The best books on life in Nazi Germany

Who am I?

As a historian at the University of Amsterdam, one of my concerns is to understand why so many Germans supported and participated in Adolf Hitler’s atrocious political project. I am equally interested in the other side: the Nazis’ political opponents and victims. In two decades of researching, writing, and teaching, I have read large numbers of official documents, newspapers, diaries, novels, and memoirs. These contemporary texts have made me vividly aware of how different people lived through the Nazi years, how they envisioned their lives, and how they remembered them after World War II. The questions they faced and the solutions they found continue to challenge and disconcert me.  

I wrote...

Culture in the Third Reich

By Moritz Föllmer,

Book cover of Culture in the Third Reich

What is my book about?

“It’s like being in a dream,” commented Joseph Goebbels visiting Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940. Dream and reality intermingled in the Third Reich: fantasies of imperial rule and racist domination came true; so did the worst fears of the regime’s opponents and victims. And culture was central to what the Nazis set out to do in a country that had long considered itself more cultured than most. Theater, film, and music galvanized Germans’ imaginations and offered them reassurance and distraction. My book elucidates a potent blend of extreme-right utopianism, middle-brow conventionality, and modern mass culture, while also covering the Jews and antifascists who drew on culture for consolation or strength to resist. The story it tells is disturbing throughout and culminates in a nightmare of destruction.   

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Life and Death in the Third Reich

Moritz Föllmer Why did I love this book?

A book that discusses perpetrators, bystanders, and victims while covering both Germany and the countries it invaded, and all in just over 300 pages? This could have been a dense, dry affair—but it emphatically isn’t. Peter Fritzsche, a leading historian of the Weimar and Nazi periods, skillfully weaves letters, diaries, and novels into a compelling account from which you come away with an understanding of what the Third Reich really meant for a variety of different people. Some enjoyed a feeling of mission and power; some muddled through and hoped to survive the war; some came to realize that they were about to be murdered. Most importantly, Fritzsche shows how many Germans came to endorse the Nazi vision of life as a never-ending emergency. 

By Peter Fritzsche,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life and Death in the Third Reich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On January 30, 1933, hearing about the celebrations for Hitler's assumption of power, Erich Ebermayer remarked bitterly in his diary, "We are the losers, definitely the losers." Learning of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which made Jews non-citizens, he raged, "hate is sown a million-fold." Yet in March 1938, he wept for joy at the Anschluss with Austria: "Not to want it just because it has been achieved by Hitler would be folly."

In a masterful work, Peter Fritzsche deciphers the puzzle of Nazism's ideological grip. Its basic appeal lay in the Volksgemeinschaft-a "people's community" that appealed to Germans to…

Book cover of Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

Moritz Föllmer Why did I love this book?

How did Nazi antisemitism affect German Jews? To answer this question Marion Kaplan delves into the social, domestic, and emotional lives of the persecuted one-percent minority. She reveals how Jews felt when hit with yet another restrictive or punitive measure, when neighbors and friends turned away, when deportation loomed. Crucially, the pioneering feminist historian distinguishes between male and female experiences. Having been less involved in professional and public life, women reacted more flexibly to an unprecedented situation than their menfolk. They were less tied to German culture and more capable of grasping the new realities. Even so, when couples and families finally decided to emigrate, it was often too late: potential host countries were reluctant to allow them in, and Nazi antisemitism soon turned into a policy of mass murder. 

By Marion A. Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between Dignity and Despair as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between Dignity and Despair draws on the extraordinary memoirs, diaries, interviews, and letters of Jewish women and men to give us the first intimate portrait of Jewish life in Nazi Germany.
Kaplan tells the story of Jews in Germany not from the hindsight of the Holocaust, nor from the vantage of the persecutors, but from the bewildered and ambiguous perspective of Jews trying to navigate their daily lives in a world that was becoming more and more insane. Answering the charge that Jews should have left earlier, Kaplan shows that far from seeming inevitable, the Holocaust was impossible to foresee…

Book cover of A Past in Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany

Moritz Föllmer Why did I love this book?

