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Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's 'Crazy' Thesis:

A Critique of Hitler's Willing Executioners

by Norman G. Finkelstein

 

1/2 -- 2/2

Apparently aware that the crushing weight of scholarly evidence obliterates his thesis, Goldhagen improvises a three-pronged damage control strategy: tacit admission, minimization, and misrepresentation. I shall only sample his procedures here (see Table).


Table

TACIT ADMISSION

Goldhagen acknowledges the evidence but not its devastating implications for his thesis. For example:

'The law excluding Jews from the civil service, being unaccompanied by public displays of brutality, was, not surprisingly, widely unpopular in Germany.'(HWE, p. 91)

Recalling the 'uncoordinated and often wild attacks upon Jews' during the first years of Nazi rule, Goldhagen observes that 'many Germans' felt 'unsettled.' (HWE, p. 97)

'The reaction of the populace at large' to Nazi initiatives 'was one of general approval... , though it was accompanied by significant disapproval of the licentious brutality.' (HWE, p. 99)

To document that 'workers ... were, on the issue of the Jews, in general accord with the Nazis', Goldhagen cites an SPD report stating that 'The general anti-Semitic psychosis affects ... our comrades' but 'All are decided opponents of violence.' (HWE, pp. 106-7)

MINIMIZATION

Goldhagen acknowledges the evidence but denies that it undermines his thesis. For example:

'The criticism of Kristallnacht 's licentious violence and wasteful destruction that could be heard around Germany should be understood as the limited criticism of an eliminationist path that the overwhelming majority of Germans considered to be fundamentally sound, but which, in this case, had taken a momentary wrong turn.' (HWE, p. 102; See also pp. 101, 103, 120-1, 123) (Weren't 'licentious violence' and 'wasteful destruction' the hallmarks of the Nazi genocide?)

'Episodic distemper with aspects of the regime's assault on the Jews should not be understood as being indicative of a widespread, general rejection of the eliminationist ideal and program... the character and overwhelming plenitude of the counter-evidence... is vastly greater than Germans' numerically paltry expressions of disapproval of what... can be seen to have been generally only specific aspects of the larger eliminationist program and not its governing principles.'(HWE, p. 120; see also p. 91)

Conceding that 'Ordinary Germans did not leap to mass extermination on their own, or generally even urge it', Goldhagen explains that 'Hitler was already working towards this goal with heart and soul, so many Germans sat by, satisfied that their government was doing the best that any government conceivably could.' (HWE, p. 445-6) (Weren't Germans anxiously awaiting a Hitler to 'unleash' and 'unshackle' their 'pent up anti-Semitic passion'? Seizing every opportunity, didn't Germans leap 'with alacrity' to kill Jews during the Nazi genocide?)

'No evidence suggests that any but an insignificant scattering of Germans harboured opposition to the eliminationist program save for its most brutally wanton aspects.' (HWE, pp. 438-9; see also pp. 509-10 n. 165)

MISREPRESENTATION

Goldhagen mangles the evidence. For example:

Recalling inter alia the 'Physical and increased verbal attacks upon Jews, both spontaneous ones from ordinary Germans and ones orchestrated by government and party institutions', Goldhagen adds: 'the vast majority of the German people... were aware of what their government and their countrymen were doing to the Jews, assented to the measures, and, when the opportunity presented itself, lent their active support to them.' (HWE, pp. 89-90) (Didn't Goldhagen's main empirical source state that Germans overwhelmingly opposed Nazi violence?)

'The attacks upon Jews during the first years of Nazi governance of Germany were so widespread and broad-based that it would be grievously wrong to attribute them solely to the coughs of the SA, as if the wider German public had no influence over, or part in, the violence.'(HWE, p. 95)

 

'In light of the widespread persecution and violence that occurred throughout ... Germany, Kristallnacht was, in one sense, but the crowning moment in the wild domestic terror that Germans perpetrated upon Jews.' (HWE, p. 99; see also pp. 100-1)

'The perpetrators [of the Nazi genocide], from Hitler to the lowliest officials, were openly proud of their actions, of their achievements; during the 1930s, they proclaimed and carried them out in full view and with the general approval of the Volk.'(HWE.p.429; see also p. 430)

