Cover image for Nazi terror : the Gestapo, Jews and ordinary Germans
Title:
Nazi terror : the Gestapo, Jews and ordinary Germans
Author:
Johnson, Eric A. (Eric Arthur), 1948-
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
xx, 636 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780465049066
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Eric Johnson's exhaustive new history tackles the central aspect of the Nazi dictatorship - terror - head on. By focusing on the role of the individual and on the role of the society in making terror work, he is able to definitively and dramatically answer such questions as these: Who were the Gestapo officers? Were they merely banal paper shufflers, as Hannah Arendt depicted Eichmann, or were they recognizably evil? What tactics did they use? Were they motivated by an eliminationist anti-Semitism? Did the average German know about the mass murder of Jews and other undesirables while it was happening? Exactly how was Nazi terror applied in the daily lives of ordinary Jews and Germans?Johnson spent years of research in Gestapo archives in three Rhineland communities, reading and analyzing more than 1100 Gestapo and "special court" case files. He conducted surveys and interviews with German perpetrators, Jewish victims, and ordinary Germans who experienced the Third Reich at first hand. Consequently, his book is able to settle many nagging questions about who, exactly, was responsible for what, who knew what, and when they knew it. Nazi Terror is the most fine-grained portrait we may ever have of the mechanism of terror in a dictatorship.


Author Notes

Eric A. Johnson is the author of Urbanization and Crime: Germany 1871-1914 and The Civilization of Crime: Violence in Town and Country Since the Middle Ages. A professor of history at Central Michigan University and a fellow of The Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, he lives in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The dark heart of Nazism was suffused with hatred, and its outward manifestation was an unprecedented terror. Many scholars have examined this phenomenon, but perhaps none in as much detail as Johnson does here. This is that rare work of history: adroitly combining microhistory (in this instance, a close study of numerous cases brought before the dreaded People's Court and the Gestapo) and macrohistory (an awareness that "Nazi terror is a subject that touches all of humanity"). The subtitle is slightly misleading; without downplaying the central role of the Jews in the racial consciousness of the Nazis, Johnson, to his credit, also acknowledges the Nazi terror against political opponents (especially Communists, Socialists and trade unionists), religious leaders and "asocials" (the Roma, Sinti and mentally and physically handicapped). Furthermore, and this is sure to be of interest to a larger audience, Johnson, professor of history at Central Michigan University (The Civilization of Crime), tackles the larger questions brought to our awareness by the seminal and controversial works of Hannah Arendt, Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen. He challenges Arendt's "banality of evil" formulation when she covered the capture, trial and hanging of Eichmann in the early 1960s. Similarly, he argues for a more complex and nuanced interpretation of the terror than that presented by Browning and Goldhagen. Johnson disputes the characterization of those involved as either "ordinary men" (Browning) or "ordinary Germans" (Goldhagen). The preponderant evidence (and common sense) indicate otherwise. Again, on the micro level, Johnson shows how German-language BBC radio programs (apparently very popular during the war, judging from extensive interviews) indicated exactly what was taking place on the eastern front and in the camps; similarly, he uses the extraordinary diaries of Victor Klemperer to demonstrate that knowledge about the extermination of millions of people was dependent more on one's desire to know. Although Johnson readily admits that a great majority of the German people found ways of "accommodating" themselves to the regime, he returns the burden of guilt to the perpetrators (in this case the Gestapo) and not the people. This is a benchmark work in Holocaust studies. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

In this scholarly book, Johnson (history, Central Michigan Univ.), who has previously written on crime and the administration of justice in modern Germany, strikes a balance between the early historiographical school, which focused on the totalitarian ruthlessness of the Gestapo, and the current school (i.e., Daniel Goldhagen), which lays blame more on "ordinary Germans" than on the Gestapo. Based on extensive research in the special court records and Gestapo case files for three representative German cities, as well as interviews with perpetrators, victims, and bystanders, the author shows that the reasons ordinary Germans joined the Gestapo were varied and multifaceted, not simply owing to "eliminationist anti-Semitism," as Goldhagen claimed in Hitler's Willing Executioners (LJ 3/15/96). An important and persuasive work, this is recommended for public and academic libraries.--John A. Drobnicki, York Coll., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

The Gestapo served as the leading instrument of terror in Hitler's police state, and its activities focused most on specifically identified groups, which included Jews, communists, socialists, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Sinti and Roma, and outspoken critics of the regime. As for the vast majority of Germans, they had no contact with the Gestapo, provided the Gestapo with few tips, and felt little fear of ever being arrested. The German public's silent acquiescence to Nazi policy did not, however, preclude whispered criticisms of the regime or knowledge of the fate of these targeted groups. Although Johnson's conclusions are consistent with those reached by other leading scholars, his work offers a unique depth lacking in most studies. Specifically, Johnson's extensive research into the Gestapo merges records of postwar trials of former Gestapo officers with original documentation drawn from Gestapo case files, an array of contemporary surveys, and numerous personal interviews. Within the Krefeld and Cologne Gestapo offices, on which Johnson concentrates, Gestapo officers aggressively and brutally enforced the laws directed at specific groups. Despite available evidence, most Gestapo officers were never called to account for their crimes and usually lived out their lives in postwar West Germany on a full pension. All levels. D. A. Meier; Dickinson State University


Table of Contents

List of Tablesp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Part I Nazi Terror and the Gestapo
1 Locating Nazi Terror: Setting, Interpretations, Evidencep. 3
2 Inside Gestapo Headquarters: The Agents of the Terrorp. 29
Part II Nazi Terror and the Jews, 1933-1939
3 The Course of Jewish Persecution in the Prewar Yearsp. 83
4 A Closer Look: Survivors' Recollections and Jewish Case Filesp. 129
Part III Nazi Terror and Potential Opponents, 1933-1939
5 Destroying the Leftp. 161
6 The Cross and the Swastika: Quieting Religious Oppositionp. 195
Part IV Nazi Terror and "Ordinary" Germans
7 Nazi Terror and "Ordinary" Germans: 1933-1939p. 253
8 Nazi Terror and "Ordinary" Germans: The War Yearsp. 303
9 A Summation: Defendants, Denouncers, and Nazi Terrorp. 353
Part V The Gestapo, "Ordinary" Germans, and the Murder of the Jews
10 Persecution and Deportation, 1939-1942p. 379
11 Murder One by One, 1943-1945p. 405
12 Mass Murder, Mass Silencep. 433
Part VI Aftermath and Conclusions
13 Christmas Presents for the Gestapop. 463
Notesp. 489
Bibliographyp. 595
Indexp. 620