Classic Book Review: “They Thought They Were Free” by Milton Mayer

When looking back at the atrocities committed by the Nazis leading up to and during World War II, it’s easy to imagine them as being impossible in our own societies. They’re simply too awful to imagine normal people like our friends and neighbors willingly going along with them. But that is precisely what did happen in Germany. Author Milton Mayer decided to travel to the country after the war to live amongst the German people, and find out how they could support, or at least overlook, what their country was doing to countless innocent people. Reading his conversations with 10 ordinary German citizens is enough to send chills down one’s spine. Unfortunately, his conclusions lean too far into the same sweeping generalizations of a group of people that he is ostensibly so critical of, though this is well dealt with in the newer afterword by Richard J. Evans. Learning how easily regular people can ignore or rationalize the horror occurring around them, oftentimes because they felt that some other part of their lives had been improved by those committing said horrors or because the victims in some way deserved such treatment, is one of the scariest things we can learn about our own species. This is perhaps now a more important lesson than ever, as the only way to prevent such things from happening again is to remember how they came to be before. ★★★★ – Sean Farrell

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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