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The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945by Saul Friedlander
Synopses & Reviews
With The Years of Extermination, Saul Friedländer completes his major historical work on Nazi Germany and the Jews. The book describes and interprets the persecution and murder of the Jews throughout occupied Europe. The enactment of German extermination policies and measures depended on the cooperation of local authorities, the assistance of police forces, and the passivity of the populations, primarily of their political and spiritual elites. This implementation depended as well on the victims readiness to submit to orders, often with the hope of attenuating them or of surviving long enough to escape the German vise.
This multifaceted study—at all levels and in different places—enhances the perception of the magnitude, complexity, and interrelatedness of the many components of this history. Based on a vast array of documents and an overwhelming choir of voices—mainly from diaries, letters, and memoirs—Saul Friedländer avoids domesticating the memory of these unprecedented and horrific events. The convergence of these various aspects gives a unique quality to The Years of Extermination. In this work, the history of the Holocaust has found its definitive representation.
"In the second volume of his essential history of Nazi Germany and the Jews, one of the great historians of the Holocaust provides a rich, vivid depiction of Jewish life from France to Ukraine, Greece to Norway, in its most tragic period, drawing especially on hundreds of diaries written by Jews during their ordeal, depicting a world collapsing on its inhabitants, along with the thousands of humiliating persecutions that Jews suffered on their way to extermination. Friedlnder also provides insightful discussions of the many interpretive controversies that still surround the history of Nazi Germany. He has been party to many of the debates, and he remains attuned to the most recent historical research. Friedlnder knows the bureaucratic workings of the Third Reich as well as anyone, but refuses to see in that alone the explanation for the Holocaust. Instead, he focuses largely on cultural and ideological factors. He considers other factors, such as 'the crisis of liberalism,' but these were not the essential motives for the Holocaust, which, Friedlnder says, was driven by sheer hatred of Jews, by 'a redemptive anti-Semitism' espoused by Hitler, a belief that Germans could thrive only through the utter destruction of Jews. This is a masterful synthesis that draws on a lifetime of learning and research." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Saul Friedlander, born in 1932, has now finished his magnum opus, the second volume of his history of Nazi Germany and the Jews (the first, covering the years 1933-1939, appeared in 1997). 'The Years of Extermination' may prove to be the last major general history of the Holocaust produced by a leading scholar who lived under the Nazis. For this reason, and because it relies heavily on the findings... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and perspectives of recent scholarship, it presents a kind of appraisal of our understanding of the period. Friedlander brings together a vast array of evidence — including the Nazi leadership's public and private pronouncements, the testimony of bystanders and the testimony of victims — to ground his basic contentions about two principal concerns: how the decisions about the persecution of the Jews unfolded, and how Germans and other Europeans reacted to that persecution. He does this through a detailed chronological recounting of the events, in which he follows the thread of the regime's anti-Jewish initiatives while repeatedly cutting to different European countries for snapshots of their implementation. The evidence is overwhelming, Friedlander shows, that anti-Semitism not only motivated Hitler and the Nazi leadership in their persecution and extermination of the Jews, but that it led Germans to accept and implement the regime's policies, and most of the peoples of occupied Europe to aid or watch, with little sympathy, the destruction of the Jews among them. Until a decade ago this was generally denied by scholars, who, focusing almost exclusively on the Nazi leadership and enamored of misleading structural and social psychological theories, ignored the evidence from victims and perpetrators alike about the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism. Friedlander confirms that, while the Nazi leadership and many Germans wanted desperately to rid their country and Europe of Jews, actual anti-Jewish policy moved forward in a pragmatic, not entirely linear way — from ghettoization and expulsion schemes to regional killing to total annihilation. After all, the Germans' assault on the Jews encompassed a continent and evolved in the context of changing military, political and economic constraints and opportunities. He also leaves no doubt that it is transparent nonsense to exculpate ordinary Germans involved in the persecution, as well as the conquered peoples of Europe who aided the Germans, with claims that they did not know of the mass murder or were terrorized into compliance by the Nazis. Following a growing trend, he rejects the convention of referring to the German perpetrators as 'Nazis,' which many of the Germans were not, and calls them