As I sit and watch, I think I need to read a book.
March 14, 2016 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I have become very interested in reading a book describing the experience of non-nazi sympathizers in Germany - their thoughts and actions - in the years preceding and into the rise of Hitler and the regime. I am just wondering whether the sentiment was "this cannot actually happen," "there is no way this is going to fly," "what a whack job, who would support this?" and "who are these people?" I have found it hard to google, so turning to you all! Are there books that can satisfy this line of thought?
posted by lil' ears to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I highly recommend The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg.
posted by kitten magic at 1:31 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

She was British, married to a German and lived in Germany through the 30s and then the war.
posted by kitten magic at 1:34 PM on March 14, 2016

In the Garden of Beasts is about the rise of the Nazism seen through the outsiders-living-in-Berlin perspective of the US ambassador and his family.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:40 PM on March 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

Victor Klemperer's diaries have become standard sources.
posted by Hypatia at 1:46 PM on March 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not sure if you're interested in fiction, but German author Erich Maria Remarque (author of All Quiet on the Western Front) wrote a number of novels set around that period. I think the most salient is The Black Obelisk, which is a sort of black comedy that gets into the mindset of hyperinflation era Germany. I really enjoyed it. He obviously lived during this period (and fled the Nazis, and had a sister who was executed during WWII) and his novels feel like they cut pretty close to home.
posted by selfnoise at 1:49 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
This groundbreaking international bestseller lays to rest many myths about the Holocaust: that Germans were ignorant of the mass destruction of Jews, that the killers were all SS men, and that those who slaughtered Jews did so reluctantly. Hitler's Willing Executioners provides conclusive evidence that the extermination of European Jewry engaged the energies and enthusiasm of tens of thousands of ordinary Germans. Goldhagen reconstructs the climate of "eliminationist anti-Semitism" that made Hitler's pursuit of his genocidal goals possible and the radical persecution of the Jews during the 1930s popular. Drawing on a wealth of unused archival materials, principally the testimony of the killers themselves, Goldhagen takes us into the killing fields where Germans voluntarily hunted Jews like animals, tortured them wantonly, and then posed cheerfully for snapshots with their victims. From mobile killing units, to the camps, to the death marches, Goldhagen shows how ordinary Germans, nurtured in a society where Jews were seen as unalterable evil and dangerous, willingly followed their beliefs to their logical conclusion.
Basically the above book takes every trope you learned about breaks them down and shows them to be false. From "Germans like rules so were following the rules" to "They had to do these bad things or worse would happen to them."

Obviously does have a lot about Nazis in there, but also society as a whole.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:50 PM on March 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding In The Garden of Beasts, which is very good. There is also a great documentary on Weimar-era film and its reflection/creation of culture on Netflix called From Caligari to Hitler.
posted by raisindebt at 1:55 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have not read it yet, but Nagorski's 2012 Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power was well-reviewed when it came out. E.g. in the New York Review of Books.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:57 PM on March 14, 2016

Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther detective novels are a good read and widely considered to be well researched.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:01 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Joseph Roth: What I Saw
Something about the Scholl siblings?
Yes to Klemperer
I've really been through a lot of this, but mostly 20 years ago, so I don't remember the titles and there might be a lot of good newer stuff. But one thing that is really striking is that the Nazis were extremely efficient at killing off opposition, so you won't find a lot of first hand literature. Another reason for that is the way the transition to democracy was handled after the war. In order to get things to work with a population who had overwhelmingly supported Hitler, critical voices were hushed, if not silenced. This happened all over Europe, not just in Germany. One survivor was Willy Brandt - I don't know what you can find about him these days, but even his writings underplay the tensions during Weimar.
(And this is just my personal view, but I'll say it anyway: there is a lot of blaming Weimar and Versailles for Hitler, and that may be post-fact rationalization. Politicians and economists want political and economical reasons for everything. But in -33 the depression was ending, the hyper-inflation was long-gone. At the nov. 1932 election, the Nazis gained only 33% of the vote - but opposing them would have required collaboration across the aisle, which no one was ready for. The "moderate" Conservatives saw Hitler as less of a threat than the Socialists, and from there is just went down; within less than a year after the Nazi takeover, a broad majority of Germans supported Hitler).
I keep on recommending the Joseph Roth articles, because he describes what no-one else has: a refugee crisis similar to the one we have right now in Europe. Thousands and thousands of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe were trying to get to America or other friendly nations, and stranded in Germany. Germany at the time wouldn't/couldn't let them travel on or work, and many of the refugees were forced into crime, like prostitution, burglary, begging, etc. In broader society, the initial anti-semitism wasn't so much against the German (or Austrian) Jews as against the refugees (not that it is more acceptable). But then it became legitimate to other all Jews, and blame all Jews along with the refugees, and from then it just took on.
At this point, knowledge of what happened then is almost unbearable. Our whole international system with the UN, Human Rights, Geneva etc. is made to prevent this exact thing from happening ever again. And it is happening - not only to Jews, even though they are increasingly becoming a target again, but also to Muslims, Hispanics, Africans, Asians. In the US and in Europe.
posted by mumimor at 2:27 PM on March 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

Sebastian Haffner wrote a book in 1939 called, Defying Hitler: A Memoir. He was a young man at the time (32) and had just fled to the UK to escape the Nazis. It is about growing up in Berlin after World War One and what it was like, trying to live in Berlin as a non-Nazi sympathizer (in fact, as a Nazi hater) as their party got stronger and stronger.

