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What We Knew

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What We Knew Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany. An Oral History. By Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband. (Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group: New York: 2005. Pg. xxiii, 434.) ISBN: 0-465-08571-7.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - June 13, 2005

What was daily life like in Nazi Germany? What did the German people know about the mass murder of the Jews being carried out in their name? What was known about the Nazis' abuse of their political rivals? Why did non-Jewish Germans venerate Hitler? These and many more questions are answered in What We Knew - Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany. Written by Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband, this informative book contains the excerpts of their interviews and testimonies from Jewish Survivors as well as from 'average' Germans about their experiences during the Holocaust and what they knew about the Nazi extermination programs. The interview narratives are presented in a question and answer format. In all, excerpts from forty interviews are included in this text, split evenly between Jewish and non-Jewish interviewees. The book is divided into four main parts. The first two parts contain the interview narratives, which are organized into two main parts, the Jewish Survivors' Testimonies and the Ordinary German' Testimonies. These testimonies are further categorized into subsections that detail the type of testimony given and which cover and from the German side, In total, the authors interviewed or received responses to written surveys from nearly 3,000 people. The last two sections of this book provide an analysis, by the authors, of all the information garnered from the interviews they conducted and the surveys they received. These last two sections also provide supporting information for the judgments that they reached. The book concludes with an essay detailing what the authors learned from this study and what they think the 'average' German knew about the attempted extermination of the Jews and the extent of antisemitism that existed in Germany before and during the war.

What We Knew is an important book on a number of accounts, not the least being the firsthand testimonies offered by the interviewees. More important, this book serves to show the wide gaps in information and understanding that existed between the Jews of Nazi Germany and their non-Jewish neighbors. As important, this book provides substantial evidence that the vast majority of Germans knew about the concentrations camps, the mass murder of Jews, the murder of other 'undesirables' such as the physically and mentally handicapped, and the torture of political dissents. This book also shows that they willingly acquiesced to these practices. The interviews, especially those with the non-Jews also illustrate why Hitler was such a popular figure for many Germans, and why the German people embraced Nazi ideology and the political methodology of the Third Reich.

A wellspring of information, this text provides unprecedented insights into the mind set and daily lives of 'average' Germans, and the lives led by Jews in Nazi Germany. This text is ideally suited for use as a suplemental text in Univeristiy level classes on the Holocaust, the Thrid Reich, or World War II. It is also an emitally accessible, informative text that will interest general readers and scholars alike.


Related Reviews:

Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans, by Eric A. Johnson
In this controversial book, Johnson looks at the role that the Gestapo, and Ordinary Germans, had in the mass murder of Jews during World War II.

The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda, by David Welch
This work offers an in-depth analysis of the role that propaganda played in Nazi Germany.

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