Bookstalls in Britain and Germany always seem to be laden with titles about the Nazi period, but Sebastian Haffner's Defying Hitler
stands out from the crowd. Haffner's memoir is an account of one man's personal odyssey through the 1920s and 1930s as Nazism took hold amongst the German people.
When Hitler swept to power in 1933 Haffner was completing his legal training by day, and enjoying Berlin by night. Indeed, what makes Defying Hitler quite such compelling reading is that it shows just how insidiously Nazism crept into every facet of a well-heeled German's life: at work in the law library , at leisure in Berlin's carnivals and parks, and most poignantly and divisively of all, amongst friends and lovers.
Haffner also reveals how the Nazis first corrupted and then refashioned a version of German nationalism, and how they also dissolved the boundaries between public and private bourgeois morality by their insistence on complete 24-hour allegiance to the state. Perhaps only a member of the Prussian elite, such as Haffner, could write with such sensitivity about the loss of privilege, patriotism and privacy, but as a moral tale of how the extraordinary can so easily become the ordinary this is an eye-opener. It is not difficult to see why it has been a bestseller in Germany, and equally why Haffner, who fled to England in 1938, became part of the post-war German conscience. Even if you sometimes tire of the relentless output of books about the 20th century's blackest decade, this book should definitely go into your shopping basket. --Miles Taylor
--This text refers to the
Congratulations all round as this has just won the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize for Non-Fiction 2003. Oliver Pretzel, Sebastian Haffner's son,is enjoying a well-earned holiday in Mexico before he retires from his position in the Maths department at Imperial College so his son, Sebastian Haffner's grandson, was on hand to accept the award and pose for pictures with lovely Zadie Smith who also won the Fiction Award. Needless to say, we made sure that Zadie went home with a copy under her arm. Obviously this is great timingfor the paperback, and we are working with Colman Getty who handle the PR for the prize to maximise this. Already we've seen an article in the INDEPENDENT, and a feature on FRON ROW. There has also been a piece in the DAILY MAIL and THE JEWISH CHRONICLE. Finished copies are now in - and don't forget this comes with 6 new chapters, a revised afterword and the full version of chapter25 (April 1. 1933) which was discovered at the same time as these chapters. These were discovered in March 2002 by a young historian working on SebastianHaffner's papers in the German state archives. As Oliver Pretzel says: 'The manuscript now really is, I believe, in its final form, as my father abandoned it in 1939. Although still incomplete, the book also has a more satisfactory ending. Instead of the earlier final note of unreal bliss, it now concludeswith a powerful close-up of Nazi methods in action.' Pick of the Week in theSunday Times: "Haffner has written a painfully honest and effective account of how the best in German culture was so swiftly destroyed." "Tells exactly how Hitler and the Nazis managed to subject an entire nation to their evil will." Daily Express "Graphically describes how a generation of German youth wasseduced by Hitler and the Nazis." Sunday Telegraph "With the belated but highly welcome publication of this book Haffner has had the last word in his struggle to be a German in Nazi Germany." FINANCIAL TIMES