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In this devastatingly insightful book, first published in 1978, Sebastian Haffner sets out to show how a man who was an obscure failure until his thirties became the most powerful dictator of his day, before his life ended with what amounted to a declaration of war against his own people. It is a brilliant assessment of the mentality and career of Hitler, tracing his mastery of the masses, his extraordinary political and military successes, and the unbroken series of disasters that followed.
When Hitler came to power, six million Germans were unemployed; within three years, there was full employment. Haffner acknowledges Hitler’s economic achievements, but also shows their ‘seamy side’, and the way fixed wages and prices were imposed on the populace. To many of the German people, their new leader initially appeared to be a miracleworker. Yet his sinister attributes were present from the beginning: his incoherent and brutal views on race, his thirst for war and his obsession with expanding Germany’s borders. Ultimately, Hitler’s anti-Semitism would be his downfall, as he divided his resources between the fight against the Russians and the Western Allies, and his persecution of the Jews. Hitler made no plans for the government of Germany beyond his own lifetime, and his final wishes – expressed in the ‘Führer orders’ of 18 and 19 March 1945 – were to see the German people annihilated, since they were no longer worthy of their status as the master race.
Sebastian Haffner was born Raimund Pretzel in Berlin in 1907. He and his Jewish fiancée emigrated to Britain in 1938, where Haffner worked as a writer and journalist as well as producing anti-Nazi propaganda for the Foreign Office. He adopted his pseudonym for the safety of his family in Germany. His eloquence is as brilliant as his analysis: he describes Hitler’s anti-Semitism as a ‘congenital hump’ and probes the ‘frayed margins of Hitler’s world of ideas’. By initiating the Second World War, Hitler transformed the world, but not in the way he would have wished – for example, without him there would be no state of Israel. This penetrating study helps us understand what Hitler wanted, and why he failed. Introducer Mark Roseman is the prize-winning author of several books on Nazism and its long-term impact on Germany.