Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler: A Memoir appears in the twenty-first century as a kind of time capsule, offering a personal and political analysis forged during the 1930s, when the endgame of the Nazi regime was not yet visible. Haffner attempts to account for the historical precursors of Nazism, beginning with the Great War–besotted children of his own generation, now hungering for another dose of public excitement, and moving back to the mistaken nationalism of Bismarck’s 1871 Reich. Haffner’s general view of German character as incapable of democracy, reliant on strong leaders, but not essentially anti-Semitic, sits uncomfortably with his more personal horror at the Nazi invasion of individual privacy. Defiant analysis yields to tragedy as the memoir goes on to represent individual capitulations to Nazi tactics, including Haffner’s own. Reflecting our current dilemma, his dramatic narrative puts us vividly in mind of the angry, fearful, strident, hopeless, hopeful, and courageous elements that contend, unresolved, during an unpredictable rush of threatening world events.

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