It was published posthumously, so the whole book has a sort of loose feel to it sometimes, like an essay that never got the final polishing. And the first part is thick with the names of rebellions and politicians and parties and battles (all from the Weimar Republic) that I'd never heard of, but I don't think you have to worry too much about keeping everyone perfectly straight (the important parts are really just the shocking way some of those politicians got assassinated and the fact that there were frequently opposing German armies shooting at each other during the Weimar Republic in the streets of Berlin). And if you stick with it, it's really worth it.

For all of its minor faults, it's a really amazing book. I read it 6 years ago and I still think about it often.
posted by colfax at 2:29 PM on March 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have not read it yet, but Nagorski's 2012 Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power was well-reviewed when it came out.

I have read Hitlerland, and just came in here to recommend it. I think it's exactly what you're looking for because it's based on what people thought and wrote at the time, not later when it became more and more apparent that you-know-who was not the respectible, duly elected leader of a great nation he claimed to be.

p.s. As mumimor suggests, you also could learn about the people of the White Rose.
posted by LeLiLo at 2:44 PM on March 14, 2016

The White Rose movement may be a useful starting point.
posted by My Dad at 3:02 PM on March 14, 2016

Came here to recommend Klemperer's diaries. The advantage it has over a history is that there's no hindsight; you get to experience it exactly the way he did, with growing awareness that this is going to be really bad.
posted by languagehat at 3:09 PM on March 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

It is not the focus, but Nikolas Wachsmann's remarkably excellent book, KL, covers this question, especially in his account of how the concentration camp system and early mass exterminations began.
posted by bearwife at 3:11 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

colfax' suggestion of Sebastian Haffner is excellent.
posted by mumimor at 3:35 PM on March 14, 2016

I haven't read this, but it wound up on my Amazon wish list at some point:
Diary of a Man in Despair

From a previous edition of the book:
This is the true and compelling diary of an anti-Nazi Prussian aristocrat who lived through mankind's darkest era, only to die in a concentration camp on the eve of the Armistice. The diary is considered one of the most important documents of the period, describing in unforgettable terms how a psychosis enveloped an entire society, enabling Hitler's rise to power, and the Nazi regime. This accurate account of the forebodings of an unsung visionary exposes in chilling fashion the relationship between sentimentality and violence.
posted by Bron at 3:35 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Lost City by John Gunther. It's all about a journalist in Vienna, covering Central Europe, in the 1930s. The it takes in the whole milieu of the Viennese Interwar Correspondents--so a bit of a sidewise view of the rise of the Nazis, but definitely taking in many of the larger trends that led up to WWII.
posted by flug at 3:54 PM on March 14, 2016

The Reluctant Nazi, by Gabriella Robinson.
posted by Capri at 6:08 PM on March 14, 2016

Berlin Diary, by journalist William Shirer.
posted by marguerite at 6:36 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please stay far away from Hitler's Willing Executioners, which has been widely discredited. Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning is a much better book based on the same data, and a great and compelling read.

I would also really recommend anything by Ian Kershaw, who is undoubtedly the foremost scholar on Hitler. He's written many books on the subject, but Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich: Bavaria 1933-1945 is probably the closest to what you are seeking, and gives a lot more nuance to the question of how much proactive support Hitler actually had.

And also, definitely The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood. It is fiction but largely autobiographical, and does a great job at setting the atmosphere of the 1930s (as does the film Cabaret, which was based on it).
posted by veery at 7:35 PM on March 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just came in to say, yes, Hitler's Willing Executioners is atrocious. Ordinary Men is vastly superior.
posted by asterix at 7:50 PM on March 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich by Alison Owings. This is a series of interviews with German women who were adults when Hitler came to power. Subjects range from resistance fighters to an unrepentant Nazi.
posted by FencingGal at 8:22 PM on March 14, 2016

Leon Feuchtwanger's novel Success might be interesting to you. It was written in 1930 and takes place in Munich during the twenties; while not the center of the book, part of the story concerns the initial local rise of Hitler and his supporters up to their failed Bavarian putsch. Feuchtwanger's attitude in narrating these events seems to be that the Nazi's are indeed truly sinister but also ridiculous -- too ridiculous to be a bonafide threat. Like a chorus of evil but incompetent clowns.

His tone changed considerably on this topic by the time he wrote 1934's The Oppermanns to one of despairing alarm.
posted by bertran at 9:03 PM on March 14, 2016

Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada
posted by CincyBlues at 9:56 PM on March 14, 2016

Thanks for all these (and future) recommendations! The university I work for where I requested the books from will undoubtedly think I am working on this for my dissertation since I have/will methodically request all of the recommendations (and not Hitler's Willing Executioners). I will come back to mark best answers in a couple of weeks.
posted by lil' ears at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2016

I read They Thought They Were Free in college and it has stuck with me for over ten years:

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.”--from Chapter 13, “But Then It Was Too Late”
posted by ukdanae at 3:10 PM on March 15, 2016

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