Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner

Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner - A chance to understand Nazi Germany from a totally different perspective. Haffner writes a memoir of what it felt like to be German and totally despise the Nazi rule.

About Sebastian Haffner

Haffner (real name Raimond Pretzel) was a German journalist who despised the Nazi Regime.

For his own safety and that of his Jewish wife, he fled to England and lived in exile from 1939. He wrote under the name Sebastian Haffner to protect his family still living in Germany.

He wrote many articles and books on Hitler's Germany but this memoir, Defying Hitler, was one of his earliest works that was never published. His son, Oliver Pretzel, found the memoir and decided to publish it, even though his father had not quite completed it.


The first part of the book describes what it was like as a boy living through World War one and then through the terrible economic times that followed in Germany.

Haffner, tries to give the reasons he thinks lead to the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. He goes on to describe the need for order and the need to win (post the German defeat of World War one)

The second half of the book focuses on the ordinary lives of Germans during the start of the Nazi regime. He had plenty of Jewish friends and the story tells of how he tries to help them, and how he and his wife manage to escape.



The first part of the book, in particular, gives a detailed view of the events that lead to the rise of a dictator and a racist regime.

There are plenty of details about the various political parties, the thugs, police, brown shirts etc and their worrying techniques to keep order.

Sebastian Haffner's psychological thoughts on why the whole thing was able to come about is interesting and informative in itself.


Learning about the ordinary lives of the vast majority of Germans during the Nazi regime is fascinating. Watching as the author's friends and colleagues change over that time period is very interesting.

Violation of Human Rights

Watching Germany turn from a civilised state into a suppressed nation, with basic human rights being taken away, is quite scary and is portrayed so well in this, Sebastian Haffner memoirs.


What shocked you most about this book?

Did the first "Historical" section interest you/ Why or why not?

Was the first or second part of the book more enjoyable?

Would the second part of the book work without the first historical section?

Could a similar situation, like the rise of a dictator, happen again? Why or why not?

Are there any other example/parts of the dicactor regimes that ring true today?


Our Book Club loved this book and scored it 8/10. It's a book that will have you feeling very differently about the Germans and their part in World War II.

The first historical section of the book is a little dry and takes some concentration. That said, it is interesting, just a little hard going.

It's well worth perservering to get to the second part of the book which describes the lives of ordinary Germans living with the emergence of Nazism.

Our discussion was profound and interesting. We were particularly lucky to have a German in our book club, who was able to share stories of her Grandfather fighting as a Nazi in the war and the types of lessons that are taught at school to make future generations understand the Hitler regime.

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