In This Review

Defying Hitler
Defying Hitler
By Sebastian Haffner
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002, 309 pp

Young Americans often have only a vague understanding of what daily life in a totalitarian regime is like. What makes this memoir of growing up in Germany before and during Hitler's seizure of power so remarkable is the fact that its young protagonist was not the member of a persecuted minority but a solid bourgeois headed toward a law career. Yet he chose to stand out, inspired by his liberal beliefs and by the depth and firmness of his hatred of Nazism. Equally remarkable was his ability to analyze the flaws in the German political culture that led to the widespread popularity of Hitler. Haffner's comments on the domination of private life by public affairs in and after World War I; on Walter Rathenau, the Jewish foreign minister assassinated in 1922; and on the ways in which non-Nazis made their peace with the regime are but a few examples of his insights. On German nationalism, he wrote, "Only the Germans lose everything through nationalism: the heart of their humanity, their existence, their selves." Haffner's story ends in 1933. In 1938 he left for England, where he became a prominent journalist and political writer, but he never returned to his memoir, which his son published in Germany in 2000. This version, although not as complete as the German edition, is a marvel of intelligence.