The Hitler Salute: On the Meaning of a Gesture Hardcover – Apr 1 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this brief, insightful book, German sociologist Allert writes penetratingly about the gesture familiar around the world. Working like a preservationist on a minute canvas, he shows readers the cascade of meanings that rush through everyday greetings in general. But Allert's keen eye is trained on Germany, and he provides a wonderful depiction of regional, class and gender-specific greetings, from the kissed hand to the low, scraping bow. All of these were supplanted by the Hitler salute. Hitler was the suprahuman being in whom Germans invested their hopes, which they reaffirmed every time they raised their arms and shouted the Führer's name. As the salute penetrated every sphere of social life, it made Nazism omnipresent and Germans a unified community. It also affirmed authority for the ruler as well as over the ruled. Allert draws fruitfully on memoirs and letters. Readers encounter Germans who joyfully raised their arms to the Führer and also those who went to any length to avoid the gesture and sometimes paid dearly for their opposition to the Nazis. Allert's book shows how much can be gained from a close study of the daily rituals we barely think about yet are packed with meaning. (Apr. 1)
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“Stirring… Allert’s The Hitler Salute, a joyously sharp account of a massively evil slice of human history, doesn’t treat the Nazis’ obligatory two-word, one-arm greeting as a product of evil, but as its enabler. He argues, movingly, that the salute wounded Germans’ sociability, connectedness, and personal sovereignty, warping the holy human order.”
—The New York Observer
“The natural counterpart to the oft-used, darkly ironic quip ‘there’s no business like Shoah business’ is that nothing sells quite like the Nazis. Tilman Allert’s slim, understated book, however, has no part in that cottage industry.… With its analytic punch and range of fresh insights, The Hitler Salute offers a novel contribution to what frequently appears to be an old, tired—and, alas, tiresome—discussion of the Third Reich.”
“Tilman Allert encourages us to look at the microcosmic world of greetings to see how social mores decay… The Hitler salute was not only a stark indication of the extent to which ideology intruded into the most pedestrian routines of everyday life but, according to Allert, also served to ‘silence a nation’s moral scruples.’”
—The Chronicle of Higher Education
“Insightful… Allert’s book shows how much can be gained from a close study of the daily rituals we barely think about yet are packed with meaning.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A compact, lucid study of the Third Reich’s preferred greeting… Straightforward in its analysis yet profound in its conclusions, this uncommon selection sheds elusive light on the question of how Nazi ideology managed to penetrate even the most ordinary social interactions.”
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Salute" not only means the physical, often military movement of a hand in greeting, but also the words that accompanied the greeting, and both are examined here, as are the meanings of greetings as they are more naturally used. A greeting provides an initial structure for human interaction, an initial gift to another person to get things going. "Heil Hitler" injected a third party into greetings, and did so under the force of law. It was on 13 July 1933 that the edict was issued to make the greeting mandatory. Every greeting would thereupon not just be a greeting, but would be a statement of the relationship of the greeters to the Fuhrer. Students, by order, would say it to their teachers, and to each other. Department store attendants would greet shoppers with, "Heil Hitler, how may I help you?" Samuel Beckett wrote in his travel diary in 1937, "Even bathroom attendants greet you with `Heil Hitler.'" The words were accompanied by the right hand salute. The Reich invented legends about the gesture to differentiate it from the similar Italian fascist salute, or from that of the Socialist International. The gesture was everywhere, and within the book is a reproduction of an illustration of the Sleeping Beauty story; the heroine has been kissed by her Prince, and is just awakening, so he gives the Hitler salute to her. Shaking hands brings people closer together, but Allert says that giving the hand salute "makes it necessary for the greeter to stand back from the other person and thus intensifies the estrangement and sense of uncertainty that is usually overcome or bridged during an act of greeting."
This is the sort of insight that makes this a more thoughtful book than would be just a history of the gesture. Allert reminds us that greeting words or gestures are supposed to help decrease physical and relational distances between two individuals, to build trust. "But when the greeting is externally imposed and mechanically performed, when it hides rather than reveals, uncertainty in the face of the unknown gives way to mistrust in the face of the unknowable." It is hard to blame the salute for the evils of the Third Reich, but it was a tool. It solidified group membership at the same time that it reverenced the Fuhrer, thus hijacking the individual and personal functions a greeting is supposed to perform. It was a little loyalty oath, with the implicit message that the user was ready to sacrifice self-interest for the benefit of the regime, and Allert argues that the compulsory salute furthered the abnegation of the self and the disregard for the regime's lack of morality. It was a lot for a simple gesture to bear, but Allert has pulled from an amazing range of written documents and photographs, and reasons in a convincing and understated way. It is a keen explanation of a tiny slice of the Nazi evil.
On the downside, I have two comments to make. The author's turn of phrase is laborious. A typical convoluted sentence is (page 77): "For bound up with their immediate institutional religious function of providing spiritual direction and purpose were conceptions of reality whose particular ways or apprehending temporality are important for our analysis." The whole book comes across as an academic paper rather than something designed for the average history fan to consume. Having said that, the author is a German psychology professor, and the book has been translated into English, so I guess the tone is to be expected.
My bigger disappointment was that I didn't get any insight into the fashioning of the salute. Whose idea was it? How many other ideas were rejected? I'd also have liked to know more about the laws that were passed to ban the salute. Was there much debate? Who initiated the bill? The author does not make it clear whether that evidence is lost, but I came away with the sense that it just wasn't covered. Once again, if a historian rather than a psychologist had written the book, maybe it would have ended up being a more satisfying read.
Anyway - if this era interests you, I'd recommend borrowing the book from someone, because it sheds a big spotlight on the mores and trauma of the day. Reading from where I live, in 2009, the events, scenes and attitudes described sound so distant, archaic - almost medieval - but it wasn't so many generations ago, and a reader will inevitably wonder, "Could all this happen again?"
The author make it clear that this Hitler salute was mandatory form of greetings that become quite habit forming among the German people. It certainly was a clever way to insert Nazi loyalty among the people by its very day usage. The author (who is German himself), explained how a greeting "Heil Hitler" can be used in both personal, religious and formal aspects of German life. The author explained to the reader what exactly the words "Heil Hitler" actually means in actual German context and meaning. It replaces most other forms of greeting. The author clearly stated that as the Hitler salute became more and more prevalent throughout the everyday life of all Germans, the decay of German society as a whole set down. This indirectly helped pave the way for World War II, holocaust and other horrors that the Germany imposed on Europe during the time that German people were heiling each other with gusto. Interestingly, until 1944, German military (unless you were generals or in presences of higher authority) avoided the Hitler Salute as much as possible.
This form of greeting also helped in determining who was with or against the Nazi regime as the salute helped the Nazis conformed Germany into a their image. The odd nail definitely got hammered down. The author also goes through the basic history of this salute, its possible origins from Fascist Italy and personal experiences of many Germans who lived during that period.
Overall, a pretty good coverage of a subject matter that you see all the time in photos and movies but never really explained in detail until this book came out. The book come highly recommended to anyone who have an interest in Nazi Germany or World War II in general.
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