Historian Mark Roseman interviewed Marianne Ellenbogen née Strauss in a suburban house near Liverpool. After she passed away, her son shared with him the diaries and letters he found in the attic. In the summer of 1943 Marianne escaped deportation and hid in various places across Germany, supported by a little-known network of unorthodox socialists. Her life under Nazism was horrible—yet strangely liberating. She flourished away from her strict parents but was still traumatized at leaving them behind. The fate of someone who repeatedly changed her German, Jewish, political, and indeed personal identity will move you emotionally as well as stimulate you intellectually. All along, Marianne struggled to maintain control over her own story—which makes A Past in Hiding a brilliant title for an outstanding book.   

By Mark Roseman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Past in Hiding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A heart-stopping survivor story and brilliant historical investigation that offers unprecedented insight into daily life in the Third Reich and the Holocaust and the powers and pitfalls of memory.

At the outbreak of World War II, Marianne Strauss, the sheltered daughter of well-to-do German Jews, was an ordinary girl, concerned with studies, friends, and romance. Almost overnight she was transformed into a woman of spirit and defiance, a fighter who, when the Gestapo came for her family, seized the moment and went underground. On the run for two years, Marianne traveled across Nazi Germany without papers, aided by a remarkable…

Book cover of After Midnight

Moritz Föllmer Why did I love this book?

Prefer to learn about Nazi Germany through literature? Try this novel by Irmgard Keun, who excelled at writing from the perspective of different young women. Here, nineteen-year-old Sanna relates how her life has changed under the Third Reich. She encounters people who express unqualified admiration for Adolf Hitler or at least concede that the Nazis are right about many things, who enjoy denouncing others or adapting to the new rules of the game. With her naïve understanding and unsophisticated language, Sanna lays bare vain pretensions, catchy slogans, and ponderous pseudo-profundities. She can’t understand why she should listen to Nazi speeches and avoid Jews. Contacts with critical friends finally compel her to leave Germany—just like her literary creator, who published her novel in exile in the Netherlands. 

By Irmgard Keun, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked After Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Depicting a young woman's life in Nazi Germany, a masterpiece from the author of Child of All Nations

'I cannot think of anything else that conjures up so powerfully the atmosphere of a nation turned insane' Sunday Telegraph

Nineteen-year-old Sanna just wants to drink her beer in peace, but that's difficult when Hitler has come to town and his motorcade is blocking the streets of Frankfurt. What's more, her best friend Gerti is in love with a Jewish boy, her brother writes books that have been blacklisted and her own aunt may denounce her to the authorities at any moment,…

Book cover of Defying Hitler: A Memoir

Moritz Föllmer Why did I love this book?

How do people react when a dictatorship forces them to make choices? To learn more, read this brilliant memoir by a journalist looking back on his life in 1930s Berlin. Happily focused on his legal training and circle of friends, Sebastian Haffner at first showed little interest in politics and rejected the Nazis out of instinct rather than principle. Disgusted but powerless, he was content to keep a low profile under the new regime. To his own lasting shame, however, he one day answered “yes” when an SA stormtrooper demanded to know if he was “Aryan.” But Haffner’s friendships and liaisons with Jews, and his belief in the rule of law, ultimately made him realize that he couldn’t live in Nazi Germany. His final choice? Exile in Britain.   

By Sebastian Haffner, Oliver Pretzel (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Defying Hitler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An absolute classic of autobiography and history - one of the few books to explore how and why the Germans were seduced by Hitler and Nazism.

'If you have never read a book about Nazi Germany before, or if you have already read a thousand, I would urge you to read DEFYING HITLER. It sings with wisdom and understanding' DAILY MAIL

Sebastian Haffner was a non-Jewish German who emigrated to England in 1938. This memoir (written in 1939 but only published now for the first time) begins in 1914 when the family summer holiday is cut short by the outbreak…

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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…

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Interested in Germany, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust?

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