End Table


Left without a shred of scholarly evidence that Germans overwhelmingly savoured the prospect of massacring Jewry, Goldhagen devises more ingenious methods of proof. Thus, to document the 'whiff of genocide' in the 'anti-Semitic German atmosphere', Goldhagen quotes an American journalist's murderous conversations with 'Nazi circles', and 'at a luncheon or dinner with Nazis.' (HWE, p. 595 n. 68) 'It is oxymoronic', according to Goldhagen, 'to suggest that those who stood with curiosity gazing upon the annihilative inferno of Kristallnacht' did not relish the violence and destruction. Apparently never having witnessed a crowd mill about a burning edifice, Goldhagen writes: 'People generally flee scenes and events that they consider to be horrific, criminal, or dangerous.'(HWE, p. 440)

Although there was no palpable evidence in the 1930s of Americans' intent to kill Japanese, Goldhagen finally analogizes, they did so 'willingly... and fully believing in the justice of their cause' during World War II. (HWE, p. 446) The comparison is instructive. The merciless war in the Pacific, John Dower has argued, was the culmination of a plurality of factors: pervasive anti-Asian prejudice, furore over the Pearl Harbor attack, inflammatory war propaganda, brutalizing combat, and so on . (49) To reckon by Goldhagen's analogy, however, the explanation is rather more simple: Americans were homicidal racists.

Opposition and Indifference

Even during the early war years, most Germans repudiated Nazi anti-Semitism. In September 1941 the Nazis issued a decree forcing Jews to wear the yellow star. 'A negative reaction to the labelling', Bankier reports, was the 'more typical public response.' Indeed 'people were often demonstratively kind', according to reliable accounts. 'Many displayed forms of disobedience, offering Jews cigars and cigarettes, giving children sweets, or standing up for Jews on trams and underground trains.' 'Germans clearly could not tolerate', Bankier infers, 'actions which outraged their sense of decency, even towards stigmatized Jews.' Shocked and appalled by such dissent, the Nazis intensified anti-Jewish [63] propaganda and even enacted a new law sanctioning philosemitic displays with three months' internment in a concentration camp. (50) Although listing Bankier's study as his main empirical source, Goldhagen omits altogether these remarkable findings. Rather he reports:

Wearing such a visible target among such a hostile populace... caused Jews to feel acute insecurity, and, because any German passer-by could now identify them easily, Jews, especially Jewish children, suffered increased verbal and physical assaults ... The introduction of the yellow star also meant that all Germans could now better recognize, monitor, and shun those bearing the mark of the social dead. (HWE, pp. 138-9)

With the passage of time and especially as the war took a more disastrous turn, Germans grew increasingly insensitive to Jewish suffering. Propaganda played a part, as did the escalating repression and physical isolation of the Jews. Then the callousness toward human life typically attending war exacerbated by the terror bombing and worsening deprivations on the home front-set in. Turning ever more inward, Germans focused on the exigencies of survival. Hardened and bitter, in search of a scapegoat, they occasionally lashed out at the weak. (51) To illustrate this gradual coarsening of heart, Bankier first recalls 'not unusual' episodes in 1941 when, breaking the law and outraging Nazi authorities, Germans surrendered their tramcar seats to aged Jews, eliciting 'the general approval of the other passengers.' Yet by 1942, according to Bankier, Germans displaying sympathy for Jews were hooted in public. He recounts a particularly brutal incident also on a tramcar. Citing only this last episode in his book, Goldhagen goes on to criticize Bankier's balanced conclusion based on all the evidence:

It is difficult to understand why Bankier ... concludes that 'incidents of this sort substantiate the contention that day-to-day contact with a virulent, anti-Semitic atmosphere progressively dulled people's sensitivity to the plight of their Jewish neighbours'... That any but a small number of Germans ever possessed 'sensitivity to the plight of their Jewish neighbours' during the Nazi period is an assumption which cannot be substantiated, and which... is undermined by the empirical evidence which Bankier presents throughout his book. (HWE, pp. 105, 502 n. 90)

Truly, the Germans' progressively dulled sensitivities are 'an assumption which cannot be substantiated' -- if all the empirical substantiation is subject to excision.

