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Defying Hitler

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Written in 1939 and unpublished until 2000, Sebastian Haffner's memoir of the rise of Nazism in Germany offers a unique portrait of the lives of ordinary German citizens between the wars.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.

309 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 2000

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About the author

Sebastian Haffner

41 books126 followers
Sebastian Haffner (the pseudonym for Raimund Pretzel) was a German journalist and author whose focus was the history of the German Reich (1871-1945). His books dealt with the origins and course of the First World War, the failure of the Weimar Republic and the subsequent rise and fall of Nazi Germany under Hitler.

In 1938 he emigrated from Nazi Germany with his Jewish fiancée to London, hardly able to speak English but becoming rapidly proficient in the language. He adopted the pseudonym Sebastian Haffner so that his family back in Germany would not be endangered by his writing.

Haffner wrote for the London Sunday newspaper, The Observer, and then became its editor-in-chief. In 1954, he became its German correspondent in Berlin, a position which he kept until the building of the Berlin Wall.

He wrote for the German newspaper, Die Welt, until 1962, and then until 1975 was a columnist for the Stern magazine. Haffner was a frequent guest on the television show Internationaler Frühschoppen and had his own television program on the German channel, Sender Freies Berlin.

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Profile Image for Lisa.
974 reviews3,328 followers
September 24, 2017
Reposting this with tears in my eyes, realising the fascist plague has reached the German Bundestag as well. I thought what I witness in America was as bad as 2017 can get. I was wrong!

"Je länger dieser Sommer 1933 dauerte, umso unwirklicher wurde alles."

Translated into contemporary time, I would say: "Over the course of the 2017 winter, everything became more and more unreal."

Haffner, growing up and maturing in a Germany increasingly influenced, and then taken over by, Hitler and his thugs, wrote down his thoughts on what happened, why it happened, and how he and his close relations reacted to it - the "Story of a German".

Starting with a chilling sentence, claiming that he tells the story of a duel between a strong, ruthless state and himself, a powerless individual, he shows in his erudite prose how he came to form his own opinions on the development of fascism and its spread.

The passage that haunts me most is a dialogue between himself and his father, where he declares that his greatest fear is that war breaks out and he has to fight "on the wrong side".

His father opposes him. "Fighting on France's side would be right for you?"

Haffner tells his father that he believes that to be the only way to save Germany, but his father refuses to accept that, falling back on all the mistakes "the liberals" have made in the past, resulting in the Hitler regime. Haffner, still young and energetic, rejects that fatalistic approach, and questions his father's attitude.

"Aber dann siehst du gar kein Ziel und keine Hoffnung?" No goal? No hope?

And the father replies, "For the moment, no!"

What a horrible message for the son: his own father does not believe in any future, has no hope, and no solutions, just resignation under the worst possible scenario, blaming earlier political mistakes for current disasters.

Why did Haffner write his book? He was not a hero (despite the ridiculous, probably sales-oriented English translation of the story with the title "Defying Hitler"), just an educated, decent man who saw what went wrong and decided not to be indifferent.

He describes the effects of the propaganda machinery on himself and others with frightening honesty: how thoughts were deliberately suppressed to adapt to "groupthink" and mandatory coordinated activities for "the greater good" of the nation, ignoring individual intelligence and choice. How certain things were endured to secure personal goals like exams, career, plans for the future. How accepting one step in the chain of events compromised the own conscience and made him vulnerable, culpable in his own eyes: If I sang that song with the group (how could I have refused, in the context?), can I honestly say I am not one of them? If I waved the flag (how could I have refused, in the context?), can I say I am not supporting the party?

"So lange der Bann anhält, gibt es fast kein Mittel dagegen."

History has plenty of examples of mass hysteria functioning like a spell, all-powerful, until the hypnotised person wakes up to the ugly truth.

Haffner himself went into exile, became an emigrant, or immigrant, depending on the point of view. And he raised his voice for the importance of understanding historical processes, and emotional responses to stress, manipulation and violence.

He wrote for others to understand, so that it may not happen again. He described the slow eroding of democracy, as witnessed by himself, for example through changed paragraphs in general laws, each one taking away a grain of what people had considered basic human rights. Gradually, the exceptions were accepted as normal, and citizens got used to a completely new kind of language, and law enforcement. They stopped fighting it as it fell apart step by step, and each step could somehow be justified, in a flawed way, of course, but as a single event not worth the cost of resistance. Mass depression and fear ruled the political climate in which Haffner wrote his reflections.

That is why this book should be required reading again, for all those who say that the developments in America at the moment are due to "liberal mistakes in the past". The answer to that is: "If so, so what? Who cares?" It hardly excuses the new, more serious mistakes which affect not only the voters in the United States, but peoples across the globe.

We have a responsibility to raise our voices against aggression, regardless of whether it is aimed at religion (and this is the atheist speaking, on behalf of religious freedom, as long as the religion does not force others to believe and commit to specific rituals and rules that are only relevant to its particular dogma), ethnicity, gender, or social status. And we have to protect our shared environment against policy makers who confuse scientific data with personal opinions and beliefs based on profit. When the world is taken hostage by people with a clearly narcissistic, criminal agenda, we are in the same position as Haffner in the 1930s.

We can give up, like his father, or we can speak up, like himself. We don't have to be heroes, but sometimes, we have to choose sides. I am with Haffner on that: you can't be diplomatically standing in the middle where fascism is concerned, for its ultimate goal is to destroy diversity and freedom of choice, and to force its power on as many facets of life as possible. Master bullies need to be resisted - that is what teachers try to implement in schools, and it applies to the world of "so-called" grown-up politics as well.

That was my angry review for this week, read Haffner, PLEASE!
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,123 reviews1,624 followers
September 28, 2021

Hitler Jugend.

Con la storia contingente e privata della mia della mia contingente e privata persona sono convinto di raccontare un pezzo importante della storia tedesca ed europea, non ancora raccontato. Qualcosa di più importante e di più significativo che se raccontassi chi ha incendiato il Reichstag e cosa si siano detti veramente Hitler e Röhm

Wow, Haffner si sente in pole position!

Hitler con Ernst Röhm, comandante delle SA.

Il punto di vista di chi scrive è enormemente interessante perché coetaneo dei fatti narrati, e interno a questi fatti in quanto tedesco.
È quello di un figlio di un alto funzionario dello stato prussiano, un giovane conservatore liberale, di educazione puritana, più portato per le idee di destra che di sinistra, spinto dal padre a studiare giurisprudenza per proseguire la tradizione familiare di impiego statale.
Nel 1933, quando Hitler e il nazismo vanno al potere, Haffner (il cui vero nome era in realt�� Pretzel) ha ventisei anni.
E ne ha trentuno quando decide che con il nazismo e Hitler non riesce a conciliarsi in alcun modo, meglio emigrare.


Nel 1933 alle ultime elezioni il partito nazista raccoglie il 44% dei voti. Tanti, tantissimi: ma rimane comunque un 56% che non aderisce, non lo vota, ha idee diverse.
Rispetto alle elezioni precedenti (1932) ha guadagnato un 7%. Ma è ancora insufficiente per spiegare quello che stava per succedere.

E quindi, da questa partenza, mi sono aspettato illuminazioni a go go.
Ho sperato in un bel libro di storia ricco di fatti e dati, ma sono rimasto subito deluso: non è un libro di storia (per esempio, le note sono pressoché inesistenti e collocate malissimo, alla fine di ciascun capitolo diventano quasi inutilizzabili).
Ma soprattutto, più che fatti, sono ricordi.
E quindi è se non altro un memoir. Per di più scritto in contemporanea (anche se pubblicato postumo nel 2000, questo testo era già così, pronto e ultimato nel 1940).
Ma un memoir di solito ha la qualità di essere emozionante, palpitante, vibrante.
Qui, invece, nessuna emozione, nessuna vibrazione, men che meno palpitazione. Il tono adottato è quasi sempre ondivago, con gran ricorso a un’ironia che gli viene male, salvo qui e là ricorrere a sostantivi e soprattutto aggettivi un po’ troppo enfatici.


