In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men,
no belief which
is contrary to truth can be really useful...
John Stuart Mill
1/2 -- 2/2
Rarely has a book with scholarly pretensions evoked as much popular interest as Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's study, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1). Every important journal of opinion printed one or more reviews within weeks of its release. The New York Times, for instance, featured multiple notices acclaiming Goldhagen's book as 'one of those rare new works that merit the appellation landmark', 'historic', and bringing to bear 'corrosive literary passion'. Although initial reviews were not uniformly positive, once the Goldhagen juggernaut proved unstoppable, even the dissenting voices joined in the chorus of praise. An immediate national best-seller, Hitler's Willing Executioners was balled in Time magazine's year-end issue as the 'most talked about' and second best non-fiction book of 1996.(2) Before long, Goldhagen was also an international phenomenon, creating an extraordinary stir in Germany.,
What makes the Goldhagen phenomenon so remarkable is that Hitler's Willing Executioners is not at all a learned inquiry. Replete with gross misrepresentations of the secondary literature and internal contradictions, Goldhagen's book
is worthless as scholarship. The bulk of what follows documents this claim. In the conclusion I speculate on the broader meaning of the Goldhagen phenomenon.
Genocide was Immanent in the conversation of German society.
It was immanent in its language and emotion. It was immanent in the
structure of cognition. Hitler's Willing Executioners, P. 449
1. A Nation Crazy with Hatred?
In a seminal study published thirty-five years ago, The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg observed that the perpetrators of the Nazi holocaust were 'not different in their moral makeup from the rest of the population... the machinery of destruction was a remarkable cross section of the German population.' These representative Germans, Hilberg went on to say, performed their appointed tasks with astonishing efficiency: 'No obstruction stopped the German machine of destruction. No moral problem proved insurmountable. When all participating personnel were put to the test, there were very few lingerers and almost no deserters.' Indeed, an 'uncomfortably large number of soldiers... delighted in death as spectators or as perpetrators.' (3)
Long before Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's study, it was thus already known that 'ordinary' Germans were Hitler's 'willing' and not infrequently cruel 'executioners'.(4) The main distinction of Goldhagen's study is the  explanation it purports to supply for what Hilberg called this 'phenomenon of the greatest magnitude.' (5) It is Goldhagen's thesis that the 'central causal agent of the Holocaust' was the German people's enduring pathological hatred of the Jews. (Hitler's Willing Executioners [hereafter HWE] p. 9) To cite one typical passage:
[A] demonological anti-Semitism, of the virulent racial variety, was the common structure of the perpetrators' cognition and of German society in general. The German perpetrators ... were assenting mass executioners, men and women who, true to their own eliminationist anti-Semitic beliefs, faithful to their cultural anti-Semitic credo, considered the slaughter to be just. (HWE, PP. 392-3)
There are no prima facie grounds for dismissing Goldhagen's thesis. It is not intrinsically racist or otherwise illegitimate. There is no obvious reason why a culture cannot be fanatically consumed by hatred. One may further recall that, Goldhagen's claims to novelty notwithstanding, his argument is not altogether new. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the genesis of the Final Solution was located in a twisted 'German mind' or 'German character'.(6) The departure point of much 'Holocaust scholarship' is that Germans, nurtured on anti-Semitism, were thirsting for a 'war against the Jews'. On the eve of Hitler's ascension to power, wrote Lucy Dawidowicz, Germany was 'a world intoxicated with hate, driven by paranoia, enemies everywhere, the Jew lurking behind each one.'(7) This is also the dominant image of the Nazi extermination among Jews and in popular culture generally.
Bolstered as it is by a bulging scholarly apparatus, the audacious sweep, of Goldhagen's thesis nonetheless merits emphasis. He argues that, for centuries, nearly every German was possessed of a homicidal animus toward Jews. Thus, he suggests that more than 80-90 per cent of the German people would have relished the occasion to torture and murder Jews.(8) Goldhagen takes to task the 'conventional explanations' which supposedly ignore the 'identity of the victims': 'That the victims were Jewish -- according to the logic of these explanations -- is irrelevant.' Indeed, he declaims that we must 'abandon the assumption that, by and large, Germans in the nineteenth and twentieth century were not anti-Semitic.'(HWE, pp. 13, 30-1, original emphasis) In a rejoinder to critics, Goldhagen credits his own book as being the first to correct this misconception: 'Most seem now to agree that anti-Semitism was a necessary cause of the Holocaust... ' (9) Yet, one is hard-pressed to name a single account of the Nazi genocide that doesn't crucially situate it within the context of German anti-Semitism. Goldhagen's true distinction is to [ 41] argue that German anti-Semitism was not only a significant but rather that it was the sufficient condition for perpetrating the extermination of the Jews: 'With regard to the motivational cause of the Holocaust, for the vast majority of perpetrators, a monocausal explanation does suffice.' (10)
The Hitlerite regime accordingly plays a subordinate role in Goldhagen's comprehension of the Final Solution. Inasmuch as the inclination for 'killing' Jews 'predated Nazi political power', the Nazis were 'easily able to harness the perpetrators' preexisting anti-Semitism once Hitler gave the order to undertake the extermination.' (HWE, PP. 399, 463; see also pp. 418-19) All Hitler did was 'unleash the pent-up anti-Semitic passion', 'unshackle and thereby activate Germans' preexisting, pent-up anti-Semitism', and so on. (HWE, pp. 95, 442,443)
Why was the Holocaust Unique to Germany?
Leaving to one side the question of its veracity, this last formulation of Goldhagen's is still problematic. Consider that he repeatedly contradicts it. Had it not been for 'Hitler's moral authority', Goldhagen observes, the ,vast majority of Germans never would have contemplated' the genocide against the Jews. (11) It was the Nazis' unprecedentedly 'extreme and thoroughgoing ... cognitive-moral revolution' that, Goldhagen suggests, produced Germany's 'lethal political culture'. (HWE, p. 456; see also Reply, p. 42) Unaware that 'these Germans were like no Germans they had ever known', Goldhagen explains, Soviet Jerry 'initially greeted' the Nazi soldiers 'obligingly and without hostility.' (HWE, p. 587 n. 87) But if Goldhagen's thesis is correct, these Germans were like all other Germans.
On a related issue, to explain why the genocide unfolded in Germany and not elsewhere, Goldhagen points up the centrality of Hitler's regime: 'Whatever the anti-Semitic traditions were in other European countries, it was only in Germany that an openly and rabidly anti-Semitic movement came to power... that was bent upon turning anti-Semitic fantasy into state organized genocidal slaughter.'(HWE, p. 419; see also Reply, p. 43.) Yet Goldhagen's explanation evades an embarrassingly obvious question: if other Europeans were as anti-Semitic as Germans which is what this argument assumes why didn't a 'rabidly anti-Semitic movement' come to power elsewhere? True, Goldhagen argues that 'Had there not been an economic depression in Germany, then the Nazis, in all likelihood, would never have come to power.'(Reply, p. 42; see also HWE, p. 87) But that simply evades another obvious question: if Germans were so possessed by a fanatical anti-Semitism -- more on which directly -- why did a 'rabidly anti-Semitic movement' have to await an economic depression to attain power?
Indeed, Hitler's Willing Executioners is a monument to question-begging. Eschewing the claim that it is 'inexplicable', Goldhagen sets as his  objective to 'explain why the Holocaust occurred, to explain how it could occur.' He concludes that it 'is explicable historically'. (HWE, pp. 5,455) Goldhagen's thesis, however, neither renders the Nazi holocaust intelligible nor is it historical. For argument's sake, let us assume that Goldhagen is correct. Consumed by a ferocious loathing of the Jews, the German people jumped at Hitter's invitation to exterminate them. Yet the question still remains, whence the hatred of Jews? A nation of genocidal racists is, after all, not exactly a commonplace.
On this crucial issue, Goldhagen sheds no light. Anti-Semitism, he suggests, was symptomatic of a much deeper German malaise. It served the Germans as a 'moral rationale' for releasing 'destructive and ferocious passions that are usually tamed and curbed by civilization.' (HWE, p. 397) Yet he neither explains why these normally quiescent passions burst forth in Germany nor why they were directed against the Jews. Goldhagen depicts anti-Semitism as the manifestation of a deranged state. The Germans were 'pathologically ill ... struck with the illness of sadism ... diseased ... tyrannical, sadistic', 'psychopathic' (HWE, pp. 397, 450, quoting a 'keen diarist of the Warsaw Ghetto'), in thrall of 'absolutely fantastical ... beliefs that ordinarily only madmen have of others ... prone to wild, "magical thinking"' (HWE, p. 412), and so on. (12) Goldhagen never explains, however, why the Germans succumbed and why the Jews fell victim to this derangement.
