Written in 1939 and unpublished until 2000, Sebastian Haffner’s memoir of the rise of Nazism in Germany offers a unique portrait of the lives of ordinary German citizens between the wars. Covering 1907 to 1933, his eyewitness account provides a portrait of a country in constant flux: from the rise of the First Corps, the right-wing voluntary military force set up in 1918 to suppress Communism and precursor to the Nazi storm troopers, to the Hitler Youth movement; from the apocalyptic year of 1923 when inflation crippled the country to Hitler’s rise to power. This fascinating personal history elucidates how the average German grappled with a rapidly changing society, while chronicling day-to-day changes in attitudes, beliefs, politics, and prejudices.
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