They Thought They Were Free

They Thought They Were Free

The Germans, 1933-45

Book - 2017
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"When this book was first published it received some attention from the critics but none at all from the public. Nazism was finished in the bunker in Berlin and its death warrant signed on the bench at Nuremberg."

That's Milton Mayer, writing in a foreword to the 1966 edition of They Thought They Were Free . He's right about the critics: the book was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1956. General readers may have been slower to take notice, but over time they did--what we've seen over decades is that any time people, across the political spectrum, start to feel that freedom is threatened, the book experiences a ripple of word-of-mouth interest. And that interest has never been more prominent or potent than what we've seen in the past year.

Mayer, an American journalist of German descent, traveled to Germany in 1935 in attempt to secure an interview with Hitler. He failed, but what he saw in Berlin chilled him. He quickly determined that Hitler wasn't the person he needed to talk to after all. Nazism, he realized, truly was a mass movement; he needed to talk with the average German. He found ten, and his discussions with them of Nazism, the rise of the Reich, and mass complicity with evil became the backbone of this book, an indictment of the ordinary German that is all the more powerful for its refusal to let the rest of us pretend that our moment, our society, our country are fundamentally immune.

A new foreword to this edition by eminent historian of the Reich Richard J. Evans puts the book in historical and contemporary context. We live in an age of fervid politics and hyperbolic rhetoric. They Thought They Were Free cuts through that, revealing instead the slow, quiet accretions of change, complicity, and abdication of moral authority that quietly mark the rise of evil.
Publisher: Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2017
ISBN: 9780226525839
Branch Call Number: 943.086 M46t
Characteristics: 378 pages ; 22 cm
Additional Contributors: Evans, Richard J.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Jul 14, 2017

EXCELLENT! I encourage every CONCERNED CITIZEN to READ THIS BOOK, especially in light of what seems to be these days a creeping (creepy?!) fascism throughout The West. While exploring themes and posing questions raised around the 'mystery' of how this arguably most highly civilized European country could have trod the path to Fascism, World War II, and The Jewish Holocaust, the author draws out these mens' thoughts on a wide range of social themes. These 'conversations' on community, religion, family, work, 'the Jewish question,' and so much more are often sad, poignant, horrifying, astonishing, but also page-turning compelling and absorbing CAUTIONARY TALES FOR OUR TIME.

The author, Milton Mayer, an American journalist of German Jewish extraction, moved into a small west-central German town, Königsberg, c. 1953-ish, became part of the community, and befriended TEN German men of different ages and backgrounds who at some point became members of The Nazi Party (National Socialists), under Adolph Hitler. As these men came to trust the author, and invite him into their homes and lives, stories of wrenching change, loss, pain, fear, even rare but occasional hope unfold before him and are transmitted to us, the readers in simple, direct prose that nevertheless impel us to consider how such a state of affairs as occurred in post WWI Germany came to pass.

I CAN'T RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TOO HIGHLY! Published in 1955, while memories were still fresh, the book was revised in 1961 and again in 1966.

Aug 13, 2013

moving book. i read it before and it is unique book. i recommitted to everyone likes to read, not just about history but in to humanity. i also recommend Willful Blindness - by Margaret Heffernan.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at VPL

To Top