In what is surely the book's most evocative analogy, Goldhagen compares the Germans to 'crazy' Captain Ahab. Recalling Melville's memorable description of Ahab's insanely hateful state as he harpoons the whale, Goldhagen writes: 'Germans' violent anger at the Jews is akin to the passion that drove Ahab to hunt Moby Dick.'(HWE, pp. 398-9) Yet even if the Germans were 'crazy' like Ahab, it still remains to explain what drove them to such a frenzied state. In Ahab's case, the motive is clear: Moby Dick had earlier mangled him. To quote Melville from the passage Goldhagen excerpts: 'It was revenge.' But Goldhagen plainly does not believe the Jews inflicted violent injury on Germans. Indeed, he emphatically denies that Jews bear any responsibility for anti-Semitism: 'the existence of anti-Semitism and the content of anti-Semitic charges... are fundamentally not a response to any objective evaluation of Jewish actions... anti-Semitism draws on cultural sources that are independent of the Jews' nature and actions.' (HWE, p. 39, original emphasis) In an almost comically circular argument, Goldhagen concludes that the Germans' Ahab-like loathing of the Jews originated in their loathing of the Jews: 'Germans' anti-Semitism was the basis of their profound hatred of the Jews and the psychological impulse to make them suffer.'(HWE, p. 584 n. 62; see also p. 399). ( 13) This argument recalls one of Goldhagen's key theoretical insights: 'The motivational dimension is the most crucial for explaining the perpetrators' willingness to act.'(HWE, p. 20)  Goldhagen approvingly cites the Sonderweg argument that 'Germany developed along a singular path, setting it apart from other western countries.' (HWE, p. 419) But Goldhagen's thesis has precious little in common with this argument. Unlike the Sonderweg proponents, he never once anchors the deformations of the German character in temporal developments. Rather, the perverted German consciousness of Goldhagen's making floats above and persists in spite of history. Just how little Goldhagen's argument has in common with any school of history is pointed up by his conclusion that the Germans' 'absurd beliefs... rapidly dissipated' after the Second World War. (HWE, pp. 593-4 n. 53; see also p. 582 n. 38) Indeed, Germans today are 'democrats, committed democrats.' (14) Emerging from oblivion and enduring for centuries, the psychopathic German mind vanished again into oblivion in the space of a few decades. Thus Goldhagen renders the Nazi holocaust 'explicable historically'.
The merit of his thesis, Goldhagen contends, is that it recognizes that 'each individual made choices about how to treat Jews.' Thus, it 'restores the notion of individual responsibility'. (Reply, p. 38) Yet if Goldhagen's thesis is correct, the exact opposite is true. Germans bear no individual or, for that matter, collective guilt. After all, German culture was 'radically different' from ours. It shared none of our basic values. Killing Jews could accordingly be done in 'good conscience.' (HWE, p. 15) Germans perceived Jews the way we perceive roaches. They did not know better. They could not know better. It was a homogeneously sick society. Moral culpability, however, presumes moral awareness. Touted as a searing indictment of Germans, Goldhagen's thesis is, in fact, their perfect alibi. Who can condemn a 'crazy' people?
2. Explaining Everything
Goldhagen deploys two analytically distinct strategies to prove his thesis. The first derives from his own primary research on the German perpetrators of the genocide. Goldhagen maintains that certain of his findings 'defy all of the conventional explanations.' (HWE, p. 391) In particular, he argues that only a murderously anti-Semitic culture can account for the wanton cruelty of the Germans. (Reply, pp. 38-9) Yet, it is not at all obvious why Goldhagen's thesis is more compelling than one that, say, includes the legacy of German anti-Semitism exacerbated by the incessant, inflammatory Jew-baiting of Nazi propaganda, and further exacerbated by the brutalizing effects of a singularly barbarous war. It is perhaps true, as Goldhagen suggests, that such a 'patchwork explanation' does not yet fully plumb the depths of German bestiality. (HWE, p. 391) But Goldhagen himself acknowledges that neither does his theory. Ultimately, he concedes, the immensity of German cruelty 'remains hard to fathom' and 'the extent and nature of German anti-Semitism' cannot explain it. (HWE, pp. 584 n. 62, 584 n. 65; see also p. 399)
The second thrust of Goldhagen's argument is to demonstrate historically that German society was seething with virulent anti-Semitism on the eve of Hitier's ascension to power. The undertaking is a daunting  one. Goldhagen relies almost entirely on the recent secondary literature on German anti-Semitism. He acknowledges that the evidence does not in a 'definitive' manner prove his conclusions. (HWE, p. 47) The problem, however, is rather larger. Profuse as it is, not a jot of this scholarship sustains Goldhagen's thesis. No serious German historian discounts the legacy of German anti-Semitism; none, however, maintains that German anti-Semitism was in itself sufficiently virulent to account for the Nazi genocide.(15) Indeed, this is one reason why versions of Goldhagen's thesis have been discarded in serious scholarly inquiry. The task Goldhagen sets himself is to force the new evidence into the Procrustean bed of an obsolete theory. To meet this challenge, Goldhagen fashions a new model of anti-Semitism. Thomas Kuhn suggested that a new paradigm comes into existence when anomalies crop up that the old one can no longer accommodate. The purpose of Goldhagen's new paradigm, however, is to make the anomalies fit the old one.
The essence of Goldhagen's new paradigm is what he calls 'eliminationist anti-Semitism'. Goldhagen situates German anti-Semitism along a continuous spectrum. At one extreme was the German perception that Jews were vaguely different. At the other extreme was the perception that Jews were distinctly evil. Between these poles was the perception that Jews were more or less flawed. Moving from one end of the spectrum to the other, the complementary German desire to eliminate an unappealing feature of the Jews rapidly yielded to the desire to eliminate Jews altogether. 'The eliminationist mind-set', Goldhagen proclaims, 'tended towards an exterminationist one.' (HWE, p. 71, emphasis in original; see also pp. 23, 77, 444) Thus, any German who questioned the group loyalty or objected to the business practices of Jews was effectively a Nazi brute. Wedded as it was to an assimilationist version of the 'eliminationist mind-set', even German liberalism inexorably led to Auschwitz.
Rescuing an otherwise improbable thesis, 'eliminationist anti-Semitism' serves as Goldhagen's deus ex machina. Indeed, using this device, it is not at all difficult to prove that nearly every German was a latent Hitler. It would also not be at all difficult to prove that nearly every white American is a latent Grand Wizard. How many white Americans do not harbour any negative stereotypes about black people? If Goldhagen is correct, we are all closet racial psychopaths. Why then did the 'Holocaust' happen in Germany? If we all suffer from an 'eliminationist mind-set' then that alone cannot account for what Goldhagen calls a 'sui generis event'. (HWE, p. 419)
Casting as a theoretical novelty the distinction between 'type[s] of anti-Semitism', Goldhagen dismisses previous scholars who 'typically... treated' anti-Semitism 'in an undifferentiated manner'. Before he came along, 'a person [was] either an anti-Semite or not.' (HWE, pp. 34-5; see also Reply, p. 41) Leaving aside the fact that the contrast he proposes  between, say, religious and racial or latent and manifest anti-Semitism is standard in the Nazi holocaust literatures, (16) it is Goldhagen himself who radically undercuts all distinctions: on the 'eliminationist' spectrum, every manifestation of anti-Semitism and even philosemitism 'tend[s] strongly towards a genocidal "solution".' (17)
In this connection, Goldhagen's resolution of a key controversy in the Nazi holocaust literature is noteworthy. Historians have long disputed whether Hitler sought from the outset (the intentionalist school) or was pressed by circumstances (the functionalist school) to exterminate the Jews. To prove the intentionalist thesis, Goldhagen simply lumps Hitier's various initiatives together: they were all effectively genocidal. Thus, Hitier's pre-invasion orders that limited the extermination of Soviet Jews to adult males was 'still genocidal'. His ghettoization and deportation schemes were 'bloodlessly genocidal', 'proto-genocidal', 'psychologically and ideologically the functional, if not the eventual, actual equivalent of genocide', 'quasi-genocidal', 'bloodless equivalents of genocide', and so on. Even the destruction of Jewish synagogues during Kristallnacht was a 'proto-genocidal assault... the psychic equivalent of genocide.'(18) The very basis of the intentionalist-functionalist controversy, however, is that the distinction between riot, expulsion, and mass murder, on the one hand, and genocide, on the other, does count. Why else focus on Hitier's decision to initiate the judeocide? Goldhagen's 'proof annuls the debate's central premise. It also annuls the central premise of his own book. If all these policies evidence genocidal intent, then genocidal intent is very far from uncommon in human history. Yet, Goldhagen maintains that 'the Holocaust is ... utterly new', and it is 'crucially' the genocidal intent that makes it so. (HWE, p. 5; Reply, p. 45)
Once Goldhagen attends to the matter of distinctions, the bankruptcy of his explanatory model stands exposed. Thus, he also enters the strong caveat that German 'eliminationist anti-Semitism' was equally compatible with a broad range of social outcomes. It was 'multipotential.' Indeed, 'eliminationist anti-Semitism' could 'obvious[ly]'culminate in everything from 'total assimilation' to 'total annihilation', with 'verbal assault', 'legal  restraints', 'physical assault', 'physical separation in ghettos', 'forcible and violent expulsion', all being intermediate possibilities. HWE, pp. 69, 70, 132-6, 444, 494 n. 92) These multiple options, Goldhagen further elucidates, 'were rough functional equivalents from the vantage point of the perpetrators.' (HWE, p. 135; see also p. 70) Yet, if all these policy options were 'rough functional equivalents' for the 'eliminationist mind-set', then that mind-set plainly cannot account for the genocidal variant. So capacious is his conceptual device, Goldhagen suggests, that it can explain in a 'logical' manner the full gamut of unfolding German anti-Jewish policies. (HWE, p. 444) True it explains all of them; it also explains none.