Perché è successo, come è potuto succedere quello che è successo?
Il mistero non si svela, la grande domanda rimane senza risposta, anche Haffner non aiuta.

Il 56% di elettori tedeschi che la pensa in modo diverso da Hitler si può leggere anche in modo opposto: quasi la metà degli elettori tedeschi la pensava come lui. Un’enormità.
Che il nazismo si sia costruito sfruttando l’umiliazione per la sconfitta nella Grande Guerra e le pesanti sanzioni imposte al paese che seguirono, la povertà, l’incertezza, la fragilità economica e sociale degli anni della Repubblica di Weimar, incrociando con la crisi internazionale del 1929, è un fatto noto.
Che i partiti tradizionali, sia quelli conservatori che quelli ‘rivoluzionari’ (socialdemocratici e comunisti) abbiano tradito o si siano dissolti il giorno dopo le ultime elezioni, è cosa nota.
Se l’hanno fatto per paura, per salvarsi vita e pelle, come è stato possibile che un paese di così lunga e solida tradizione abbia consentito che quasi la sua metà aderisse a un’ideologia basata sulla violenza, sulla retorica, sulla sopraffazione, sull’eliminazione fisica dell’avversario, sulla tortura? Tutti opportunisti? Come è possibile che corpi dello stato, a cominciare dalla polizia, tollerassero, proteggessero, affiancassero, l’incredibile violenza nazista?


Sottovalutato il pericolo?
Ma le cose sono andate avanti per anni, i nazisti non hanno mai fatto passi indietro, la gente vedeva e assisteva.
Le SA, organizzazione paramilitare del partito nazista, furono fondate nel 1920: sciolte dal governo per meno di un anno, già rifondate nel 1924 – nel 1933 erano più di due milioni.
Lo stesso Hitler fu condannato a cinque anni di prigione, scontò solo nove mesi, e fu subito riammesso in politica.
In tanti, almeno la metà, scelsero di partecipare all’orrore nazista, in qualche modo, vigoroso o blando che sia stato: Questo era appunto il segreto del successo del nazionalsocialismo, il suo appellarsi a qualcosa che era insito profondamente nella natura di tutti i tedeschi.
(Peccato che la spiegazione di Haffner non riesca ad andare oltre lo spirito di cameratismo: sarebbe quella la vera ragione della vittoria del nazismo!).


Forse, come dice Haffner, in una specie di seminarcosi, con una percezione cosciente penosamente sottile dietro alla mostruosità oggettiva. Ma non mi pare granché come spiegazione.

Ecco, su questo Haffner non accende nessuna luce, non chiarisce nulla, non aggiunge niente alla conoscenza.
In circa un quarto delle pagine utilizzate da Heffner, Destinatario sconosciuto di Kathrine Kressman Taylor, pur adottando la finzione invece del ricordo dei fatti storici, si spinge ben più in là, ‘spiega’ e racconta andando oltre.

Nessuno più colpevole del proprio vicino è un verso di Bertold Brecht da “Der Jasager / Der Neinsager”.

Profile Image for Lilo.
131 reviews352 followers
November 1, 2020

The above book is THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK I read this year. It may even be the most important book I read in all my life.

Upfront: Defying Hitler is a historical/political memoir that was written in 1939, after the author had emigrated to England (in 1938). When WWII broke out (in September 1939), the author deserted this book project, as he no longer considered his private memories important, and turned to writing professional historical and political books and essays, with which he became a renowned book author and journalist. (As a journalist, he wrote for the Spiegel, the Stern, the Welt, and other political magazines and newspapers.) Please read the Wikipedia page on Sebastian Haffner. Here is the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebasti.... The above book was first published by his son, in 2001.


It is so important because it shows as no other Third Reich book I have read (and I have read quite a number of Third Reich non-fiction books) not only HOW EXACTLY Hitler and his henchmen managed to come to power and how this evil regime had developed A PERFECT SYSTEM to recruit the uneducated, the stupid, the naive, the ideological dreamers, and those who just simply longed for a “Fuehrer”. It shows in detail how it worked, as it trapped adults with lies, deceit, false promises, and propaganda, and how it worked as it seduced adults, youth, and children alike, with rallies, marches, and social events, numbing their minds with march-music, beats of drums, waving of flags, and constantly repeated dulling slogans, until some 44% of Germans shouted “Heil!”, voted for Hitler, and ran with the Nazi crowd.

So where were the other 56% of Germans, who were either on the political Left or who just simply had some brain left?

The answer: This evil regime had not only developed a perfect system to secure a base of immature and/or uneducated and/or not-so-bright and/or opportunistic and/or perfect-world-seeking unrealistic followers, it had also developed a perfect system to terrorize the remaining population, so that there would be no opposition left.

Some of those terrorized and in fear would eventually come round and also shout “Heil!”, might even join in to terrorize and torture (as it is safer and more pleasant to terrorize and torture than to get terrorized and tortured).

Some of those terrorized and in fear would emigrate. This, unfortunately, was only an option for a very small percentage of the unhappy population. The costs involved with emigration would exceed the financial means of most people. And how would they support themselves in a foreign country (with, in most cases, a foreign language)? Besides, the Nazi regime passed laws that not only made emigration most difficult (with extreme requirements of paperwork) but also dispossessed most property, assets, and belongings of those who left the country. Furthermore: Other countries were not keen on receiving emigrants. Would enforce strict immigration quota and would even refuse asylum to Jews, whose lives were clearly in danger.

Most terrorized and in fear (including my own family, relatives, and family friends) would keep a low profile that gave them and their loved ones a fair chance for survival. Anyone who had loved ones (and most people do) would not only endanger themselves but also their loved ones (due to “Sippenhaft” [= kin liability]) for even the slightest critical remark. Thus, my adoptive grandmother (biological grand-aunt) endangered not only herself but all of our family when she said to a faint acquaintance, “How does this corporal [meaning Hitler] think he can win the war?” and was denunciated. It took miraculous luck that she (and other family members) did not land in Dachau or in front of the “Volksgericht” (“People’s Court” = Hitler’s kangaroo court).—Besides, how would you organize a successful revolution, when there is an assembly prohibition? Secretly in your bedroom? It’s not likely to work.—Thus, keeping a low profile was the best solution for most anti-Nazis.

And, sadly, many of those terrorized and in fear (who would not keep their mouths shut, who were suspected of having ties to opposition groups, who were considered “unworthy life” for medical reasons, who were simply not “pure-bred Aryans”, or who were found to disobey Nazi laws or ordinances) ended up dead.

You might think that you already know most of the above. You may know the main facts and structures, but it is highly unlikely that you know the devilish details of this evil regime’s perfect system. However, YOU NEED TO KNOW THE DETAILS OF THIS PERFECT SYSTEM. You need to know these details, so that you will be able to recognize them when they get repeated. This is particularly important, as some of them are already repeated, in our time, in our country.

One of the most important information I took from this book is as follows: When a “Reichstagsbrand” happens, it won’t take weeks or days until things get bad. It will only take minutes until Martial Law will be declared, which means the end of all remnants of any democracy. And it will only be hours later that dissidents will be raided in their homes, dragged out of their beds, and arrested or “shot while attempting to flee”. (The latter is a very convenient method to get rid of undesired people without having to bother with a court case, especially, as long as no kangaroo court has been established yet.)

So please WATCH OUT, SPEAK UP, and VOTE, as long as you can. ONCE A TOTALITARIAN STATE HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED, IT WILL BE TOO LATE. (And you might even wish to make plans where to go in a worst case scenario.)

Btw, Hitler had no problem finding dissidents with only very simple means. He just made it obligatory to denunciate anyone who (even only mildly) criticized either him or his henchmen or the regime’s actions or who questioned any part of Nazi ideology. Today, with the help of search engines crawling over the internet, finding dissidents would be even so much easier.

There is still time to prevent history from repeating itself. So please do whatever you can. Speak up and vote. SPEAK UP AND VOTE AS LONG AS THIS IS POSSIBLE!

P.S. I forgot to tell: This book is very well written. Yet even if it weren't, it would still be a must-read.

