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They Thought They Were Free: The Germans Quotes

25 of the best book quotes from They Thought They Were Free: The Germans
  1. #1
    “The Germans and the Jews are wonderfully alike. There are, of course, great and obvious differences between them, because the Jews are few, scattered, anciently civilized, and southern in origin, while the Germans are many, concentrated, primitive, and northern.”
  2. #2
    “In the body politic as in the body personal, nonresistance to the milder indulgences paves the way for nonresistance to the deadlier.”
  3. #3
    “None of my ten friends, even today, ascribes moral evil to Hitler, although most of them think (after the fact) that he made fatal strategical mistakes which even they themselves might have made at the time. His worst mistake was his selection of advisers—a backhand tribute to the Leader’s virtues of trustfulness and loyalty, to his very innocence of the knowledge of evil, fully familiar to those who have heard partisans of F. D. R. or Ike explain how things went wrong.”
  4. #4
    “Nobody has proved to my friends that the Nazis were wrong about the Jews. Nobody can. The truth or falsity of what the Nazis said, and of what my extremist friends believed, was immaterial, marvelously so. There simply was no way to reach it, no way, at least, that employed the procedures of logic and evidence. The bill-collector told me that Jews were filthy, that the home of a Jewish woman in his boyhood town was a pigsty; and the baker told me that the Jews’ fanaticism about cleanliness was a standing affront to the “Germans,” who were clean enough. What difference did the truth, if there were truth, make?”
  5. #5
    “My ten friends had been told, not since 1939 but since 1933, that their nation was fighting for its life. They believed that self-preservation is the first law of nature, of the nature of nations as well as of herd brutes.”
  6. #6
    “It was not anti-Semitism or socialism or the New Order that first animated the Nazis; their first slogan was, ‘Break the chains of Versailles.‘”
  7. #7
    “When I asked Herr Wedekind, the baker, why he had believed in National Socialism, he said, ‘Because it promised to solve the unemployment problem. And it did. But I never imagined what it would lead to. Nobody did.’ I thought I had struck pay dirt, and I said, ‘What do you mean, ‘what it would lead to,’ Herr Wedekind?’ ‘War,’ he said. ‘Nobody ever imagined it would lead to war.‘”
  8. #8
    “That the Jew is tasteful and epicurean, more so than the German, is the mere consequence of his geographical origin and his cultural age.
  1. #9
    “The nation was literally fighting for its literal life— ‘they or we.’ Anything went, and what ‘anything’ was, what enormities it embraced, depended entirely on the turn of the battle.”
  2. #10
    “I fooled myself. I had to. Everybody has to. If the good had been twice as good and the bad only half as bad, I still ought to have seen it, all through as I did in the beginning, because I am, as you say, sensitive. But I didn’t want to see it, because I would have then had to think about the consequences of seeing it, what followed from seeing it, what I must do to be decent. I wanted my home and family, my job, my career, a place in the community.”
  3. #11
    “To say that my German friends were nonpolitical, and to say no more, is to libel them. As in nearly all European countries, a very much larger proportion of Germans than Americans turns out for political meetings, political discussions, and local and general elections. Where the German was (in contrast with the American) nonpolitical was at a deeper level. He was habitually deficient in the sense of political power that the American possesses (and the Englishman, the Frenchman, the Scandinavian, and the Swiss). He saw the State in such majesty and magnificence, and himself in such insignificance, that he could not relate himself to the actual operation of the State.”
  4. #12
    “The world once purged by flood ends always again in the surer purgative of fire.”
  5. #13
    “On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.”
  6. #14
    “The other nine, decent, hard-working, ordinarily intelligent and honest men, did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now. None of them ever knew, or now knows, Nazism as we knew and know it; and they lived under it, served it, and, indeed, made it.”
  7. #15
    “Ordinary people—and ordinary Germans—cannot be expected to tolerate activities which outrage the ordinary sense of ordinary decency unless the victims are, in advance, successfully stigmatized as enemies of the people, of the nation, the race, the religion. Or, if they are not enemies (that comes later), they must be an element within the community somehow extrinsic to the common bond, a decompositive ferment (be it only by the way they part their hair or tie their necktie) in the uniformity which is everywhere the condition of common quiet. The Germans’ innocuous acceptance and practice of social anti-Semitism before Hitlerism had undermined the resistance of their ordinary decency to the stigmatization and persecution to come.”
  8. #16
    “The fact is, I think, that my friends really didn’t know. They didn’t know because they didn’t want to know; but they didn’t know. They could have found out, at the time, only if they had wanted to very badly.”

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  1. #17
    “‘I think,’ says Professor Carl Hermann, who never left his homeland, ‘that even now the outside world does not realize how surprised we non-Nazis were in 1933. When mass dictatorship occurred in Russia, then in Italy, we said to one another, ‘That is what happens in backward countries. We are fortunate, for all our troubles, that it cannot happen here.’ But it did, worse even than elsewhere, and I think that all the explanations leave some mystery. When I think of it at all, I still say, with unbelief, ‘Germany—no, not Germany.‘”
  2. #18
    “As the Nazi emphasis on nonintellectual virtues (patriotism, loyalty, duty, purity, labor, simplicity, ‘blood,’ ‘folk-ishness’) seeped through Germany, elevating the self-esteem of the ‘little man,’ the academic profession was pushed from the very center to the very periphery of society. Germany was preparing to cut its own head off. By 1933 at least five of my ten friends (and I think six or seven) looked upon ‘intellectuals’ as unreliable and, among these unreliables, upon the academics as the most insidiously situated.”
  3. #19
    “Hitlerism was a mass flight to dogma, to the barbaric dogma that had not been expelled with the Romans, the dogma of the tribe, the dogma that gave every man importance only in so far as the tribe was important and he was a member of the tribe.”
  4. #20
    “Worse, certainly, than Communism; for it is not the performance of political systems which justifies or condemns them, but their principles. Communism, in principle, supposes itself to represent the wretched of the earth and bars no man by nature from Communist redemption; the Nazis, in categorical contrast, took themselves to be the elite of the earth and consigned whole categories of men to perdition by their nature. The distinctions between these two totalitarianisms may not command much interest in the present temper of the Western Christian; they are still distinctions.”
  5. #21
    “How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, *Principiis obsta* and *Finem respice*—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men?”
  6. #22
    “National Socialism brought dream and conformism together into something satanic.”
  7. #23
    “Why does a man want his children to be better than himself?”
  8. #24
    “National Socialism was a revulsion by my friends against parliamentary politics, parliamentary debate, parliamentary government—against all the higgling and the haggling of the parties and the splinter parties, their coalitions, their confusions, and their conniving. It was the final fruit of the common man’s repudiation of ‘the rascals’. Its motif was, ‘Throw them all out.‘”
  9. #25
    “What we don’t like, what *I* don’t like, is the hypocrisy of these people. I want to hear them confess. They they, or some of their countrymen and their country’s government, violated the precepts of Christian, civilized, lawful life was bad enough; they they won’t see it, or say it, is what really rowels.”
Book Topics › consequences
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