Goldhagen's survey of German anti-Semitism roughly divides at the Nazis' ascension to power. In the next two sections, I shall consider his analysis of Germany before and after the Nazis took over.
3. Pre-Nazi Germany
In his introductory chapter, Goldhagen emphasizes an analytical distinction: 'Some anti-Semitisms become woven into the moral order of society; others do not.' Theorizing that the former are potentially more explosive, Goldhagen puts 'the conception of Jews in medieval Christendom' in this category: 'its uncompromising non-pluralistic and intolerant view of the moral basis of society... held the Jews to violate the moral order of the world ... Jews came to represent ... much of the evil in the world; they not only represented it but also came to be seen by Christians as being synonymous with it, indeed as being self-willed agents of evil.' (HWE, pp. 37-8; see also p. 51) Alas, Goldhagen also argues that anti-Semitism was not at the core of pre-modern Christianity: 'In medieval times ... Jews were seen to be responsible for many ills, but they remained always somewhat peripheral, on the fringes, spatially and theologically, of the Christian world, not central to its understanding of the world's troubles ... even if the Jews were to disappear, the Devil, the ultimate source of evil, would remain.' (HWE, p. 67; see also p. 77) Apart from his theoretical insight -- or perhaps insights -- Goldhagen skips quickly over the pre-modern era.
Except perhaps for an obscure, unpublished, thirty-year-old doctoral dissertation, Goldhagen acknowledges, the extant scholarly literature on modern German anti-Semitism does not reach his conclusions. If, however, the same findings are 'reconceptualize[d]' in a 'new analytical and interpretative framework', they do, he believes, sustain his novel thesis. (HWE, pp. 488 n. 17, 76-7; see also Reply, p. 41) Summarizing his conclusions for the nineteenth century through World War I, Goldhagen writes:
It is... incontestable that the fundamentals of Nazi anti-Semitism... had deep roots in Germany, was part of the cultural cognitive model of German society, and was integral to German political culture. It is incontestable that racial anti-Semitism was the salient form of anti-Semitism in Germany and that it was broadly part of the public conversation of German society. It is incontestable that it had enormously wide and solid institutional and political support in Germany at various times ... It is incontestable that this racial anti-Semitism which held the Jews to pose a mortal threat to Germany was pregnant with murder. (HWE, pp. 74-5; see also p. 77)
 No serious historian doubts that anti-Semitism persisted in modern Germany. The question is, what was its scope and nature? (19) Goldhagen argues that anti-Semitism was ubiquitous in Germany. Yet German Social-Democracy forcefully denounced anti-Semitism and, as the single largest political party (the SPD), commanded the allegiance of fully a third of the electorate by the early twentieth century. Not the working-class base, Goldhagen suggests, but only 'the core of the socialist movement, its intellectuals and leaders' repudiated anti-Semitism. It was merely a 'small group'. (HWE, p. 74; see also p. 72) The only source he cites is Peter Pulzer's Jews and the German State, which enters no such qualification.(20) Indeed, turning to Pulzer's authoritative companion study, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, we learn that 'anti-Semitism drew little strength from ... the working-class ... The [German worker] knew that national and religious arguments were at best irrelevant to a solution of his problems and at worst a deliberate attempt to cloud his view of the "real issues".' (21) A compelling example of popular German anti-Semitism cited by Goldhagen is the recurrence of ritual murder accusations. 'In Germany and the Austrian Empire', he reports, ,twelve such trials took lace between 1867 and 1914.'(HWE, pp. 63-4) Goldhagen cites Pulzer's The Rise of political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria. Turning to the cited page, we find that Goldhagen has reversed the import of Pulzer's finding. The remainder of the sentence reads: 'eleven of which collapsed although the trials were by jury'.(22)
To further document the extent of German anti-Semitism, Goldhagen recalls a 'spontaneous, extremely broad-based, and genuine' petition campaign in Bavaria opposing the full equality of Jews. Yet, the corresponding note tucked in the book's back pages reveals that actually the campaign was carefully orchestrated by 'priests and other anti-Jewish agitators' and that 'many' signatories were 'indifferent' to the Jews. Ian Kershaw adds that 'many petitioners... knew little of any Jewish Question.' Unfazed, Goldhagen concludes his endnote: 'because agitators could so easily induce them to anti-Semitic expression', the petition drive still proves 'how anti-Semitic Bavarians were' . (23)
 Even if Goldhagen were able to prove that German culture was 'axiomatically anti-Semitic'(HWE, p. 59), that in itself would not yet prove that the German people strained at the bit to murder Jews. Thus, as seen above, Goldhagen also argues that German anti-Semitism was pervasively homicidal. Consider some other representative passages:
By the end of the nineteenth century, the view that Jews posed extreme danger to Germany and that the source of their perniciousness was immutable, namely their race, and the consequential belief that the Jews had to be eliminated from Germany were extremely widespread in German society. The tendency to consider and propose the most radical form of elimination -- that is, extermination -- was already strong and had been given much voice. (HWE, p. 72, original emphasis)
... the cognitive model of Nazi anti-Semitism had taken shape well before the Nazis came to power, and ... this model, throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was also extremely widespread in all social classes and sectors of German society, for it was deeply embedded in German cultural and political life and conversation, as well as integrated into the moral structure of society. (HWE, p. 77)
Pulzer, however, maintains that only 'a small, though growing, and noisy minority' even held that 'Jews were a separate, unassimilable race'. A second authority frequently cited by Goldhagen, Shulamit Volkov, similarly concludes that nineteenth-century German anti-Semitism did not 'bring forth' the Nazi genocide. Indeed, it was 'closer to the French version of that time than to later National Socialist positions.' (24)
The Jews as a Separate Race
To document his thesis, Goldhagen repeatedly points to the proliferation of radically anti-Semitic literature in Germany. For instance, he cites the 'startling' statistic that 19 of 51 'prominent anti-Semitic writers' advocated the 'physical extermination of tbe Jews.''(HWE, p. 71, original emphasis; see also p. 64) One would perhaps also want to note that an overwhelming majority did not. As Goldhagen himself acknowledges two pages earlier: 'a large percentage of the anti-Semites proposed no action at all.' Goldhagen deems this last fact 'astonishing' -- but it would be astonishing only if his thesis were true. Goldhagen also never asks who read this literature. Scoring Germany as the birthplace and headquarters of 'scientific' anti-Semitism, Eva Reichmann nonetheless cautions that 'an anti-Semitic literature does not of necessity prove a wide anti-Semitic response among the public. ' (25)
Ill suited to his thesis, the scholarly evidence is recast by Goldhagen with  the aid of his novel methodology. (26) Thus, Goldhagen suggests that any German who believed that Jews constituted a 'religion, nation, political group, or race' and thus were an 'alien body within Germany', or that Jews engaged in 'underhanded' or 'parasitic' business activities fell on the eliminationist spectrum gliding to murder. (27) The identical image of Jews as a 'nation' or 'race' that was 'alien' to and 'parasitical' on European society was also, however, a staple of Zionist ideology. Indeed, as one Zionist historian copiously documents, 'the Jewish self-criticism so widespread among the German Zionist intelligentsia often seemed dangerously similar to the plaints of the German anti-Semites.' (28) Does that make all Zionists homicidal anti-Semites as well? Pressed into Goldhagen's conceptual meat grinder, even German 'liberals', 'philosemites', and 'Progressives', with their ambivalent prescriptions for Jewish emancipation, emerge as racial psychopaths. Thus, Goldhagen reckons that Enlightenment Germans were 'anti-Semites in sheep's clothing', 'philosemitic anti-Semites', in thrall to the 'assimilationist version of the eliminationist mind-set', and so forth. (HWE, pp. 56-9, 70, 74, 78) Small wonder that Goldhagen is able to prove that Germany was a nation of murderous Jew-haters.
For all its social turbulence, modern Germany prior to Hitler witnessed only episodic spasms of anti-Jewish violence. Indeed, there was no equivalent of the riots that attended the Dreyfus Affair or the pogroms in Russia. If Germany was brimming with pathological anti-Semites, why did Jews so rarely suffer their wrath? Alas, Goldhagen only briefly touches on this -- for his thesis -- plainly pivotal question. He writes, 'As powerful and potentially violent as the anti-Semitism was ... the state would not allow it to become the basis of collective social action of this  sort. Wilhelmine Germany would not tolerate the organized violence for which the anti-Semites appeared to long.'(HWE, p. 72) Yet, why was the State immune to the pathological anti-Semitism infecting the German body-politic? Indeed, winning the 1893 election, the Conservative Party, which according to Goldhagen was 'thoroughly anti-Semitic', along with allied avowedly anti-Semitic parties, proved a force to reckon with in the State. (HWE, pp. 56, 74-6) Why did these violent anti-Semites 'not tolerate' anti-Semitic violence?
