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Denunciations and Nazi Germany : new insights and methodological problems

Denunziationen und Nazi-Deutschland: neue Einsichten und methodologische Probleme
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Gellately, Robert

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Abstract Der Aufsatz befaßt sich mit der Rolle von Denunziationen im Dritten Reich, der Bereitschaft vieler Bürger, mit Anzeigen und Verdächtigungen das Terrorsystem der Gestapo zu unterstützen. Im Mittelpunkt der Diskussion stehen dabei methodische Fragen; dem gängigen Ansatz einer Analyse von Staatsystem, gesellschaftlicher und politischer Kultur wird ein Ansatz gegenübergestellt, der stärker auf die Erfahrungen und Lebenswelt der 'einfachen Leute' eingeht. Der Autor wertet Akten der Gestapo aus und untersucht dabei vor allem die Motive von Informanten, wobei der soziale Kontext dieser Menschen stark durch die nationalsozialistische Ideologie und den Antisemitismus geprägt war. (pra)

"Since 1990 or so, the role of denunciations in the Nazi terror system has been highlighted by a number of writers interested in the functioning of the Gestapo in the context of everyday life in Germany. Several historians have claimed that ordinary citizens who volunteered information on suspected infringements of the letter or spirit of the laws played a crucial role in everyday terror under Hitler's dictatorship. This cooperation by German citizens and their apparent willingness to denounce calls for historical analysis. In this paper I discuss the full range of denunciations in Nazi Germany and outline briefly some of the main theoretical problems involved. Essentially, historians have adopted two methods. The first takes a systems approach and focuses on the structures of state, society, and to some extent also on political culture. The other adopts a 'life-world' perspective, and attempts to reconstruct the experiences of historical actors, including those of 'ordinary people'. Each approach has its own advantages, but neither seems to do justice to the phenomenon of denunciations as discussed in the recent literature. The new findings impel us to rethink what we mean by willingness, consent, and support when these concepts are applied to modern dictatorships. The paper should be of interest to a wide variety of specialists. It will offer new substantive findings, suggest directions for future research and delineate some of the main methodological issues and problems that must be confronted." (author's abstract)
Keywords method; ideology; Third Reich; Gestapo; historical social research; Nazism; terrorism; monitoring; source of information
Classification Political Process, Elections, Political Sociology, Political Culture; Social History, Historical Social Research
Method empirical; qualitative empirical; historical
Document language English
Publication Year 1997
Page/Pages p. 228-239
Journal Historical Social Research, 22 (1997) 3/4
ISSN 0172-6404
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works