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What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany Paperback – February 28, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0465085729 ISBN-10: 0465085725 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (February 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465085725
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465085729
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The refrains in Germany for many years after WWII were "we didn't know" about the Holocaust, and "if we had known and had tried to do something, we too would have been killed by the Nazis." These claims have not stood up to historical scrutiny. Large numbers of ordinary Germans were involved in carrying out the mass murder of Jews, and knowledge of it was widespread among the population at home in Germany. Moreover, the Nazi elite ruled primarily by consensus, not terror; it was a popular dictatorship. Central Michigan University historian Johnson and German sociologist Reuband confirm these interpretations in their wide-ranging study based on hundreds of interviews and surveys they conducted with both Jewish and Christian Germans. Johnson (Nazi Terror) and Reuband don't add much that is new to what we know about the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust, but the materials they have gathered are interesting. Roughly two-thirds of the book consists of transcripts of interviews with Jews who had a range of experiences (going into hiding, leaving Germany before Kristallnacht, suffering in the camps) and Germans (those who heard about the murder of Jews, those who didn't, those who participated). The analysis in the book's final third is sober and sobering. But it's the gripping immediacy of the interviews, laced as they are with anger, guilt, sadness and, still among some Christian Germans, pride, that carries the book. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The authors interviewed nearly 200 people--Holocaust survivors and perpetrators--in researching the book, and more than 3,000 people--Jews and non-Jews--were surveyed in writing about their experiences during the Hitler years. Johnson and Reuband began their research in 1993; 40 interviews were selected for this book (20 were Jews and 20 were non-Jews). The authors posit that "far from living in a state of constant fear and discontent, most Germans led happy and even normal lives in Nazi Germany." They believe that the Holocaust could not have been possible without the complicity of the majority of the German population. Johnson and Reuband conclude that many Germans were quick to concern themselves only with their private lives and tended not to think about what was happening to the Jews. Despite the regime's efforts to keep the mass murder of Jews a secret, news of the atrocities reached a large portion of the German public by the end of the war. The authors insist that about one-third of the population became aware of the murder of Jews while it was taking place, and it is evident that many Germans did not want to know about what was being done. This scholarly work is a major contribution to the understanding of life in Nazi Germany and a compelling narrative that is certain to be the standard work on the subject. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Eric A. Johnson is an American historian and social scientist who has written especially on modern Germany, the Holocaust, and the history of crime and violence. Born in Salem, Massachusetts (May 1948) and educated at Brown University (BA), the University of Stockholm (Graduate Diploma), and the University of Pennsylvania (MA, PhD), he is currently professor of history at Central Michigan University. He has also held visiting professorships at The Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the University of Cologne, the University of Strathclyde, and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study. The son of an American physicist, Army Airforce pilot, and prisoner of war in Stalag Luft I in Hitlerian Germany, he is presently working on a study of downed American and British pilots in WWII Germany and Austria.

Customer Reviews

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This book is the result of a survey.
Nina C. Oliphant
I think this is an important book to read for anyone who wants to look at the everyday German people during that time and what they thought.
There will always be controversy about 'what we knew', but this gives a very fair look at all perspectives to the question.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Joerg Colberg on February 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was born and raised in Germany, many years after the end of World War II and the Nazi period. There is a tremendeous amount of information available about the Third Reich, the war, and the Holocaust; but for me, there was always something lacking: How could all that happen? How was it possible? And what did people really know?

The standard answer, which I was given a lot when I aksed people about it, was that they didn't know anything about the Holocaust until after the war. I never found that very convincing. There is just no way that a country can organize the killing of millions of people, many of who were their own citizens, with the vast majority of people being absolutely clueless. It simply doesn't make any sense. Didn't people notice how their neighbours disappeared? And wouldn't soldiers on visits home mention things they had seen? Given the involvement of the German Army in many of those crimes - a fact that is still hotly contested in shamefully large circles to this date - I have never found the claim credible that "we didn't know anything".

Finally, there is a way to get better information. "What We Knew" contains the results of a decade long scientific study about what people - Jewish and non-Jewish - knew and experienced. A large part of the book consists of interviews, separated into different categories. Of course, the picture is infinitely more complex than "we didn't know anything" or "they all knew" - but now finally, it is starting to make sense.

I admit that even having read so many voices I am still at a complete loss as to how this all was possible. But at least now we know what people knew, how many people knew etc. This book is a masterpiece, and it's a must-read for anybody interested in what was going on almost 70 years ago.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By P.K. Ryan on December 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
`What We Knew' is both a compelling and somber read. The authors sent out surveys to hundreds of people who had experienced life under the Third Reich. This book is a collection of the subsequent interviews with those who responded. The book is divided into groups of interviewees such as; Jews who left before Kristallnacht, Jews who were deported, non-Jews who claimed to know little about the mass murder, and non-Jews who knew everything. As the title implies, the book sets out to explain how much was known by ordinary Germans about the horrors of the Nazi regime, and most specifically the mass murder of Jews. Aside from this point, the interviews also reveal a vivid description of life in Nazi Germany, many of which contain some fresh insight that was somewhat surprising. Naturally, it is impossible to verify much of the testimony given, but the authors transform the stories into a statistical data analysis that uncovers a certain pattern in their experiences.

For instance, it seems that a large amount of Jews either knew of, or suspected that their brethren were being systematically killed as early as 1941. For Germans, the number of people who knew or suspected was much smaller, but steadily increased as the war went on. Most Jews did not experience significant anti-Semitism before National Socialism. Even well into the NS years, many Jews relate how many of their neighbors did not turn on them and remained opposed to anti-Semitism, at least in theory. There seemed to be a geographical aspect to the anti-Semitism as well. For instance, Jews in Cologne experienced far less anti-Semitism than Berlin. Keep in mind that these were just the majority opinion, and that virtually every one of these statements was contradicted by one interviewee or another.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Tim Johnson on May 15, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just finished this book after some weeks of reading and putting it down then reading again, etc. In short, it was a difficult read but having made that qualifier, it was also positive and surprisingly interesting and valuable. For any person, primarily students, who are researching with an intention of writing a paper about Nazi Germany and any subtopics therein, this is a must-read book.

The first two thirds of the book are fascinating primary sources--interviews with people who experienced various aspects of being caught up in this horrendous machine that was Nazi state power. The conclusion makes the premise that virtually everybody at the time knew what the Nazi state was working to accomplish. The authors lay waste to the old claim that "we didn't know". Almost every person knew of the collections and the deportation because it happened in daylight and no attempt was made to hide the event. The "network information" that came from stories told by soldiers on leave and by undercover BBC broadcasts contributed to this general knowledge. The plethora of work camps in Germany itself provided evidence of major wrong-doing. The size of the operations and the number of people involved preclude any reasonable denial that major parts of the Nazi Party's Manifesto was being acted upon.

The general reader and I certainly include myself among this group, will particularly get bogged down in the last section. The authors take their data and display it in numerous charts and conduct a precise analysis of this raw information. It is all terribly useful if you are footnoting a research paper but considerably less so if you are trying to have a quiet read. Therefore, be warned. This is a book containing many pearls of information but the water where they are located is deep and sometimes murky.
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