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the Complete Review
the complete review - history / sociology

The Hitler Salute

Tilman Allert

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To purchase The Hitler Salute

Title: The Hitler Salute
Author: Tilman Allert
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 100 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Hitler Salute - US
The Hitler Salute - UK
The Hitler Salute - Canada
Le salut allemand - France
Der deutsche Gruß - Deutschland
  • On The Meaning of a Gesture
  • German title: Der deutsche Gruß
  • Translated by Jefferson Chase

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting little study

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2008 Noah Isenberg
Boston Globe . 15/6/2008 Richard Eder
FAZ . 19/10/2005 Hans-Ulrich Wehler
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 19/11/2005 Micha Brumlik
The NY Observer . 4/4/2008 Max Abelson
The NY Sun . 16/4/2008 Richard J. Evans
Die Welt . 10/12/2005 Claus Thomsen
The Wilson Quarterly . Summer/2008 Karl E. Scheibe

  From the Reviews:
  • "This little book, with its analytic punch and range of fresh insights, offers a novel contribution to what frequently appears to be an old, tired -- and, alas, tiresome -- discussion of the Third Reich. Allertís overall approach has the merits of a far-reaching academic investigation packed into a relatively concise, elegant essay that, luckily, owes nothing to Jack Gladney." - Noah Isenberg, Bookforum

  • "His The Hitler Salute plays all kinds of variations on a seemingly minor if absurd rite; not, of course, in the least comparable to death camps and wars of destruction. And yet, from instances that range between the comic and the grotesque, Allert traces a tragic connection. Without the pomposity of assertion he achieves an indelible suggestiveness." - Richard Eder, Boston Globe

  • "(D)ie schlanke Abhandlung des Frankfurter Soziologen Tilman Allert, der den "deutschen Gruß", das "Heil Hitler", in seinen unterschiedlichen Aspekten in einer mustergültigen Studie, einem wahren Juwel von konzisem Essay, zum ersten Mal eindringlich analysiert. Man kann sich nur wundern, daß dieses gelungene Buch über eine derart zentrale Geste erst jetzt das Licht der Welt erblickt." - Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Tilman Allert's The Hitler Salute, a joyously sharp account of a massively evil slice of human history, doesnít treat the Nazisí obligatory two-word, one-arm greeting as a product of evil, but as its enabler. He argues, movingly, that the salute wounded Germansí sociability, connectedness and personal sovereignty, warping the holy human order." - Max Abelson, The New York Observer

  • "Mr. Allert brings out these multiple meanings of the Hitler salute with a good deal of persuasiveness. Running through this book, however, is a palpable tension between the sociologist's love of the sweeping generalization and the historian's respect for particular, often obstinately recalcitrant facts. Mr. Allert the sociologist wants us to believe that the Hitler greeting became a universal signifier of Germans' abandonment of established communities and institutions, such as the church, the army, and the family, and that Nazi Germany became a nation of conformists, who abandoned their primary social allegiances with a simple and singular allegiance to Hitler. But Mr. Allert the historian knows that in fact it was all a lot more complicated than that." - Richard J. Evans, The New York Sun

  • "Der "deutsche Gruß" ist also eine lächerliche Geste, die Tilman Allert in seiner anspruchsvollen Studie aber sehr ernst nimmt." - Claus Thomsen, Die Welt

  • "This work constitutes a brilliant example of what Erving Goffman referred to as the micro≠analysis of the interaction order." - Karl E. Scheibe, The Wilson Quarterly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Hitler Salute looks at what was for ten years the obligatory form of greeting in most walks of German life, the absurd 'Heil Hitler' and that raised right arm. The English title is a bit misleading, since it was actually a universal form of address, rather than just the more official-sounding salute -- the German 'Howdy', 'G'day', 'Hi', etc., all rolled up into one. (It's a bizarre formula, too, its German meaning remaining ambiguous: is it: 'Hail Hitler' ? 'Heal Hitler' ? etc.)
       What fascinates Allert is how readily it was adopted by the Germans, as he notes:

we still need to ask how people could be induced to abandon their customary form of greeting and address and replace them with an act that was so physically constraining and semantically odd -- an act that, as Charlie Chaplin showed in his film The Great Dictator, looks ridiculous and grotesque once divorced from its ideological and social context.
       Legal obligation played a role -- proper use of the greeting was repeatedly codified -- and officials could hardly get around it, but it became near-universal, replacing the traditional 'Guten Tag' ('good day'), 'Grüß Gott' ('greet god'), and other variations.
       As Allert notes, greeting is a fundamental sort of act between people, and this particular formula moves personal encounters away from the strictly personal: 'Heil Hitler' is practically a pledge of allegiance to a separate entity; oddly, too, it is not to the state but rather to an individual. (What the long term plan in the Thousand Year Reich was is also unclear: after all, the hailed man was going to be out of the picture sooner rather than later .....) Yet by turning it into the formulaic, repeated at every occasion, it was also emptied of at least some of its content and very quickly failed as, for example, a test of loyalty.
       Allert gives a variety of examples of both enthusiasm for the gesture, and attempts at to avoid it. Among the pictures included is one of Richard Strauss, his half-hearted gesture in marked contrast to the others celebrating around him (though by that time he also had the excuse of being a very old man), and one of an abbot, walking between two rows of saluting soldiers, his own arm raised in what could just as easily be a wave to the crowd or blessing. But it's clear that it was hard not to play along -- which was part of the point: by allowing no variation, by demanding and sticking to the specific formula, and thus also making it very obvious when someone didn't respond in the appropriate manner every citizen was forced to already compromise on this level. It may seem almost trivial, and yet once they've been compromised into this, and act as one dutiful mass, the next steps get easier.
       Allert also considers those institutions that might have worked to keep salute at bay -- the churches, the military, and the family -- and suggests why they couldn't and didn't either.
       Ultimately, Allert concludes the Hitler salute wasn't a greeting at all, and that:
The story of the Hitler greeting is a tale of how Germans tried to evade the responsibility of normal social intercourse, rejected the gift of contact with others, allowed social mores to decay, and refused to acknowledge the inherent openness and ambivalence of human relationships and social exchange.
       That's a lot to read into one gesture, and Allert could well have padded his text out more fully, but this short book gets the main points across and is a fairly interesting read. One can argue with a number of his assertions, but certainly the points he raises are well worth thinking about.

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The Hitler Salute: Reviews:

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About the Author:

       German author Tilman Allert was born in 1947 and teaches at the University of Frankfurt.

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© 2008-2010 the complete review

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