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Defying Hitler: A Memoir Paperback – 1 May 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (1 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842126601
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842126608
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 133,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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

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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Mike Davey on 28 May 2002
Format: Hardcover
The author became a respected writer and as a young man in Germany held, as he makes clear, right wing views - but not extremist ones that came to be adopted by Hitler and the Nazis. For much of the book, his tone is matter of fact, descriptive of his upbringing. The writing is clear - the book is deceptively easy to read, which makes it all the more of a shock to feel the horror that Haffner himself felt at the way political events were developing. The analysis towards the end of the book is astonishing - inasmuch as it made me realise how this young man understood that his beliefs in decency could be so destroyed - helped by willing ordinary people, who convinced themselves of the 'right' of what was happening. I have never read anything quite so simply convincing to try to explain the reality of Hitler and how people were drawn into acceptance of what took place. I urge readers to sit down with this remarkable book and be transported into pre-war Germany and then be brutally awakened into what happened.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Doug Reid on 9 Aug. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Throughout my adult life, I have often wondered how the Nazis could have come to be so powerful in a country which, to the casual observer, seemed so 'civilised'. How could the German people have been taken in by Hitler, allowing him to become so powerful when most felt he was repulsive and inappropriate? Even more, how could so many of these people then be persuaded to commit such horrendous atrocities in the name of the Third Reich and Aryanism?
Sebastian Haffner will, I think, begin to give you the answer in this book. The Germanic culture is without doubt different form the British and events during and after the First World War were very significant in creating an attitude amongst those who were to eventually 'run' Germany in the 1930s and 40s. How many of us are aware that there was a revolution in Germany after WW1?
Mr Haffner was undoubtedly someone who had enough of a conscience, was intelligent and independent enough to have been able to think for himself when the Nazis were so successfully terrorising the majority of Germans into following them. You will see that he too was very aware of the manipulation, introduced by the emerging Nazi party, to acheve it all.
To be able to read an ordinary man's account of the rise of Nazism was, I found, fascinating. His insights, perceptions and feelings as to why and what was happening around him are rivetting.
Above all, this is a book you can read. Haffner's style is moreish; the more you read the more you want to keep going.
It is only a pity that the book ends so suddenly because he never finished it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cyber Vigilantes on 8 Feb. 2008
Format: Paperback
It is unusual to find such well-written personal accounts that deal with the biggest question of Hitler's rise to power: why did normal Germans become Nazis, kill and wave flags for Hitler the psychopath?

This is important for todays climate, there are chilling parallels between the 'war on the jews' and the current 'war on muslims'. This article ([...]) discusses the apparent similar hysteria sweeping across the USA. It begins with a quote from Haffner:

"There are few things as odd as the calm, superior indifference with which I and those like me watched the beginnings of the Nazi revolution in Germany, as if from a box at the theater...Perhaps the only comparably odd thing is the way that now, years later...."

Haffner's memoir's offer a powerful insight into just how good people became bad and how we can protect ourselves from being swept up into the current insane Wars justified for the 'moral good' but the reality is as disturbing as the world the Nazi's created.

For further reading any books on Ponerology are useful additions to understanding the dynamics of evil taking over a society
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr Joe Loughran on 29 Oct. 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm 52 years old (born 1950), and grew up after WW2. The movies of my childhood focused on this period and I guess that something in my subconscious stuck - and now I find that I have an interest it. I have read many of the major books about this conflict and thanks to Amazon I discovered this book. I would rate this book as one of the best I have ever read. if you get it and read it you will eventually get to page 141 and read chapter 26. It only lasts for 5 pages, but (as the book says, if your a serious reader)you will find this to be one of the finest pieces of writing on modern history. Not clasical or anything else like that, but human, heartfelt, and true. I only wish I could tell the writer that he turned out to be right!!!!!!!!!
But he's dead now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Felix Valencia on 27 Dec. 2007
Format: Paperback
Since books on the Third Reich are published by the truckload, it would seem almost superfluous that a simple, personal memoir such as Sebastian Haffner's should top best-seller lists. Written after his self-imposed exile from Germany in 1939-40, 'Defying Hitler' examines the rise of the NSDAP from the perspective of an ordinary citizen, detailing the influences of the First World War, the Revolution of 1918-19 and the rise and fall of the Weimar Republic, before final examining the first year of the Nazi regime.

Haffner stresses the fact that he is just an ordinary German citizen, making no attempt to suggest that his opinions and insights are any more important or influential than anyone else's. This, however, goes some way to explaining why the book is not just like any other of the raft of books about the rise of Nazi Germany. The beauty of having an ordinary perspective on events such as this is combined with Haffner's genuinely astute observations on developments in the world around him. It also goes a long way in helping to answer the two key questions which Haffner proposes: how the NSDAP could gain power in Germany, and why there was no reaction against it.

'Defying Hitler' then is an excellent source, not only for those studying the later Weimar years or the rise of Nazi Germany, but indeed for anyone with an interest in the real, day-to-day history of this period. The book is eminently readable, and flows almost like a novel in its simple descriptions, pauses for elucidation and fascinating narrative.
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