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‘I could have slapped myself’: the ethics of the bystander perspective in sebastian haffner’s memoir

Pilsworth, E. ORCID: (2023) ‘I could have slapped myself’: the ethics of the bystander perspective in sebastian haffner’s memoir. Journal of Perpetrator Research, 5 (1). pp. 1-28. ISSN 2514-7897

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To link to this item DOI: 10.21039/jpr.5.1.96


The second half of Sebastian Haffner’s posthumously published memoir, Geschichte eines Deutschen, describes Haffner’s experiences of the first years of Nazi rule. In my reading of key passages, I consider how the text works to highlight the discrepancy between Haffner’s thoughts and actions as he is increasingly compelled to accept and even participate in Nazi activities, despite his hatred of Nazism. By presenting his case as typical, and drawing the reader into a sense of intimacy and trust with Haffner, his text elicits empathy for the ‘ordinary Germans’ who unwillingly became part of what Fulbrook calls the ‘bystander society’ under Nazism. After analysing the memoir, I consider its reception in the German and English-speaking worlds at the time of publication, and reflect on the ethical implications of empathising with Haffner’s bystander perspective.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Languages and Cultures > German
ID Code:107431
Publisher:Winchester University Press


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