Although unaware of the full scope of the judeocide, most Germans did know, or could have known if they chose to, that massive atrocities were being committed in the East. There is no evidence, however, that most Germans approved of these murderous acts. Indeed, precisely because [64] Hitler knew he could not count on enthusiastic popular support, the Final Solution was shrouded in secrecy and all public discussion of jewry's fate was banned. (52) The near-consensus in the scholarly literature is that most Germans looked on with malignant indifference. Ian Kershaw, who has written most authoritatively on this topic, summarizes:

Apathy and 'moral indifference' to the treatment and fate of the Jews was the most widespread attitude of all. This was not a neutral stance. It was a deliberate turning away from any personal responsibility, acceptance of the state's right to decide on an issue of little personal concern to most Germans ... the shying away from anything which might produce trouble or danger. This apathy was compatible with a number of internalized attitudes towards Jews, not least with passive or latent anti-Semitism -- the feeling that there was a 'Jewish Question' and that something needed to be done about it.

It bears emphasizing that Germany's anti-Semitic legacy did constitute a vital precondition for the genocide. Had Jews not been placed outside the community of moral concern, Kershaw stresses, the Nazis could not have committed their monstrous deeds: 'The lack of interest in or exclusion of concern for the fate of racial, ethnic, or religious minority groups marks ... at the societal level a significant prerequisite for the genocidal process, allowing the momentum created by the fanatical hatred of a section of the population to gather force, especially, of course, when supported by the power of the state.' This is a far cry, however, from asserting that ordinary German anti-Semitism -- let alone ordinary German anti-Semitism before Hitler's reign-- in itself accounts for the Nazi genocide.

Indeed, Kershaw suggests that little in the German response was 'peculiarly German or specific only to the "Jewish Question"', and, conversely, that most peoples similarly situated would probably not have responded in a more 'honourable' fashion than the Germans. (53) Vehemently dissenting, Goldhagen maintains that such alleged indifference in the face of mass slaughter is a 'virtual psychological impossibility'. (HWE,pp. 439-41) Yet how differently did ordinary Americans react to the slaughter of four million Indochinese, ordinary French to the slaughter of one million Algerians, or, for that matter, ordinary non-Germans to the slaughter of the Jews?


II. Perpetrating the Genocide

When the correlations are made of the Germans' anti-Jewish measures with their deduced or imputed intentions, Hitler's [65] hypothesized psychological states and moods, and the Germans' military fortune, the correlation that stands out, that jumps out, as having been more significant than any other (than all of the others) is that Hitler opted for genocide at the first moment that the policy became practical. (HWE, p. 161)

With the onset of the Nazi holocaust, the validity of Goldhagen's thesis ceases to be at issue. On the one hand, all the evidence points to the conclusion that, on the eve of the genocide, the vast majority of Germans were not in thrall to a homicidal malice toward Jerry. On the other hand, it is simply not possible, after 1941, to isolate, among the sundry factors potentially spurring German behaviour -- an anti-Semitic legacy, virulent Nazi propaganda, brutalization caused by the war, and so on -- a 'monocausal explanation' of the judeocide. (54) Thus, even if everything Goldhagen maintains about the Nazi holocaust is accurate, his thesis remains false or at best moot. Goldhagen's rendering, however, is not accurate. Indeed, in a veritable negative tour de force, Goldhagen manages to get nearly everything about the Nazi holocaust wrong. The wrong questions are posed. The wrong answers are given. The wrong lessons are learned.

5. How Many Willing Executioners?

Crediting himself as being the first to reckon the magnitude of German complicity in the Nazi holocaust, Goldhagen boasts:

Until now no one else has discussed seriously the number of people who perpetrated the genocide ....The critics do not bother to inform their readers that I am the first to discuss the numbers (and the problems of providing an estimate), let alone to convey to readers the significance of the findings or of the fact that we have had to wait until 1996 to learn one of the most elementary facts about the Holocaust. (Reply, p. 42)