Disobeying orders that they opposed, the Germans did not, according to Goldhagen, blindly defer to State authority. Indeed, if the State violated a normative value, 'ordinary citizens' entered into 'open rebellion' against, and 'battled in the streets... in defiance of ... and in order to overthrow it.' (HWE, pp. 381-2) Goldhagen further maintains that all the non-governmental centres of power in Germany -- what he calls its 'Tocquevillian substructure' -- were packed with insane Jew-haters. (HWE, pp. 59-60, 72-4) If they were thus driven by fanatical anti-Semitism that was the German 'cultural norm' (HWE, p. 61), the German people should have risen up against the Wilheimine state that was shielding the Jews. Jewish blood should have been flowing in German streets. Luckily for the Jews, but unluckily for Goldhagen's thesis, this never happened. Ironically, the only 'continual legislative and parliamentary battles', 'bitter political fights', and so forth Goldhagen chronicles were over Jewish emancipation. (HWE, p. 56) If, as Goldhagen writes in the very same paragraphs, the 'vast majority' of Germans were 'thoroughly anti-Semitic', why was there such intense political discord on the Jewish Question?
Goldhagen acknowledges only parenthetically that, for all the entrenched anti-Semitism, modern German Jews experienced a 'meteoric rise from pariah status.' (HWE, p. 78) Indeed, German Jerry at the century's turn -- recalls one historian -- 'thrived in this atmosphere of imperfect toleration; their coreligionists throughout the world ... looked to them for support and leadership.' (29) Goldhagen wisely does not even try to reconcile the 'meteoric rise' of German Jews with the thesis that Germany was seething with psychopathic anti-Semitism.
Saturated with Jew-hatred, Weimar Germany was, according to Goldhagen, all of a piece. Thus 'virtually every major institution and group ... was permeated by anti-Semitism', 'nearly every political group in the country shunned the Jews', 'Jews, though ferociously attacked, found virtually no defenders', 'the public conversation about Jews was almost wholly negative', and so on, and so on. (HWE, pp. 82-4)
It is true that anti-Semitism persisted in the Weimar era. Goldhagen recalls the 'Aryan paragraphs' that restricted Jewish entry into universities and student organizations. (HWE, p. 83) Yet Jews in England and the US suffered similar exclusions. Popular anti-Semitic violence occasionally flared up during the years 1917-23 when German society tottered on the brink of total collapse. Once the new regime stabilized, however, almost all vandalization of Jewish property was connected  with the Nazis. Unlike Goldhagen, Pulzer reports that the Social-Democratic Party proved during Weimar 'a committed opponent of organized anti-Semitism', and Niewyck reports that 'the penetration of anti-Jewish opinions into the organized Socialist working class was kept to an unmeasurable minimum'. To document that the 'SPD did little to attack the Nazis 'anti-Semitism', Goldhagen cites Donna Harsch's study, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism. (HWE, p. 497 n. 16) Turning to the cited page, we learn that, although the SPD did react defensively to slurs that it was beholden to the Jewish community, 'all Social Democrats' proved 'consistent' in their 'advocacy of the civil rights of German and East European Jews'.(30)
Goldhagen's monochromatic thumbnail sketch also completely omits the remarkable successes registered by German Jews. Occupying a salient place in German life, Weimar Jewry assembled a record of achievements in the arts, politics and the economy rivaled only by that of American Jewry after World War II. 'Had the German population been uniquely rabid in its hatred', Sarah Gordon reasonably concludes, 'it is inconceivable that Jews could have fared so well, especially compared to Jews in other nations.' (31)
How Public Were Hitler's Intentions?
Shouting from the rooftops his maniacal hatred of the Jews, Hitler fully and incessantly apprised the German people, according to Goldhagen, of his genocidal plans: 'In his writing, speeches, and conversation, Hitler was direct and clear. Germany's enemies at home and abroad were to be destroyed or rendered inert. No one who heard or read Hitler could have missed this clarion message.' (HWE, p. 86) And again: 'Rarely has a national leader so openly, frequently, and emphatically announced an apocalyptic intention -- in this case, to destroy Jewish power and even the Jews themselves -- and made good on his promise.' (HWE, p. 162; see also p. 424)
Yet, Goldhagen adduces only three pieces of evidence for the period up to the eve of World War II to document this claim: the notorious passage from Mein Kampf, which perhaps few Germans read and even fewer took literally; a speech of 1920 when Hitler was 'still politically obscure'; and Hitler's conditional and ambiguous January 1939 'prophecy', which was largely ignored by a German public preoccupied with the impending war.(32)
 Hitler's public statements have been subject to numerous analyses. None confirm Goldhagen's depiction. Indeed, yet again directly contradicting his own thesis, Goldhagen reports that Hitler 'prudently would not repeat in public' his explicitly genocidal aims 'after he had achieved national prominence'. Goldhagen also validates Goebbels's boast in 1944 that, before seizing power, the Nazis 'had not made their ultimate intentions known publicly'. (Goldhagen's paraphrase; HWE, pp. 425, 589 n. 13) The actual documentary record for the period through 1939 shows that: 1) Hitier's earliest speeches were pervasively anti-Semitic; 2) realizing, however, that anti-Marxism had a wider appeal than anti-Semitism, Hitler muted his attacks on Jews once he entered public life in 1923; 3) attacks on Jews figured only marginally in Hitier's speeches during the years immediately preceding his electoral triumph; 4) upon taking power and until the eve of World War II, Hitler publicly announced as his ultimate goal not the annihilation but the forced emigration of the Jews. (33)
'Even during the War, when his machinery of destruction was running at top capacity', Max Domanis recalls, Hitler 'confined his remarks on a massacre of Jews to threats within the scope of his foreign policy, knowing only too well that such an openly propagated program of extermination was certain to meet with resistance from the majority of the German people and the bulk of his parry followers.' (34) Yet, Goldhagen writes: 'Hitler announced many times, emphatically, that the war would end in the extermination of the Jews. The killing met with general understanding, if not approval.' The endnote refers readers to Max Domarus. (HWE, pp. 8,477 n. 10)
The Nazi genocide, Goldhagen elucidates, was 'given shape and energized by a leader, Hitler, who was adored by the vast majority of the  German people, a leader who was known to be committed wholeheartedly to the unfolding, brutal eliminationist program.'(HWE, p. 419) Pointing up 'Hitler's enormous popularity and the legitimacy that it helped engender for the regime', Goldhagen elsewhere refers readers to Ian Kershaw's important study, The 'Hitler Myth'. (HWE, p. 512 n. 2) Yet Goldhagen omits altogether Kershaw's main finding -- that anti-Semitism never figured centrally in Hitler's mass appeal. Thus Kershaw typically writes:
Anti-Semitism, despite its pivotal place in Hitler's 'world view', was of only secondary importance in cementing the bonds between Fuhrer and people which provided the Third Reich with its popular legitimation and basis of plebiscitary acclamation. At the same time, the principle of excluding the Jews from German society was itself widely and increasingly popular, and Hitler's hatred of the Jews -- baleful in its threats but linked to the condoning of lawful, 'rational' action, not the unpopular crude violence and brutality of the Party's 'gutter' elements -- was certainly an acceptable component of his popular image, even if it was an element 'taken on board' rather than forming a centrally motivating factor for most Germans.
Indeed, 'during the 1930s ... when his popularity was soaring to dizzy heights', Kershaw underlines, Hitler 'was extremely careful to avoid public association with the generally unpopular pogrom-type anti-Semitic outrages.' (35)
Was Anti-Semitism Appealing?
Like Hitler's public persona, the electoral cycle culminating in the Nazi victory has been closely scrutinized by historians. These contests were a uniquely sensitive barometer of the fluctuations in German popular opinion. The consensus of the scholarly literature is that anti-Semitism did not figure centrally in the Nazis' ultimate success at the polls. (36) Before the massive economic depression sent German society reeling, neither the Nazis nor any of the other radical anti-Semitic parties were able to garner more than a minuscule percentage of the votes. Even as late as 1928, only 2.8 per cent of the German electorate cast ballots for the Nazi Party. The subsequent spectacular upswing in the Nazis' electoral fortunes was due  overwhelmingly to the solutions they proposed for Germany's economic crisis. Not the Jews but Marxism and Social Democracy served as the prime scapegoats of Nazi propaganda. Anti-Semitism was not altogether jettisoned by the Nazis; it did not, however, account for the core of their support. In perhaps the single most illuminating interpretive study of the Nazi phenomenon, Eva Reichmann subtly elucidates this relationship:
In an excessively complicated situation Nazism offered to a society in full disintegration a political diet whose disastrous effects this society was no longer able to realize. People felt that it contained titbits for every palate. The titbits were, so to speak, coated with anti-Semitism.... But it was not the covering for the sake of which they were greedily swallowed.... The wrapping in which the new security, the new self-assurance, the exculpation, the permission to hate was served might equally well have had another colour and another spice.