(After reading the above book [which is a translation by Sebastian Haffner’s son], I am now reading the German original, titled “Geschichte eines Deutschen: Die Erinnerungen 1914-1933”. For anyone with a good command of German, the German original is probably better [because some terms used in this book are a bit difficult to translate], but the English translation is very good. So I recommend to read a copy of whatever language you are more familiar with.)
Profile Image for Nika.
125 reviews131 followers
February 18, 2022
"This is the story of a duel. It is a duel between two very unequal adversaries: an exceedingly powerful, formidable, and ruthless state and an insignificant, unknown private individual. The duel does not take place in what is commonly known as the sphere of politics; the individual is by no means a politician, still less a conspirator or an enemy of the state. Throughout, he finds himself very much on the defensive. He only wishes to preserve what he considers his integrity, his private life, and his personal honor."

This is how this book starts.
The manuscript had been unknown to the public until it was discovered and published in 2000. The book was an immediate success.

The author, Raimund Pretzel, was an “Aryan” and a son of a respectable German official. He was one of those whom the Nazis would have wanted to see among their ranks.
However, Pretzel hated the Nazis and everything related to them since the very outset.
His life seems to have remained almost unchanged. Pretzel would study law, meet with friends, attend parties. But he sensed that serious processes were taking place under the surface.
Pretzel was keen to avoid any kind of cooperation with the regime so he abandoned his plans to pursue a career in law and started writing for the arts pages of nonpolitical newspapers. If this offered him the benefit of the doubt, it did not last long. He knew that he would have to leave Germany.

At the end of the 1930s, Raimund managed to emigrate to the UK where he joined his partner. She was Jewish, and by marrying her Pretzel forfeited his German citizenship. The last thread that might have connected the man with his homeland under Nazi rule was broken.
Pretzel dropped his name and adopted the pseudonym Sebastian Haffner because he feared reprisals against his family members in Nazi Germany.

The well-written book provides the reader with the context of what Germany looked like during the years 1914 - 1933.
It brings to the forefront everyday life which apparently continued to be normal in many ways except for occasional violent outbursts and something oppressive in the air. The author reminisces:

"I remember a particular beautiful Sunday, one of the first warm Sundays of the year, with crowds of people strolling down a broad tree-lined street. It was utterly peaceful, not a shot to be heard anywhere. Suddenly the people dived left and right into the doorways of the houses. Armored cars came rattling by. We heard earsplitting detonations frighteningly close by. Machine guns sprang to life. All hell was let loose for five minutes. Then the armored cars rattled off and disappeared. The machine guns subsided. We boys were the first to emerge. We saw a strange sight. The long avenue was deserted, but piled in front of each house were heaps of broken glass of varying sizes: all the windows had been blown out by the explosions. Then, as nothing more seemed to be happening, the strollers timidly reappeared. A few minutes later the street was again bathed in the atmosphere of a spring Sunday, as though nothing had happened."

Among the possible reasons that made 'Hitler' possible the author cites the betrayal of "all party and organizational leaders, to whom the 56 percent of the population who had voted against the Nazis on March 5 had entrusted themselves."
As a result, many ordinary people felt abandoned and thought that they had little choice but to join the National Socialist Party. They failed to see how dangerous this path was.
This assertion of the author corroborates Ian Kershaw's thesis about the supreme power having, in a certain way, been given to Hitler and his party and not taken by them.
Haffner also makes an insightful point about the so-called trap of comradeship. Haffner's own personal experience, when he was enrolled in a training camp, led him to conclude that comradeship was a tool that the Nazis used to relieve men of responsibility for their actions.

The author is convinced that by relating his "private, unimportant story" he adds a valuable brick to the massive building of history. His account appears to fit pretty much seamlessly into the bigger picture.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,791 followers
April 19, 2019
The English translation of this book is called "Defying Hitler" which I am sure helped sell more copies but underplays the wider interest of this book which covers the years 1914 to 1933 in the life of a man from the German, specifically Prussian, middle class.

While at school during the Kapp Putsch, for instance, a particularly right-wing teacher asks if they can feel the difference in the atmosphere now that they are ruled by a firm hand again. They don't, things were exactly the same as before. The putsch was over in a couple of days anyway. But the anecdote speaks to the expectation and hope placed in violent change and openly anti-democratic feeling around at the time.

During the inflation the young Haffner and his friends get very excited and join in the speculation. His Father however, true to the dignity of a Prussian civil servant considers that financial speculation is an improper and immoral pass time for someone in his position, Ordnung muss sein afterall. Due to the hyper-inflation come his pay-day the whole family troop off to the barbers to have their hair cut before the money looses too much of its value.

Anyway readers who bought the book expecting to hear about Hitler being defied will be keen to know that the author moves on to the time that he spent training as a lawyer. By the time his training is nearing completion in 1933 Gleichschaltung was under-way in the legal profession, ie the process of bringing that profession (among others) into the regime's ideological line, to which end Haffner and a bunch of other young trainees are sent to a training camp at Jueterbog where they march about singing uplifting patriotic songs and are generally meant to develop a sense of camaraderie.

Haffner's insight into this process was that the success of the Nazis was down to the triumph of du over sie (or tu over vous if you prefer) in other words creating a politics of the informal, politicised groups which could replace or act as a substitute for family or friends with a ready sense of society and inclusion. The victory of Fascism was the defeat of alienation and the familiar stratification of society. Instead everyone could settle down and all be mates together, so long, naturally, as they conformed - and you wouldn't want to let your mates, your chums, your pals down would you? Friends after-all stick together, at any road at least until the time comes to commit suicide in your bunker.

Shortly after the author makes his escape to Britain where at the time since everybody treated each other as foreigners he could feel safe and begin to make a living for himself as a journalist.

Profile Image for merixien.
543 reviews281 followers
April 21, 2022
Birinci Dünya Savaşı’ndaki yenilginin ardından Almanya’daki çalkantılı durumundan başlayarak yakın tarihi “sıradan bir vatandaş” gözünden bütün gerçekçiliği ile okuyorsunuz. Örneğin hiperenflasyonun gün gün ülkeyi fakirleştirmesini, bu fakirleşme ve uluslararası arenada kaybedilmiş bir savaşın ardından halkı bir arada tutabilmek için ülkenin içinden bir kurban arayışına girilmesini, günah keçisinin ise yahudiler olarak seçilmesini adım adım görüyorsunuz. Nasyonal sosyalizm tehdidinin ülkede yavaş yavaş yükselişini, saçmalıktan ideale çıkışını, kademeli olarak yönetimden hayatın büyün alanlarına yayılışını ve muhaliflerin direnişlerinin kırılma süreciyle korkularını ve teslimiyetlerini okuyorsunuz. Bir yandan da aşırı sağ ve benzer hareketlerin dünya üzerinde, geçmişte ya da günümüzde hep aynı sistem ile yükselişe geçtiğini ve her seferinde son noktaya gelindiği anda ancak insanlığı şaşırttığını görüyorsunuz. Bu çok acayip bir nokta. Bu sürece bu kadar net bir görgü tanığı raporundan göz atmak çok kıymetli gerçekten. Mutlaka okumanızı tavsiye ederim.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 9 books493 followers
June 19, 2017
Haffner provides a real sense of what it was like to experience the Hitler takeover of Germany. From the eyes of a child before Hitler was ever heard of through 1938 when Hitler had squashed all opposition, Haffner reports in often electric prose how he felt.

A few examples ...

... Göring ordered the police to intervene in any brawl on the side of the Nazis, without investigating the rights and wrongs of the matter, and to shoot at the other side without prior warning

... my reaction was icy horror … I could physically sense the man's odor of blood and filth, the nauseating approach of a man-eating animal, it's foul sharp claws in my face ... even so, I did not give the new government much chance of surviving, not with Hitler as its mouthpiece

... terror under the Nazis is more repulsive than under any other regime in European history … systematic torture and murder of defenseless victims … while publicly declaring in fine noble words that nobody would be harmed and that never before had a revolution shed less blood

... The 56% of the population which voted against the Nazis then engaged in a cowardly treachery … extending from left to right … including the Social Democratic leadership which betrayed their faithful and loyal millions of followers … and the great middle class Catholic Center Party which supplied devotes necessary for the two thirds majority that legalized Hitler's dictatorship (referring to the Enabling Act)

Profile Image for Anne .
438 reviews346 followers
December 6, 2021
This is a brilliant book which makes the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s psychologically comprehensible. Written in 1939, shoved in a drawer and discovered by his son after his father's death, this book was published in 2000 to great acclaim. Haffner reflects on his experiences and thoughts as a participant and as a witness to this slow, creeping rise in the acceptance of Nazi ideas and ideology and the resulting changes in German society.

