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Book Reviews 123 The Germans and the Final Solution: Public Opinion under Nazism, by David Bankier. Oxford, Blackwell, 1992. 206 pp. £37.50. Readers who imagine that the German public accepted Nazi propaganda blindly; who agree that propaganda was "the war that Hitler won," will discover little in David Bankier's new book to reinforce their views. Building on a growing body of historical literature, Bankier's book is the first attempt to analyze the subject of public opinion in Nazi Germany on a nation-wide scale. The broad outlines of this history were already known; for example, that widespread apathy towards the new regime had set in as early as 1934, and that disillusionment increased as Hitler's military fortunes waned. But Bankier goes beyond earlier empirical studies to examine the overall relationship between public opinion-or official perceptions of it-and the inner workings of Nazi policy-making in Berlin. In the process, Bankier not only shows that public opinion existed in Nazi Germany, but als,o that it mattered a great deal to decision-makers in Berlin, especially Hitler. Widespread fatigue with daily propaganda assaults carried strong political implications. For example, Bankier explains that the jumps and starts of Nazi foreign policy reflected a,ttempts to rejuvenate Nazism as a political religion in the face of overwhelming popular despondency. Similarly, the depressed popular mood strongly affected the course of anti-Jewish legislation. The campaign of anti-Jewish decrees in 1935, for example, represented an attempt to restore the faith in Nazism of lower-middle-class Germans. Moreover, the Nazi elite interpreted popular fatigue, and especially the resistance to Nazi ideology exhibited by conservative nationalists and Catholics, to indicate that "judaizing" ideological influences were gaining in popular sympathy, a "state of emergency" to which Hitler responded with a wave of harsh anti-Jewish measures in 1938 and 1939. At the same time, Hitler also had to contend with the violent radicalism among the brown-shirted SA. The anti-Jewish boycott of April. 1, 1933, was not only the first official nation-wide act of persecution against Jews, but also an attempt to placate the far more revolutionary demands of Ernst R6hm's followers. All this amounts to a general thesis about the inner workings of the Nazi dictatorship, in which public opinion often governed the course of Nazi policy-making, not the reverse. To compensate for the lack ofsystematic, non-partisan opinion polling in Nazi Germany, bankier compares two partisan sources of documentation : "situation reports" generated by the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst ("Security Service," or SD) and reports on public opinion produced by spies for the exiled Social Democratic Party. When information from these politically 124 SHOFAR Spring 1994 Vol. 12, No.3 opposed sources agree on a panicular point-despite every ideological reason to disagree-we are confronted with powerful confirming evidence. Both sources agree, for instance, on the general tenor of public response to the Kristallnacht pogroms of November 9-10, 1938: that of near universal shock and outrage, panicularly at the violence of it. But Bankier uses other sources as well. His conclusions about the onset of propaganda fatigue in 1934 are based partly on the hard evidence of newspaper circulation rates, which deteriorated for Nazi papers while the Catholic press soared in popularity. But one must not conclude that because Nazi propaganda had limits, Germans rejected the regime's anti-Jewish policies. On the contrary: Bankier offers strong evidence that the population at large "consented to attacks on Jews as long as these neither damaged non-Jews nor harmed [Germany's] reputation abroad." Nevenheless, Bankier also suggests that official antisemitism succeeded less on its own "strengths" than on the persistence of traditional antisemitism. Hence the paradox that "the bulk of the public did not need Nazi propaganda in order to ostracize Jews." The picture emerges of a popular antisemitism that was partially autono" mous of Nazi influences. Though propaganda sharpened popular antisemitism, public support for anti-Jewish policies tended to stop at the threshold of self-interest: vintners in the Palatinate, for example, resisted Nazi attempts to supplant Jewish wine-merchants, while Rhenish peasants continued business withJewish cattle-merchants because, according to one report, they excelled...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 123-125
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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