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Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans Paperback – December 4, 2000

3.8 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans reconciles conflicting interpretations of the Nazi regime and its genocidal policies by focusing on how both party officials and average individuals created and maintained the totalitarianism that gripped German society from 1933 to the end of World War II. Eric A. Johnson argues that historians have understood the authoritarian nature of the National Socialist state in two ways. Scholarship in the 1970's and 1980's highlighted the average person's resistance to the terror fostered by panoptic and ruthless police agencies, while more current investigations show that the Gestapo and related organizations often had less power than was previously assumed. These studies stress the roles played by citizens in the execution of Nazi policies. The most notable example of this interpretation is Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's chilling Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.

Johnson argues that ordinary Germans did not willfully intend to harm others, though their cowardice and apathy made the implementation of Nazi policies possible. Drawing from court records and Gestapo files from the area around Cologne, a region that had demonstrated only lukewarm support for the Nazis in elections, Johnson shows that Germans' participation in the Third Reich was not heavily driven by images of anti-Semitism but by a routine obedience to the state. In an era filled with disreputable Holocaust revisionism, Johnson lays to rest questions of accountability by showing who exactly is to blame. Detailed and compelling, Nazi Terror provides a stark, and at times moving, portrait of how individual people took part in the greatest moral quandary of the 20th century. --James Highfill --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The dark heart of Nazism was suffused with hatred, and its outward manifestation was an unprecedented terror. Many scholars have examined this phenomenon, but perhaps none in as much detail as Johnson does here. This is that rare work of history: adroitly combining microhistory (in this instance, a close study of numerous cases brought before the dreaded People's Court and the Gestapo) and macrohistory (an awareness that "Nazi terror is a subject that touches all of humanity"). The subtitle is slightly misleading; without downplaying the central role of the Jews in the racial consciousness of the Nazis, Johnson, to his credit, also acknowledges the Nazi terror against political opponents (especially Communists, Socialists and trade unionists), religious leaders and "asocials" (the Roma, Sinti and mentally and physically handicapped). Furthermore, and this is sure to be of interest to a larger audience, Johnson, professor of history at Central Michigan University (The Civilization of Crime), tackles the larger questions brought to our awareness by the seminal and controversial works of Hannah Arendt, Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen. He challenges Arendt's "banality of evil" formulation when she covered the capture, trial and hanging of Eichmann in the early 1960s. Similarly, he argues for a more complex and nuanced interpretation of the terror than that presented by Browning and Goldhagen. Johnson disputes the characterization of those involved as either "ordinary men" (Browning) or "ordinary Germans" (Goldhagen). The preponderant evidence (and common sense) indicate otherwise. Again, on the micro level, Johnson shows how German-language BBC radio programs (apparently very popular during the war, judging from extensive interviews) indicated exactly what was taking place on the eastern front and in the camps; similarly, he uses the extraordinary diaries of Victor Klemperer to demonstrate that knowledge about the extermination of millions of people was dependent more on one's desire to know. Although Johnson readily admits that a great majority of the German people found ways of "accommodating" themselves to the regime, he returns the burden of guilt to the perpetrators (in this case the Gestapo) and not the people. This is a benchmark work in Holocaust studies. Agent, Georges Borchardt.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 664 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (December 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465049087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465049080
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,467,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Johnson did an excellent job researching the Gestapo archives. Further, he strengthens the scope of the book by addressing questions one may not even consider (e.g., why church leaders, at the end of the war, actually testified in favor of Nazi/Gestapo functionaries; the petty nature of denunciations). Unfortunately, I found the book too much of a micro study of life around Krefeld and Cologne. The book's title implied (i.e., NAZI Terror) a study to include aspects of life all over Germany and even the occupied territories. To assert and suggest that what occurred in the Krefeld-Cologne area was a manifestation of the overall Nazi apparatus seems to overstretch the limits of the research provided.
Of course, Johnson's intuitive and probing translation of facts, as presented in the Gestapo files, elucidates the nature of life in Hitler's Germany. Several case studies provide glimpses into the existence of the several groups Johnson investigates (including "ordinary Germans"). Here also, I found myself keeping my mind open to the possibility that Gestapo members were only police officers. That was a feat very difficult for me to overcome having previously (a view I still hold even after having read the book) perceived that the Gestapo were simply armed thugs meting out terror at every turn. In acknowledging the "ordinary German" theory, Johnson illustrates the societal roles of people in Krefeld and Cologne, from lowly factory workers to the Cardinal and those of wives and husbands. In this sense, the vertical examination was fruitful to see how the terror operated at various levels of society. Very informative! To further complement Johnson's book, the scope of works cited in the bibliographic section should be enough to satiate any minds enquiring about any aspect of Nazi Germany.
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Format: Hardcover
Johnson, a Central Michigan professor and former member of Princeton's Inst of Advanced Study confronts the theses of Hannah Arendt and Daniel Goldhagen, and presents this detailed history of the Gestapo's war on Jews as well as the handicapped, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Sinti, Unionists, and opponents of the totalitarian regime. This is a must read for Holocaust scholars and WWII historians, and raises interesting issues on the role of ordinary Germans, what was known, why the population "ignored" the news, how "ordinary" were the members of the Gestapo, and the use of terror.
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Format: Paperback
When I read this book I wasn't surprised about its main thesis. It is a well-known fact that even the most dictatorial of governments manage to hang on to power only by judiciously dosing out the terror they choose to inflict. A regime that descends into an orgy of blood-letting against its own citizens, such as Pol Pot's Cambodia, or Idi Amin's Uganda or Macias Nguema's Equatorial Guinea can only become undone. It is also a well-known fact that most people have no strong views about events that don't affect them personally, and are willing to give significant leeway to the authorities provided they feel that they feel they are improving their own lot even if it comes at the price of persecutions against widely disliked miscreants such as Communist agitators, turbulent priests, religious sectarians (such as Jehova's Witnesses), homosexuals and Jews.

