Sebastian Haffner

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Sebastian Haffner (civil: Raimund Pretzel ; * December 27, 1907 in Berlin ; † January 2, 1999 ibid) was a German- British journalist , publicist and writer .

Haffner, who studied law , turned to journalism in the 1930s. During the Second World War he began writing as an exile in Great Britain for the Observer newspaper, for which he returned to Germany as a correspondent in the 1950s . After his return to Germany he became known as a columnist for Stern magazine and as the author of a number of biographical and contemporary history books, most of which dealt with German and European history in the 19th and 20th centuries . In particular, his writings on Adolf Hitler and National Socialism have received lasting attention.

Live and act

Early years

Sebastian Haffner was born as Raimund Pretzel in Berlin-Moabit . His father, Carl Pretzel , was a respected Berlin reform pedagogue and school director and in the Weimar Republic an official in the Prussian Ministry of Education . The Germanist Ulrich Pretzel was one of the Haffner brothers. The family lived in Prenzlauer Berg from 1914 , in the Rector's House of the elementary school on Prenzlauer Allee . Haffner's father was the director of the elementary school at the time. Sebastian Haffner also started school there.

After primary school, Haffner attended the Königstädtische Gymnasium on Berlin's Alexanderplatz . Many of his classmates there were Jewish Germans, gifted sons of business people. Among them, Haffner later said, he was “quite leftist”. He found friends and kindred spirits among the Jewish classmates. His lesson from attending this school was: “The Jews are the better, the intellectual and cultivated Germany.” Horst Wessel was also a classmate at this grammar school for a short time . On the occasion of a transfer of his father in 1924, Haffner moved to the Schillergymnasium in Lichterfelde . Many classmates there were sons of the military who opposed both the National Socialists and the Weimar Republic. Here he was "on the right", Haffner noted in retrospect, and added: "My whole life has been determined by my experiences in these two schools."

Legal education

After graduation Haffner began law study. He did so despite his literary inclinations. His father's advice was the decisive factor in this choice of course. After the National Socialists came to power in the spring of 1933, Haffner decided against a legal career because the rule of law died (not only for him) with the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship. Haffner completed his law studies for the sake of his parents.

In his memories of his youth, Haffner described his experiences at the Prussian Supreme Court in Berlin in the first months of the Hitler regime as the key experience that prompted him to make this decision: while he was preparing for the assessor exam in Berlin , Haffner witnessed, among other things, Jewish lawyers were thrown out of the higher court by SA troops and how “honorable judges graying”, worried about losing their pension entitlements, followed the unsubstantiated judgments of the almost young Nazi junior lawyers. As a contemporary witness of the events in the “Third Reich”, he observed, among other things, the downside of the group cohesion that was heavily instrumentalized by the Nazi state.

Stay in the Jüterbog trainee camp

The Prussian Justice Minister Hanns Kerrl (center) visiting the trainee camp, Jüterbog. To the left of him is the camp manager of the SA-Obersturmbannführer Oberstaatsanwalt Christian Spieler and his deputy, SA-Sturmführer Heesch. Paragraph sign, the symbol of justice "§", hung on the gallows (1933).

In the autumn of 1933, as a prospective lawyer, he had to take part in an “ideological” training course as well as military training at the Jüterbog trainee camp .

When Haffner found out about this newly opened community camp for lawyers from a newspaper report in the early summer of 1933, he suffered a fit of rage. His fears were justified because there was previously no comparable facility for young lawyers. Even the vague founding ordinance of June 26, 1933 would not have revealed the practice to be expected there. Especially because of his story of a German, which was sold in large numbers and only published posthumously in 2000 : The memories 1914–1933. , which was supplemented by this previously lost part of history in 2002, the camp gained greater popularity.

