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A German Generation

A German Generation: An Experiential History of the Twentieth Century

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    A German Generation
    Book Description:

    Germans of the generation born just before the outbreak of World War I lived through a tumultuous and dramatic century. This book tells the story of their lives and, in so doing, offers a new history of twentieth-century Germany, as experienced and made by ordinary human beings.

    On the basis of sixty-two oral-history interviews, this book shows how this generation was shaped psychologically by a series of historically engendered losses over the course of the century. In response, this generation turned to the collective to repair the losses it had suffered, most fatefully to the community of the "Volk" during the Third Reich, a racial collective to which this generation was passionately committed and which was at the heart of National Socialism and its popular appeal.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17804-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: “We Have All, Always, Sought the Collective”
    (pp. 1-18)

    Some thirty years ago, when I began both my education at the Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute and my investigation of the psychological dimension of the past, I—like other “psychohistorians” of the time—analyzed the influence of the psyche on history. We studied the lives of historically significant figures (“great men” and, less often, “great women”) in order to explain how their political attitudes and actions in adulthood could be understood as attempts to solve psychological problems encountered in childhood. We assumed that the historically significant attitudes and actions of such figures could be explained only through a psychological analysis of...

  5. PART I. Germany during World War I and the Weimar Republic

    • 1 INTERVIEWS: Youth
      (pp. 21-58)

      The story of my life in this troubled century is somewhat muddled and not so easy to relate.¹ I was born in Berlin in 1910. I came from a home shaped by literature and music, and both my parents played musical instruments. I had two brothers. The one became a violinist, the other a doctor. They were twins. They are missing in the East.* Our family was close and harmonious, a closed circle, a bit focused in on itself, of bourgeois origin but very artistic. My father was incredibly well educated, and I always admired him. My mother was fourteen...

    • 2 ANALYSIS: Finding the Collective in the Youth Movement “Group”
      (pp. 59-71)

      To the extent they recall it, the overwhelming majority of those interviewed remember World War I not as a time of anxiety and hardship but as an idyllic period in their lives. Almost without exception, they describe positive experiences associated with nature, the out-of-doors, and a rural environment. Many of the interviewees associate childhood with the years they spent living with relatives in the countryside during the latter years of the war. They recall this as a magical time, and their memories evoke what they callGeborgenheit, a sense of security, andNestwärme, the warmth of the nest.¹ Thus their...

    • 3 ESSAYS
      (pp. 72-82)

      Like the interviewees, other middle-class Germans belonging to their generation experienced the war not as a terrible but as a wonderful, even exhilarating period in their lives. Certainly that was the view the journalist and historian Sebastian Haffner expressed in his posthumously published autobiography. Born in 1907, Haffner experienced the war as a schoolboy in Berlin. Rather than dangerous or frightening, the war seemed to him a “grand game,” and looking back as an adult, he was convinced that “a whole generation of Germans experienced the war in childhood just as I did or experienced it very similarly.”¹ Haffner’s contemporaries...

  6. PART II. Germany during the Third Reich and World War II

    • 4 INTERVIEWS: Young Adulthood
      (pp. 85-123)

      Basically I was raised apolitical and grew up apolitical, but when Adolf Hitler was named Reich chancellor I wasn’t exactly astonished.* On the one hand, I didn’t see coming what ultimately did come, which I suppose was a good thing. On the other hand, I certainly found the way the state was represented by the National Socialists impressive—in contrast to the top hats and suits, the dark clothes of the representatives of the Weimar Republic. They didn’t impress me.¹ The Weimar Republic was saddled with the divisiveness of its political parties and of its politics, and of course we...

    • 5 ANALYSIS: Extending the Collective in the Community of the Volk
      (pp. 124-149)

      Those interviewed greeted the advent of the Third Reich in January 1933 with enthusiasm.¹ In no small measure their excitement was based upon the expectation that the National Socialists would carry forward the positive experiences of the youth movement while responding to some of its limitations. One interviewee usesAufbruchsstimmungto describe the mood of anticipation at the beginning of the Third Reich, a word that captures the feeling at the outset of a youth movement excursion.² The interviewees had the sense that “something exciting was happening!” and did not want to miss out on the adventure.³ To Germans the...

    • 6 ESSAYS
      (pp. 150-178)

      It is impossible to determine with any certainty popular attitudes toward National Socialism during the Third Reich, a time before public opinion polls and a place where dissent was suppressed by state, society, and individuals themselves. Obviously, different Germans had different opinions about National Socialism, and even the same Germans had different opinions at different times. Nevertheless, despite the necessarily speculative and oversimplified nature of the conclusion, many historians would probably accept Norbert Frei’s recent verdict that Hitler and the National Socialists were supported “by the vast majority of Germans.” Even the Nazis were surprised at the speed with which...

  7. PART III. Postwar Germany

    • 7 INTERVIEWS: Maturity
      (pp. 181-210)

      When I was released from Russian captivity, I planned to make for Hamburg.¹ That was the only good solution. I was advised against returning to Thuringia, where I had my father’s land and house. I’d counted on those, but I couldn’t go there.² My parental household had completely fallen apart,³ and besides, it was too risky. I didn’t want to fall into the hands of the Russians again. I’d already been in Russia long enough.⁴ But then I heard that I shouldn’t go to Hamburg either because it was too badly damaged, too expensive, and impossible to find housing.* I...

    • 8 ANALYSIS: Resurrecting the Collective in the Generational “Circle”
      (pp. 211-223)

      The themes of loss and perseverance in the face of loss, so central to the interviewees’ lives before the end of the war, continued to characterize their lives after 1945. In the immediate postwar period women interviewees persevered through loss that took the form of deprivation. Virtually all recall having experienced, directly and profoundly, the loss of the basic necessities of life. They describe how desperately difficult it was to find shelter in bombed-out Germany for years after the end of the war, given the housing shortage and the number of refugees and evacuees.¹ And they describe the constant search...

    • 9 ESSAYS
      (pp. 224-236)

      Writing immediately after the war, the middle-class feminist Gertrud Bäumer noted that, despite National Socialist rhetoric praising the family and the mother, National Socialist policies had actually reduced the significance of both in favor of the Volksgemeinschaft. Through the “collectivization of motherhood,” the role of individual mothers had been reduced, and children had been pulled out of the family into generational collectives. Indeed, the National Socialists regarded all intimate personal relationships as “useless and dangerous,” according to Bäumer, for they “inhibited the formation and reduced the power of the Gemeinschaft.” Although the “atmospheric power of the family had faded” during...

  8. CONCLUSION: The Authority of Historical Experience
    (pp. 237-242)

    When I began writing this book, virtually all of those interviewed for it were alive. As I write this conclusion, virtually none are.¹ Not only the interviewees but their generational peers have died or soon will, including their counterparts in the United States, now commonly known as “the greatest generation” after the book of that name by the television newscaster Tom Brokaw. It would be difficult to find two generations with more contrasting historical reputations than the “German generation” represented in this book and what Brokaw confidently describes as “the greatest generation that any society has produced.”²

    In attempting to...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 243-308)
    (pp. 309-322)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 323-335)