The 'conclusiveness of this analogy', Reichmann significantly adds, is 'confirmed' by the absence of popular anti-Semitic malice prior to the Nazi victory:
If those people who, under the influence of anti-Semitic propaganda, had been moved by outright hatred of the Jews, their practical aggression against them would have been excessive after the Jews had been openly abandoned to the people's fury. Violence would not then have been limited to the organized activities of Nazi gangs, but would have become endemic in the whole people and seriously endangered the life of every Jew in Germany. This, however, did not happen. Even during the years in which the party increased by leaps and bounds, spontaneous terrorist assaults on Jews were extremely rare ... In spite of the ardent efforts of the [Nazi Party], the boycott against Jewish shopkeepers and professional men before the seizure of power was negligible, although this would have been an inconspicuous and safe way of demonstrating one's anti-Jewish feeling. From all this all but complete lack of practical anti-Semitic reactions at a time when the behaviour of the public was still a correct index to its sentiments, it can only be inferred that the overwhelming majority of the people did not feel their relations to the Jewish minority as unbearable. (37)
Goldhagen dispatches the crucial cycle of elections culminating in the Nazi victory in one page. He highlights that, in the July 1932 election -- the Nazis' best showing in an open contest -- 'almost fourteen million Germans, 37.4 per cent of the voters, cast their lots for Hitler.'(HWE, p. 87, original emphasis) He might also have highlighted that more than twenty three million Germans, 62.6 per cent of the voters, did not cast their lot for Hitler. 'There is no doubt', Goldhagen concludes, 'that Hitler's virulent, lethal-sounding anti-Semitism did not at the very least deter Germans by the millions from throwing their support to him.'(HWE, p. 497 n. 22) This finding, however, feebly sustains Goldhagen's thesis. If,  as Goldhagen claims, the Germans were straining at the bit to murder the Jews, and if, as he claims, Hitler promised to 'unleash' them if elected, then Germans should have voted for Hitler not despite but because of his anti-Semitism. Not even Goldhagen pretends this was the case. Indeed, he acknowledges that 'many people ... welcomed Nazism while disliking certain of its aspects as transient excrescences upon the body of the Party which Hitler ... would slough off as so many alien accretions.' (HWE, p. 435) This was precisely the case with Nazi anti-Semitism. (38) Finally, to demonstrate Hitler's greater popularity right after the seizure of power, Goldhagen recalls that the throttling of all dissent 'did not deter voters, but increased the Nazi vote to over seventeen million people' in March 1933. (HWE, p. 87) One may have supposed that this increment in Nazi votes was perhaps because all dissent was throttled. Imagine if, to demonstrate the Communist regime's growing popular appeal, a Soviet historian argued that massive repression 'did not deter, but increased the vote for Stalin to over...'It is doubtful that even Pravda would have noticed such a book.
4. The Nazi Years, 1933-1939
In her study of Nazism, Eva Reichmann observes that the 'spontaneous' German attitude toward Jews can no longer be gauged after Hitler's ascension to power. Totalitarian rule corrupted Germans . (39) Goldhagen disagrees. Consistent with his 'monocausal explanation', Goldhagen maintains that the Nazi regime's propaganda and repressive apparatuses did not do special injury to German-Jewish relations. 'It must be emphasized', Goldhagen writes, 'that in no sense did the Nazis "brainwash" the German people.' Rather, the Germans were already in thrall to a 'hallucinatory, demonized image of Jews' long before Hitler came on the scene. (40) Why then did the Nazi regime invest so much of its resources in fomenting Jew-hatred? Goldhagen recalls, for instance, that 'the most consistent, frequently acted upon and pervasive German governmental policy' was 'constant, ubiquitous, anti-Semitic vituperation issued from ... public organs, ranging from Hitier's own speeches, to never-ending installments in Germany's radio, newspapers, magazines, and journals, to films, to public signage and verbal fusillades, to schoolbooks.' Indeed, Goldhagen himself stresses that this 'incessant anti-Semitic barrage' took an 'enormous toll' not only on Jews but 'also on Germans', and was aimed at 'Preparing Germans for still more drastic eliminationist measures.'(HWE, pp. 136, 124, 137)
Hitler's Willing Executioners is in fact replete with illustrations, cited approvingly by Goldhagen, that Nazi Jew-baiting did poison German sensibilities. Germans embraced anti-Semitism, an Einsatzkommando confesses, because 'it was hammered into us, during the years of propaganda, again and again, that the Jews were the ruin of every Volk in the midst of which they appear and that peace would reign in Europe only... when the Jewish race is exterminated.' (HWE, p. 442). Popular anti-Semitism 'was, after all, no surprise', a German Jew explained in  1942. 'Because for nearly ten years the inferiority and harmfulness of the Jews has been emphasized in every newspaper, morning and evening, in every radio broadcast and on many posters, etc., without a voice in favour of the Jews being permitted to be raised.' (HWE, p. 449) 'I believed the propaganda that all Jews were criminals and subhumans', a former murderous police battalion member discloses, 'and that they were the cause of Germany's decline after the First World War.' (HWE, p. 179) 'Nazi schooling produced a generation of human beings in Nazi Germany so different from normal American youth', an American educator recalls, 'that mere academic comparison seems inane.'(HWE, p. 27)
Indeed, Goldhagen's crowning piece of evidence confutes the book's central thesis. 'In what may be the most significant and illuminating testimony given after the war', Goldhagen reports, an 'expert legal brief' submitted at Nuremberg argued that the Einsatzgruppen 'really believed' that Germany was locked in mortal combat with the Jewish agents of a Bolshevik conspiracy. Quoting from this 'all but neglected' document, Goldhagen locates the 'source' of these psychotic beliefs not in a murderously anti-Semitic German culture but in Nazi propaganda: 'it cannot be doubted that National Socialism had succeeded to the fullest extent in convincing public opinion and furthermore the overwhelming majority of the German people of the identity of Bolshevism and Jewry.' (HWE, p. 393, original emphasis) Goldhagen seems totally unaware that he has just highlighted his 'monocausal explanation' of the -Nazi genocide into oblivion. (41)
Citing the findings of Robert Gellately, 'the foremost expert on the Gestapo', Goldhagen reports that only a tiny handful of Germans were prosecuted for verbally dissenting from Nazi anti-Semitism. According to Goldhagen, this German silence cannot, however, be credited to repression. Contrary to widespread belief, Goldhagen maintains, the Hitlerian state was benign. The Nazis ruled 'without massive coercion and violence'. The regime 'was, on the whole, consensual'. Germans generally 'accepted the system and Hitier's authority as desirable and legitimate'. (HWE, pp. 132, 429-30, 456)
Yet Gellately situates his findings in a radically different context from Goldhagen's. He proceeds 'from the assumption that fear was indeed prevalent among the German people.' To pretend otherwise, he asserts, is 'foolish'. Denunciation to settle private scores was rampant. Especially vulnerable were Germans critical of Nazi anti-Semitism. With the promulgation of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, 'anyone friendly to Jews could be denounced on suspicion of having illicit relationships.'Thus  'numerous' Germans 'in the employ of Jews or in some kind of business contact with them had brushes with the Gestapo when they persisted in these relations or expressed the mildest kinds of solidarity with the persecuted.' Indeed, more often than not, transgressions were summarily dealt with: 'When it came to enforcing racial policies destined to isolate Jews, there can be no doubt that the wrath of the Gestapo knew no bounds, often dispensing with even the semblance of legal procedures. It is important to be reminded of the "legal" and "extra-legal" terror brought down on the heads of those who would not otherwise comply.' 'Sometimes... they were driven to suicide.' Given the scope of the repression, Gellately suggests, care must be exercised not to infer too much from the Gestapo files. They 'may well underestimate the degree of rejection of Nazi anti-Semitism'. Germans 'would be foolhardy to speak openly about reservations they might have on that score when brought in for interrogation.' Moreover, 'if they were never caught, hence never turned over to the Gestapo, there would be no official record of their activities. In addition, most of the files of those who were caught were destroyed.'
Germans generally 'accommodated themselves to the official line', Gellately nonetheless suggests, 'and to all intents and purposes, did not stand in the way of the persecution of the Jews.' It was, however, an acquiescence borne not of fanatical hatred but significantly of fear: 'Being turned into the authorities for the smallest sign of non-compliance was too common not to have struck anxiety in the hearts of anyone who might under other circumstances have found no fault with the Jews.' (42)
Dissenting, Goldhagen maintains that behind the German silence was not at all fear but 'ideological congruity' with the murderous Nazi project. (HWE, p. 591 n. 27) Accordingly, in his overview of the Nazi era, Goldhagen writes: 'Whatever else Germans thought about Hitler and the Nazi movement, however much they might have detested aspects of Nazism, the vast majority of them subscribed to the underlying Nazi model of Jews and in this sense (as the Nazis themselves understood) were "Nazified" in their view of Jews.'
