Germany's War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories
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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