DEFYING HITLER by Sebastian Haffner
Kirkus Star


A Memoir
by & translated by
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A remarkable account, dug out of a drawer, about daily life in Germany during the rise of Nazism.

Haffner—a journalist who left Germany in 1938, married a Jewish refugee in London, and enjoyed a long career as a foreign correspondent and columnist—offers a surprising view of the German character: “As a nation,” he writes, “Germany leads a double life because almost every German leads a double life,” one summarized by the Prussian motto “Hard outside, soft inside.” This dichotomy, one supposes, helps explain George Steiner’s famous conundrum: how it could be that concentration camp guards could conduct their business without emotion but weep over Beethoven at night. It certainly explains the German penchant for irony, why dour civil servants such as Haffner’s long-suffering father could be secret lovers of literature, and why law-abiding citizens could welcome a murderous regime but insist that they knew nothing of its deeds. In contemplative pages reminiscent of the best of Elias Canetti, Haffner ponders other German qualities that, he avers, led to Hitler’s rise: a love of sports and therefore of winners (“We felt very important and patriotic, and ran races for the fatherland”), a fondness for the theater and the carnival (“While Hitler wanted to bring about the millennium by a massacre of all the Jews, there was a certain Lamberty in Thuringia who wanted to do it by folk dancing, singing, and frolicking”), and a fatalistic worldview that assumed the inevitability of evil (“If it makes no difference anyway and everything is lost, then why not be bitterly, angrily cynical and join the devils oneself?”). In that climate, resistance to Hitler came slowly and sporadically, expressed mostly by a world-weary clenching of the teeth—which, of course, was completely ineffectual, and which made true acts of resistance seem rare and strange.

A bestseller in Germany, and deserving a wide readership elsewhere in the world.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-374-16157-7
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2002


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