The camp was previously used by the Reichswehr . According to Haffner, it later, in a nutshell, combined elements of the whole “Third Reich” and he wrote this down, as well as many other aspects of the Nazi state, as early as 1939 in the manuscript for his book. The Nazi training facility was later called the Hanns Kerrl Community Camp . The Prussian Landtag President and Justice Minister Hanns Kerrl introduced a system of Nazi indoctrination for Prussian lawyers in the year the camp was founded. The facility in the Märkische Heide , 60 kilometers from Berlin, was not granted the success its initiators and sponsors had hoped for. The thrust - to achieve a “selection” of a future functional elite by means of a “warehouse certificate” - was ineffective. The press work carried out by the Reich Ministry of Justice , however, had a considerable effect . Despite its training concept, which has been changed several times, the importance of the Jüterbog camp for legal thinking and legal practice in the Nazi state can be regarded as relatively minor. In the process of Nazi education efforts, this facility was only one of many training and socialization phases. Haffner wrote that the Nazi state with excessive promotion of camaraderie and camp life (community education / camp concept) generally developed “a new way of life” for the Germans. The Jüterbog camp is the subject of research around 2019, as it has apparently been generally overrated and has almost become a symbol for the training of lawyers in the “Third Reich”. Haffner - who, like the others, was supposed to take the major state examination there - was a participant in the year of the " seizure of power " and was one of the first obligated to experience a visit from the high-ranking lawyer in the Nazi judicial apparatus, Roland Freisler . In recent times, the strong commitment of Freisler and Otto Palandt to the camp complex has increasingly come to the fore in legal historical research . Around 20,000 male trainee lawyers - among them Helmuth James Graf von Moltke , Kurt Georg Kiesinger and Karl Carstens - completed the eight-week mandatory residency for legal trainees between July 1933 and September 1939. In the media, there were distorting assessments of the camp or the misperception of the image of the "hanging paragraph" for the generalizing characterization of the legal system in the Nazi state . This image was distributed by the Nazi press with propagandistically inflated photo and film material, but this cliché did not apply. Until the end of the war, the higher judiciary was largely in the hands of lawyers trained before 1933.

Anti-intellectual, anti-individual and anti-bourgeois aspects applied to camp life. In doing so, the obligated persons should be drilled both athletically and ideologically. The legal training of all things, especially in the new National Socialist legislation, was only added in the later history of the camp. During the Nazi era, training camps for individual professional groups were generally used instruments of indoctrination, discipline and selection, which at the same time had an integrating claim related to the “ national community ”. For young academics there were several Nazi institutions similar to the Jüterbog camp. In the first years, the focus of the stay in the camp was on military sports training with work performance - especially construction work. Any kind of professional activity was initially forbidden for the exam candidates in terms of camp history. Any legal books that were brought with them were confiscated when the camp entered the camp.

National Socialism, Exile and World War II

Memorial plaque , Prenzlauer Allee 227, in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg

In 1934 Haffner went to Paris for a few months to write his doctoral thesis. According to what he said in a later interview, he was looking for opportunities to live in France .

After his return to Germany, Haffner only occasionally worked as a lawyer, mostly as a representative of other lawyers . He started to make a living as a journalist. In order not to have to put himself in the service of Nazi propaganda , Haffner wrote mainly articles for fashion magazines and for the apolitical feature sections of various newspapers.

In his opinion, everyone who lives in Germany does the work of the regime, even if they are not engaged in politics. This is how Haffner justified his decision to emigrate . In order to be able to leave Germany and enter Great Britain - which was pursuing a relatively restrictive emigrant and refugee policy due to the ongoing global economic crisis - he was sent to England in August 1938 on an order from the Ullstein press . There he asked for political asylum with reference to his pregnant fiancée Erika Schmidt-Landry (1899-1969), who had traveled ahead of him to England and was considered a Jew in Germany, so that the relationship was forbidden there and they could not return to Germany. His fiancée's family was Protestant and she herself non-religious, but she was still subject to persecution in the German Reich because of her origins and the anti-Semitism of the Nazi state there . The couple married on September 1, 1938 and Haffner received a residence permit that was initially valid for one year . He feared he would be expelled afterwards, but shortly before the end of the year the Second World War broke out. The Haffner couple had two children together, and Erika Haffner's son from his first marriage also lived with them.

