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Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaustby Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Synopses & Reviews
RECASTING THE VIEW OF ANTISEMITISM: A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS
In thinking about German antisemitism, people have a tendency to make important, unacknowledged assumptions about Germans before and during the Nazi period that bear scrutiny and revision. The assumptions are ones that people would not adopt for investigating a preliterate group in Asia or fourteenth-century Germans, yet which they do for the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany. They can be summed up as follows: Germans were more or less like us or, rather, similar to how we represent ourselves to be: rational, sober children of the Enlightenment, who are not governed by "magical thinking," but rooted in "objective reality." They, like us, were "economic men" who, admittedly, sometimes could be moved by irrational motives, by hatreds, produced by economic frustrations or by some of the enduring human vices like the lust for power or pride. But these are all understandable; as common sources of irrationality, they seem commonsensical to us.
There are reasons to doubt the validity of such assumptions, as an American educator intimately familiar with Nazi schools and youth cautioned in 1941. Nazi schooling, he averred, "produced a generation of human beings in Nazi Germany so different from normal American youth that mere academic comparison seems inane and any sort of evaluation of the Nazi educational system is extremely difficult." So what justifies the prevailing assumptions about the similarity between us and Germans during the Nazi period and before? Should we not take a fresh look and examine whether or not our notions of ourselves held for Germans in 1890, 1925, and 1941? We readily accept that preliterate peoples have believed trees to be animated by good and evil spirits, capable of transforming the material world, that the Aztecs believed human sacrifices were necessary for the sun to rise, that in the middle ages Jews were seen as agents of the Devil, so why can we not believe that many Germans in the twentieth century subscribed to beliefs that appear to us to be palpably absurd, that Germans too were, at least in one realm, prone to "magical thinking"?
Why not approach Germany as an anthropologist would the world of a people about whom little is known? After all, this was a society that produced a cataclysm, the Holocaust, which people did not predict or, with rare exceptions, ever imagine to have been possible. The Holocaust was a radical break with everything known in human history, with all previous forms of political practice. It constituted a set of actions, and an imaginative orientation that was completely at odds with the intellectual foundations of modern western civilization, the Enlightenment, as well as the Christian and secular ethical and behavioral norms that had governed modern western societies. It appears, then, on the face of it, that the study of the society which produced this then unimagined, and unimaginable, event requires us to question our assumptions about that society's similarity to our own. It demands that we examine our belief that it shared the rational economic orientation that guides social scientific and popular images of our society. Such an examination would reveal that much of Germany did roughly mirror our society, but that important realms of German society were fundamentally different. Indeed, the corpus of German antis
A revisionist study of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust reveals why ordinary Germans from all walks of life participated willingly in the extermination of the Jews. Reprint. 125,000 first printing. Tour.
This groundbreaking international bestseller lays to rest many myths about the Holocaust: that Germans were ignorant of the mass destruction of Jews, that the killers were all SS men, and that those who slaughtered Jews did so reluctantly. Hitler's Willing Executioners provides conclusive evidence that the extermination of European Jewry engaged the energies and enthusiasm of tens of thousands of ordinary Germans. Goldhagen reconstructs the climate of "eliminationist anti-Semitism" that made Hitler's pursuit of his genocidal goals possible and the radical persecution of the Jews during the 1930s popular. Drawing on a wealth of unused archival materials, principally the testimony of the killers themselves, Goldhagen takes us into the killing fields where Germans voluntarily hunted Jews like animals, tortured them wantonly, and then posed cheerfully for snapshots with their victims. From mobile killing units, to the camps, to the death marches, Goldhagen shows how ordinary Germans, nurtured in a society where Jews were seen as unalterable evil and dangerous, willingly followed their beliefs to their logical conclusion.
"Hitler's Willing Executioner's is an original, indeed brilliant contribution to the...literature on the Holocaust."--New York Review of Books
"The most important book ever published about the Holocaust...Eloquently written, meticulously documented, impassioned...A model of moral and scholarly integrity."--Philadelphia Inquirer
About the Author
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is an Associate of Harvard University's Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. His doctoral dissertation, which is the basis for the book, was awarded the American Political Science Association's 1994 Gabriel A. Almond Award for the best dissertation in the field of comparative politics. After publication of this book in Germany, in 1997 Daniel Johan Goldhagen won the highly prestigious Democracy Prize. He is the author of A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair.
Table of Contents
Recasting the view of antisemitism: A framework for analysis — The evolution of eliminationist antisemitism in modern Germany — Eliminationist antisemitism: The "common sense" of German society during the Nazi period — The Nazis' assault on the Jews: Its character and evolution — The agents and machinery of destruction — Police battalions: Agents of genocide — Police Battalion 101: The men's deeds — Police battalion 101: Assessing the men's motives — Police battalions: Lives, killings, and motives — The sources and pattern of Jewish "work" during the Nazi period — Life in the "work" camps — Work and death — The deadly way — Marching to what end? — Explaining the perpetrators' actions: Assessing the competing explanations — Eliminationist antisemitism as genocidal motivation.
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