Geschichte eines Deutschen. Die Erinnerungen 1914-1933 (The Nazi Take-Over: A Personal Account 1914-1939)
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2000, 240 pp
Sebastian Haffner, who died last year, was an 'Aryan' German who abhorred Nazism, fled to England in 1938, and became a distinguished journalist on the Observer. He was only thirty-two when he wrote this memoir, a find of great significance, now published for the first time. He describes it as depicting 'a kind of duel' between a private person (himself) and a powerful and ruthless state which demands that he give up his friends and his convictions, indulge in distasteful activities - and respond to this bullying with enthusiasm and gratitude.
Nearly half the book deals with the period between 1914 and the Nazi take-over. The author was seven on the outbreak of the First World War, which became in his view, the 'positive basic vision of Nazism'. He argues that the Free Corps, the right-wing voluntary military force set up to suppress the Communist revolution of 1918, was essentially the same - and included many of the same persons - as the later Nazi Stormtroopers. The 'Hitler Youth', too, was already almost in being, in the shape of anti-Communist sports clubs in schools.
He gives a vivid account of 1923, that 'apocalyptic' year of galloping inflation, of the peaceful Stresemann era that followed it, of Hitler's coming to power and the strange fascination the Nazi leader exerted. He blames the leaders of the non-Nazi parties for being cowards, and himself for protesting too little, at a time when most Germans were not Nazis. He also argues that, unlike the British and the French, only a minority of Germans know what to do with their lives, and that in consequence, when faced with the Nazi challenge, they showed themselves soft and lacking in dignity. Harsh words, indeed.
Leading German reviewers are unanimous in their praise of this account, by a compatriot clear-sighted enough to realise that his country would only be saved by military defeat, and written before the Second World War. Highly illuminating now, it is no wonder it could not be published at the time.