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What was the "sonderbare Stille"?

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

This week in the Zeit Online, historian and professor at the University of Zürich, Janosch Steuwer, published an article entitled the "sonderbare Stille“. This ‘strange silence’ refers to the distinct lack of public jubilation in Germany at the start of the Second World War. The absence of Kriegsbegeisterung (enthusiasm for war) among the German people in 1939 led many historians to question the success of Nazi propaganda to mobilise public support.

Indeed, military historian Wolfram Wette argued that a “deep depression” was felt among the Germans, and that they had only reluctantly entered into a new war.

Steuwer, however, asks that we reconsider these old interpretations in light of new evidence. Jewish novelist Victor Klemperer recorded in his diary that the Germans were absolutely sure of victory, and indeed in terms of their confidence were “zehntausendmal überheblicher als 1914” (ten thousand times more arrogant than 1914). Historian Steuwer’s central argument is that Hitler and the chief NS propagandists wanted to frame the war as a reaction to foreign aggression – cheering crowds would then have contradicted this image.

He argues that Hitler propagated the image of a nation forced to go to arms, and even avoided the word war, instead speaking only of "Zurückschießen“ (shooting back) and "Vergelten” (retaliating). To read Steuwer’s full argument, click here.


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