Introduction & Review
They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer. As the front cover describes, this book is on the “How and why ‘decent men’ became Nazis – the life stories of ten law-abiding citizens.” In history class, I learned about ‘actions’, the who, when and where – “The Americans invaded Normandy June 6th, 1944” – but never learned the fundamental questions of “how” and “why” such actions even occurred. We all learned that Nazi’s are evil, but how does an entire nation become “evil” overnight? What triggers such a shift in one’s humanity? I never learned that in school.
Milton Mayer’s book is the best example of answering those fundamental questions I have ever read. Mayer doesn’t just address the line of historical events that lead to Nazism and War, but rather the condition of the people that allowed that line of historical events to even take place. In the end, history is about people, and people are what matters. History can only take place if the conditions of the people are correct; and the German condition was ripe. Mayer discusses what that condition is, how it came about, and even some thoughts on how we can avoid, because this topic isn’t just relevant to the historical question of the Germans. We need to face facts: The Germans are no different than us. Our triggers may not be their triggers, but if they can do what they did, so can I. For that very reason, it is critically important to understand what conditions cause an entire nation to become as Germany became so that I will be personally ready and able to stand to resist.
Mayer’s book is an easy read. It’s short, well written, doesn’t include some of the horrid activities of soldiers during the war. It is really a book for the average person, about the average person. The average German didn’t do, or even truly know about the horrid activities we generally associate with Nazis and Nazism. As described in the book, they knew about it even less then some of the horrid activities done on our own soil in the name of freedom. As a liberty loving individual, the title of the book speaks volumes. “They Thought They Were Free”. Don’t we all?
This post is the initial book review that starts a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer. The book itself is home to a lot of revelations to the nature of people and I do recommend reading it. To see the short review of the book itself please click this link, to see other commentary like this post click this link.