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Hitler's True Believers

How Ordinary People Became Nazis

Robert Gellately

Publication Date - May 2022

ISBN: 9780197626146

464 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

How and why did millions adopt Nazism without experiencing the "leader" or reading his works?


Parsing Adolf Hitler's ideology provides insights into the world of an extremist politics that, over the course of the Third Reich, developed explosive energies culminating in the Second World War and the Holocaust. Too often the theories underlying National Socialism or Nazism are dismissed as an irrational hodge-podge of ideas. Yet that ideology drove Hitler's quest for power in 1933, colored everything in the Third Reich, and transformed him, however briefly, into the most powerful leader in the world.

How did he discover that ideology? How was it that cohorts of leaders, followers, and ordinary citizens adopted aspects of National Socialism without experiencing the "leader" first-hand or reading his works? They shared a collective desire to create a harmonious, racially select, "community of the people" to build on Germany's socialist-oriented political culture and to seek national renewal. If we wish to understand the rise of the Nazi Party and the new dictatorship's remarkable staying power, we have to take the nationalist and socialist aspects of this ideology seriously.

Hitler became a kind of representative figure for ideas, emotions, and aims that he shared with thousands, and eventually millions, of true believers who were of like mind.They projected onto him the properties of the "necessary leader," a commanding figure at the head of a uniformed corps that would rally the masses and storm the barricades. It remains remarkable that millions of people in a well-educated and cultured nation eventually came to accept or accommodate themselves to the tenants of an extremist ideology laced with hatred and laden with murderous implications.


  • Rather than dismissing socialism as a disingenuous label Hitler had supposedly chosen for tactical gain, the book argues that we must take the nationalism and socialism seriously
  • Based on a wealth of archival documents, primary materials, and secondary sources, the book is formidable in its scope and mastery of the material
  • Poses daring new questions on how Germans reacted to Nazi ideology and what the regime had to offer them

About the Author(s)

Robert Gellately is the Earl Ray Beck Professor of History at Florida State University. He is the author of Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, The Politics of Economic Despair: Shopkeepers and German Politics, and Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe.


"This sweeping account draws on career-long research by one of the foremost scholars of Nazism today. Hitler's True Believers gets at the core of a perennial question: why did people choose to follow Hitler? Rather than focusing on the leader himself, Gellately delves deeply into an ideology defined by nationalism, socialism, and antisemitism. Nazi socialism must be taken especially seriously, he argues, and he shows that Germans often shared the party's ideas before they joined it, just as the party drew on popular impulses. To learn how the Nazis obtained and maintained the support of millions of Germans, this outstanding book will be essential reading for many years to come." -- Julia Torrie, Professor of History, St. Thomas University

"A remarkable read. Gellately argues with conviction that if we want to fully understand why millions of ordinary Germans became 'true believers' in Nazism, then we need to look beyond Hitler's 'charisma' and take seriously the presence of National Socialist dreams and desires in the plural." -- Matthew Stibbe, Professor of Modern European History, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

"Robert Gellately's Hitler's True Believers provides a powerful rebuttal of the tendency to present National Socialism as 'nonsensical and irrational.' Its arguments - that Hitler was a man of ideas and that we cannot understand Nazi Germany's considerable staying powers unless we take the regime's socialist attitudes and expectations seriously - are as provocative as they are persuasive. Gellately's book is the most important and original book on the history of the Third Reich published in a generation." -- Thomas Weber , author of Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi

"It's tempting to draw parallels between the Hitler era and the present age of ascendant nationalism, and Gellately offers reasons to do so...A thoughtful, timely study of how Nazism moved from the political fringe to the heart of German life." -- Kirkus

"As with his earlier book, Backing Hitler, Gellately substantively revises our understanding of the process whereby average Germans became active participants or indifferent bystanders to Nazi atrocities. This work, an impressive synthesis of scholarship and archival sources, will be beneficial for all libraries."--Frederic Krome, Library Journal

"Gellately's study is a thorough treatment of an intellectually and emotionally difficult subject, as well as a sobering reminder of people's willingness to forget that their fellow human beings are, in fact, human. Hitler's True Believers sheds light on one of the twentieth century's most puzzling yet crucial questions." --Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews

“In the scholarly-and more comprehensive-Hitler's True Believers, Robert Gellately, a distinguished historian of 20th-century totalitarianism, travels the whole length of the National Socialist arc-from grubby origins to miserable conclusion-in his attempt to explain how “ordinary people became Nazis.” Mr. Gellately differs from many in the weight he places on the appeal of the “socialist” element in an ideology that, almost from its earliest days, had combined nationalism and anti-Semitism with a distrust of capitalism. --Andrew Stuttaford, The Wall Street Journal

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: How Hitler Found National Socialist Ideas
    Chapter 2: Early Leaders' Paths to National Socialism
    Chapter 3: The National Socialist "Left"
    Chapter 4: The Militants
    Chapter 5: The Nazi Voters
    Chapter 6: National Socialism Gains Power
    Chapter 7: Embracing the Volksgemeinschaft
    Chapter 8: Striving for Unanimity
    Chapter 9: Quest for a Cultural Revolution
    Chapter 10: The Racist Ideology
    Chapter 11: Nationalism and Militarism
    Chapter 12: War and Genocide