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on August 14, 2008
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?" Through, for instance, the "Strength Through Joy" campaign (originally named...are you ready for this?..."Strength Through Fear"),which among other things provided people with free holidays. Through exhausting, dehumanizingly cheery Boy Scout-style camps, where indoctrination mixed with social whirl and brutal exercise to produce the interminable, sleep-deprived, unquestioning "We" (and, not incidentally, the techniques in crowd control used in the Holocaust) Through humiliation, chilling social pressure, radio broadcasts, bullying, terror, constant spying by your neighbors, and finally, with the ratcheting up of backround fear to full-blown psychosis.

Writing this review is hard. If I do it wrong, you will think Fritzsche excuses Germans which he never, ever does. This is an urgent and important book, because when I was in school, I was taught only the most rudimentary details: Nazism suddenly "appeared", yet German-ness contained a latent evil. Later in college, I read about Versaille and the Inflation and the Weimar, yet none of these explain the madness of the Thirties and Forties. Not even the socially sanctioned Jew-baiting explains what happened next. I kept thinking, growing up, "What if it happened here? How would I recognize it?"

A survivor of the camps (whose name I'm sorry I forget) stated bitterly, "It took one week to convince the Austrians what it took five years to convince the Germans to do". It's those years I'm interested in. Fritzsche's style is superb--he takes each glitter word and develops it so thorougly that when you finish the "we're just us" section of the book, for instance, you'll almost HEAR the rustle of terrified postcards thrown from cattle cars, begging for help--it's the only logical conclusion.

And when you're finished with this book, the "good German" will mean more than you imagined--not simply a cipher conforming, nor only depravity unleashed, but also an active, frighteningly engaged participant in what he perceived was thunderous history. If this seems archaic or unhelpful in diagnosing evil, I suggest you get out a map and locate a little country called Rwanda.
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on October 2, 2008
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. They were proud of being Germans and, for the first time since the heady days of 1914, they felt that they belonged to a great community, a community that would take care of its own, a community in which all citizens (except Jews) could fully participate, a community with a bright future.

Like many other European societies, Germany was class ridden and deeply divided before the Nazi era. The old nobility and the newer bourgeoisie held the commanding heights of society. The ordinary people were treated as social inferiors, and especially because of the losses in the first war and the horrors of the years of inflation and then depression, were suffering economically. Millions turned to communism, or to the various small fascist parties. Almost everyone was pessimistic about the future of their country, and pessimistic about their own chances for a decent life.

The Nazis changed that. Nazi politics were not based on the nobility or the bourgeoisie. The Nazi leaders did not come from those classes. The Nazi message was, if you were of the right "race", one of inclusiveness. The Hitler Youth and the Strength Through Joy programs were aimed at ordinary people. The people's car project (Volkswagen), the attempt to make radios available to all and the growth of movies were all aimed squarely at the masses. The Nazis never fully delivered on their promises (vastly more ordinary people in the U.S. had cars and radios, went to movies, and went on vacations), but people believed that the trend was in the right direction.

These developments weren't just aimed at improvements in people's material lives. They were well structured to improve their outlook on life as well, especially by making people feel that they were part of a big movement, a movement aimed at helping them - not the rich, not the nobility, not foreign communist movements, and alas, not Jews.

If I understand Fritsche correctly, the racism and xenophobia that the Nazis promoted were not the early appeal of the movement. The racial nastiness was a kind of subtext, always present, always insistent, always growing, but, at least in the first years, not in the first position in Nazi politics. Once the people were won over, once the opposition had been crushed, once the apparatus of news and education and propaganda had been completely subverted, then it was time for racism to come to the fore and for the full scope of Hitler's madness and megalomania to become manifest.

Fritsche's book is hardly a complete analysis of this phenomenon. There is much that he never discusses at all and much that is treated superficially. There is, for example, no examination of the Nazi leadership, little analysis of the causes of the war, very little on economics, no explanation of how the Nazi Party operated, etc.. This is not, after all, a 2,000 page book. It is a book that concentrates on just a few ideas and a few aspects of Naziism. But it opened my eyes to a new and fruitful understanding of why and how ordinary Germans became Nazis.

I recommend the book.
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VINE VOICEon January 4, 2012
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. I was profoundly disturbed by the explicit accounts of the treatment of the Jews - the pogroms, Krystal Nacht, how some victims chose to commit suicide rather than face deportation, the murder of children and women en masse - all horrible to imagine.

German soldiers became dehumanized as they sought to suppress their better angels and hardened themselves against the atrocities they committed or observed. And these atrocities were distributed to more than just the Jews - Polish patriots, gypsies, Russian POWs, all suffered at the ruthless hands of the Nazis.
In the end, the Nazi agenda to provide prosperity and hegemony only led to deaths of millions of Europeans, allies, Jews and others, including their own soldiers and populace. What a terrible and tragic chapter in human history.
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on September 4, 2010
This was quite an irritating read. Usually when I pick up history books written by academics, I'm treated to well thought out conclusions, lots of primary evidence, and convincing arguments. There is none of that here. This is way the text goes: single quote from individual German's diary-->several pages of massive generalizations about 'Germans' without qualifications or evidence or recognition of the heterogeneous nature of the society-->quick 1 sentence dismissal of counterarguments-->repeat.