Yet consider Goldhagen's calculations. (HWE, pp. 166-7) He first estimates that, if all German perpetrators, direct and indirect, of the [66] genocide are included, the number 'ran into the millions'. He next estimates that the 'the number of people who were actual perpetrators was also enormous' and 'might run into the millions.' He then, however, makes the qualification that 'the number who became perpetrators of the Holocaust (in the sense that it is meant here) was certainly over one hundred thousand' and perhaps as many as 'five hundred thousand or more'. But what is 'the sense that it is meant here', if not direct and indirect perpetrators combined or direct perpetrators alone? Compounding the confusion, Goldhagen earlier explicitly defines a perpetrator, for the purposes of his study, as any direct or indirect participant in the genocide. (55) This presumably being 'the sense that it is meant here', the total number of direct and indirect German perpetrators thus runs not into the millions but at most the hundreds of thousands. What is more, Goldhagen acknowledges in an endnote that all his calculations are pure guesswork: 'Early in my research, I decided that deriving a good estimate of the number of people who were perpetrators would consume more time than I could profitably devote to it, given my other research objectives. Still, I am confident in asserting that the number was huge.' (HWE, p. 525 n. 13) Indeed, even this last asseveration is plainly untrue. The estimate for perpetrators Goldhagen most often cites is 100,000. Even assuming for argument's sake that it includes only direct participants, this figure is still not at all 'huge'. Goldhagen seems unaware that his research is significant only if -- as Hilberg suggests -- the perpetrators of the genocide were qualitatively representative of German society generally. Goldhagen's quantitative finding is comparatively trivial.

Based mainly on the archives of postwar investigations and trials, the core of Goldhagen's study is an analysis of the German police battalions. (56) Following Christopher Browning, Goldhagen maintains that these 'agents of genocide' were more or less typical Germans. Also like Browning, Goldhagen reports that the police battalions were often not obliged to kill Jews. Explicitly given the option of not participating, the overwhelming majority chose not to exercise it. Indeed, those who opted out suffered no real penalties. (57)

[67] In their testimony, the police battalions did not at all acknowledge anti-Semitism as a motivating factor. Making a persuasive case that the near-total silence on Jews was partly disingenuous, Browning nonetheless flatly denies that virulent, Nazi-like anti-Semitism was the prime impetus behind the police battalions' implementation of the Final Solution. (58) To sustain his contrary thesis, Goldhagen focuses on the gratuitous cruelty attending the genocide. The argument he makes comprises two interrelated but also distinct propositions: 1) gratuitous cruelty is the hallmark of virulent, Nazi-like anti-Semitism, and 2) the police battalions implemented the Final Solution with gratuitous cruelty. I will address these propositions in turn.

Psychopaths or Bureaucrats?

'Not only the killing but also how the Germans killed must be explained', claims Goldhagen. 'The "how" frequently provides great insight into the "why".' It is Goldhagen's main theoretical contention that the propensity for 'gratuitous cruelty, such as beating, mocking, torturing Jews' -- a cruelty 'which had no instrumental, pragmatic purpose save the satisfaction and pleasure of the perpetrators' -- was the hallmark of the 'Nazified German mind' in thrall to 'demonological anti-Semitism'. Contrariwise, had they not been Nazi-like anti-Semites, the German perpetrators would have been 'cold, mechanical executioners', 'emotionless or reluctant functionaries'. (59)

The remarkable thing about Goldhagen's argument is that the exact opposite is true. What distinguished Nazi anti-Semitism was the reluctant and mechanical, as against the gratuitously cruel implementation, of the Final Solution. 'The killing of the Jews', reports Raul Hilberg, 'was regarded as historical necessity.'

The soldier had to 'understand' this. If for any reason he was instructed to help the SS and Police in their task, he was expected to obey orders. However, if he killed a Jew spontaneously, voluntarily, or without instruction, merely because he wanted to kill, then he committed an abnormal act, worthy perhaps of an 'Eastern European'.... Herein lay the crucial difference between the man who 'overcame' himself to kill and one who wantonly committed atrocities. The former was regarded as a good soldier and a true Nazi; the latter was a person without self-control ...

[68] Addressing the Nazi fighting elite, SS leader Heinrich Himmler accordingly avowed that the Final Solution had become 'the most painful question of my life'; that he 'hated this bloody business' that had disturbed him to the 'depth' of his 'soul', but everyone must do his duty, 'however hard it might be'; that 'we have completed this painful task out of love for our people'; that it was 'the curse of the great to have to walk over corpses'; that 'we have been called upon to fulfill a repulsive duty', and he 'would not like it if Germans did such a thing gladly'; that 'an execution is a grim duty for our men' and 'if we had not felt it to be hideous and frightful, we should not have been Germans', but nevertheless 'we must grit our teeth and do our duty', and so on.

