Defying Hitler: A Memoir

Defying Hitler: A Memoir

5.0 5
by Sebastian Haffner

View All Available Formats & Editions

Defying Hitler was written in 1939 and focuses on the year 1933, when, as Hitler assumed power, its author was a 25-year-old German law student, in training to join the German courts as a junior administrator. His book tries to answer two questions people have been asking since the end of World War II: �How were the Nazis possible?� and �Why did no one stop them?�


Defying Hitler was written in 1939 and focuses on the year 1933, when, as Hitler assumed power, its author was a 25-year-old German law student, in training to join the German courts as a junior administrator. His book tries to answer two questions people have been asking since the end of World War II: �How were the Nazis possible?� and �Why did no one stop them?� Sebastian Haffner�s vivid first-person account, written in real time and only much later discovered by his son, makes the rise of the Nazis psychologically comprehensible.

�An astonishing memoir... [a] masterpiece.� � Gabriel Schoenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

�A short, stabbing, brilliant book... It is important, first, as evidence of what one intelligent German knew in the 1930s about the unspeakable nature of Nazism, at a time when the overwhelming majority of his countrymen claim to have know nothing at all. And, second, for its rare capacity to reawaken anger about those who made the Nazis possible.� � Max Hastings, The Sunday Telegraph

�Defying Hitler communicates one of the most profound and absolute feelings of exile that any writer has gotten between covers.� � Charles Taylor, Salon

�Sebastian Haffner was Germany�s political conscience, but it is only now that we can read how he experienced the Nazi terror himself � that is a memoir of frightening relevance today.� � Heinrich Jaenicke, Stern

�The prophetic insights of a fairly young man... help us understand the plight, as Haffner refers to it, of the non-Nazi German.� � The Denver Post

�Sebastian Haffner�s Defying Hitler is a most brilliant and imaginative book � one of the most important books we have ever published.� � Lord Weidenfeld

Product Details

Plunkett Lake Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Sebastian Haffner was born in 1907 as Raimund Pretzel the last of four children. His father was headmaster of a Berlin school and a noted liberal school reformer. Pretzel studied law and received his doctorate in 1934. Although he was not Jewish he abandoned his planned career as a lawyer in public service when the Nazis came to power. Instead he worked as a non-political journalist.

In 1938 he and his pregnant fianc�e, who was of Jewish descent and for that reason had been dismissed from her post as university librarian, managed to emigrate to the UK, where they were married. There he started to write a memoir about his youth in Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazis. The book (Defying Hitler) was abandoned at the outbreak of war and replaced by another (Germany: Jekyll and Hyde) offering an analysis of Germany for the benefit of the allies. This book, published under the pseudonym Sebastian Haffner which he used for the rest of his life, procured his release from internment in the summer of 1940. In 1942 he became a journalist at the Observer and quickly made a reputation as a political thinker.

Haffner returned to Germany in 1954, initially as a correspondent for the Observer. There he became an important commentator on current affairs and a well-known television personality. In the 1960s he started writing historical books, mostly about 20th century German history, including The Ailing Empire: Germany from Bismarck to Hitler. His most important and successful book, The Meaning of Hitler, appeared in 1978. He retired in 1991 and died in 1999 aged 91. (Image of the author from Mein Vater III, 1986 by Sarah Haffner; oil on canvas, 75 x 100 cm, Stadtmuseum, Berlin).

"Sebastian Haffner, a superb German writer and journalist" � Imre Kert�sz, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Defying Hitler 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Haffner's first person account of everyday life in the midst of the most murderous regime in history does not contradict the more academic and inevitably less interesting histories of the Third Reich. 'Defying Hitler' is clearly an accurate, albeit an incomplete, memoir. What is truly original and instructive about Haffner's account is that it treats the subject of Weimar culture with an objectivity that is rare among liberal-minded commentators. Supposedly, the period between the end of World War I and the election of Hitler in 1933 was a celebration of freedom and an apotheosis of humanistic values: viz, the first democratic constitution in German history. The more complex reality, a reality that Haffner describes with such breezy clarity, was that the economic ruination of that period, most notably the out of control inflation and devaluation of the currency, set up a series of social divisions that could only spur resentment, hatred and the political extremism that came soon after. What I found most alarming was that the youth-glorification that made the young and agile culturally and economically supreme during Weimar also rewarded tricksters, con men, and frauds of every stripe. Indeed, the cruelty and joylessness of the period has been captured by many of Weimar's most famous artists. But Haffner's masterful style, his ability to witness and at the same time to participate in the events of his time without self-rigtheousness is the hallmark of a great memoir. I saw a connection between the youthful revelry of the 20's and the Hitler Youth, between the lampooning of morals and traditional values and the road to mass murder. Clearly, Haffner contributed much to our collective understanding and helped to correct the fundamental fallacy of treating any period in history as a constellation of ideas removed from what actually happened.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Haffner's history of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany before World War 2 is very eloquently written and translated, and seems especially pertinent today. This book speaks volumes more than any history textbook's chapter regarding early twentieth century Germany. It is truly fascinating and enlightening seeing history told from a first person perspective.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was very insightful, it provides a look into how the Nazi policies affected people's personal lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
"Official, academic history has nothing to tell us about the differences in intensity of historical occurrences," writes Sebastian Heffner in this fascinating memoir of Germany in the years 1914-1933. "To learn about that, you must read biographies of unknown individuals." For a very personal account of how the rise of Hitler affected one (non-Jewish) German, born in 1907, take his advice and read this book! He offers no apologetics, excuses, or self-pity. His repugnance for the Nazis is matched by his perceptiveness of how even Germans like him were being "made into" Nazis. It is quite compelling. I only wish he could have finished his story, which was interrupted by the outbreak of the war. The afterword by his son, who found the manuscript in a desk drawer after his father's death, "finishes" the story in a skeletal way, but the reader is still left yearning for more of Sebastian's insights.