It's absolutely fascinating to read about Haffner's day to day life and how beating up Jews and aggression towards people with dissenting opinions slowly became justifiable and acceptable to some of his acquaintances. Ironically, one such experience takes place in a debating society to which Haffner belonged, a group in which dissenting opinion is normally expected and discussed with intelligence. Haffner writes about his experience in this debating group when "normal" no longer existed and important topics could no longer be debated. One old acquaintance in this group threatened Haffner's life after the two of them disagreed and "debated" on whether it was reasonable to accept that Nazi thugs were randomly killing Jews. (the other guys sat around saying nothing). Afraid for his life Haffner leaves and reflects with keen insight and intelligence on what he had just experienced.

Also interesting is Haeffner’s point that the roots for the slow escalation and infiltration of Nazi ideas into daily German life started during WW1. The adults of the 1930s were children during WWI. They experienced war as exciting, did not understand the consequences of war and felt the return to civilian life as boring.

“The truly Nazi generation was formed by those born in the decade from 1900 to 1910, who experienced war as a great game and were untouched by its realities.”

Also ringing with truth is Haffner's experience with "comradeship" and his ideas about how the Nazis exploited comradeship to "occupy" the German.

“The first country to be occupied by Nazis was not Austria or Czechoslovakia. It was Germany.

" ...comradeship relieves men of responsibility for their actions, before themselves, before God, before their consciences. They do what all their comrades do. They have no choice. They have no time for thought .... Comradeship admits no thoughts, just mass feelings of the most primitive sort. Their comrades are their conscience and give absolution for everything, provided they do what everybody else does...... Indeed, it is at bottom, an instrument of decivilisation. The general promiscuous comradeship to which the Nazis have seduced the Germans has debased this nation as nothing else could.”

I thought I knew something about the reasons for the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Not until I read this book did I really understand.

Note: The title is a poor translation from the German, apparently. The book has nothing to do with defying Hitler. If anything, it's about the opposite.
Profile Image for Banu Yıldıran Genç.
Author 1 book629 followers
April 15, 2019
sebastian haffner'in daha ikinci dünya savaşı patlak vermeden almanya'nın adım adım nasıl nazizme ilerlediğini otobiyografik bir biçimde anlattığı bu müthiş kitap, yazarın 99'daki ölümünden sonra çocukları tarafından bulunup yayımlanmış.
haffner 1939'a kadar bu kitabı kaçmış olduğu ingiltere'de yayımlatmayı düşünürken savaş çıkıp da çok daha korkunç şeyler olunca fazla kişisel olduğunu düşünmüş ve bir kenara bırakmış. oysa tarih kişiseldir. ve ben ikinci dünya savaşı'yla ilgili onca şey bilmeme karşın ilk kez bu kadar net gördüm bazı şeyleri. hakimlik sınavından sonra gitmek zorunda olduğu nazi kampı ve orada kendisiyle yaşadığı çelişki, babasının emekli maaşını almaya devam edebilmek için hitler hükümetine inandığını yazıp imzalamak zorunda kalması gibi küçük ayrıntılar yazıyor aslında tarihi. bu imzadan sonra hep yaşayacağı mide rahatsızlığı ise bedenin isyanına nasıl iyi bir örnek olmuş.
çok etkileyici.
hâlimizi hitler almanya'sıyla karşılaştırmak abes tabii ama bu işin nasıl hep aynı şekilde işlediğini görmek de acayip. ve biz bu sürecin neresindeyiz diye merak ediyor insan.
çeviri de çok başarılı, özellikle dili sanki o yılları yaşatıyor bize.
önceki sene khk'larla ihraç edilir miyim acaba diye geçen bekleme sürecinden sonra şimdi pek çok yerde kendime getirdiğim otosansürü düşündüm en çok... maalesef.
Profile Image for Margarita Garova.
418 reviews162 followers
February 20, 2022
“Със сигурност не бях германски националист...Впрочем това не ми пречеше да бъда германец, и то добър.”

Добрият германец/българин/французин (можем да допълним с всеки народ, която ни хрумне) е силно критичен спрямо себе си и нацията, към която принадлежи. Той не живее в опиянение от битката при Таненберг, Клокотница или Аустерлиц, не се гневи, обикновено в кръчмарски контекст, че някоя велика сила или омразен съсед, е осуетил плановете на родината му за вечно величие. Вместо това е по-склонен да гледа с трезв и лишен от исторически илюзии поглед към настоящето и да изпитва тревога от бъдещето.

Младият студент п�� право Реймунд Прецел (Себастиан Хафнер е творчески псевдоним), има за какво да се тревожи, когато по-скоро усеща, отколкото осъзнава, капана, който националсоциалистите готвят на крехката Германска република. Капан, постлан не без съдействието на морално дезориентирани, унизени и обеднели германци, политически износени социалдемократи и още нещо; нещо, което е специфично немско, исторически обусловено и така програмирано подобно на тиктакащ механизъм в немския характер, че бомбата да избухне точно през януари 1933 г. Никой не се учудва, нито пък реагира, а още по-малко се противопостява. Защо е така?

Къде намира реализация енергията на един народ, който, по думите на Хафнер, е неспособен на индивидуално щастие, чиято стихия е в колективните начинания, изпълнени прецизно и както трябва? Какво бъдеще очаква поколението, което през 1914 г. си е играло на война, спечелена само наужким? А какво да кажем за така наречения политически живот след 1918 г. с невъзможни за изброяване смени на правителства, припламващи стачки, улични стрелби и произтичащата от това пълна невъзможност за обикновения, безкрайно уморен и аполитичен германец да се ориентира в хаоса?

Хафнер нееднократно набляга, че и той е един от тези обикновени и духовно уморени хора, част от които ще се влеят в редиците на вътрешните или същински емигранти след 1933 г. Струва ми се обаче важно обстоятелството, и това прави личните му спомени особено ценни, че авторът е юрист, млад и чувствителен интелектуалец, и като такъв е усещал по-силно разпадането на държавните механизми, правовия ред и осветените от няколко века отношения между държава и човек в демократичните общества. Освен явната си, пропагандно-вулгарна страна (маршове, песни, изпънати за поздрав ръце, бомбастични заглавия в пресата), нацизмът е дълбоко подмолен в подмяната, която се извършва в тези институции и механизми, които би трябвало да защитават личната свобода от държавния произвол. Хафнер присъства и на двата феномена и това окончателно му отнема всяка надежда. Народ, който само в рамките на едно поколение преживява толкова превратности и сътресения, които при други се разстилат за векове, или става опасно реактивен, или се оттегля в черупката на апатията. Междувоенните години довеждат до пълен колективен психологически разпад на нация, никак нелишена от добри качества.

Показателни са и сравненията и с предното поколение, предадени през специалната връзка, която Хафнер има с баща си – висш държавен чиновник от старата пруска интелигенция. Хафнер става фактически емигрант след като окончателно проумява, че най-важната битка – тази, която се води за душата на германския народ, е изгубена.

Спомените му са може би най-добрата книга, която съм чела за Ваймарската република. Слагам я в личната си йерархия редом с “Неизбежна гибел” на Кестнер и “Черният обелиск” на Ремарк. Тук картината е по-директна и аналитична, критиката към своите е максимално остра, а на Хафнер не му липсва и художествен талант. Задължителна книга за изкушените от епохата.

“Германия не беше вече Германия. Съсипаха я самите германски националисти.”