instead 'Germans.' Approval of the mass murder was indeed widespread in Germany and across Europe. But what was singular, which Friedlander does not sufficiently emphasize or analyze, is that the project was ideologically driven forward from Germany by Germans who alone sought the total elimination of the Jews from Europe and ultimately from the world. Whatever substantial local aid Germans received from Dutch, French, Poles, Ukrainians and others, it was principally Germans who imagined a world without Jews. For all the book's virtues, Friedlander's failure to explore this and other critical themes makes 'The Years of Extermination' little more than a dressed-up chronicle. Covering an entire continent's record of persecution inevitably yields superficial treatments and omissions. Still, he does not include, aside from the Nazi leadership, this genocide's central actors — the actual killers themselves — let alone examine them, their motives and deeds in depth. This astonishing omission compromises his overall project. The central idea of his first volume, 'redemptive anti-Semitism' — that anti-Semitism is a quasi-religious belief system that offers to redeem the world of its troubles — barely appears here. In that earlier work, he also explicitly rejected the conception of Hitler's and other Germans' anti-Semitism as 'eliminationist' — that anti-Semites believed Jews posed such a threat that they had to be eliminated somehow, whether by ghettoization, deportation or annihilation. Yet in this volume, without comment, Friedlander redefines redemptive anti-Semitism as a mission to save the world precisely 'by eliminating the Jews.' That may be because his earlier, woolly concept is useless when considering the central analytical problem of this book, the relationship between anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-Jewish action. After all, many anti-Semites who did not seek world redemption willingly took part in the expulsion and mass murder of Jews. Now that Friedlander must deal with actual eliminationist policies as his main subject, he alters his earlier concept and then drops it after the introduction, leaving his book analytically disarmed. Friedlander repeatedly fails to explore the larger significance of the many events he describes, such as the relationship among the Germans' various plans to deport Jews, to slaughter 'only' the adult Jewish males in one region, and to annihilate them totally. And he fails to place the Germans' and other Europeans' extermination of the Jews in any broader context, including the Germans' large-scale but systematically different brutalizing and killing of non-Jews. Friedlander's book offers a useful, updated panorama of the events of the Holocaust. But readers seeking more than an introductory narrative will have to look elsewhere. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is the author of 'Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.' His book 'Worse Than War: Understanding and Stopping Genocide in Our Time,' which is the basis for a documentary planned for PBS, will be published next year." Reviewed by Marie AranaElizabeth McCrackenMargaret MacMillanJonathan YardleyRon CharlesDaniel Jonah Goldhagen, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Book News Annotation:
Completing the work begun with The Years of Persecution; Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1939, Friedlšnder (history, U. of California at Los Angeles) has produced an ambitious study of the Holocaust that seeks to integrate understandings of the Holocaust as it played out across Europe; macro-level determinants of German anti-Jewish policies; micro-level experiences and reactions on the part of Germans, their collaborators, occupied peoples, and Jewish victims; and interactions between central ideological-cultural determinants of German policies and institutional dynamics, the evolution of the war, and other circumstances. Among his major themes is the crisis of liberalism and the reaction against communism as ideological sources of anti-Semitism. He argues that, "for a regime dependent on constant mobilization, the Jew served as the constant mobilizing myth" that represented evil per se in each facet of the tripartite mythology of Hitler as a quasiprovidential leader come to bring the Germans salvation in the form of the "ultimate purity of the racial community, the ultimate crushing of Bolshevism and plutocracy, and the ultimate millennial redemption." Beyond this central ideological-cultural question, he also explores how European social institutions failed to serve as a countervailing interest to Nazi extermination policies; attitudes and reactions of bystanders, Jewish leaders, and other actors; the myriad counteractions taken by individual Jews in response to the Holocaust; and issues of witness and historical remembrance. Annotation ¬©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The result of more than 30 years of research and investigation, this important new volume presents a thorough historical study of the events beyond the usual analysis of German policies, decisions, and measures that led to this most systematic and sustained of modern genocides.
About the Author
Born in Prague, Saul Friedländer spent his boyhood in Nazi-occupied France. He is a professor of history at UCLA, and has written numerous books on Nazi Germany and World War II.
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