In 1939 Haffner began to write down his youth memories, the story of a German , in which he describes his experiences from 1914 to 1933. However, he broke off the writing of the book, which Haffner originally wanted to publish as an educational pamphlet about National Socialist Germany. As a journalistic weapon against National Socialism, the concept is inadequate. Instead, he began with the manual-like work Germany. Jekyll and Hyde , in which he developed a sociogram of the Nazi state. In it, Haffner explains to British readers the structure of relationships within German society during the Nazi era, which he classified as "National Socialists" (20% of the population), "loyal population" (40%), "disloyal population" (35%) and " Opposition ”(5%). He characterizes the various groups and explains how the British could fight them or influence them through propaganda . In addition, Haffner provides portraits of Adolf Hitler, whose suicide in the face of defeat he predicted back then (1940), and the other leaders and “the little Nazis”.

At the beginning of 1940 he published Germany. Jekyll and Hyde under the pseudonym Sebastian Haffner. Pretzel chose the name based on Johann Sebastian Bach and the Haffner Symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . In the preface he justified the use of a pseudonym by pointing out that his book would “ certainly not escape the attention of the Gestapo ”. The response in Great Britain was extremely positive: British War Prime Minister Winston Churchill was so impressed that he made the book compulsory reading for ministers in his War Cabinet. Haffner kept the pseudonym for the rest of his life.

Shortly after the outbreak of war and again interned in 1940 by the British authorities as an " Enemy Alien ", he was finally released. He started writing for Die Zeitung as a journalist . In 1942 he moved to the Observer . There he soon rose to one of the closest associates of the editor-in-chief and later publisher David Astor .

Post-war period and life in the Federal Republic of Germany

After the Second World War, Haffner was naturalized in Great Britain and finally returned to Berlin in 1954 as a correspondent for the Observer . In 1961 he left the newspaper because of differences of opinion on the Berlin question . In the following years Haffner wrote for German newspapers such as Christ and Welt and Die Welt . From 1962 to 1975 wrote Haffner a weekly column for the Star and book reviews for the magazine concretely .

Haffner could hardly be tied to a specific political camp. While he argued anti-communist in the 1950s , towards the end of the 1960s he approached the left spectrum , from which he later moved away again. At that time he took a position for the demonstrating students of the 1968 movement as well as for journalistic freedom in view of the Spiegel affair . Haffner also showed public presence as the host of his own television column at the SFB and as a frequent guest in television programs such as B. Werner Höfers International Morning Pint .

In addition to his journalistic activities, Haffner has also appeared in several non-fiction book publications since the 1960s. Thematically, most of his corresponding works deal with historical topics, essentially on the history of the German nation-state since 1871, for example Haffner's historical-political analysis of the November Revolution of 1918/19 under the title Der Verrat (published as a book in 1969), in which he is one of the first well-known West German publicists took a critical look at the role of the “ majority SPD ” around Ebert , Noske , Scheidemann as a blocker of the revolution.

Haffner's 1978 publication, Comments on Hitler, in particular , attracted widespread public attention and earned him numerous awards. He has been recognized in reviews for his ability to make complicated historical contexts understandable to a wide audience and at the same time to open up new perspectives. In 1982 Haffner, widowed since 1969, married the journalist Christa Rotzoll (1921–1995).

At the end of the 1980s, Haffner largely withdrew from the public for health reasons and died in 1999 at the age of 91. His urn was buried in the family grave in the park cemetery Berlin-Lichterfelde West .

The painter and author Sarah Haffner (1940–2018) was his daughter.

honors and awards

Memorial plaque in Ehrenbergstrasse 33 ( Berlin-Dahlem )
Honorary grave at Thuner Platz 2–4 ( Berlin-Lichterfelde )

Haffner received numerous awards for his journalistic activities during his lifetime. In 1978 he received the Heinrich Heine Prize from the city of Düsseldorf for his Hitler book . The Johann Heinrich Merck Prize (1980) and the Friedrich Schiedel Literature Prize (1983) followed later . Posthumously he received the Wingate Literary Prize in 2003 .

