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Backing Hitler

Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany

Robert Gellately

Publication Date - May 2002

ISBN: 9780192802910

384 pages

A disturbing look at the true extent to which ordinary Germans knew about the Gestapo and the death camps


Debate still rages over how much ordinary Germans knew about the concentration camps and the Gestapo's activities during Hitler's reign. Now, in this well-documented and provocative volume, historian Robert Gellately argues that the majority of German citizens had quite a clear picture of the extent of Nazi atrocities, and continued to support the Reich to the bitter end.
Culling chilling evidence from primary news sources and citing dozens of case studies, Gellately shows how media reports and press stories were an essential dimension of Hitler's popular dictatorship. Indeed, a vast array of material on the concentration camps, the violent campaigns against social outsiders, and the Nazis' radical approaches to "law and order" was published in the media of the day, and was widely read by a highly literate population of Germans. Hitler, Gellately reveals, did not try to hide the existence of the Gestapo or of concentration camps. Nor did the Nazis try to cow the people into submission. Instead they set out to win converts by building on popular images, cherished ideals, and long-held phobias. And their efforts succeeded, Gellately concludes, for the Gestapo's monstrous success was due, in large part, to ordinary German citizens who singled out suspected "enemies" in their midst, reporting their suspicions and allegations freely and in a spirit of cooperation and patriotism.
Extensively documented, highly readable and illustrated with never-before-published photographs, Backing Hitler convincingly debunks the myth that Nazi atrocities were carried out in secret. From the rise of the Third Reich well into the final, desperate months of the war, the destruction of innocent lives was inextricably linked to the will of the German people.

About the Author(s)

Robert Gellately is the Strassler Professor in Holocaust History at Clark University, and is the author of The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945. He lives in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.


"Books on the Holocaust and Nazism now number in the tens of thousands. Of that vast library, a handful of texts should be deemed essential reading for any serious student of the bloody and pathetic 20th century. Robert Gellately's Backing Hitler is among them."--Washington Post Book World

"Readers will notice that Gellately offers a far more sophisticated argument and more abundant evidence than Daniel Goldhagen's cause celebre, '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."--Publishers Weekly

"In this original and outstanding book, Gellately uses a wealth of new source materials, including the daily press, to examine the public face of the Nazi 'law and order' dictatorship, in the process contributing much to our understanding of the extent to which it basked in social consensus....This is a genuinely important book which deserves the widest possible readership."--Michael Burleigh, Washington and Lee University

"Superbly researched and convincingly argued, this path breaking study demonstrates that most Germans supported Hitler throughout the Nazi regime....A crucial contribution to our understanding of the relationship between consent and coercion in modern dictatorship."--Omer Bartov, Brown University

Table of Contents

    1. Turning away from Weimar
    2. Police Justice
    3. Concentration Camps and Media Reports
    4. Shadows of War
    5. Social Outsiders
    6. Injustice and the Jews
    7. Special "Justice" for Foreign Workers
    8. Enemies in the Ranks
    9. Concentration Camps in Public Spaces
    10. Dictatorship and People at the End of the Third Reich