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The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, August 12th, 2003


Germany's War and the Holocaust (03 Edition)

by Omer Bartov

A review by Benjamin Schwarz

Scholarship on the Holocaust continues to swell. And, inevitably, so do the scholarly debates and controversies — some silly, some complicated, a few actually important. Despite its annoyingly clumsy prose, Bartov's collection of previously published but extensively revised articles is among the most accessible books for the layman hoping to understand the contours of the current historiography. Bartov established his reputation in 1985 with a truly pathbreaking study, The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare, which demonstrated conclusively that, contrary to the self-serving reminiscences of German veterans, the German army — not just the SS and other Nazi ideologues — had willingly, even enthusiastically, participated in the slaughter of Soviet civilians and in the attempted extermination of the Jews. (He extended and deepened his conclusions in Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich.) Not surprisingly, some of the most astute essays here examine various aspects of the Wehrmacht's complicity in the Holocaust. While avoiding an easy judgmental stance, Bartov draws nuanced but crucial distinctions between wartime atrocities generally (including those of the other combatant states of the Second World War) and those that Germany committed, especially on the Eastern Front, which were, as he shows with precision, uniquely terrible. (This is an especially significant discussion given the proclivity of some German revisionist historians for drawing facile parallels between the crimes of Nazi Germany and those of Stalin's Soviet Union.) Although Bartov is an innovative military historian, in his essay on the diaries of the great German conservative, patriot, and Jew Victor Klemperer he also displays a subtle grasp of social and cultural developments, especially the growing, and in the end nearly total, Nazification of German society under the Third Reich.

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