Believe and DestroyIntellectuals in the SS War Machine
Believe and Destroy
Intellectuals in the SS War Machine
There were eighty of them. They were young, clever and cultivated; they were barely in their thirties when Adolf Hitler came to power. Their university studies in law, economics, linguistics, philosophy and history marked them out for brilliant careers. They chose to join the repressive bodies of the Third Reich, especially the Security Service (SD) and the Nazi Party’s elite protection unit, the SS. They theorized and planned the extermination of twenty million individuals of allegedly ‘inferior’ races. Most of them became members of the paramilitary death squads known as Einsatzgruppen and participated in the slaughter of over a million people.

Based on extensive archival research, Christian Ingrao tells the gripping story of these children of the Great War, focusing on the networks of fellow activists, academics and friends in which they moved, studying the way in which they envisaged war and the ‘world of enemies’ which, in their view, threatened them. The mechanisms of their political commitment are revealed, and their roles in Nazism and mass murder. Thanks to this pioneering study, we can now understand how these men came to believe what they did, and how these beliefs became so destructive.

The history of Nazism, shows Ingrao, is also a history of beliefs in which a powerful military machine was interwoven with personal experiences, fervour, anguish, utopia and cruelty.
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  • May 2013 (hb)
    September 2015 (pb)
  • 432 pages
  • 160 x 227 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $35.00
  • 9780745660264
  • Paperback $19.95
  • 9780745660271
  • Open eBook $29.95
  • 9780745670041
Table of Contents




PART ONE: The young men of Germany

Chapter 1 A ‘world of enemies’ (I)

The outbreak of war

The silence of the Akademiker

The ‘time of troubles’: an experience of war?

Chapter 2 Constructing networks

Places to study

Places of association

Networks of solidarity

Chapter 3 Activist intellectuals

The construction of academic knowledge

Knowledge and activism (1919-1933)

‘Combative science’ and SS intellectuals in the Third Reich

The shadow of the Great War

PART TWO: Joining the Nazis: a commitment

Chapter 4 Being a Nazi

The foundations of the doctrine

The origins of Nazi fervour: planning a sociobiological


The appropriation of a system of beliefs

Chapter 5 Entering the SD

Whether to enter the Party or not?

Towards the SD: Nazi careers

Recruitment: a social mechanism of enlistenment

Chapter 6 From struggle to control

From the ‘Security Department of the SS’ (SD) to

the ‘Reich Security Main Office’ (RSHA)

A ‘world of enemies’ (II)


PART THREE : Nazism and violence: the culmination 1939-1945

Chapter 7 Thinking the east, between utopia and anxiety

The curse of Germanic isolation

The Nazi project for a sociobiological re-establishment

Redevelop and settle: forms of Nazi fervour

Chapter 8 Arguing for war: Nazi rhetoric

From the reparative war to the ‘Great Racial War’

From the discourse of security to the discourse of genocide

Expressing violence: defensive rhetorics, utopian rhetorics

Chapter 9 Violence in action

The experience of violence

Demonstrative violence, violence of eradication

A transgressive violence

Violence as rite of initiation

Chapter 10 SS intellectuals confronting defeat

Defeat rendered unreal

Finis Germaniae. The return of the old anxiety

The denouement

Chapter 11 SS intellectuals on trial

Strategies of negation

Strategies of evasion

Strategies of justification: the Ohlendorf case

Conclusion: Memory of war, activism and genocide


Sources and bibliography

A piece of research and its context

A specific conceptual framework

List of archival collections consulted

Printed sources


About the Author
Christian Ingrao is the director of the Institut de l’histoire du temps présent. A specialist in Nazism and war studies, he also teaches at Sciences-Po. His previous work, Les Chasseurs Noirs, was an international success.
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"a thoughtful, well researched, and well written addition to the field of perpetrator studies—a work that illustrates convincingly the role of Germany’s “best and brightest” in the prosecution of genocide."
Holocaust and Genocide Studies

"A chilling collective portrait of a generation blinded by the fervor of their ideology and oblivious to the suffering of others."
Wall Street Journal

"Packed with useful information on this important Nazi cadre."

"Presents gripping accounts of particular spectacles of violence and their role in imposing order."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"With this quest for understanding in mind, Ingrao has undertaken what is clearly a mammoth historical task, and ultimately written an astonishingly profound and in-depth book on a subject that ought never be forgotten."
David Marx Book Reviews

"This is an important and original study of ideology and experience rather than yet another catalogue of crime, and it therefore offers a different and powerful explanation for how educated men became perpetrators of mass murder."
Richard Evans, University of Cambridge

"How did highly educated German intellectuals of a certain generation make themselves into believing Nazis, career-minded ideologues, and practitioners of terror? In compelling detail and in a manner consistent with the best accomplishments of recent scholarship, Christian Ingrao guides us astutely and assuredly through this shockingly normalized interior world."
Geoffrey Eley, University of Michigan

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