In this book, Johnson analyses the Gestapo's modus operandi throughout the Third Reich. He uses a medium-sized city and the surrounding small towns and countryside to paint a picture of the whole country. He reviews the files for several typical crimes, such as listening to foreign radio broadcasts or criticising government policies or Nazi bigwigs. He also follows the career of the Gestapo officials in the region from the beginning to the end of the Third Reich. He concludes that most Gestapo officials were typical policemen, and many in fact had careers that dated to Weimar Republic and even Imperial times, that there weren't too many of them (contrary to popular belief, the Gestapo was not omnipresent and rarely acted unless called in by interested parties) and that, up to the end of the war, most people were left alone even when they violated the laws.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This interesting book is the latest entry into the ongoing debate regarding the extent of "willing' complicity on the part of the average German citizen in the Holocaust. While it claims to settle the issue by showing the extent to which the terror unleashed by the Gestapo was selective and relied on the compliance and conformity of the average German. Yet one is left uneasy with how this interpretation skates so selectively over the thousands of cases other have cited regarding the degree to which Aryans risked much to help or save German Jews. I believe this account is too generalized to be satisfactory.
The book is well written, and the arguments and evidence well presented. I have problems with the research methods employed and the sampling techniques as described. My opinion is that this book only fuels the fire, and settles nothing. The main problem with its argument that ordinary Germans knowingly and enthusiastically complied with the Nazi policy to systematically scapegoat and exterminate the Jews, the truth is that there is just too much contrary evidence to trust such sweeping claims based on the evidence introduced and cited. Such a generalized argument ignores a lot of inconvenient evidence as well as a number of other more subtle and less reassuring conclusions one could also easily reach regarding the degree to which the ordinary German participated in the extermination of the Jews.
It's true that Germany in that period was characterized by a degree of conformity and adherence to very narrowly and carefully circumscribed rules of conduct.
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