Daniel Goldhagen re-visits a question which history has treated as settled, and his research leads him to the inescapble conclusion that none of the answers holds true. That question is: How could the Holocaust happen? His response is an exploration of German society and its ingrained anti-semitism that demands a fundamental revision of our ...
Daniel Goldhagen re-visits a question which history has treated as settled, and his research leads him to the inescapble conclusion that none of the answers holds true. That question is: How could the Holocaust happen? His response is an exploration of German society and its ingrained anti-semitism that demands a fundamental revision of our thinking about the years 1933-1945. The author marshals fresh, primary evidence - including extensive testimony from the actual perpetrators - to show that the killers were ordinary Germans who were not compelled to act as they did (they knew they could refuse without retribution) yet they killed willingly and zealously.
You read in one history book or another that the Nazis killed millions of Jews, and the text just passes before you without much meaning. This book takes you to the day-by-day, hour-by-hour level of how is carried out. How the order comes down to the troops (police battalions mostly) to round up the Jews in some city; how the troops react to the order (some ask their girlfriends to join them) and some decline to participate, because it is all voluntary duty; and how the troops take relish in, not simply to carry out their duty, but to inflict as much pain and humiliation on the victims as possible ? killing them is not enough. The main premise of the book is that anti-Semitism was an integral character of the German people and it did not take much persuasion for the Nazis to unleash these hidden demons for their own diabolical ends.
At times, the book did get a little repetitive, making the same point over and over again, but there is ample, original research throughout to make it worthwhile reading.
Sep 17, 2008
How the Holocaust was possible
This is a VERY disturbing book. It is well-written, with copious footnotes, and Goldhagen makes a VERY strong case for his belief that anti-Semitism in Germany was "in the air" LONG before Hitler, and that what Hitler did was to give that anti-Semitism a government-backed outlet. Goldhagen uses documents and quotes from the Germans themselves to make his points. One of the most disturbing forms the title of the book. It is widely believed that Germans assisted in the slaughter of Jews, or at least did nothing to stop it, out of fear of being executed or otherwise punished if they did. Goldhagen cites sources indicating that that was NOT the case, that it occured sometimes that officers would tell their men that they didn't have to join in an ordered mass killing if they didn't want to, and would not get any punishment for refusing to. Even so, hardly anyone DID refuse. And the men and units written about in the book WERE "ordinary Germans", belonging to non-military units of the "order police", who were reservists who were civilians, teachers, doctors, civil servants and the like, when not on duty in their units. Their viciousness in tormenting their victims before their killings began is outlined in chilling detail. The Germans' abrupt and dreadful change of manner when some supposed German citizens are suddenly identified as Jews is sickening. The German men involved wrote orders and journal entries, and sent letters home, including photographs, often of themselves grinning at the mistreatment of their Jewish victims, and some of the photos and writings are included in the book. I would recommend this book to anyone who wonders about the Holocaust and the German attitudes that made it possible there,but it is NOT a book for the squeamish.
Publishers Weekly, 1996-02-05 Goldhagen's gripping and shocking landmark study transforms our understanding of the Holocaust. Refuting the widespread notion that those who carried out the genocide of Jews were primarily SS men or Nazi party members, he demonstrates that the perpetrators?those who staffed and oversaw the concentration camps, slave labor camps, genocidal army units, police battalions, ghettos, death marches?were, for the most part, ordinary German men and women: merchants, civil servants, academics, farmers, students, managers, skilled and unskilled workers. Rejecting the conventional view that the killers were slavishly carrying out orders under coercion, Goldhagen, assistant professor of government at Harvard, uses hitherto untapped primary sources, including the testimonies of the perpetrators themselves, to show that they killed Jews willingly, approvingly, even zealously. Hitler's genocidal program of a "Final Solution" found ready accomplices in these ordinary Germans who, as Goldhagen persuasively argues, had absorbed a virulent, "eliminationist" anti-Semitism, prevalent as far back as the 18th century, which demonized the Jews and called for their expulsion or physical annihilation. Furthermore, his research reveals that a large proportion of the killers were told by their commanders that they could disobey orders to kill, without fear of retribution?yet they slaughtered Jews anyway. By his careful estimate, hundreds of thousands of Germans were directly involved in the mass murder, and millions more knew of the ongoing genocide. Among the 30 photographs are snapshots taken by the murderers of themselves and their victims. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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