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, the district office of Berlin-Pankow honored Haffner in a festive event on December 27, 2007 and named the cultural and educational location in Prenzlauer Allee 227/228 after him. Haffner had experienced his childhood there from 1914.

Haffner's grave is one of the honor graves of the State of Berlin .


Posthumously published:



Interviews and conversation

  • Gero von Boehm : Sebastian Haffner. June 21, 1983 . Interview. In: Encounters. Images of man from three decades. Collection Rolf Heyne, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-89910-443-1 , pp. 78–86.
  • Masked as an Englishman. A conversation with Jutta Krug about exile. With a follow-up by Uwe Soukup, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-421-05616-1 .

General and individual aspects


  • Rajan Autze: Sebastian Haffner - Emigration out of love for Germany. 2002.
  • My fight with Hitler. Docu-drama based on the memories of Sebastian Haffner, ZDF, 45 min., First broadcast on January 22, 2013

Web links

Commons : Sebastian Haffner  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Culture and education location Prenzlauer Allee 227/228 is named Sebastian Haffner. In: December 10, 2007, accessed April 21, 2019 .
  2. Sebastian Haffner: Masked as an Englishman. A conversation with Jutta Krug about exile. btb Verlag, 2008, p. 16. Extract. (PDF) Klaus Wiegrefe: Review . In: Der Spiegel . No. 27 , 2002 ( online ).
  3. a b Jutta Krug: Masked as an Englishman: a conversation with Jutta Krug about exile . German Verl.-Anst, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-421-05616-1 , p. 16 .
  4. Klaus Wiegrefe: Contemporary history: An agile infotainer . In: Der Spiegel . No. 27 , 2002 ( online ).
  5. Memorial plaque Prenzlauer Allee 227
  6. Mayors of the city of Elmshorn from 1870. In: Retrieved June 6, 2019 .
  7. Remembrance days : turning points in history from antiquity to the present .
  8. a b Haffner: “History of a German” - lost chapter surfaced. In: May 15, 2002, accessed April 21, 2019 .
  9. ^ S. Haffner: Manuscript: The poison of comradeship . In: The time . No. 21 , 2002 ( ).
  10. ^ Sebastian Haffner, History of a German: The memories 1914–1933. Stuttgart / Munich 2000 (written in 1939), p. 244.
  11. Sebastian Haffner: Manuscript: The poison of comradeship . In: Die Zeit , No. 21/2002
  12. Martin Rüther, Karin Stoverock, Dirk Lukaßen, Eva Maria Martinsdorf, Verena Kücking, Clio Janssen, Carlotta Geller, Fabian Reeker, Lina Wilhelms, Karla Novakova: Camp as a form of education. In: April 19, 2016, accessed June 6, 2019 .
  13. Jochen Hieber: "Mein Kampf mit Hitler" on ZDF: First the exam, then the exile - media. In: January 22, 2013, accessed June 6, 2019 .
  14. a b c Folker Schmerbach: The »Hanns Kerrl Community Camp« for trainee lawyers in Jüterbog 1933–1939 (=  contributions to the legal history of the 20th century . No. 56 ). Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-149585-4 .
  15. ^ Justice in the Third Reich 1933–1940: Adaptation and submission in the Gürtner era - Lothar Gruchmann.
  16. Sebastian Haffner: From Bismarck to Hitler. A review. Editor Volker Zastrow. Munich 1987, p. 270.
  17. ^ The Observer. March 20, 2005, p. 16 of the “Features and Reviews” section.
  18. Michael Stürmer : Comments on Haffner: Great historian, only sometimes a little Rumpelstiltskin . In: Welt am Sonntag , December 23, 2007.
  19. Film Mein Kampf with Hitler. on YouTube, cf. ZDF press release on the film from January 18, 2013, film review in the FAZ , January 22, 2013.