None of the copious relevant scholarship, Goldhagen acknowledges in the corresponding endnote, reaches his conclusions. Rather, Goldhagen leans on a 'theoretical [and] analytical account of anti-Semitism' and an understanding of 'the nature of cognitions, beliefs, and ideologies and their relation to action.'(HWE, pp. 87, 497-8 n. 24) Without his novel methodology, Goldhagen is indeed no more able to prove his thesis for the period after Hitler's ascension to power than he was for the period before it.
German Attitudes to Anti-Jewish Laws
Goldhagen recalls the degrading and onerous proscriptions on Jewish life in Nazi Germany. He cites, for example, the barring of Jews from public facilities (for example, swimming pools and public baths), the exclusion of Jews from prestigious professional associations and institutions (for example, medicine, law and higher education) and later much  of the economy, the posting of signs that pointed up the Jews' pariah status (for example, 'Jews Not Wanted Here', 'Entry Forbidden to Jews'), and so on and so on. (HWE, pp. 91-3, 96-7, 124-5, 137-8)
Implemented 'with the approval of the vast majority of people', these measures evinced, according to Goldhagen, the 'Germans' eliminationist intent.' (HWE, pp. 422, 93) The actual record, however, is rather more complex. (43) Acting narrowly on their economic self-interest, Germans generally supported Nazi anti-Jewish initiatives from which they stood to gain materially, and opposed Nazi anti-Jewish initiatives from which they stood to lose materially. Socially restrictive Nazi initiatives initially got a lukewarm reception. Goldhagen suggests otherwise. Citing Gellately, he reports that 'Germans posted signs' with anti-Jewish prohibitions. (HWE, pp. 91-2) Turning to the cited page, we learn that the campaign was orchestrated 'by local hotheads in the Nazi movement , with opportunist Germans occasionally joining in. Succumbing, however, to the combined pressures of propaganda and repression, most Germans, already more or less disposed to anti-Semitic appeals, did come to endorse, with relative ease if not conviction, the social segregation of the Jews. Yet in this respect, the Germans' 'radical treatment' -- as Goldhagen puts it (HWE, p. 422) -- of the Jews barely differed from the Jim Crow system in the American South. (44)
Consider the Nuremberg Laws. Repeatedly pointing to these enactments as the crystallization of the murderous Nazi mind-set, Goldhagen, for instance, writes:
The eliminationist program had received at once its most coherent statement and its most powerful push forward. The Nuremberg Laws promised to accomplish what had heretofore for decades been but discussed and urged on ad nauseam. With this codifying moment of the Nazi German 'religion', the regime held up the eliminationist  writing on the Nazi tablets for every German to read. (HWE, pp. 97-8; see also p. 138)
The Nuremberg legislation stripped Jews of the franchise ('Reich Citizenship Law') and prohibited sexual relations between Jews and Germans ('The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour'). Yet black people in the American South suffered from identical restrictions. Indeed, they did not effectively secure the vote, and the Supreme Court did not outlaw the anti-miscegenation statutes, until the mid 1960s. These proscriptions enjoyed overwhelming support among Southern whites. Does that mean nearly all Southern whites were genocidal racists waiting for a Hitler to 'unleash' them? (45)
The German disposition to anti-Semitic violence is plainly the crucial test of Goldhagen's thesis. Seizing power, Hitler effectively opened the sluice gates. Moral and legal restraints were lifted. The opposition was crushed. Virulent anti-Semitic incitement was literally in the air. 'The state', as Goldhagen puts it, 'had implicitly declared the Jews to be "fair game" -- beings who were to be eliminated from German society, by whatever means necessary, including violence.' (46) What did the German people do? Did they spontaneously indulge in anti-Semitic pogroms? Did they join in the Nazi pogroms? Did they approve the Nazi pogroms? Did they, at bare minimum, condone the Nazi pogroms? The voluminous scholarly evidence points to a uniform, unequivocal answer to all these questions: No. There were few, if any, popular German assaults on the Jews. Indeed, Germans overwhelmingly condemned the Nazi anti-Semitic atrocities.
For 'far greater empirical support for my positions than space permits me to offer here', Goldhagen advises, readers should consult David Bankier's study, The Germans and the Final Solution: Public Opinion under Nazism. (HWE, pp. 497-8 n. 24) Consider then Bankier's conclusions. During the first years of Nazi anti-Semitic incitement, most Germans ('large sectors', 'the bulk', 'sizable parts') found 'the form of persecution abhorrent', expressed 'misgivings about the brutal methods employed', 'remained on the sidelines', 'severely condemned the persecution', and so on. With the revival of Nazi anti-Semitic terror in 1935, 'large sections of the population were repelled by the Sturmer methods and refused to comply with demands to take action against the Jews.' Indeed, the 'vast majority of the population approved the Nuremberg Laws' not only because they 'identified with the racialist policy' but 'especially' because 'a permanent framework of discrimination had been created that would  end the reign of terror and set precise limits to anti-Semitic activities.' 'Sturmer methods and the violence' in the years 1936-37 'met with the same disapproval as in the past.' 'The overwhelming majority approved social segregation and economic destruction of the Jews' on the eve of Kristalinacht in 1938 'but not outbursts of brute force... it was not Jew hatred in the Nazi sense.' 'All sections of the population', Bankier reports, 'reacted with shock' to Kristalinacht. 'There were few occasions, if any, in the Third Reich', Kershaw similarly recalls, 'which produced such a widespread wave of revulsion', reaching 'deep into the ranks' of the Nazi Party itself. The motives behind these outpourings of popular disgust, to be sure, were not unalloyed. Some Germans evinced genuine moral outrage. Some recoiled from the sheer brutality of the violence which also defaced Germany's image. Some opposed the destruction only because it squandered material resources. Yet, whatever the motive, Goldhagen's thesis is unsustainable. (47)
For argument's sake, let us assume the worst-case scenario: Germans repudiated Nazi anti-Semitic violence not on strictly humanitarian grounds but, rather, because it was gratuitously cruel and economically wasteful. According to Goldhagen, however, these were precisely the differentiae of the Nazi genocide. The 'limitless cruelty' of the German perpetrators, Goldhagen emphasizes, was 'a constituent feature of the Holocaust, as central to it as the killing itself.' (Reply, p. 38; I will return to this crucial distinction in part II) Goldhagen also devotes a significant part of his study (pp. 281-323) to demonstrating that, in the hierarchy of 'guiding values' in the German 'work' camps, persecution of the Jews always took precedence over 'economic rationality'. (HWE, p. 322) Regardless of the reason, then, the German people's overwhelming condemnation of Nazi anti-Semitic violence is conclusive evidence that Goldhagen's 'monocausal explanation' is false. Note further that, according to Goldhagen, a crucial facet of the Nazi genocide was the voluntarism of the perpetrators. Always taking the initiative, ordinary Germans -- to quote a typical passage -- 'easily and with alacrity became executioners of Jews'. (HWE, p. 395; I will also return to this point in part II) Yet, as we have seen, spontaneous German anti-Semitic attacks rarely occurred. On the eve of the Nazi holocaust, the German people were, on Goldhagen's own terms, very far from 'Nazified.' Indeed, there was much less popular participation in and  support for violent racist incitement in Nazi Germany than in the American South.(48)
End Part 1/2
1. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, New York 1996. The author wishes to thank David Abraham, Roane Carey, Noam Chomsky, Samira Haj, Adele Olfman, Shifra Stern, Jack Trumpbour, and Cyrus Veeser for comments on an earlier draft. This essay is dedicated to the memory of my beloved parents, both survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps: only a rational apprehension of what happened can give point to their suffering.
2. New York Times, 27 March, 2 April, 3 April 1996; Time, 23 December 1996. The New York Review of Books first gave Goldhagen's book a tepid notice but then ran a glowing piece in which it was acclaimed as 'an original, indeed, brilliant contribution to the mountain of literature on the Holocaust.' (18 April 1996, 28 November 1996) Initially running a hostile review, The New Republic subsequently featured Goldhagen's nine-page,'reply to my critics' (29 April 1996, 23 December 1996). Crucial as it is to fully apprehending the Goldhagen phenomenon, the German reaction will not be considered in this monograph. Deciphering its anomalies would require a much more intimate knowledge of the German cultural landscape than this writer possesses.
3. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, New York 1961. My page references will be to the three-volume 'revised and definitive edition' published in 1985: vol. 3, p. 1011, vol. 1, p. 327; see also vol. 3, p. 994- See also Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, New York 1992, p. 28:'Whether they were in command or lowly placed, in an office or outdoors, they all did their part, when the time came, with all the efficiency they could muster.'For the initial reaction to Hilberg's damning portrait of German culpability, see Raul Hilberg, The Politics of memory, Chicago 1996, pp. 124-6. Hilberg's memoir also offers instructive insight into the politics of the 'Holocaust industry'.
4. Hilberg specifically pointed to the Order Police the subject of Goldhagen's study perpetrators whose 'moral makeup' typified 'Germany as a whole'. The Destruction of the European Jews, vol. 3, p. 1011.
