Defying Hitler: A Memoir, Sebastian Haffner, (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; 2002)
Sebastian Haffner, born in Germany in 1907, was one of those young boys whose life was made exciting and thrilling by World War I, when reports from the battlefields made it seem that a glorious German victory was inevitable. He was also one whose inner world collapsed in the trauma of unexpected defeat and the humiliation of punitive peace terms. He then saw society’s traditional, stabilizing values wiped out by the chaos of hyperinflation, and the deceptive tranquility of recovery before world depression plunged the country into a dark pit of insecurity. Much of the appeal of Hitler lay in his unspoken pledge to bring back the heady prospects of 1914.
Although Haffner outgrew his fascination with nationalism and militarism early on, many of his contemporaries did not. He studied law and tried to withdraw into the sheltered world of the courts, but the eventual intrusion of brownshirts even into this realm forced him to compromise his integrity in order to survive. He felt increasingly trapped by the incessant encroachments of the emerging totalitarian state.
He managed to escape to England in 1938, and began writing down his nightmarish experiences. He did not finish his manuscript, which his son discovered after the father’s death in 1999, but he did record his insights into what it was about Germany that made the rise of Adolf Hitler possible, and provided an account of what life was like as this horror occurred. His son added an account of the rest of Haffner’s life, and published this English translation in 2002.
The book review above was originally published in a feature titled “Book Notes”, published in the September, 2003 edition of Amitié, the newsletter of Normandy Allies, Inc. This note was written by Walter Ford Carter, member of the Normandy Allies Board and the team that leads its history-study experience each summer. Walter, the son of Captain Elmer Norval Carter, a US Army battalion surgeon in the 29th Division who was killed in action on June 17 1944, is the author of No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love: A Son’s Journey to Normandy.