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Published: Sun, May 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The authors maintain that few Germans resisted the regime, however, because they were seduced by the myth of Hitler.

By THERESA HEGEL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

"Seduced by Hitler: The Choices of a Nation and the Ethics of Survival," by Adam LeBor and Roger Boyes (Sourcebooks, Inc. $24.95).

With the atrocities of the Holocaust looming in the shadows of the not-too-distant past and the Western world's psychological wounds not completely healed, it is inevitable that many still seek explanations for a historical phenomenon that often has seemed inexplicable.

In "Seduced by Hitler," Adam LeBor and Roger Boyes -- the former a British journalist based in Budapest and the latter the German correspondent of The Times' -- examine everyday life within the bounds of the totalitarian Third Reich. The authors make the compelling point that, even in a police state, power is a continually shifting balance "between terror and consensus."

A governed people, due to sheer number, retain the ability to choose the extent to which they participate in or support a government. Although their clout may be severely limited in a closed society such as Nazi Germany, the masses have the room to make at least minor resistance.

LeBor and Boyes look at the range of choices that were available to the German people in daily life. In the introduction, the authors say that theirs is a "book ... about possibilities," about the gap between what could have been done under the Nazi regime and what actually occurred.

Political seduction: The thesis of their book, as you might deduce from the title, is that the primary reason the majority of Germans did not often react with moral repugnance or resistance to the Third Reich is that they were, in essence, seduced by Hitler.

The metaphor presented by LeBor and Boyes combines the myth of the F & uuml;hrer with "very down-to-earth, practical considerations." For example, they explain how Hitler was able to use ancient myths to give himself the appearance of "a man of destiny"; the practical side of his seduction lay in giving the "true" German -- that is, those deemed racially pure by the Nazi party -- some opportunity for social mobility.

Also, Hitler's vision for the German people successfully walked the line between the traditional, and therefore safe, and the ideals of technological perfection and modernity.

Textual inserts: Some of the most interesting aspects of LeBor and Boyes' work are the textual asides inserted into the body of each chapter. Here, the authors narrow their scope to detail specific aspects of daily life.

For instance, one of the inserts discusses anti-regime jokes in the Third Reich. Another explains how the popularity of swing music -- with its emphasis on improvisation -- among many young Germans was a small act of defiance against the order and routine of the Third Reich. Several of the inserts are profiles of prominent figures in the Nazi party.

The use of these inserts helps focus the generalities of the book's thesis on actual events and the difficult choices made by real people. Pairing the inserts with the clear prose and detailed research of the main text, LeBor and Boyes are able to give the reader a close look at the daily choices and survival ethics of Germans under Nazi rule.

hegel@vindy.com




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