“Всички добросъвестни семейства винаги отлично възпитават синовете си за последната отминала епоха.”
Profile Image for Alissa.
1,172 reviews2 followers
March 8, 2011
As I have read and studied about World War II through the years, I, too, have had the same questions Haffner's son mentions near the end of this book--How were the Nazis possible? and Why weren't they stopped by the German people? This book does an awesome job of providing some answers. It made it clear to me that Germany and its people were the first victims of Hitler and the Nazis. They were conquered first and then Hitler/Nazis moved on to other countries around them.

I think that Haffner did a great job portaying what it was like for a common German during the Nazi takeover. His confusion, frustration, and helplessness and some of the things he experienced must have been what thousands of other Germans were feeling and going through at the time. What a dark time it must have been as they came to grips with the new realities of their world. I just wish Haffner would have finished writing his whole story before he died. I would have loved to read the rest of his journey. Thanks, Michael, for the recommendation.
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
516 reviews434 followers
September 15, 2022
I had strong recommendations to read this book, and now I finally have.

The book is a memoir by a young German (not a Jew) circa 1933 analyzing what it was like from his childhood in WWI up to the coming of National Socialism. He analyzes the politics and how it affected what I might call the upper middle class. This book, then, forms a counterpoint to Milton Mayer's They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45, which was about the "little men" who seemingly lapped it up. How did Nazism prevail among people who are like ourselves: educated and intelligent?

Haffner thinks the history they had collectively lived through set them up to accept Nazism. WWI was like one extended episode of fandom, and the majority of those who lived through that failed to develop an aptitude for normal life.

But worse than that is the unleashing of thug mentality on the populace at large. When the powers that be sponsored violent bullies who invaded and decimated private life, society collapsed. The justice system which legendarily had stood up to Frederick the Great, disintegrated without a whimper. The civil service -- the modernizing force that had taken on autocracy -- folded. The other parties folded and their leaders decamped to safety elsewhere. Outrageous murders and disappearings were meant to be public, not hidden or secret, the better to employ the intimidation factor.

This thing about the use of violence is not much different from other societies where violence is unrestrained and people left to fend for themselves under the power of feud and vendetta. For one example, another book I'm reading, Jill Leovy's Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, about what happens without adequate and effective policing of violence, or, for another example, Afghanistan under the Taliban (once again). If the bullies are the bosses and the forces of authority their minions, that's what we can expect to see.

Certain parallels to the politics of the Trump administration are chilling. So glad collapse has been staved off -- for now.

In a particularly good chapter, Haffner explains the dilemma of the non-Nazi majority in 1933. Some individuals folded. For those who didn't, some found temporary purchase in a stance of superiority. But when the derided National Socialism failed to fade away, the contemptuous couldn't maintain their lofty attitudes. The result often was that they flipped into submission.

Another alternative was recourse to hatred, which stewed the resister in his own embitterment.

Finally, the resister could withdraw into a detached sort of private life -- ultimately impossible because of the politicization of everyone in your private life so that civility could not be sustained and enmity entered there, too.

But, really, all the chapters are good. They all contain insights.

A new perspective I gained through this book is on the stature of Walther Rathenau, the German-Jewish industrialist and political figure who became Foreign Minister.in 1922. I had not really absorbed that he had such a powerful and charismatic presence or that he was so venerated. He might have stood up to Hitler eventually and taken the masses along for the ride, had he not been assassinated.

My favorite chapter is the one about the comic Werner Fink, who had the talent to talk truth to the Nazis in such a subtle way they couldn't catch him. Listening to him was like an infusion of courage. This is his real name. You can read about on Wikipedia. (Last name spelled with a c.) I love truth.

I began this review with the strong recommendations I'd received for this book, and I agree it's praiseworthy. But for two members of my study group it was just another book about Hitler. It's hard to tell people they "should" read a certain book. One size doesn't fit all. But the book really isn't so much about Hitler. It can be compared to other books for consistency. One can reflect on its continuing applicability. I sharpened a few tools in my arsenal, maybe added some new ones.

Addendum: Although I read this one in book form, it was also included with my Audible subscription at no additional charge.
Profile Image for Matt.
46 reviews25 followers
August 30, 2007
This is the story of Sebastian Haffner, a man who lived in Germany during Hitler's rise to power. I loved hearing the story from the perspective of the average German. I can't imagine living in such tumultuous times, but reading this book gives me a glimpse. The best part about it is the fact that it tries to answer two very important questions: how on earth a regime like the Nazis could rise to power, and how almost the entire nation where corrupted by them. It's a wonderful story that I would recommend to anyone that is the bit interested in that period. Remember, it's by understanding the past that we can best keep from repeating it.
Profile Image for Georgi.
247 reviews70 followers
January 27, 2022
Прочетох тази книга за първи път преди 15 години, тъкмо беше излязла на български. Достатъчно дълго времв, за да се изличат спомените ми от нея. Междувременно в годините оттогава изчетох доста книги за националсоциализма, войната, диктатора, Холокоста... Ето че след 15 години отново прочетох "История на един германец" и уверено мога да кажа, че слага в малкия си джоб 90% от прочетеното по темата - мемоари, документалистика, художествена. Изключителна! Себастиан Хафнер притежава невероятна дарба на разказвач, съчетана с бляскав ум и удивителна преценка за себе си, сънародниците си и епохата, която описва.
Любопитното е, че пише спомените си през 1939 г. , изоставя ги недовършени при избухването на войната, а десетилетия след това, след смъртта му, синът му ги открива случайно. И добре че ги открива, защото са чисто злато!
Хафнер прави много прецизен разрез на причините за възхода на националсоциализма, свидетелства за първата година от установяването му и всички катаклизми, свързани с това, вниква дълбоко в психологията на германците и открива обезпокоителни черти, допринасящи за плъзгането им по тази фатална плоскост. При това го прави достатъчно рано - през 1939 г. катастрофата дори още не е започнала, големите погроми над евреите предстоят, войната се усеща само във въздуха. Разсъжденията му над превръщането на германците в оскотяла тълпа нареждам до текстовете на Примо Леви за Холокоста. И в общи линии дори не се сещам за някой друг, който да се доближава до майсторството на Хафнер.
Феноменална книга! Ако искате да прочетете само една книга за зараждането на диктатурата, то нека е тази!
Profile Image for Eleanor.
500 reviews48 followers
May 7, 2017
A brilliant and clear examination of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power in 1930s Germany. It is chilling to see how quickly and thoroughly a group of thugs terrorised and subjugated a whole country.

Towards the end of the book, Haffner and his fellow law students were required to undergo some military training and of course indoctrination, before they could take their final exams, an efficient way of ensuring the judiciary was a part of the system.

They were in uniform and of course marching behind a flag with a swastika on it as part of their training.

"When we came through villages, the people on either side of the road raised their arms to greet the flag, or disappeared quickly in some house entrance. They did this because they had learned that if they did not, we, that is I, would beat them up. It made not the slightest difference that I - and, no doubt, others among us - ourselves fled into entryways to avoid these flags, when we were not marching behind them. Now we were the ones embodying an implicit threat of violence against all bystanders. They greeted the flag or disappeared. For fear of us. For fear of me.

I still feel dizzy when I consider my predicament then. It was the Third Reich in a nutshell."

Later when the group of young men is required to listen to one of Hitler's speeches on the radio, and at the end they all raised their arms in the salute while singing Deutschland uber alles and the Horst Wessel song. "... we all sang or pretended to do so, each one of us the Gestapo of the others."

A powerful and gripping book.
Profile Image for David.
1,630 reviews102 followers
April 13, 2022
Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner (pseudonym for Raimund Pretzel), the famous German journalist and author, was found as an unpublished manuscript after his death in 1999 at the age of 91. It was then published by his son in 2000 and provides a first-hand account of the deterioration of German society under the National Socialist party, the Nazis. From banning books, restricting free speech, banning gun ownership, to intimidating opposition parties and putting severe and growing restrictions on Jews, Haffner chronicles all of it as a German citizen from the inside. He gives us a look at the impact of Hitler's rise to power from the viewpoint of regular German citizens. As a 25 year old German law student, he describes the day to day impact of the Nazi takeover of Germany's government, initially through the ballot box followed by tightening of their control along with the remaking of German society. The author is often considered as Germany's political conscience. Among his other publications, he also wrote The Meaning of Hitler, published in 1978, that is considered to be among the best studies of Hitler.
Profile Image for Ferda Nihat Koksoy.
439 reviews15 followers
July 13, 2019
Bu kitap bir düelloyu anlatır, denk olmayanların düellosunu: Son derece güçlü, muktedir ve merhametsiz DEVLET bir tarafta; küçük, isimsiz, bilinmeyen bir münferit ŞAHIS diğer tarafta.

