Robert Gellately challenges the belief that the German people knew little about the Nazi terror, and the tendency of historians to distance ordinary Germans from its excesses. He reveals for the first time the social consensus behind the regime and the extent to which German men and women were involved in the persecution of social outsiders and 'race enemies'.
Using newspapers and radio broadcasts of the day as evidence, Gellately (The Gestapo and German Society), Strassler Professor in Holocaust History at Clark University, effectively demonstrates how "ordinary Germans" evolved into a powerful base of support for the Nazi regime. Although Hitler and the National Socialists had never garnered an outright majority in elections before 1933, the author convincingly shows that "the great majority of the German people soon became devoted to Hitler and they supported him to the bitter end in 1945." The Nazis achieved this political miracle by "consensus." The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci argued that political regimes could hardly expect to use unlimited terror against their subjects a technique combining the threat of terror and coercion would be more effective. Using Gramscian theory is hardly new in an analysis of Nazi Germany, but Gellately does make a provocative claim: that the Nazi use of terror against certain categories of "undesirables" (first Communists, Socialists and trade unionists, then Catholic and Protestant opponents, then the mentally and/or physically impaired, then the Jews and Gypsies) was purposively public and that most Germans agreed with such policies. Decrees, legislation, police actions and the concentration camps were not meant to be hidden from the German people, but in fact were extensively publicized. Some of the same arguments have been made in Adam Lebor and Roger Boyes's Seduced by Hitler (Forecasts, Mar. 26), but readers will notice that Gellately offers a far more sophisticated argument and more abundant evidence than Daniel Goldhagen's cause c l bre, Hitler's Willing Executioners. In truth, Gellately's work is what Goldhagen's book could have been, but wasn't; that is, a closely reasoned and tightly constructed analysis. 42 illus. not seen by PW.