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The Nazi Conscience

The Nazi Conscience

Claudia Koonz

ISBN 9780674018426

Publication date: 11/30/2005

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The Nazi conscience is not an oxymoron. In fact, the perpetrators of genocide had a powerful sense of right and wrong, based on civic values that exalted the moral righteousness of the ethnic community and denounced outsiders.

Claudia Koonz's latest work reveals how racial popularizers developed the infrastructure and rationale for genocide during the so-called normal years before World War II. Her careful reading of the voluminous Nazi writings on race traces the transformation of longtime Nazis' vulgar anti-Semitism into a racial ideology that seemed credible to the vast majority of ordinary Germans who never joined the Nazi Party. Challenging conventional assumptions about Hitler, Koonz locates the source of his charisma not in his summons to hate, but in his appeal to the collective virtue of his people, the Volk.

From 1933 to 1939, Nazi public culture was saturated with a blend of racial fear and ethnic pride that Koonz calls ethnic fundamentalism. Ordinary Germans were prepared for wartime atrocities by racial concepts widely disseminated in media not perceived as political: academic research, documentary films, mass-market magazines, racial hygiene and art exhibits, slide lectures, textbooks, and humor. By showing how Germans learned to countenance the everyday persecution of fellow citizens labeled as alien, Koonz makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust.

The Nazi Conscience chronicles the chilling saga of a modern state so powerful that it extinguished neighborliness, respect, and, ultimately, compassion for all those banished from the ethnic majority.


  • Faced with the German degradation and murder of the Jews from 1933 to 1945, historians and, indeed, so many thoughtful men and women have posed no question more insistently than, 'How could it happen?' Claudia Koonz's powerfully written study of the inculcation of a Nazi racialist ethos in the years before extermination answers this question as persuasively as any other to date.

    —Charles S. Maier, author of The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity


  • Claudia Koonz is Professor of History at Duke University.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 0-15/16 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press