- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 16, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192802917
- ISBN-13: 978-0192802910
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.2 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Using newspapers and radio broadcasts of the day as evidence, Gellately (The Gestapo and German Society), Strassler Professor in Holocaust History at Clark University, effectively demonstrates how "ordinary Germans" evolved into a powerful base of support for the Nazi regime. Although Hitler and the National Socialists had never garnered an outright majority in elections before 1933, the author convincingly shows that "the great majority of the German people soon became devoted to Hitler and they supported him to the bitter end in 1945." The Nazis achieved this political miracle by "consensus." The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci argued that political regimes could hardly expect to use unlimited terror against their subjects a technique combining the threat of terror and coercion would be more effective. Using Gramscian theory is hardly new in an analysis of Nazi Germany, but Gellately does make a provocative claim: that the Nazi use of terror against certain categories of "undesirables" (first Communists, Socialists and trade unionists, then Catholic and Protestant opponents, then the mentally and/or physically impaired, then the Jews and Gypsies) was purposively public and that most Germans agreed with such policies. Decrees, legislation, police actions and the concentration camps were not meant to be hidden from the German people, but in fact were extensively publicized. Some of the same arguments have been made in Adam Lebor and Roger Boyes's Seduced by Hitler (Forecasts, Mar. 26), but readers will notice that Gellately offers a far more sophisticated argument and more abundant evidence than Daniel Goldhagen's cause clbre, Hitler's Willing Executioners. In truth, Gellately's work is what Goldhagen's book could have been, but wasn't; that is, a closely reasoned and tightly constructed analysis. 42 illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Gellately (Strassler Professor in Holocaust History, Clark Univ.) analyzes the role of "ordinary" Germans in the Nazi persecution of those deemed social and political outsiders. Under the guise of "law and order," the Nazis suspended regular jurisprudence and substituted arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Far from carrying out their activities in secret, the Nazis publicized them as steps to the social, political, and racial regeneration of Germany. Many ordinary Germans actively participated in this process, denouncing neighbors as "asocial" elements for associating with Jews or for "suspicious" activities. Denunciations derived from a variety of motivations personal grudges, economic self-interest, or ideological commitment with the full knowledge of what would happen to the victims. By effectively overturning the belief that Hitler and the Nazi party imposed their ideology upon the German people and maintained control through massed police terror, Gellately's book forces us to consider the role of the ordinary citizen in the maintenance of the Nazi dictatorship. His arguments are more sophisticated and ultimately more convincing than Daniel Goldhagen's in Hitler's Willing Executioners (LJ 3/15/96), which saw the German people's adherence as mono-causal (i.e., anti-Semitism). Recommended for all libraries. Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Gellately is very good in pointing out a PR point, and then how it didn't work out. Hitler promised to put women back into the home and kitchen, which would reduce crimes against women. The wages and work opportunities went up for the men, so the women quit work. Then with total war, the women were in the factories working night shifts. Then add that the SS were able to rape any woman they wanted without it being a crime.
Gellately does an excellent job of facing the question of anti-Semitism in the larger German population, refusing to place all of the blame on the government. However, I believe that Gellately’s work raises several interesting questions for how we understand the relationship between the Nazi leadership and the public. Through his examples, it is clear that most of the systems of control, including concentration camps, were implemented over time. While it is clear that there was some level of anti-Semitic feeling in the public, I wonder about the gradual escalation of arrest and violence and whether or not the German public was systematically desensitized. For example, when the concentration camp system first opened, it was used primarily for communists and Gellately claims that a significant portion of the prisoners were eventually released. I wonder about the psychology of this escalation. First, implement concentration camps and let the public see how they are used for the greater good. The public will eventually acclimate to the new method of control and, once the system becomes normalized, the next step seems less drastic as it is happening.
He also adds some new information not used by earlier historians, from newspapers and Gestapo files.
For a long generation after 1945, most reports of German atrocity, if they tried to maintain any balance at all, just threw up their hands and asked "How could this have happened?" Stated or implied was a caveat: Germans were human beings, too, so this inhuman behavior could not really be explained.
Few indeed turned that conundrum on its head to propose that Germans were not humans, at least not humans advanced out of savagery. It was scarcely 10 years ago when Daniel Jonah Goldhagen seriously suggested, in "Hitler's Willing Executioners," that savagery ran deep and true in Germans. The outrage that greeted Goldhagen's book was, in the most charitable light, testimony to the reluctance of most people to think anybody could sink so low as Goldhagen sank the Germans.
Less charitable commentators, like me, saw the antagonism to Goldhagen as the late 20th century expression of 1930s appeasers who declared that Germany could not be nearly as bad as its enemies portrayed it, because Germans had written so much lovely music. This infantile outlook has been all too powerful in the historiography of the Hitler era.
Gellately knocks the idea in the head, stuns it and drags it off to history's towering scrapheap of silly ideas. "The great majority of the German people soon became devoted to Hitler and they supported him to the bitter end in 1945" sums the findings.
One myth is easily disposed of: the claim that the "good Germans" were unaware of what the Nazis were up to. Gellately finds front page stories in mass circulation newspapers and magazines in which the German public was told about the concentration camps, from the start of Hitler's regime, and told that they were a good thing -- originally to dispose of "Communists." Some Communists were indeed disposed of, along with, as time passed, an expanding menagerie of unGermans: Gypsies, drunkards, the mentally ill or physically handicapped, even a few Catholic priests who, although the Roman church got on well with Hitler, persisted in a sentimental appreciation for the Catholic Center Party.
The German version of the Gallup Poll, the Gestapo listeners-in, found that the good Germans massively approved of it. The village of Heuberg preferred to have a concentration camp nearby because it displaced a children's home, which the Heubergers found offensive.
Really, it is hard for civilized people to comprehend, much less understand, how German the Germans were. Gellately doesn't make it much easier. The first half of "Backing Hitler" is mostly a recapitulation of atrocities that are well known already to anybody who has studied Hitlerism.
Also, he fails to make the crucial distinction between German love of Hitler and love of Hitlerism. Not all Germans loved Hitler, even if most did. The social elite despised him as a common Austrian who spoke German with a hick accent. They sat around, drinking stolen wine and whispering to each other how Germany would be better off without that schwein. Not without his policies, which satisfied them very well, just without the individual.
In the second half of the book, the pace picks up and Gellately summarizes dozens and hundreds of examples of how ordinary Germans cooperated with the regime. The police state could not have operated without that. There were never more than 7,000 Gestapo men in Germany, a nation of nearly 70 million. Any medium-size American city has more cops.
There were other police, the uniformed Order Police, the detectives or Kriminal Police, and the rural constables, but for a police state Germany had remarkably few cops. (During the war there were plenty of German cops in the conquered lands, but Gellately explicitly limits his history to Germany proper.)
The argument of "Backing Hitler" is powerfully persuasive. It offers to English readers a taste of what a new generation of German historians has produced at home, although their books have not generally been translated into English.
Now the bad word. Gellately is a scholar, but practically illiterate. "Backing Hitler" was not edited or even proof-read. In general, the sense of Gellately's sentences is clear, although there are a few exceptions, but the book is an agony to read.
Nevertheless, it should be read, at least until a better version of the same facts is given us by a better writer.
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