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Ordinary Germans in Extraordinary Times

The Nazi Revolution in Hildesheim

Andrew Stuart Bergerson

Publication Year: 2004

Hildesheim is a mid-sized provincial town in northwest Germany. Ordinary Germans in Extraordinary Times is a carefully drawn account of how townspeople went about their lives and reacted to events during the Nazi era. Andrew Stuart Bergerson argues that ordinary Germans did in fact make Germany and Europe more fascist, more racist, and more modern during the 1930s, but they disguised their involvement behind a pre-existing veil of normalcy.

Bergerson details a way of being, believing, and behaving by which "ordinary Germans" imagined their powerlessness and absence of responsibility even as they collaborated in the Nazi revolution. He builds his story on research that includes anecdotes of everyday life collected systematically from newspapers, literature, photography, personal documents, public records, and especially extensive interviews with a representative sample of residents born between 1900 and 1930.

The book considers the actual customs and experiences of friendship and neighborliness in a German town before, during, and after the Third Reich. By analyzing the customs of conviviality in interwar Hildesheim, and the culture of normalcy these customs invoked, Bergerson aims to help us better understand how ordinary Germans transformed "neighbors" into "Jews" or "Aryans."

Published by: Indiana University Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. 12-13

This book concerns the deeds of ordinary people during the Third Reich. It hopes to serve as both a classic history of the Nazi revolution as well as a cultural history of everyday life (Alltagsgeschichte). This book is also addressed to very different audiences at the same time: to both popular and ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The research for this this study was made possible by a generous grant from the Friedrich-Weinhagen Stiftung in Hildesheim. An exploratory visit to Hildesheim was funded by a Mellon Summer Research Grant. For their friendly and cooperative assistance, I would ...


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pp. xv-19

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Introduction: New Manners

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pp. 1-11

Bernward Nedderich (A pseudonym) was a so-called Eastern Jew (Ostjude). He was born in Warsaw in 1914 but grew up in Hildesheim, a socially diverse, mid-sized, provincial town in northwest Germany. On 27–28 October 1938, the Nazi regime expelled some 17,000 Polish Jews to an ...


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1. Civility

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pp. 14-44

During the 1920s, salutations served as one foundation for Hildesheim’s civil society. Hildesheimers offered a friendly greeting as the overture for the exchange of ideas, goods, currency, and services. A friendly greeting between friends ....

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2. Niveau

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pp. 45-67

Growing up in interwar Hildesheim, Lotte Schohl did not think consciously or critically about her neighborhood. “Neighborhood was something completely normal. You lived on a street where many people lived. You knew each of them, greeted them, chatted with them. As a child, I hardly ...

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3. The Stroll

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pp. 68-97

Ordinary Hildesheimers were not as insignificant as they liked to imagine. They used a carefully selected greeting to negotiate intimacy and distance, and a tip of the hat to balance their commitment to mutual respect with their desire for hierarchy and difference. They similarly developed a ...

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4. A Moral Community

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pp. 98-128

THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF interwar Hildesheim were spaces of transgression. Conviviality felt very personal and integrating. Friendship was by definition private and intimate; neighborliness shared in these qualities, to a lesser degree. Yet conviviality could also feel very alienating and political. ...


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5. Coordination

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pp. 131-169

An extensive literature in modern German history focuses on the process of coordination through which the Nazi regime dissolved the vibrant diversity of formal institutions of civil society (newspapers, political parties, schools, and associations) that had been part and parcel of the different ...

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6. Polarization

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pp. 170-203

Alongside the Nazi party’s national strategy for acquiring political power quasi-legally through the electoral process, ardent local Nazis began the process of making Hildesheim fascist through conviviality. This latter strategy for totalitarian herrschaft was effective because coordination penetrated ...

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7. Administration

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pp. 204-233

For many years, a technician at Senking had rented an apartment from Heinrich Weber’s parents. This man wore a large party insignia with an extra rim to show that he was an old party member. He was also literally a Standard Bearer for the SA: the man who carried the flag when the group ...

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8. Epistemologies

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pp. 234-252

Erich Bruschke had been a member of the local socialist resistance. In a quasi-autobiographical report to the criminal police in Hildesheim on 23 May 1947 (BA-K Z42 VII/1851), he described the brutality of a particular Gestapo agent, Wenzel, who had been active in the anti-Marxist unit. ...

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Conclusion: Dangerous Deeds

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pp. 253-256

This book has tried to integrate multiple layers of modern German history that are often treated as distinct. In the big picture of state and society, this study has revisited the story of the origins of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. It shows that the Nazi revolution from above depended to a ...

Appendix: A Ringing Tour

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pp. 257-279


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pp. 281-286


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pp. 287-305


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pp. 307-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111234
E-ISBN-10: 0253111234
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253344656

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 22 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2004