6. For background and critical commentary, see Eric A. Zillmer et al., The Quest for the Nazi Personality, Hillsdale, NJ 1995. Sampling a wide array of clinical data, the authors dismiss the 'simplistic' notion of a 'specific homicidal and clinically morbid' German personality (P. 13).
7. Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews, New York 1975, P. 47; see also pp. 163-6.
8. Goldhagen dissents from Christopher Browning's estimates that 10-20 per cent of the German police battalions refused to kill Jews as 'stretching the evidence'. (HWE, p. 541, n. 68; see also p. 551, n. 65) It is one of Goldhagen's central contentions that the police battalions were prototypical of the murderous German mind-set (HWE, pp. 181-5, 463ff).
9. 'A Reply to My Critics', The New Republic, 23 December 1996 [hereafter Reply], p. 41.
10. HWE, p. 416, original emphasis, See also HWE, p. 582 n. 42.
11. Reply, p. 42; see also HWE, pp. 446-7. Not to be deterred by the hobgoblin of consistency, Goldhagen writes a couple of pages earlier: 'By the time Hitler came to power, the model of Jews that was the basis of his anti-Semitism was shared by the vast majority of Germans'(Reply, p. 40).
12. An unwitting ironist, Goldhagen elsewhere in the book counsels, 'Germans should not be caricatured'. (HWE, p. 382)
13. In the endnote, Goldhagen cautions that his argument 'obviously does not explain people's capacity for cruelty in the first place or the gratification many derive from it.' Yet, what needs explaining is not the mechanisms of these sadistic impulses but, as noted above, why the Germans succumbed and why the Jews fell victim to them.
14. Jewish Book News, 25 April 1996, P. 39. For equivalent formulations, see Reply, p. 43, and Goldhagen's numerous interviews.
15. In an astonishingly disingenuous endnote, Goldhagen writes that 'it is indeed striking how little or non-existent the evidence is that... Germans' beliefs about Jews differed from the incessantly trumpeted Nazi one.'(HWE, p. 593 n. 49, original emphasis) For a sample of this 'little or non-existent evidence', see section 4) below.
16. See Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, New York 1964, pp. 30, 70, and Ian Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Oxford 1983, p. 231. Both are basic texts. Consider Goldhagen's other theoretical breakthroughs:
... each source of [anti-Semitism] is embedded in an extended metaphorical structure that automatically extends the domain of phenomena, situations, and linguistic usages relevant to the anti-Semitic compass in a manner paralleling the metaphorical structure itself. (HWE, p. 35)
All anti-Semitisms can be divided according to one essential dissimilitude which can be usefully thought of as being dichotomous (even if, strictly speaking, this may not be the case). (HWE, p. 37)
Prejudice is a manifestation of people's (individual and collective) search for meaning. (HWE, p. 39, emphasis in original)
Comment is superfluous.
17. HWE, p. 494 n. 92. The counterpoint to Goldhagen's homogenization of the German perpetrators is his heterogenization of the Germans' victims. Thus, Goldhagen's discriminations to prove that Jewish suffering was unique. (HWE, pp. 175, 294, 311ff, 340ff, 523 n. 1)
18. HWE, pp. 141, 146, 147, 153, 421. For a variation on this argument which conflates verbal abuse with 'deportation and physical violence', see HWE, p. 125.
19 In his rejoinder, Goldhagen downplays the import of this question: 'Even if some would conclude that I am not entirely correct about the scope and character of German anti-Semitism, it does not follow that this would invalidate my conclusion ... about the perpetration of the Holocaust, [which] logically can stand on its own and must be confronted directly.' And again: 'My assertions about the reach of anti-Semitism in Germany before the Nazi period is [sic] supported by the works of some of the most distinguished scholars of anti-Semitism ... Where I depart from some of them is not over the extent of anti-Semitism in Germany, but over its content and nature.' (Reply, pp. 40, 41) Yet, the 'scope and character', 'content and nature' of German anti-Semitism are not distinct from or subsidiary to but the very essence of his thesis.
20. Pulzer Jews and the German State, Oxford 1992.
21. Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism, pp. 279-80.
22. Ibid., p. 71.
23. HWE, pp.61,491 n. 51. Ian Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, Oxdord 1983, p. 229. Indeed, Goldhagen's study is marred throughout by his penchant for double bookkeeping. Thus, in the text's body Goldhagen implies that no police battalion member initially refrained from killing infants. Turning to the back of the book, we learn that, according to one member, 'almost all the men' refused, and according to another, 'as if by tacit agreement, the shooting of infants and small children was renounced by all the people.' In the endnote Goldhagen grudgingly concedes that 'undoubtedly, some of the men did shy away'. (HWE, pp. 216, 538 n. 37, n. 39).
24. Pulzer Jews and the German State, pp. 42, 14
25. Eva G. Reichmann, Hostages of Civilization, London 1950, p. 154. See Sarah Gordon, Hitler, Germans and the 'Jewish Question', Princeton 1984, p. 27.
26. I will not elucidate all Goldhagen's methodological points on contemporary anti-Semitism. These include:
While its cognitive content was adopting new forms in the service of 'modernizing' anti-Semitism, of harmonizing it with the new social and political landscape of Germany, the existing cultural cognitive model about Jews provided a remarkable underlying constancy to the elaborated cultural and ideological pronouncements. (HWE, pp. 53-4)
In 'functional' terms, the changing manifest content of anti-Semitism could be understood, in one sense, to have been little more than the handmaiden of the pervasive anti-Jewish animus that served to maintain and give people a measure of coherence in the modern world... (HWE, p. 54)
Previously, a welter of anti-Semitic charges and understandings of the source of the Jews' perniciousness had characterized the outpouring of anti-Jewish sentiment since the 'Jewish Problem' had become a central political theme as a reaction to the movement for their emancipation. (HWE, p. 66)
The cognitive model of ontology that underlay the essential, racist Volkish worldview contradicted and did not admit the Christian one that had held sway for centuries. (HWE, p. 68)
These are typical of the 'insights and theories of the social sciences' that Goldhagen says 'inform' his enterprise, unlike the criticism which 'betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the social scientific method.'(Reply, pp. 38-9,43)
27. HWE, pp. 55-7, 64-73. For Goldhagen's recourse to this genre of argument for the Nazi period, See HWE, pp. 106, 113-15, 126,431.
28. Joachim Doron, 'Classic Zionism and Modern Anti-Semitism: Parallels and Influences (1883-1914)', in Studies in Zionism, Autumn 1983, pp. 169-204 (quote at 171). See Norman G.Finkelstein,Image and Reality of the lsrael-Patestine Conflict, London 1995, ch. 1.
29. Donald L. Niewyck, The Jews in Weimar Germany, Baton Rouge 1980, p. 9 .
30. Michael H. Kater, 'Everyday Anti-Semitism in Prewar Nazi Germany: The Popular Bases', in Yad Vashem Studies, xvi,Jerusalem 1984, p. 133; Niewyck, The Jews in Weimar Germany, pp. 51,69(working class quote),p. 70; Putzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism, p. 325; Pulzer,Jews and the German State, pp. 261 (SPD quote), 344-5; Donna Harsch, German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism, Chapel Hill 1993, p. 70.
31. Gordon, Hitler, Germans and the 'Jewish Question', p. 48. For a balanced presentation of German Jewry during the Weimar years, see especially Niewyck's The Jews in Weimar Germany.
32. HWE, pp. 86, 142, 162,424-5. William Brustein, The Logic of Power, p. 51, reports that 'relatively few people read Mein Kampf before 1933. Albert Speer claimed never to have read it; his biographer is unsure. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, New York 1970, pp. 19, 122, 509; Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer, New York 1995, pp. 183, 302, 590-1. Although the notorious passage from Mein Kampf is not strictly genocidal-Hitler speculates that if twelve or fifteen thousand... Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas', Germany might have won World War I Philippe Burrin convincingly demonstrates that these musings do shed important light on Hitler's genocidal aims. See Hitler and the Jews, London 1994. For the linguistic ambiguities of and indifferent public reception to Hitler's January 1939 'prophecy', see Gordon, Hitler, Germans and the Jewish Question', p. 133; Ian Kershaw, The 'Hitler Myth', Oxford 1987, pp. 240-2; Hans Mommsen, 'The Realization of the Unthinkable', in Gerhard Hirschfeld, ed., The Policies of Genocide, London 1986, pp. 134-5 n. 36.