Şahıs politikacı, komplocu veya devlet düşmanı değildir; tüm zamanını, savunmada geçirmek zorundadır; bütün istediği, kendi kişiliğini, hayatını ve onurunu korumaktan ibarettir.

Devlet, bunlara son derece gaddar metotlarla durmaksızın saldırır; fikirlerinden vazgeçip önüne konanları benimsemesini, geçmişini ve benliğini reddetmesini, arkadaşlarından kopmasını ve bunları coşku ve minnettarlıkla yapmasını ister.
Naziler en gaddar, en saldırgan, en yok edici yöntemlerin hepsini uygulayarak, insanları süratle dayak yiyen değil dayak atan tarafa geçmeye zorlamışlardır.

-Sağ politikacıların sorumluluk ve yetki vererek ele geçireceklerini düşündükleri, sosyal demokratların pasif şekilde izledikleri ve komünistlerin direnmedikleri Hitler, SA isimli sokak milislerinin şiddeti, komplo ve yalanlarla gücünü kısa sürede şansölyeliği ele geçirmeye kadar vardırdı; meclisi feshetti, Nazi Partisi dışındaki partileri kapattı.

-Ben ve bana benzeyen insanların, bizleri bu dünyadan silip atmayı hedefleyen Nazileri, sanki her şeyin çok dışında ve üstündeymişçesine bir sükunetle, adeta bir tiyatro locasında otururcasına seyretmesi kadar tuhaf bir hadise nadiren görülmüştür.
Babamla ve çoğu arkadaşımla ORTAK FİKİRLERİMİZ:
1) Uzun süre iktidarda kalamayacakları
2) Ülkenin önemli bir kısmının Nazilere karşı olduğu
3) Dış dünyanın biz muhalifleri yalnız bırakmayacağı
4) Direnişin iç savaşı tırmandırabileceği korkusu
5) Başka türlü gidişatın mümkün olamayacağı ön kabulü
6) Acaba bundan sonra ne yapacaklar merakının ataleti
7) Tüm üst düzey yöneticiliklerin ele geçirildiği
8) Medyanın susturulup tek tipleştirildiği
9) Yasalarla ve şiddetle direniş ve muhalefetin ortadan kaldırıldığı
10) Anayasanın yok hükmüne indirildiği
11) Hitler'in kendilerinden olmayanlara her gün terbiyesizce hakaretler ettiği
12) Günlük yaşamın uyuşturuculuğuna, alışkanlıklarına ve monotonluğuna sığınıldığı
13) Ya bizdensin ya da onlardan zamanında olunduğu
14) Bunun bir devrim olmadığı (Çünkü Devrim, anayasada öngörülen mekanizmalar dışında kalan yöntemlerle anayasanın değiştirilmesiydi ve Naziler anayasa çerçevesinde kalarak iktidarı ele geçirmişti).

-Nazilerin zorunlu tuttukları binlerce eğitim kampında oluşan erkeklere has kaba saba samimiyet dalgasında yüzmenin mutluluğu, insan karakterinde de arzulanan bir yoldaşlık'tır.
İşte tam da bu arkadaşlık ve mutluluk, insanları insanlıktan çıkarmanın en korkunç araçlarından biri olabilir.

-Naziler Almanları, Alman tabiatının derinliklerinde yer alan bireysel mutluluğa yeteneksizlik ve birlikte hareket etme vasfından da yararlanarak, binlerce kamp ve dernekte gönüllü veya zoraki sağladıkları yoldaşlık içkisinde boğmuş, zaten eksik oldukları kişisel sorumluluk duygusu'dan kopararak benliklerini ele geçirmişlerdir; onların ilk işgal ettikleri ülke Almanya'dır.

-Yoldaşlık ilişkisi, insanı her türlü varoluş kaygısından, kişisel hayat mücadelesinin her türlü sertliğinden ve sorumluluğundan, kişisel vicdandan uzak tutan bir rahatlıktır.
Buna bir de Almanların TÜCHTIGKEIT yani her ne olursa olsun en iyisini yapma illeti eklendiğinde ortaya bir dehşet çıktı.

-Yoldaşlık grubunun manevi seviyesi, en son mensubunun da ulaşabileceği en aşağı seviyede tutularak birliktelik sağlanır. Kolektif mahluk herkesin yaptığını yapmanın, seçim yapmak ve düşünmek zorunda kalmamanın rahatlığı içinde hazır programlara katılarak kolayca yaşayabilir.
Almanlar yoldaşlaştırıldılar ve hayal dünyasının esrikliği içinde boğazlarına kadar bataklığa gömülmüş durumdalar.
Ve bu yoldaşlık büyüsüne, iğrençliğin çekiciliğine, kötülüğün sarhoşluğuna giderek daha fazla teslim olan izleyicilerin hipnozu devam ettikçe bu derde deva olacak hiçbir şey yok (1933).
Profile Image for Cemre.
696 reviews469 followers
September 16, 2020
Edebiyatta da sinemada da genellikle İkinci Dünya Savaşı esnasında Yahudilerin uğradığı zulmü okumaya, izlemeye alışkınız. Bu dönemde Yahudi olmayan Almanlar dendiğinde ise aklımıza çoğunlukla Naziler geliyor. Bununla birlikte, bir noktayı, tüm Almanların Nazi ya da Hitler sempatizanı olmadığını, genellikle gözden kaçırıyoruz. Bu yaz Hans Fallada'nın "Herkes Tek Başına Ölür" isimli romanını okumuş, sırf yukarıda bahsettiğim sebepten, Yahudi ve Nazi olmayan Almanların halini gösterdiğinden, çok sevmiştim. Bu kitabı da benzer bir nedenle sevdiğimi söyleyebilirim.

Bir Alman'ın Hikâyesi, kitabın yazarı Sebastian Haffner'in 1914 ile 1933 yılları arasındaki anılarından oluşuyor. Haffner, Berlin'de yaşayan, burjuva sınıfına dâhil edebilecek bir ailede doğup büyüyen bir Alman. Yahudi olmaması, Hitler'in iktidara geliş sürecindeki Almanya'da "kazanan taraf"ta yer aldığının göstergesi değil.

Bir Alman'ın gözünden İkinci Dünya Savaşı'na hazırlık yıllarında, her şeyin daha da canileşmediği o yıllarda neler olduğunu, sıradan Alman vatandaşlarının nelere maruz kaldığını göstermesi bakımından bu kitap hem samimi hem başarılı. Bunun yanı sıra bu kitapla bir kere daha görüyoruz ki otoriter liderler bir günde iktidara gelmiyor, iki gün içinde türlü türlü caniliklere başlamıyorlar. Bunu hazırlayan tarihsel ve toplumsal hadiseler var. Her şey aslında yavaş yavaş, alıştıra alıştıra, kademe kademe gerçekleşiyor. İnsanlar aslında pek çok şeyin farkındalar; ama eninde sonunda düzeleceğini, "o kadar da olmadığını" düşünüyorlar. Bir yerden sonra da hayatta kalma ve sevdiklerini koruma güdüleri sebebiyle "bana bir şey olmasın da ne olursa olsun" noktasına ulaşıyorlar. Bunları başka bir zaman başka bir ülke üzerinden okumak oldukça etkileyici bir deneyimdi benim için.
Profile Image for Eren Buğlalılar.
338 reviews114 followers
September 10, 2018
Çarpıcı bir gözlem yeteneği, güçlü bir üslup. Nazilerin yükseliş dönemine ilişkin yarım kalmış bu hatıratı bazen durup düşüncelere dalarak, kendi hayatlarımızla olan benzerliğine hayıflanarak okudum. Bazen de yazarının anti-komünizmine, devrimci düşmanlığına ve bir türlü yanılmazlığına sinirli sinirli gülerek. Ölümden korkup Nazi üniformasını üzerine geçirmeyi kabullenmesine rağmen, özgürlüğü için can verenlere yine de tepeden bakmayı başarabilen bir aydın kibri, ikinci bir Stefan Zweig vakası.

