Sebastian Haffner was born in 1907 as Raimund Pretzel the last of four children. His father was headmaster of a Berlin school and a noted liberal school reformer. Pretzel studied law and received his doctorate in 1934. Although he was not Jewish he abandoned his planned career as a lawyer in public service when the Nazis came to power. Instead he worked as a non-political journalist.
In 1938 he and his pregnant fiancée, who was of Jewish descent and for that reason had been dismissed from her post as university librarian, managed to emigrate to the UK, where they were married. There he started to write a memoir about his youth in Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazis. The book (Defying Hitler) was abandoned at the outbreak of war and replaced by another (Germany: Jekyll and Hyde) offering an analysis of Germany for the benefit of the allies. This book, published under the pseudonym Sebastian Haffner which he used for the rest of his life, procured his release from internment in the summer of 1940. In 1942 he became a journalist at the Observer and quickly made a reputation as a political thinker.
Haffner returned to Germany in 1954, initially as a correspondent for the Observer. There he became an important commentator on current affairs and a well-known television personality. In the 1960s he started writing historical books, mostly about 20th century German history, including The Ailing Empire: Germany from Bismarck to Hitler. His most important and successful book, The Meaning of Hitler, appeared in 1978. He retired in 1991 and died in 1999 aged 91. (Image of the author from Mein Vater III, 1986 by Sarah Haffner; oil on canvas, 75 x 100 cm, Stadtmuseum, Berlin).
"Sebastian Haffner, a superb German writer and journalist" — Imre Kertész, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature
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