Ordinary Germans in Extraordinary Times
The Nazi Revolution in Hildesheim
Published by: Indiana University Press
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."
Introduction: New Manners
I: Conviviality in Hildesheim
3. The Stroll
4. Dirty Politics
II: Making Hildesheim Fascist
Conclusion: Dangerous Deeds
This work intends to serve as both a classic history of the Nazi revolution and a cultural history of everyday life. Focusing on the second of these goals in the narrow context of a single German town means that Bergerson's classic history lacks any serious discussion of Hitler, the Nazi Party, or Germany's politics, economy, or international relations. But if readers accept Hildesheim as remarkably characteristic of interwar Germany, and if 200 hours of taped interviews with 36 representative Hildesheimers provides sufficient evidence, the book has many interesting and provocative things to say about how the town both facilitated and experienced Nazism. Ordinary people's desire for status and power, not just Berlin's dictates, made it possible for German society to go fascist. To make this central point, Bergerson (Univ. of Missouri—Kansas City) skillfully deploys the tools of historical anthropology, minutely dissecting sociability, civility, conviviality, and the many rituals of social intercourse to chart the sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic, changes in the life of the town. Salutations, human and animal waste, uniforms, strolling, shopping, style of dress, flags, and insignias are mined for meaning. Whether Bergerson's unorthodox methodology succeeds in answering the important questions pertaining to the Third Reich remains an open question. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper—division undergraduates and above.~R. S. Levy
..Bergerson's study is an excellent example of how oral history, the history of everyday life and the exclusion of Jews and other groups can be linked. The author sustains the reader's fascination with his precise interpretations of small facts and apparently harmless statements made by interviewees. Even in cases when readers tend to other interpretations (which is inevitable) the author's excellent capability to provide inspiring, deep—reaching, and theoretically well—based interpretations cannot be questioned. In sum, the book is a real milestone in the history of people's perception and memories and a must for all historians whose research is based on oral history of everyday life in the National Socialist period.~net
[Bergerson's] carefully crafted volume, divided into two major sections dealing with pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany and providing 'thick descriptions' of a number of the interviewees he so patiently worked with, is both insightful and fair-minded.June 2009~American Historical Review