Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis

Oxford Univ. Jun. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9780190689902. $34.95. HIST
Gellately (Earl Ray Beck Professor of History, Florida State Univ.; Stalin’s Curse) analyzes the process whereby a majority of the German public became complicit in Nazi policy. While his initial focus is on the development of Hitler’s ideology, Gellately skillfully analyzes how ordinary Germans came to embrace Nazi principles. For example, the controlling factor for those most likely to join the Nazis was previous membership in a right-wing Nationalist party, thus demonstrating some of the continuities with earlier racialist movements. Perhaps the most disturbing revelations in the book are the number of incidents in which local Nazis, acting on their own initiative, brutally assaulted German Jews, many of whom either died of their wounds or died by suicide. Even more distressing were the decisions of local police to no longer protect Jewish residents, long before the 1935 Nuremberg Laws.
VERDICT As with his earlier book, Backing Hitler, Gellately substantively revises our understanding of the process whereby average Germans became active participants or indifferent bystanders to Nazi atrocities. This work, an impressive synthesis of scholarship and archival sources, will be beneficial for all libraries.

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