- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (August 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312421133
- ISBN-13: 978-0312421137
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 134 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Defying Hitler: A Memoir Paperback – August 1, 2003
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“An astonishing memoir...vividly convey[s] the texture of life under an emerging totalitarian regime... [a] masterpiece.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“A masterpiece...has more to say about the enduring enigma of Hitler's Reich than almost anything else in the voluminous modern literature on the subject.” ―Commentary
“Haffner is like the guide of Dante's Inferno, tracing the slow descent into Nazism in intimate detail...Compelling... Fresh, immediate, and wonderfully personal...An absorbing book.” ―Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“The prophetic insights of a fairly young man...help us understand the plight, as Haffner refers to it, of the non-Nazi German.” ―The Denver Post
About the Author
Sebastian Haffner was born in Berlin in 1907, and died in 1999. In 1938, he was forced to flee to Britain, where he worked as a journalist. In 1954, he returned to Germany and became a distinguished historian and commentator.
Oliver Pretzel, Sebastian Haffner's son, is the translator of this work.
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He finds that the Nazi phenomenon was made possible by patterns in German history, particularly of the militaristic sort. He describes the excitement of the outbreak of war in 1914 among children like him, and reminds the reader that these children would be adults in their prime as the Nazis grew in significance and promised to rekindle that excitement.
Other topics include Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Rathenau, Bruening, how foreign leaders' appeasement of Hitler repeated German politicians' attempts to tame him the same way, and how some in Germany thought the Hitler chancellorship wouldn't last because he always seemed to be his own worst enemy.
But there are lots of books on all these subjects. What makes this one unique is who wrote it - a fairly ordinary German at the time. He has first-hand encounters with brownshirts, his friends are affected by the new laws and indeed some are endangered by the new regime. But another of his friends morphs into a committed Nazi. (Indeed this aspect of the memoir made me think of the Eugene Ionesco play, Rhinoceros.)
He defends the value of his memoir by once or twice reminding the reader that it is precisely because his experiences were common that it is important that someone write them down. Later in the book he writes:
"If you read ordinary history books...you get the impression that no more than a few dozen people are involved...According to this view, the history of the present decade is a kind of chess game among Hitler, Mussolini, Chiang Kai-Shek, Roosevelt, Chamberlain, Daladier, and a number of other men whose names are on everybody's lips...It may seem a paradox, but it is nonetheless the simple truth, to say that on the contrary, the decisive historical events take place among us, the anonymous masses. The most powerful dictators, ministers, and generals are powerless against the simultaneous mass decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large."
The book does cut off rather suddenly. He never finished it.
Incidentally, this modest little book indicates that the reality of Hitler's murderous intentions toward the Jews was obvious to even an ordinary person.
The book is exceptionally well written, with an informal, personal style that sometimes addresses the reader directly. Frank and insightful. Highly recommended.
It was published by his son after the author's death. The point of view is unique and eye-opening as it was written prior to many of the major battles of WW II. He draws fascinating parallels between the individual German's daily decisions during HItler's rise to power within Germany to the European nations' decision of similar nature - but on a much grander scale.
It is a timeless story and a MUST READ for any election time.
Be sure to read the Afterword written by Haffner's son. The book was published in Germany in 2000, just after the author's death, where it was a bestseller for 42 weeks. Forensic testing validated that the manuscript was authentic.
The author details how the period from the first World War in 1914 up through 1933 was experienced by the German people. Young people in particular since he was born in 1907. The Nazi movement grew out of the experiences of daily life in those years and the author is very clear and straightforward in the patterns and motivations that he saw and experienced himself. As background to the living of those years I also learned the basics of German history in that era which I didn't know clearly beforehand.
There is no way I can encapsulate the key factors in any manner even close to the impact that one will pick up from reading this book. What had prompted the rise of Hitler and the Nazis? I had some conception that the economic hardships stemming from the Treaty of Versailles had made the populace angry and was the primary fuel. That the Jewish businessmen had continued to thrive and were therefor further fuel for resentment. Not really, it seems. These were ancillary factors, not the driving forces behind the attraction for individual young Germans.
In our current US environment one could cite the failure of the white, blue collar American to prosper while others gather all the attention. And the Latinos who come to our country for work as a further fuel for resentment. But this common explanation totally misses the psychological factors that once worked upon the Germans and which now have a similar resonance in our current US. I see it and experience it.
Beyond that, when one is shown qualities in others that can be recognized in oneself too, then the impact is enhanced. I love this book, it is easy to read and not lengthy.