- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (August 14, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374161577
- ISBN-13: 978-0374161576
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 110 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #784,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Defying Hitler: A Memoir Hardcover – August 14, 2002
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What was it about Germany that made the rise of Adolf Hitler and his murderous regime possible? That troubling question has occupied many fine minds over the last six decades, few more lucid and thoughtful than the late historian and journalist Sebastian Haffner. In this book, drawn from a manuscript he did not live to complete, Haffner examines the social and cultural conditions that made Germany ill-equipped for democracy and ripe for totalitarianism. Among these, Haffner writes, were a generational war between an apathetic adult population and a youth "familiar with nothing but political clamor, sensation, anarchy, and the dangerous lure of irresponsible numbers games"; a fatal fondness for the winner-and-loser dichotomy of sports and a rage for spectacle and entertainment; a resignation through which ordinary people came to "adapt to living with clenched teeth, in a manner of speaking," rather than stand up in protest. In that climate, Haffner--who left Germany just before World War II broke out--suggests, Nazism was almost an inevitability, against which he, too, tried to withdraw into "a small, secure, private domain," like so many others of his time and place. An important eyewitness account, Haffner's book deepens our understanding of how small missteps can lead to tragic ends, and how nations can be led into chaos. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
A sample historical headline: "1890: Wilhelm II dismisses Bismarck." No one's life was disrupted, writes Haffner. "No family was torn apart, no friendship broken up, no one fled their country." Compare that with "1933: Hindenburg sends for Hitler." In this case, "[a]n earthquake shatters 66 million lives." Thus begins a vivid examination of just how Hitler's ascension affected an ordinary German, a young lawyer with no strong political views, whose career and life were disrupted by the Nazis. Written in 1939, this memoir was not published until 2000, when Pretzel, Haffner's son, brought it out in Germany, where it was a bestseller. Haffner alternates political analysis with accounts of how the rise of the Nazis in the 1920s and early '30s affected his attempts to build a career, keep friendships alive and kindle romantic liaisons. His analysis of the failure of post-WWI German society to create stability is familiar, but Haffner writes with a close familiarity that makes the old new again. And his description of the way the Nazis invaded people's daily lives shines. It becomes clear how many "good Germans" struggled against impossible odds to keep their personal lives politics-free. Unfortunately, Haffner's manuscript ends with 1933 (Pretzel covers the rest of Haffner's life, beginning with immigration to England, in a brief afterword). This intimate self-portrait stands with Victor Klemperer's two-part memoir, I Will Bear Witness, as evidence that the personal can offer insight into the political tragedy of Nazism.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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.
Until I read "Defying Hitler: A Memoir" I had been incapable of understanding how a man such as pastor Kurt Reuber could have ended up in the Nazi army at Stalingrad. Or how other essentially good, normal men, basically good people, sentient, intelligent, caring human beings, could have in their millions participated actively in the destruction of my people, of Germany, and of Europe. Participated actively in the atrocities or simply watched, unprotesting. What had happened to their souls? Their consciences? Their moral fiber?
Haffner's 1939 memoir is not an easy book to read. His analysis of himself, his friends and his society is as precise as his prescience is frighteningly accurate.
This book was written in 1939 in order to make a living in England after leaving Germany, but Haffner abandoned it to write a new book on the subject of the Nazi Germany during the outbreak of war. That new book was titled Germany: Jekyll and Hyde: An Eyewitness Analysis of Nazi Germany. It wasn't until after Haffner's death in 1999 that this 1939 book was discovered by his son, Oliver Pretzel, who eventually translated and published this book (forty chapters; around 300 pages). I am very glad that he did.
Haffner began his memoir with the year 1914 up to 1933 to which his eyewitness account gives us a very real picture of Germany in periods of changes: the Great War, Revolution of 1918-19, the Weimar Republic, the inflation, the rise of the Nazis and the Hitler Youth movement, the Reichstag fire, the increasing hatred of Jews, and Hitler's rise to power. It is a story of a duel, as the author wrote in his prologue - a story of struggles between an individual and the state during these years. Even though he was classified as an "Aryan" by the Nazis, he despised the Nazi regime. The name of the title may be referred to the idea of keeping his mind free of Nazi ideology, refusing participation in the senseless crimes, and helping those being victimized by the regime - all of which considered to be defying Hitler himself.
Several descriptions of social changes and extremely rapid and violent breakdown of personal freedoms and laws are profoundly disturbing to read because when thugs are in charge, a resistance becomes a non-existence. It's also very difficult to avoid seeing the obvious comparative similarities with certain countries of today.
The writing style is fairly easy to read (even though it can be wordy at times) with such clarity. This memoir sheds a remarkable light on the most horrendous and insidious period in German history. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone whose interests are in German history or in the Second World War as well to understand what happens when one is living under a totalitarian state. It's truly a rare read.
This memoir can be read along with Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, Lobaczewski's Political Ponerology and two films: The Nazis: A Warning From History and V for Vendetta.
The author was not a Jew, nor a communist, nor union member, he was a bright young German man studying law. Yet he had to flee his own country, as life had become unbearable and frightening in Berlin under the brutality of Hitler. He found refuge in England, getting out just in time before war broke out. He worked a journalist and returned to Berlin in 1956, he died in his 90's.
In Australia, over the past few years alone, our right wing Government has removed hundreds of our rights and freedoms, supposedly to protect us from Muslim terrorists. As we don't have a Bill of Rights, Australians are more vulnerable to the likes of Hitler than the US is. We are sitting ducks now. This book is a must read.