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  • They Thought They Were Free

  • The Germans, 1933-45
  • By: Milton Mayer
  • Narrated by: Michael Page
  • Length: 10 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 5.0 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

First published in 1955, They Thought They Were Free is an eloquent and provocative examination of the development of fascism in Germany. Milton Mayer's book is a study of 10 Germans and their lives from 1933-45, based on interviews he conducted after the war when he lived in Germany.

Mayer had a position as a research professor at the University of Frankfurt and lived in a nearby small Hessian town which he disguised with the name "Kronenberg". "These ten men were not men of distinction," Mayer noted, but they had been members of the Nazi Party; Mayer wanted to discover what had made them Nazis.

©1955 The University of Chicago (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Among the many books written on Germany after the collapse of Hitler's Thousand Year Reich, this book by Milton Mayer is one of the most readable and most enlightening." ( New York Times)

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  • Robert
  • 15-07-2017

Time might change ones behaviour pattern

Would you listen to They Thought They Were Free again? Why?

Yes. It is a detailed account of the thought pattern(s) that led to the destruction of the German nation through the lives of ten average individuals in a small rural town, community.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I found it a detailed book. Mr. Mayer, his presentation throughout the book gives the reader a constant barrage of options, in the various acts and behaviour of his 10 nazi friends. The constant how when where or why is always being asked in ones own mind. The book moves quickly from chapter to chapter and as often in my case, does soul searching.

Any additional comments?

I suggest that this book, might be presented to students throughout the world as an "eye opener" in regards to human behaviour. How it all did manage to come together, through no pattern of behaviour that might be deemed as what I call normal. To attempt to obliterate, erase humanity with justification? The world that I know weeps, I weep.

8 people found this helpful

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  • R. Burke
  • 01-11-2018

Terrifyingly relevant in the modem age

There are a great many parallels to our current political climate in this book. Let this be history we learn from, lest we repeat it.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-08-2020

Thought provoking an excellent narration

Although dry in parts, this was mostly a fascinating read. It puts alot of things in perspective that you wont get from a textbook and contains alot of quotables that are still relevant today.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Richard OConnor
  • 30-01-2018

Must read(Listen)for anyone serious about history

An engaging insight as to how a nation was swayed into despotism incrementally yet whloley

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  • artgirl123
  • 06-03-2021

Self-delusion and Totalitarianism

What Milton Mayer did with this book is amazing. His techniques of speaking to German citizens after the war, having them explain themselves and their thoughts, is probably the closest we get to what Germans were truly thinking during the Nazi regime. It shows us that people can find ways to justify all kinds of despicable things, to themselves and others, whether they were involved or not. These average citizens being able to bend their own ethics, morals, standards, to rationalize atrocities should be seen as a warning to everyone.
People want to believe they, and everyone they know, would have the fortitude to object, to resist, when the inconceivable happens. However, the "friends"we meet in They Thought They Were Free show us otherwise. Of course, some of them weren't troubled at all by the actions of the Nazis, but even the ones who were didn't manage to take a stand. It is because of human frailties, as we see in this book, that all citizens in a democracy must be alert to the threat of authoritarianism, constantly. Once the dictator arrives, it's probably too late.

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  • John Murphy
  • 22-01-2021

First 60% really good. Last 40% very boring.

This was definitely a tale of two books. The first 60% of the book consists of the author explaining his connection with ten ordinary Germans who were Nazis, or at least National Socialists during the war. He interviews them in depth and this part of the book is fascinating (4.5 stars). Some takeaways from this part:

1. The author discovers that the people wanted national socialism, they got it, and they were happy they got it. Most of the motivation seems to have been economic as the country had experienced more than ten years of economic hardship, so when Hitler took charge and everyone had a job, times were relatively good.

2. Most of the ten did not see Hitler as morally evil and still didn't even after the war (book was written in 1955). The evil was ascribed mainly to his underlings like Himmler and Goebbels, who they believed were trying to undermine Hitler's good work. They were out to "get" Hitler and that was the main problem.

3. The changes happened little by little and there are some fascinating conversations between the author and various ones of the ten describing how it was the little changes that allowed Hitler to become what he was, rather than a big change all at once. There is a long conversation between the author and a German who had resisted Hitler that is also riveting and has many applications for our day. We'd all like to think that we would have resisted the Nazis, the reality as Jordan Petersen has pointed out, is that in all likelihood we would have gone along.

4. Chapter 13, "But then it was too late" is a must read. Writing of the Nazis slow steps leading to dictatorship and oppression of the Jews and other undesirables, one of the author's interviewees says: "Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well-explained, or on occasion regretted, that unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these little measures that no patriotic German could resent...How is this to be avoided among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men?"

So the first part of the book is very interesting and worth reading because of its clear applicability to our current day. The second part of the book the author wanders off into a political science discussion of post-war Germany for some odd reason and this part of the book is dated and very boring. (2 stars)

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  • Travis L. Cheng
  • 14-09-2018

A must listen

If we choose not to know the past we are destined to repeat it. Milton Mayers interviews with his ten German friends was both insightful and frightening. The amount any country is liable for a Nazi take over seems very easy. People just need to know the way people get suckered into it.

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  • Jowona
  • 29-08-2020

insightful

It is just crammed to the brim with historic insight into the regular common Germans of the Nazi era. I have such a vastly different mindset about them than I did before this book! It really knocked me off my feet a few times.

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  • Zachary B.
  • 18-08-2017

Well put.

An intriguing and eye-opening look from the "other" perspective, with familiar overtones seen especially today.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Katherine
  • 24-02-2019

An Important Rerelease and Reread

I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful book, not only for the importance of this historical perspective today, but also because I was born in Wiesbaden in 1953 to American military parents. I enjoyed every facet of this book, but would have preferred listening to an American narrator since the author was American. The British accent is distracting and sheds a different light on the narrative. I do, however, recommend this book to all interested.

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  • The Introcentric
  • 22-04-2021

A must listen/read!

The similarities of 1933-45 and now are rather striking - but people do either not want to see it or are so fear-condituoned they don't even notice.

1 person found this helpful

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