Backing Hitler: Consent And Coercion In Nazi Germany Paperback – 16 May 2002
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This book will not be the last word on the subject but it will encourage the debate and increase our desire to understand fully the horrible things that happened to and in a civilised nation. (Contempoary Review, Vol.278, No.1625, June 2001)
Review from previous edition In 1933 Germans ... hankered for a return to traditional values of order, family, discipline, work. Noone could forsee how such ordinary aspirations would eventuate in that most extreme act, genocide. But this is one lesson the Nazis teach us and, thanks to Robert Gellately's fine book, it is available for all to learn. (David Cesarani, The Independent)
powerful and challenging book (Richard Overy, The Sunday Telegraph)
Just how much the ordinary German knew about the apparatus of terror and discrimination in the Hitler years is the subject of Robert Gellately's fascinating and disturbing account of the bonds that drew regime and people together after 1933. (Richard Overy, The Sunday Telegraph)
original and outstanding, genuinely important. (Michael Burdesh)
Backing Hitler is based on the first systematic analysis by a historian of surviving German newspaper and magazine archives since 1933, the year Hitler became chancellor. (John Ezard, The Guardian)
About the Author
Robert Gellately is the Strassler Professor in Holocaust History at Clark University, and is the author of The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945. He lives in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
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Top Customer Reviews
The hitherto unanswered questions of German culpability and the ordinary German citizen's knowledge of the horrors committed by the regime, have finally and systematically been addressed in Backing Hitler, Robert Gellately's forceful and provocative study of public responses to the Nazi challenge. Gellately contends in his wide ranging survey of Nazi crimes that terror was not, as has too often been presumed, hidden from the German people but that it was in fact carried out openly and with their consent. His research is impeccable throughout and consequently he leaves little room for doubt or counter-argument. It concentrates on three broadly representative areas of Germany: the Palatinate, Lower Franconia and the Rhine/Ruhr area centred on Duesseldorf, three demographically different areas that had not traditionally lent support to the Nazi party representing: city, town and country. His research is new and makes extensive use of hitherto untouched press and police reports to examine the public face of Nazi law and order. He argues that Germans were well aware of the existence of the Gestapo secret police network, the concentration camp system and the persecution of perceived enemies: communists, socialists, the Jews, the 'congenitally ill' and others regarded as racially inferior: the Gypsies and the Slavs and in doing so adds credible intellectual weight to the Goldhagen thesis. Moreover he makes clear that the return to 'normality' -that one could leave one's house unlocked- promised and seemingly delivered by Hitler necessitated the harsh methods employed by the regime to combat those held by most Germans to be responsible for Germany's decline; namely the socialists, communists, so-called 'asocials' and the Jews.Read more ›
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By examining the surviving newspapers, magazines, and dossiers from the police and Gestapo, the author explores what the German people knew, and how they participated in the Holocaust. We learn, for example, that the Gestapo appears to have largely relied on denunciations from the public, not its own research and intelligence.
The mathematician in me would like to have seen more discussion of the sampling techniques used in the book. In many cases where the author examined police dossiers, he said that he looked at "every other" file. This raises many questions: what exactly does he mean by every other file? What order were the files in: chronological, alphabetical, random, some ordering scheme he used while going through them? This question is not answered. With a good ordering, it would be trivial for him to adjust the files to give the results he wanted to "prove".
Ignoring my reservations on the statistical methods used by the author, this book is an excellent discussion on the propaganda fed to the public. It is not an introductory reader for those interested in Nazi Germany, but would make an excellent complement to a book collection with a heavy emphasis on that time period.
The destruction of civil liberties and the rule of law from the Wilhelmine and Weimar eras was depicted as restoration of "law and order," in terms that are hauntingly reminiscent of those used by some of the more extreme American proponents of "law and order." The concentration camps during the prewar era were portrayed as places for reforming and reeducating those who for one reason or another had gone astray politically or socially; in this sense, the common threads of totalitarianism are evident, as the Third Reich sounds similar to Stalin's Russia and Mao's China.
Gellately argues persuasively that there were three distinct phases to how the Nazis portrayed themselves and in the degree to which they resorted to radical means of controlling society. The prewar era showed much more concern about public opinion and rationality. Once the War began, the methods became more radical and the arguments to support them became more extreme. (As others have also shown, Gellately posits that this is when the genocide against the Jews really went into high gear.) In the final months of the Reich, literally "anything goes" became the attitude and relatively little concern was given to public opinion--though Gellately argues that the majority of Germans stuck with Hitler to the very end.
Especially intriguing are the author's review of a number of Gestapo files on individuals who were accused of betraying the regime in one way or another. From an admittedly limited sample that he has thoroughly analyzed, Gellately demonstrates that the Gestapo and other police agencies had the active cooperation of the citizenry in ferreting out offenders. Indeed, their sources were overwhelmingly citizen complaints, most of them quite open and non-anonymous. But the specifics of a number of these cases are both fascinating and disturbing in the extreme. Clearly, a number of citizens used the Gestapo and the mechanisms of terror to get even with innocent people who had never violated the law.
Gellately's final synoptic chapter is the best part of the book and is especially well written. (In fact, it might warrant being read first.) The rest of the book, especially the early chapters, is somewhat turgid and difficult going; one wishes that it had been written and edited as well as the end. But this is a book that will clearly repay the time spent on it. I doubt that general readers new to the subject would find it as useful as those with more background, however.
Backing Hitler: Consent & Coercion in nazi Germany is a thought-provoking book that looks at ordinary German citizens and their involvement in the governmental policies of forcing "racial purity". By examining the police (both ordinary uniformed police and undercover officers), Gellately has given us a view into Hitler's Germany that hasn't been explored much before.
Gellately explored the police and contends that ordinary people made up the police force and were consentually backing Hitler's policies. These people opted to enforce the policies, regardless of whether they felt that the policies were right because their personal experiences told them so or that the propaganda won them over. The folks that were coerced into compliance were often herded into concentration camps such as Auschwitz or Dachau.
The concepts in the book are well argued, though it appears that the author is not overly familiar with all of the rules of English grammar (i.e. placement of commas, etc.), thus making the book a touch more difficult to read, but it is a book that really should be on your list if you are interested in German history between 1933-1945.