Sebastian Haffner

Raimund Pretzel (27 December 1907 – 2 January 1999),[1] better known by his pseudonym Sebastian Haffner, was a German journalist and author. He wrote mainly about recent German history. His focus was specifically on the history of the German Reich (1871–1945); his books dealt with the origins and course of the First World War, the failure of the Weimar Republic, and the subsequent rise and fall of Nazi Germany under Hitler. His most known work is The Meaning of Hitler (German: Anmerkungen zu Hitler, 1978), a short biography and analysis of Hitler.

Sebastian Haffner
Detail of book cover Germany: Jekyll & Hyde
Detail of book cover Germany: Jekyll & Hyde
BornRaimund Pretzel
(1907-12-27)27 December 1907
Berlin, German Empire
Died2 January 1999(1999-01-02) (aged 91)
Berlin, Germany
OccupationJournalist and historian
SubjectPrussia, Otto von Bismarck, World War I, Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, World War II
Notable worksThe Meaning of Hitler
ChildrenSarah Haffner 1940-2018, Oliver Pretzel


He studied Law and finished his exams in 1934. After that he occasionally worked as a lawyer, mostly as a temporary substitute for other lawyers. His main source of income at that time was journalism. In 1938 he emigrated from Nazi Germany with his Jewish fiancée to London, where he intended to work as an author and journalist. He encountered difficulties at first since he was hardly able to speak English at the time (but rapidly became remarkably proficient in the language), had no money and no financial support, and his fiancée (who became his wife later on) was pregnant. He adopted the pseudonym Sebastian Haffner so that his family, who remained in Germany, would not be endangered by his writing. It was a combination of Johann Sebastian Bach and of Mozart's Haffner Symphony, later he used the signature of this piece (KV 385) on his vehicle registration plate.

During the Second World War in England Haffner was interned for several months in 1940 and released only after publication of his first book in English, Germany: Jekyll and Hyde (1940.)[2] He was one of the promoters and early writers of Die Zeitung, published for German exiles by the British government 1941-45. His book Offensive against Germany (1941) was commissioned by George Orwell and T.R. Fyvel for Searchlight Books.[3] Under the auspices of his mentor, David Astor, Haffner then wrote for the London Sunday newspaper, The Observer, and became its editor-in-chief. However, because of differences between Astor, who had become the newspaper's publisher, and the London editorship regarding a divided Germany, he became the German correspondent in Berlin in 1954, a position which he kept until the building of the Berlin Wall.

He then wrote for a German newspaper, Die Welt, until 1962, and from then until 1975 was a columnist for the Stern magazine. Haffner was a frequent guest on the television show Internationaler Frühschoppen (translates roughly to "international morning pint"), hosted by Werner Höfer, and even had his own television program on the German channel Sender Freies Berlin.

Haffner is considered one of the most successful German authors in the history of the 19th and 20th century writing for a broad, nonacademic audience.

He wrote most of his works in German, some of which have been translated into English, French, Spanish, Hebrew and other languages. The manuscript of Defying Hitler, discovered posthumously by his son, Oliver Pretzel,[4] is a memoir of the Nazis' rise to power, as witnessed by Haffner before he went into exile.

Selected writingsEdit

  • 1940 Germany: Jekyll & Hyde, (German language) ISBN 3-930278-04-9
  • 1941 Offensive Against GermanySearchlight Books
  • 1964 Die sieben Todsünden des deutschen Reiches im Ersten Weltkrieg
  • 1967 Winston Churchill, Biography (German language) ISBN 3-463-40413-3
  • 1968 Die verratene Revolution – Deutschland 1918/19. (about the German Revolution in November 1918) Stern-Buch, Hamburg 1969, (no ISBN)
  • 1978 The Meaning of Hitler ISBN 0-674-55775-1, translated from Anmerkungen zu Hitler, Publishing house. Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main. ISBN 3-596-23489-1.
  • 1979 Preußen ohne Legende
  • 1980 Überlegungen eines Wechselwählers, Publishing house. Kindler GmbH, München. ISBN 3-463-00780-0
  • 1985 Im Schatten der Geschichte: Historisch-politische Variationen,. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart. ISBN 3-421-06253-6
  • 1987 Von Bismarck zu Hitler: Ein Rückblick, Publishing house Kindler GmbH, München. ISBN 3-463-40003-0
  • 1989 The Ailing Empire, English translation of Von Bismarck zu Hitler. Fromm International Publishing, New York. ISBN 0-88064-136-3
  • 1989 Der Teufelspakt: Die deutsch-russischen Beziehungen vom Ersten zum Zweiten Weltkrieg, Manesse Verlag, Zürich. ISBN 3-7175-8121-X
  • 1997 Zwischen den Kriegen. Essays zur Zeitgeschichte, ISBN 3-930278-05-7
  • 2000 Defying Hitler: A Memoir ISBN 0-312-42113-3, translated from Geschichte eines Deutschen. Die Erinnerungen 1914–1933. (Written in approximately 1940, was published after he died) ISBN 3-423-30848-6
  • 2000 Der Neue Krieg, (contains an email from Juergen Kuttner), Publishing house Alexander, Berlin. ISBN 3-89581-049-5
  • 2002 Die Deutsche Frage: 1950 – 1961: Von der Wiederbewaffnung bis zum Mauerbau, Publishing house Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main. ISBN 3-596-15536-3



  1. ^ Neil Ascherson (14 January 1999). "Sebastian Haffner obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  2. ^ Afterword by Oliver Pretzel in Defying Hitler (2002).
  3. ^ Orwell, George (2010) The Orwell Diaries. Penguin UK At Google Books. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  4. ^ "Defying Hitler" by Sebastian Haffner – Archived 2011-07-01 at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit