Eric Johnson's skill is to have made us understand how the Gestapo actually operated at local level without falling into the trap of identifying with the police organization. We learn, for example, that senior Gestapo were usually law graduates with a comparatively small number of officers. They relied to a great extent on third party informants often with a grudge against someone. Target groups for the Gestapo were Jews, churchmen and homosexuals. But it seems most "ordinary" German citizens had little to fear from the secret police even when they indulged in that most favorite of pastimes - listening in to the BBC. Gestapo oppression was very real but also selective and even passive on occasion. This reviewer would have liked a little more background on how the Cologne Gestapo, the subject of the study, related to their bosses in Berlin. An insightful study of the "Little Eichmanns" who abounded in the Third Reich. The book is all the more convincing as Johnson has conducted research in the 1990s on what elderly Germans remember about the events under discussion.
This interesting book is the latest entry into the ongoing debate regarding the extent of "willing' complicity on the part of the average German citizen in the Holocaust. While it claims to settle the issue by showing the extent to which the terror unleashed by the Gestapo was selective and relied on the compliance and conformity of the average German. Yet one is left uneasy with how this interpretation skates so selectively over the thousands of cases other have cited regarding the degree to which Aryans risked much to help or save German Jews. I believe this account is too generalized to be satisfactory. The book is well written, and the arguments and evidence well presented. I have problems with the research methods employed and the sampling techniques as described. My opinion is that this book only fuels the fire, and settles nothing. The main problem with its argument that ordinary Germans knowingly and enthusiastically complied with the Nazi policy to systematically scapegoat and exterminate the Jews, the truth is that there is just too much contrary evidence to trust such sweeping claims based on the evidence introduced and cited. Such a generalized argument ignores a lot of inconvenient evidence as well as a number of other more subtle and less reassuring conclusions one could also easily reach regarding the degree to which the ordinary German participated in the extermination of the Jews. It's true that Germany in that period was characterized by a degree of conformity and adherence to very narrowly and carefully circumscribed rules of conduct. It's also true, however, that during the 12-year reign of the Third Reich deviance from these narrowly conceived moral codes was hardly considered an active or safe option for Germans to openly adopt or publicly support. Given this conformity and the fabled German awe for authority, ordinary citizens were ripe targets for the manipulation and propaganda the Nazis churned out. Properly frightened, chastised, and manipulated, the ordinary German was so concerned for his own safety and that of his family that he scarcely had the moral courage to stand up for what he thought was the unfair treatment of Jews. Of course, this concern for one's own skin quickly leads to cowardice, and there is no debate over the degree of such loathsome behavior many (if not most) Germans adopted. My point is emphatically not meant to excuse the cowardice of the German people, nor to deny the author's claims that many individual Germans did cooperate enthusiastically in order to benefit themselves, it is simply not accurate to say that the German people generally knew of the "Final Solution" in advance, nor while it was proceeding until very late in the game. Even Jews queried do not consistently understand the savage degree to which Hitler meant to deal with the so-called "Jewish Problem". In recently published books like "I Shall bear Witness" by a German Jew living through the holocaust in Dresden, it is not until the early 1940s that he and his fellow Jews seem to recognize the full extent of what is happening. The author, Victor Klemperer,attributes his own survival (and that of his Aryan wife), to the quiet kindness and risky interventions of countless anonymous Aryans they didn't necessarily even know. Thus I have to confess that I wasn't convinced by the author's argument or evidence as presented that things were as clear or as simple as he claims. It is an interesting, highly readable, and well-presented book, and certainly an impressive effort on behalf of a revised version of the so-called Goldhagen thesis. However, in the real world, one comprised by ordinary, imperfect, timid, and self-interested individuals, this argument is just too general and convenient to believe (at least based on the evidence presented). And so the debate will likely continue. Enjoy!
It's difficult to assess this book because it is printed in a very hard-to-read font. Not only are the letters poorly designed, but the ink itself is very light. Instead of being a crisp, clear black, it appears gray.
First published in the year 2000, this book feels a bit dated today, and the author perhaps over-extrapolates certain statistics from the sample of Gestapo records that he has examined. Nevertheless, it's a good overview of the role of "ordinary Germans" -- those citizens who were neither Jewish nor political enemies or other undesirables -- during the Nazi era. In particular, it emphasizes that most Germans a) were not directly involved in the atrocities of the Holocaust, b) were in no real danger of Nazi persecution, even when breaking the law to critique the government or listen to foreign radio broadcasts, and c) were to some degree aware of what was being done to their Jewish compatriots. The narrative could have been tightened up, but in total it's a chilling look at how complacency in a country's majority can empower an abusive minority.