Here is an example: The author takes a few pages to describe what the front line soldiers thought and believed and what motivated them in 1944. His basis for these pages? One small quote from a single soldier's letter home. Moreover, the author fails to mention that German soldiers were given a booklet of guidelines on what their letters home should contain. And they also knew that there were thousands of censors that read every letter from soldiers and that deviating from the guidelines would mean the letter would be destroyed. But that doesn't stop the author from attributing a rigid metaphysical belief system in some sort of collective mind of the 1944 front line soldier.

Fritzsche book is nothing more than a polemic; entirely lacking in recognition of the messy nature of social history, especially when it comes to theorizing what goes on inside people's minds, let alone what goes in inside the minds of 60+ million people. And don't get me started on his collective mind/national narrative/critical theorizing metaphysical mumbojumbo.

A vastly superior book is Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922-1945 (Social Studies: History of the World). If you buy it, make sure you get the revised edition. That book is based on a massive amount of primary research, including interviews with most of the major players. Much of the actual information had to be edited for the book, but you can get Allen's doctoral thesis, which has hundreds of more pages. The conclusions and inferences are all backed up and he does not try to hide or dismiss contradictory evidence. It is an excellent example of what history should be; infact, it is used as an example of what students should strive for in many universities. So, if you are interested in why Germans acted the way they did, and how the Nazi party impacted their lives and thinking both before and after the seizure of power, get that book instead.
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on April 15, 2010
Fritzsche adds more information to the ongoing question regarding the complicity of the German People in their support of the more sordid facets of National Socialism.He maintains a very objective approach throughout,which is a refreshing change from those historians who are out to support their own agendas,and often leave this reader in distaste for their exaggerations and warping.I would recommend this work for both the casual and serious student of the 3rd Reich.A full section of footnotes also lends credence to his work
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on September 21, 2010
Simply put, this is one of the best books on the Third Reich I've ever read. Fritzsche has produced a book that ranks among the better one-volume histories of the Nazi regime. While the title may make you think this book is all about eugenics or the Holocaust (and those topics are covered in detail), in actuality I found this to be a book about why the Nazis came to the policy conclusions they did, how they enacted them, and what their world view was about. Using numerous diaries, letters from the front, newspaper accounts, and other primary sources, Fritzsche lets the people of Germany tell much of the tale. The book reads well and I think Fritzsche convinces the reader of this thesis: namely, that in order for the Germans to live (those the Nazis deemed worthy, of course), others had to die. Thus, the title of the book. I disagree with another reviewer who seemed to think Fritzsche has an agenda at work here. Instead, I thought the book was very reasonably argued and did not seem to be a stretch of the evidence just to prove the author's point or reach his goal. I'd highly recommend this to anyone interested in Nazi Germany and what day to day life was like in Germany under Nazi rule.
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on February 1, 2010
I really liked this book. It describes what Germany was like during the Hitler years - particularly why so many ordinary Germans supported Hitler and the Nazis to the bitter end. The author uses journals and diaries to reveal the thoughts and feelings of people in Germany during this period and how they changed over time. He explores the benefits of the "people's community" or "Volksgemeinschaft" and how the Nazis used it to their own advantage. He talks about the various camps people were sent to - not concentration camps - but camps for students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. - where they took part in workshops designed to promote Nazi propaganda as well as fellowship with each other. Also discussed is the Nazis' attempt to mninimize enmity between social classes and emphasize everybody pulling together to make Germany "great" again. Fritzsche talks about Germans' feelings about Jews from 1933 to 1945 and why so many people simply ignored or discounted the terrible things that were happening to them. I recommend this book very highly. Not only is it very interesting, it is also very well written and easy to read. A+.
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on May 4, 2011
There really isn't very much that I can write about this that hasn't already been written in the excellent reviews of this book.

I consider this to be one of the finest works of history I've read. It confronts important questions such as why the German people remained loyal to the Third Reich for so long and how much they knew about the fate of the Jews in a highly credible manner making excellent use of primary sources. It is free of academic terminology and, in spite of the importance of its subject matter, reads quite quickly.

In my opinion a reader would probably be best to come to this having already read some of the basic historiographical debates in the area as well as a good general history of the period. In respect to the latter point, Richard J Evans is very good.
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on February 12, 2014
...but hard to read sometimes.

As much as I've read about the Third Reich, it was only after reading this book that I was able to glimpse the horror of it. The pervasive racism, the complicity of the German people, the active involvement of the Wehrmacht, the destruction of the bodies and history of the Jews in Europe, and the way in which it is all remembered (if at all) is laid out in detail. The book is hard to read sometimes - not because it is badly written - but because I didn't want to believe that it was possible for people to behave this way.

This book should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in or studying the Second World War.
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VINE VOICEon August 24, 2010
I think the most pertinent question for Nazi Germany is Why? This book explains why. Why the mass killings? Why the World War? Why pick on the Jews. These are questions that are answered in the book. Germans became Nazis or assumed the facade of the National Socialist regime because it appealed to them. They might not have believed in all the elements of National Socialism, but they found central tenets that made them believe in the Nazi program.

This is an academic book about why Germans stuck with the Nazis. Why they fought on to defeat, and it presents the Germans in the proper pschological prospective on why they continued to fight, kill, and believe in their leadership.
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