33. Norman H. Baynes, ed., The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, New York 1969, p. 721; Brustein, The Logic of Evil, p. 58; Max Domarus, ed., Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations, 1932-1945, Wauconda, IL 1990, pp. 37,40; Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, New York 1997, pp. 72, 95-7, 101-4 (Friedlander puts more stress on Hitler's public anti-Semitism throughout the 1920s but concurs that in the early 1930s 'the Jewish theme indeed became less frequent in his rhetoric'); Sarah Gordon, Hitler,Germans and the Jewish Question', pp. 84, 129; Kershaw, The 'Hitler Myth', pp. 230-5; Niewyck, The Jews in Weimar Germany, p. 54. For the period January 1932 to March 1933, there is no mention at all of Jews in any of Hitler's speeches collected in Domarus's standard edition. The main negative theme is anti-Bolshevism and anti-Marxism. In Baynes's earlier collection of Hitler extracts that 'practically exhausts the material on the subject' of the Jews, the only item before 1933 is an interview with the London Times in which Hitler, repudiating 'violent anti-Semitism', declares that he 'would have nothing to do with pogroms'(p. 726). Although 'unjust and harsh', as Domarus recalls, Hitler's forced emigration scheme was hardly unprecedented even in the modern world (p. 40).
34 Domarus, Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations, p. 37; see Kershaw, The 'Hitler Myth', pp. 243-4; Lothar Kettehacker, 'Hitier's Final Solution and its Rationalization', in Gerhard Hirschfeld, ed., The Policies of Genocide, London 1986, p. 83; Mommsen,'The Realization of the Unthinkable', pp. 108-11 .
35. Kershaw, The 'Hitler Myth', pp. 46-7, 152, 154, 161, 230, 233, 235-8, 239 (second quote), 250 (first quote), 252; see also Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, p. 273.
36. William Sheridan Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power, New York 1984, pp. 84, 218; Brustein, The Logic of Power, pp. xii, 51, 57-8, 88, 180-1; Thomas Childers, The Nazi Voter, Chapel Hill 1983, pp. 43, 262-8; Gordon, Hitler, Germans and the Jewish Question', pp. 29ff, 45, 68-71, 82, 299; Richard Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler?, Princeton 1982, pp. 363-9, 377-8, 418, 421-2, 607 n. 46; and Eva Reichmann, Hostages of Civilization, pp. 190, 229-36. It is not at all clear even that anti-Semitism figured prominently in the motives for joining the Nazi party before, let alone after, Hitler's victory; see especially Peter H. Merki, Political Violence Under the Swastika, Princeton 1975, pp. 499-500. To illustrate that the crudely anti-Semitic SA was 'representative of a significant percentage of the German people' during the Nazi years, Goldhagen recalls that its membership 'was approximately 10 per cent of the German civilian male population of the age cohorts on which the SA drew' (HWE, p. 95). Leaving to one side that a tip does not always prove an iceberg, Goldhagen observes elsewhere that 'many non-ideological reasons' induced Germans to join Nazi organizations (HWE, p. 208).
37. Reichmann, Hostages of Civilization, pp. 231-3. Long out of print, this luminous work should be reissued.
38. Childers, The Nazi Voter, P. 267.
39. Reichmann, Hostages of Civilization, pp. 231, 261 n. 380.
40. HWE, p. 594 n. 56; for a similar argument for the war years, see pp. 251-2.
41. Goldhagen's citation of this document is doubly ironic. Not only does it undercut his claim about the inefficacy of Nazi propaganda but also his claim about restoring the dimension of individual responsibility. Seeking to mitigate the culpability of the Einsatzgruppen commanders, the brief lent support to a plea of temporary insanity: 'The defendants... were obsessed with a psychological delusion based on a fallacious idea concerning the identity of the aims of Bolshevism and the political role of Jewry in Eastern Europe.' Although effectively endorsed by Goldhagen, this last defense was fortunately for justice's sake rejected by the Military Tribunal. Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals, vol. 4, 'The Einsatzgruppen Case', Washington, DC n.d., pp. 342,344,350,354,463-4.
42. Robert Gellately, The Gestapo and German Society, Oxford 1990, pp. 111, 129, 135-6, 146-7, 160-1, 171, 172, 177, 179, 186-7, 205-7, 213, 256.
43. A brief word about sources. Research on popular opinion in Nazi Germany relies mainly on reports secretly dispatched by the SPD underground and on internal files of the Nazi police (Gestapo, SD). Goldhagen cautions that SPD reports 'should be read with circumspection' because the 'agents were obviously eager and ideologically disposed to find among the German people... evidence of dissent from the Nazi regime and its policies.'(HWE, p. 509 n. 162; see p. 106) Oddly, he does not enter a comparable caveat in the reverse sense for the Gestapo reports, which are repeatedly cited by him to document popular German anti-Semitism (for example, HWE, pp. 98, 121). In any event, the issue of reliability has already been thoroughly explored. The consensus is that the SPD reports are generally trustworthy even the Gestapo attested to their veracity and the Nazi police reports perhaps somewhat less so. See David Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution, Oxford 1992, pp. 7-9, 100-1; Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the Jewish Question', pp. 166-7, 209; Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, p. 362; Kershaw, The 'Hitler Myth', pp. 6-8.
44. Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solutions, pp. 69-7 3, 81-4, 172 n. 68; Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, pp. 22, 125-30, 232-6, 259, 323-4, Gellately, The Gestapo and German Society, pp. 105 (quote), 106, 171; Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the Jewish Question', pp. 169, 171, 175, 206-8; Kater, 'Everyday Anti-Semitism in Prewar Nazi Germany', pp. 147-8, 154-6; Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, pp. 232, 233, 240, 243, 244, 256, 272-4; Kershaw, The Hitler Myth', pp. 229-30; Otto Dov Kulka and Aron Rodrigue,'The German Population and the Jews in the Third Reich', in Yad Vashem Studies,Jerusalem 1984, P. 426, Pulzer, Jews and the German State, p. 347; Reichmann, Hostages of Civilization, pp. 233-4, Marlis Steinert, Hitler's War and the Germans, Athens, 1977, PP. 37, 40. Benches in Nazi Germany carried 'Aryan only' signs but of course such measures were commonplace in the South until the 1960s.
45. For the Nuremberg Laws, see Helmut Krausnick, 'The Persecution of the Jews', in Helmut Krausnick et al., Anatomy of the SS State, New York 1965, pp. 32-3; and Hans Mommsen, 'The Realization of the Unthinkable', pp. 103-5. For popular German reaction to the Nuremberg Laws, see especially Otto Dov Kulka, "'Public Opinion" in Nazi Germany and the "Jewish Question"', The Jerusalem Quarterly, Fall 1982, pp. 124-35. Kulka concludes that most Germans supported the laws, although a 'quite sizable portion of the population was indifferent'(p. 135). The us Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. The Supreme Court first declared a state miscegenation law unconstitutional in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia).
46. HWE, p. 95. Directly contradicting himself, Goldhagen writes elsewhere that 'Germans' profound hatred of Jews... had in the 1930s by necessity lain relatively dormant.' (HWE, p. 449, my emphasis)
47 Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution, ch. 4; Kershaw Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, pp. 271, 265; see also pp. 172, 234-5, 239, 240, 243-4, 256, 260-74. For further documentation of Bankier's conclusions, see Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, pp. 125, 163-4, 294-5; Gordon, Hitler, Germany and the Jewish Question', pp. 159, 173, 175-80, 206-8, 265-7; Ian Kershaw, 'German Popular Opinion and the "Jewish Question", 1939-1943: Some Further Reflections', in Arnold Paucker, ed., The Jews in Nazi Germany, 1933-1943, Tubingen 1986, pp. 368-9; Kershaw, The 'Hitler Myth', pp. 229-30, 235-7; Kulka, "'Public Opinion" in Nazi Germany and the "Jewish Question"', pp. 138-44; Kulka and Rodrigue, 'The German Population and the Jews in the Third Reich',p.432;Mommsen,'The Realization of the Unthinkable',p. 116;Franz Neumann, Behemoth,New York 1942, p. 121; Pulzer Jews and the German State,p. 347; Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism, p. 71;Reichmann,Hostages of Civilization, pp. 201,233-4, 238; Marlis Steinert, Hitler's War and the Germans, pp. 37,40;Herbert A. Strauss,'Jewish Emigration from Germany Nazi Policies and Jewish Responses', in Leo Baeck Institute, Year Book xxv, New York 1980, p. 331. Bankier discounts, while Kershaw credits, German moral outrage to Kristalinacht. Kulka and Rodrigue reasonably conclude that 'we shall probably never know what the true proportions of both attitudes were.'
48. The scholarly consensus is that, 'Although without doubt some individual members of the white community condemned lynching, it is equally clear that a majority supported outlaw mob violence' Stewart E. Toinay and E.M. Beck, A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930, Chicago 1992, p. 28; see also Neil R. McMillen, Dark journey, Chicago 1989, ch. 7, especially pp. 238ff; and Arthur F. Raper, The Tragedy of Lynching, New York 1969, p. 47. One may add that, for sheer brutality, Southern violence was in a class apart: the grisly torture, dismemberment and even roasting of its victims, along with the collection of bodily parts as souvenirs, were inconceivable in pre-war Nazi Germany. For an example, see Toinay and Beck, A Festival of Violence, p. 23.
End Part 1/2 -- 2/2
This review of Goldhagen's book, "Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's 'Crazy' Thesis: A Critique of Hitler's Willing Executioners", by Norman G. Finkelstein was published in the New Left Review (London), Nr 224, in July 1997, p. 39-88.
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