citizenry of the Third Reich. (J. Kleiman Choice 2009-02-01)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (March 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674027930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674027930
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,271,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It's never sat well with me--not really--because no one thing can explain or excuse it. Were the German people stupid? Brainwashed? Intrinsically evil? Forced into obeying? Ignorant, and thus brutal? Victims, and thus innocent? Just how DO you descend from the most sophisticated society on earth to the ultimate symbol of evil, all in only a handful of years? I mean, what are the MECHANICS of it?

Mr. Fritzsche answers my nagging questions beautifully and elegantly. He details the conscious, flexible, deliberate and accidental rise of the National Socialist ideal through what, horrifyingly, we must admit was a brilliant manipulation for the German longing for "togetherness". It's aim was simple--to sever the German people from all ties save that to the group, personified by the State, and its technique was relentlessly collective. In the end, says the author, Germans embraced National Socialism from those they perceived to be their brothers, not their betters. Then Fritzsche tells us how it was done.

By focusing on a few key Nazi concepts--and the "glitter words" that activated Pavlavian responses in Germans--the author illustrates how Nazis coaxed otherwise reasonable people into colluding in--and initiating--mass murder. The inescapable conclusion is that Germans really were seduced, even wooed, into destroying themselves. If this dichotomy offends, then so be it: Fritzsche's aim isn't to prove that Germans participated in genocide (which he takes for granted), nor really why. His aim is to uncover how. Dozens of diaries, letters home, bitter jokes and the occasional panicked non-believer's memoir suggest that Nazism was first inflicted on Germans themselves, who in turn unleashed Hell on the world.

"Yes, yes," You say. "But HOW?
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book and thought I might write a review of it, but I see that Erica Bell has already written an outstanding review. If you haven't read it yet, read it now. It's right on target and is better than anything I could have written. All I'll try to do is add a few notes to what she said.

The striking thing to me about Fritsche's book is his fairly convincing attempt to explain the appeal that Naziism had to average Germans. I had always imagined the appeal to be based on ignorance, racism, xenophobia, fear, and a desire to feel better about oneself by denigrating others, something like what I imagine to be the appeal of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.

Surely there was that. Surely it played a significant role, especially in recruiting the brutal thugs in brown shirts who loved to find helpless people whom they could beat up and rob on the street, or loot their houses and stores, without fear of retaliation from the people or the police. But racism, ignorance and thuggery never seemed to be enough to explain the phenomenon. They explain bullies and thugs, but not the millions of ordinary people who would line the streets or fill the stadiums to look with great love and fervor upon Adolf Hitler. They didn't explain the people with joy on their faces shouting Sieg Heil!

If Fritsche is right, and his analysis is certainly plausible to this inexpert reader, the real appeal of Naziism was that it offered ordinary Germans a chance to feel proud of themselves and their country, and to believe in their future. It may seem paradoxical that anyone would be proud of being a Nazi, but it wasn't Naziism _per se_ that they were proud of.
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Format: Paperback
This book looks at the experience of Germans, both Jews and non-Jews, during the Nazi years from the perspective of their diaries, journals and other personal documents. The author attempts to understand where non-Jews stood with respect to the Nazis, Hitler and the Holocaust. Fritzsche explains how National Socialism was an opportunistic phenomenon that sought to capitalize on the sense of shame and loss suffered by Germany after their defeat in World War I. The Nazis sought to create a new state based on race and as such Jews and others became targets first of persecution and ultimately of annihilation. The Germans saw their existence dependent on the need to prepare and fight others who were out to destroy them - there was always an enemy out there that was out to get them. This mindset was required, and exploited by the Nazis, to push forth their agenda of world domination via war and racial supremacy.

Fritzsche combs personal diaries and other such recollections to attempt to interpret where the German stood. Was their support for Hitler and the Nazis genuine and complete or was it pragmatic and partial? It appears that for many it was the latter, for some the former and for others somewhere in between. There were definitely voices of opposition but those were mostly muted or repressed. The Nazis gave the German people a vision of a prosperous future that would rewrite history and make them the eternal victors. Part of this vision included the removal of the Jews from Germany. This effort was initially seen as the physical deportation of Jews but eventually became the physical annihilation of Jews. Fritzsche relates how Germans felt and thought about what they knew about the Holocaust, some of them convinced that the Holocaust was a necessary evil to preserve Germany.
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