Kitap bu haliyle ilgin�� bir kaynak. Sadece Alman faşizminin içeriden nasıl göründüğünü değil, sıradan bir "muhafazakar demokrat" Alman'ın dünyasını nasıl değiştirdiğini de anlatıyor. Yazarın o sıralarda hukuk stajı yapıyor oluşu, Nazilerin yargı sistemini nasıl yavaş yavaş avuçlarına aldığını gözlemlemesine de imkan tanımış. Türkiyeli okur bunu da ayrıca ilgi çekici bulacaktır.

Ne yazık ki Haffner'in hatıraları bugün bizim hatıralarımız oldu. Geçmiş henüz geçmedi.
Profile Image for Brian Leach.
97 reviews1 follower
November 14, 2012
If you are like me and you've always wondered just how an insane madman like Adolf Hitler came to power in a modern country like Germany then read Defying Hitler. The author, who describes his personal experiences of the time, pulls no punches and makes no excuses for the shift to radical nationalism in Germany in the 1930s.

The book is presented much like a diary recounting the author's life at specific times in Germany between WWI when he was a small child and 1933 when the Nazi regime began to reveal it's true face to the German people.

Sebastian Haffner presents his own theory about where this radical nationalism first developed and supports his theory with what he experienced.

It's an excellent book and a great read.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
429 reviews1,358 followers
August 9, 2021
Defying Hitler is a fascinating window into the rise of the Third Reich as seen through the eyes of a conscientious and insightful German citizen who just happens to be a gifted writer and future author and journalist. Its interest is compounded by the book's meta-story: Sebastian Haffner (the pen name of Raimund Pretzel) finished writing his account in 1939 before World War 2 broke out, but never published it. It was discovered in a drawer after his death and released in 2000 (as Geschichte eines Deutschen - Story of a German), only to spark controversy about whether Haffner/Pretzel ever revisited or revised his earlier work. This edition addresses that question and the conclusion: he did not.

Haffner's very personal story starts with his early years, remembering the first "Great War" as a child: his obsession with stories of battles and victories and his utter shock when the German side lost in 1918. He shares the horrifying hyperinflation that rendered one's paycheck worthless by the end of the week as Weimar marks became worthless against the dollar in the early years of the 1920s. He describes the brief national obsession with sports that exceeded even military fervor. He reacts to the various political parties and forces ebbing in-and-out of power and taking credit for, or attributing blame for, events depending on the situation of the day. He talks reflectively about German culture and character and compares and contrasts them with the character of other countries.

He notes the emergence of Adolph Hitler within the German consciousness, and many observations are chillingly reminiscent of Trumpism in America. Many did not take Hitler seriously, or assumed the country's checks and balances would contain him. They puzzled at the scapegoating of Communists and Jews, and made fun of Hitler's lack of intellectual power or support. Even after Hitler's ascent to chancellor and the Reichstag Fire, many could point to the paucity of Nazis in power and assume this national embarrassment would fade away. As Hitler ignored rule after rule and no one seemed willing or able to stop him, Haffner gives us the perspective of the average citizen and the conversations that ocurred around choosing sides, saluting swastika flags, tolerating violence, alienating Jewish friends and neighbors (including a girlfriend who ultimately fled and married another man), fleeing the country or choosing to stay.

Haffner himself prepared to study abroad, and he recounts those deliberations with his father. He was served draft orders, and forced to serve in the SA and wear the swastika armband and jackboots, participating in drills, marching to the Horst Wessel Lied and even beating up people who refused to acknowledge the Nazi flag (as he himself might have avoided months earlier). His account of serving in this despicable force and the interactions he had with other soldiers, trying to find like-minded individuals with whom he could communicate his lack of fervor for the Führer, was particularly fascinating. He was eventually able to study in Paris, but came back to Berlin in 1934.

This is an amazing historical artifact and a quick listen that gave me fresh insight into one of the most consequential periods of the past century. If you happen to have an Audible account, this book is one of the freely available "included" titles with the subscription, which is how I found it.
Profile Image for Michal Mironov.
137 reviews9 followers
August 19, 2019
Definitely a book discovery of the year for me! Written through the eyes of an ordinary man, Defying Hitler describes in an extremely bright and comprehendible language the mechanism of Nazi evolution in Germany.

I have read dozens of expert studies on how the Nazis came to power. Although the facts and logics fit together, deep inside I simply refused to understand how this could have happened in a civilized and cultural country like Germany. And then I discovered Haffner. But not the well-known, academic Haffner from recent years. Defying Hitler was written by an inexperienced, thoughtful young man, often biased and mistaken, but honestly trying to understand things as they were, which makes the author much closer and sympathetic to the reader. Defying Hitler is an astutely written personal experience of a person who - by using his intuition and intelligence - anticipates and witnesses the onset of absolute evil, but fails to confront it. There had to be hundreds of thousands of ordinary Germans like Haffner, whose voices were little known so far. Indeed, even during the last „semi-free“, heavily manipulated elections in March 1933, nearly 60% of voters still rejected the Nazis. "If I were more important I would be less typical,“ the author explains why we should pay attentions to insights of an ordinary man.

Speaking about the reading experience, I was captivated by the book as if it was an eerie thriller and not a well-known history. Page after page I oscillated between silly hopes that the Nazi high tide will somehow miraculously recede, and a feeling of despair that the world is irreversibly moving towards self-destruction.

With almost unbearable eloquence, Hafner describes the creeping terror and slow escalation of fear brought by the Nazis, while the normal daily life in Germany seemed to be business as usual: “For most people - ordinary life went on. The streets were exactly the same as always. The cinemas were open. The law courts sat and heard cases. No sign of revolution. At home people were a little confused, a little anxious, and tried to understand what was happening. That was difficult, very difficult, in a short time. ...I performed my routine daily duties. At home I gave way to fruitless and ridiculous outbursts at the dinner table. Excluded from events and passive like millions of others, I let events come at me. And they did.“

Yet, when the author sits with his Jewish girlfriend in the park and tries to ignore innocent children playfully chanting "Juden Raus", I wanted to scream out loud: „Run!!!” Horrible things often start with simple gestures...

Like most Germans, the author underestimated the Nazi danger at first and often made fun of them: “I was inclined not to take them very seriously - a common attitude among their inexperienced opponents, which helped them a lot, and still helps them. There are few things comic as a calm, superior indifference with which I and those like me watched the beginnings of Nazi revolution in Germany, as if from a box at the theater. … We moved among them with the same unconcern with which visitors to the modern cageless zoo walk past the beasts of prey, confident that its ditches and hedges have been carefully calculated.“

And yet this comical but noisy minority managed to kidnap the whole country. “The first country to be occupied by Nazis was not Austria or Czechoslovakia. It was Germany,” stresses the author. This is perhaps the most disturbing lesson of Defying Hitler - that the history can easily be repeated in anytime, anywhere.
Profile Image for Judith Johnson.
Author 1 book86 followers
November 16, 2018
An excellent book which I have recommended to many people, and to which I have referred when discussing the subject of right wing dictatorships systematic take overs of the judiciary...
Profile Image for Mehmet B.
232 reviews21 followers
December 6, 2022
Adım adım nazileri iktidara taşıyan süreç, muhaliflerin ataletleri, gelişmeleri hafife almaları, hatta Hitler'i kontrol altına alabileceklerini sanıp desteklemeleri...
Muhaliflerin kendilerini kandırmak için başvurdukları üç teselli:
1. Yanılsamalara kaçış, kendilerini üstün görmeleri, nazilerin beceriksizlikleriyle kendiliklerinden iktidardan inecekleri yanılgısı.
2. Hayata küsmeleri, karamsar çaresizliklerinin saadet vesilesine dönüşmesi.
3. Görmezden gelmeleri, içe kapanmaları, gerçekliği kaybetmeleri.

