In 1934 Theodore Abel went to Germany and offered a prize, under the auspices of Columbia University, for autobiographies of members of the National Socialist movement. The six hundred essays he received constitute the single best source on grassroots opinion within the Nazi Party, and they form the empirical foundation for Abel’s fascinating yet curiously neglected 1938 book. Although a number of scholars have drawn on these reports, Abel’s own treatment has never been surpassed. Of particular value is his presentation of the life histories of a worker, a soldier, an anti-Semite, a middle-class youth, a farmer, and a bank clerk, all of whom explain in their own words why they joined the NSDAP. In the vast literature on National Socialism, no more useful or revealing testimony exists.
In a new Foreword, Thomas Childers discusses how the past half-century of research and writing on Nazi Germany has upheld Abel’s original insights into the broad appeal of the National Socialist movement, thereby reaffirming this work’s enduring value for students of the topic.