defying Hitler cover
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There's a reason why the UK History channel is approximately 24 hours a day of wall-to-wall Nazi documentaries - Hitler sells. The rise of the Nazis exerts a horrible fascination; it's hard to fathom how a decent and progressive nation could suddenly become complicit in horrific acts of genocide. Sebastian Haffner's personal account, written shortly before the outbreak of WW2, takes a long hard look at the German psyche in the years between the wars, and exactly what it was that caused the country to buckle before the extremists.

Haffner's perspective on the subject is a very interesting one - a young Prussian lawyer who grew up during WW1, he was exactly the type of young patriot that swelled the ranks of the Nazi party in its early days; in fact, he'd even been in the forerunner to the Hitler Youth. In the circumstances, you might expect him to be bending over backwards to deny his involvement with all things evil, and demonstrate his own high moral standing, but in fact he is very honest about his own cowardice in his lack of opposition to the new regime. Though the book's title is Defying Hitler, there's very little defiance going on, as Haffner describes the national reaction to the dictatorship as everyone simply putting their fingers in their ears and going "la la la", almost literally, and hoping that it would all get better soon.

The timeframe in which the book was written also gives us a different viewpoint - the impending war was seen as inevitable, but of course the outcome was not, and the daily realities of life under the Nazis were something that Haffner could too easily envisage continuing unchecked forever. One of the most striking and disturbing features of this narrative is the breakdown of law and the undercurrent of terror that it produces - when the thugs are in charge and you have no legal recourse, then resistance becomes much harder than you'd imagine.

Haffner gives us an intimate portrait of the German national mentality in the twenties and thirties, and describes how the road to WW2 was just the natural continuation of one laid down in WW1, or the Great War as he still calls it. While the style is somewhat dated (long, wordy sentences being standard in that era) the book is very easy to read and sheds a fascinating light on a terrible period in history. Highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.