Kötülüğü savunanların yanında kötülüğe istemeden ortak olanları da içeriden anlatan, gözü dönmüş kitle psikolojisinin kökenlerine inen, ders niteliğinde, etkileyici bir otobiyografi...
Profile Image for JoséMaría BlancoWhite.
298 reviews33 followers
February 6, 2017
"El alma colectiva y el alma infantil reaccionan de forma muy parecida. Los conceptos con los que se alimenta y se moviliza a las masas nunca serán lo suficientemente infantiles."

La historia de Alemania entre 1914 y 1933 desde el punto de vista de la calle, de un joven alemán que sin ser nazi se ve obligado a plegarse a las coacciones de la masa nazionalista o a sufrir represalias. Este libro tiene una vigencia en la España actual de primer orden. No hay más que mirar la historia pseudo-democrática reciente del País Vasco y de Cataluña, donde las masas nazionalistas furibundas e intolerantes hacen uso de la coacción, atemorizando a las masas neutras y apolíticas para imponer su ideología en todos los ámbitos sociales. Como antes los judíos en Alemania, ahora los que no sean nazionalistas, deben plegarse para seguir llevando una vida "sin problemas sociales" o hacerse valientes y enfrentarse a la jauría que asediará los colegios de sus hijos que quieran hablar castellano o que hagan uso de su libertad de expresión para criticar a los nazis catalanes actuales.

Hay que agradecerle al autor haber elegido este lenguaje tan sencillo y coloquial y que haya aportado esta visión a pie de calle de la Alemania nazi de pre-guerra. Uno se dará cuenta de qué forma tan sutil los que emplean la violencia y las amenazas van imponiéndose en todos los niveles: su voz e ideas totalitarias se extienden como un cáncer, imparable. Cuando uno se da cuenta ya es tarde para reaccionar. La lección es que el silencio, ignorarles, no sirve, no basta. Quienes gritan, quienes toman la calle, aunque sean unos violentos canallas llenos de odio y de mentiras, acabarán dictando las normas más nimias con las que el hasta entonces ciudadano se deberá comportar en sociedad, en el bar, en el concierto, en el parque, en cualquier lugar público; se le mirará como mira el agente de la Gestapo: buscando a quien delatar, a quien exterminar, a quien apartar del resto de la sociedad como quien extrae una manzana podrida de una cesta.

El autor consiguió emigrar a Inglaterra, justo antes de acabar haciéndose un nazi de verdad, actuando como ellos. Lo que él llama camaradería, y que ayudó mucho a solidificar ese sentimiento nazi tan generalizado entre los jóvenes alemanes, nosotros podemos llamarlo también socialismo, en su más extenso sentido del término, como aquello que se contrapone a lo individual y ala responsabilidad personal. Sin responsabilidad individual, personal, cualquier crimen se puede justificar. Si la sociedad pide que se metan en campos de concentración a los judíos yo también lo pido, la sociedad es la responsable; si la sociedad decide que hay que matar a unos cuantos en bien del resto de la sociedad y de la idea imperante del momento (el Estado Catalán, la raza, lo que se tercie por parte de los intolerantes) habrá que hacerlo, la responsabilidad no es mía, es de la sociedad en general.

Un libro ameno y de vital actualidad. El silencio no es una alternativa.
Profile Image for Türkay.
425 reviews39 followers
September 22, 2018
Haffner’in anıları, Nazizmin ve Hitler’in yükseliş dönemine bireysel bir bakış niteliği taşıyor. Almanya’da çılgınlığın yükselişi, inanılmayacak baskıların, insanların nazi olmaması nedeniyle işlerinden atılması, yurtdışına çıkışlarının engellenmesi, ırk, dil, düşünce nedeniyle öldürülmesi uygulamalarının topluma nasıl kabul ettirildiğini anlatıyor...
Bu anıların yüz yıl geride kaldığı, arada yaşanan ikinci dünya savaşında milyonların yaşamını yitirdiğini biliyor, bu nedenle yaşadığımız dönemle olan benzerliklerden çok daha fazla ürküyoruz...
Profile Image for Alexander.
1 review207 followers
January 10, 2017
Галя Юзефович написала в ФБ, что ЛА посоветовал ей прочесть эту книгу. Верный принципу «Всегда слушай Юзефовича», прочёл её и я.
Хафнер (эмигрировавший из Германии до начала Второй мировой войны и вернувшийся только после поражения нацизма) описывает свои ощущения от детства и ранней юности между Первой мировой войной и началом фашизма; мюнхенская заря Гитлера заканчивает собою книгу. Из этих наблюдений он выводит и некоторые поколенческие черты, объясняя ими, почему Германия пала в о��ьятья нацистов не только без боя, но и с облегчением.
Впрочем, русскому читателю гораздо интереснее то, что в каждом, буквально каждом наблюдении Хафнера он узнает черты России 1990-х, затем 2000-х и 10-х. При перемене слов "Германия" и "немецкий" на "Россия" и "российский" и некоторой актуализации дат большие фрагменты текста "Истории одного немца" были бы неотличимы от сегодняшнего постболотного дискурса.
Может быть, Хафнер и впрямь подметил что-то важное в жизни, коллективных страданиях и (довольно нелепых) путях спасения народов, переживших коллективную травму (другая версия причин пугающего сходства – что этот тип наблюдателя воспроизводит этот тип наблюдения в любой ситуации).
В любом случае, книга взывает к прочтению всяким, кто прожил 90-е ребенком, юношей или родителем.
Profile Image for Kim.
264 reviews13 followers
December 13, 2009
Wow. Where has this book been? I can't believe it's taken me this long to find it. It is a brilliantly written first hand account of life for a pretty average boy growing up in Berlin in the early 1900s. It was originally written in 1939 (so before the outbreak of WWII) when the author had just emigrated to the UK from his home in Germany. What I really appreciated about the book was that it was written before the war (so no 20/20 hindsight view) and that it recounts both how strange the times were and yet how the average person, especially young person, adapts, accepts, and goes on as best they can. It's easy to look back and say how could they allow it, but when you read how it occurred and everything else that was going on...including the mundane...it is easier to understand and rather frightening to consider how easily it could happen again. Perhaps now not as easily as then (prior to radio, television, and the web) but still rather slyly. Excellent book. I'm actually rereading it already. Loved it.
Profile Image for hardasan .
97 reviews20 followers
April 2, 2019
Hakkında uzun, çok uzun düşünülmesi gereken hatıralar. Çünkü gerçek.
Bütün baskı rejimlerinin birbirine benzer yanları var; benzer evrelerden geçerler, muhalifleri sindirmek için korkutma, bezdirme, hatta bazen yok etme metotları kullanırlar. Bireyselliğe tahammül edemez, insanları tek tipleştirerek yalnızca ideolojinin emir erleri olmalarını talep ederler.

"belki Nazi olmuyorduk ama Naziler için kullanılabilir bir malzeme haline geliyorduk" sayfa 237
"bütün örgü en başından itibaren münferit "ben" için hiç hareket alanı olmaması üzerine şekillendirilmişti" sayfa 244

Bireyin baskılar karşısında aldığı tavır, zaman uzadıkça ve rejim yerleşip kök saldıkça geçirdiği duygusal evreler, en başta kendini gizleyerek ve olanları yok sayarak olan-bitenle baş etmeye çalışırken sonraları korku duvarını aşması.

Başka bir zamana, farklı bir coğrafyaya ait olmak bu kitapta anlatılanlarla paralellikler kurmaya engel değil.

Mutlaka okumalı ve gerekli tespitleri yapmalı.

Profile Image for Victor Sonkin.
Author 18 books310 followers
December 30, 2017
The famous unfinished memoir of a guy who saw the Nazis for what they were in the 1930s Germany. Horrifyingly thrilling. Also, there are a lot of things which make that situation similar to what we observe here and now — but even more things that are completely unlike it (which is a consolation, albeit a small one).
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