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The Law of Blood

The Law of Blood

Thinking and Acting as a Nazi

Johann Chapoutot

Translated by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

ISBN 9780674660434

Publication date: 04/02/2018

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Winner of the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research

The scale and the depth of Nazi brutality seem to defy understanding. What could drive people to fight, kill, and destroy with such ruthless ambition? Observers and historians have offered countless explanations since the 1930s. According to Johann Chapoutot, we need to understand better how the Nazis explained it themselves. We need a clearer view, in particular, of how they were steeped in and spread the idea that history gave them no choice: it was either kill or die.

Chapoutot, one of France’s leading historians, spent years immersing himself in the texts and images that reflected and shaped the mental world of Nazi ideologues, and that the Nazis disseminated to the German public. The party had no official ur-text of ideology, values, and history. But a clear narrative emerges from the myriad works of intellectuals, apparatchiks, journalists, and movie-makers that Chapoutot explores.

The story went like this: In the ancient world, the Nordic-German race lived in harmony with the laws of nature. But since Late Antiquity, corrupt foreign norms and values—Jewish values in particular—had alienated Germany from itself and from all that was natural. The time had come, under the Nazis, to return to the fundamental law of blood. Germany must fight, conquer, and procreate, or perish. History did not concern itself with right and wrong, only brute necessity. A remarkable work of scholarship and insight, The Law of Blood recreates the chilling ideas and outlook that would cost millions their lives.


  • The Law of Blood does invigorating work in attempting to explain how such a wildly repulsive ideology could take hold in the hearts and minds of shopkeepers, artisans, soldiers, and housewives—how a solid percentage of a modern nation could have aligned itself with such obvious, ham-handed, manipulative cruelty. The book has many strengths, but its greatest is a kind of stern empathy, a cold understanding of the complexities of the exchange that was taking place in Germany in the 1930s…Those conditions—crowds of glassy-eyed young men and women chanting ‘blood and soil’ in organized marches, civilized, compassionate people averting the gaze while government agencies carry out brutalities in their name, statesmen remaining mute while their government leaders pitch them into new antagonisms around the world—have seldom had an examination as detailed and ambitious as they get in these pages. The Belknap Press is to be praised for bringing the book to an English-speaking audience.

    —Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Review


  • 2015, Winner of the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research


  • Johann Chapoutot is Professor of Contemporary History at Sorbonne University.

Book Details

  • 512 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press