In his perversely sanctimonious postwar memoir, Commandant of Auschwitz (generally accepted by scholars as representing honest, if barbaric, sentiments), the exemplary ultra-Nazi Rudolf Hoess similarly recalled being 'deeply marked' and 'tormented' by the 'mass extermination, with all the attendant circumstances' of this 'monstrous "work".' Regarding the 'Extermination Order' for the Gypsies -- 'my best-loved prisoners, if I may put it that way' -- Hoess reflects, 'Nothing surely is harder than to grit one's teeth and go through with such a thing, coldly, pitilessly and without mercy.' To implement the Final Solution, 'I had to exercise intense self-control in order to prevent my innermost doubts and feelings of oppression from becoming apparent .... My pity was so great that I longed to vanish from the scene...

Loathsome undertaking that it was, the judeocide was supposed to be executed with stoicism. 'Sadism', reports Heinz Hohne, 'was only one facet of mass extermination and one disapproved of by SS Headquarters.' Repudiating 'crude' anti-Semitism, the Nazi elite sought to 'solve the so-called Jewish problem in a cold, rational manner.' 'The new type of man of violence', Joachim Fest likewise observes, 'was concerned with the dispassionate extermination of real or possible opponents, not with the primitive release of sadistic impulses.' This ideal Nazi rejection of compulsive in favour of calculated violence, Hans Mommsen emphasizes, was 'fundamental to the entire system'. It did not at all, to be sure, spring from humanitarian impulses. Rather, gratuitous cruelty was seen as beneath the moral dignity and undermining the combat discipline of the German executioners.

Cruelty in the Camps

Rejecting 'from inner conviction' the 'Bolshevist method of physical extermination of a people as un-Germanic', SS leader Heinrich Himmler resolved to implement the Final Solution 'coolly and clearly; even while obeying the official order to commit murder, the SS man must remain "decent".' (Hohne) 'We shall never be rough or heartless where it is not necessary; that is clear', Himmler admonished. 'Be hard but do not become hardened' and 'intervene at once' should 'a Commander exceed his duty or show signs that his sense of restraint is becoming blurred.' Regarding unauthorized assaults on Jews, Himmler's legal staff accordingly instructed that, if the motive was 'purely political, there should be no punishment unless such is necessary for the maintenance of discipline... If the motive is selfish, sadistic or sexual, judicial punishment [69] should be imposed for murder or manslaughter as the case may be.'Thus, in one notorious SS and Police Supreme Court verdict, an SS officer was convicted not for the actual murder of Jews but inter alia for the 'vicious excesses', 'Bolshevik methods', 'vicious brutality', 'cruel actions', and so forth that attended the murders. (Goldhagen refers to this proceeding but not the conviction for gratuitous cruelty. HWE, p. 585 n. 73) 'Himmler, in short, was not a simple, bloodthirsty, sadistic monster', concludes biographer Richard Breitman. 'If a sadist is one who delights in personally inflicting pain or death on others, or in witnessing others inflict them, then Himmler was not a sadist... Himmler was the ultimate bureaucrat.'

The 'horrors of the concentration camps', Hoess avows, did not receive his sanction. Evidently the Auschwitz commandant intends, not the systematic mass extermination overseen by him, but rather the sadistic outbursts he purports to have 'used every means at my disposal to stop.' 'I myself never maltreated a prisoner, far less killed one. Nor have I ever tolerated maltreatment by my subordinates.' 'I was never cruel.' Repeatedly professing profound disgust at the 'malignancy, wickedness and brutality' of SS guards who did gratuitously torture camp inmates, Hoess muses, 'They did not regard prisoners as human beings at all ... They regarded the sight of corporal punishment being inflicted as an excellent spectacle, a kind of peasant merrymaking. I was certainly not one of these.'The Kapos -- prisoner-functionaries in charge of the work detachments -- indulging in orgies of violence aroused Hoess's deepest contempt: 'They were soulless and had no feelings whatsoever. I find it incredible that human beings could ever turn into such beasts ... It was simply gruesome." (60) Indeed, former inmates of the Nazi concentration camps typically testify that the Kapos were, in the words of Auschwitz survivor, Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, 'harder on the prisoners than were the guards, and beat them more cruelly than the SS men did. (61) To reckon by Goldhagen's standard, not Hoess or Himmler but the Kapo underling was the quintessential 'Nazified German mind' in thrall to 'demonological anti-Semitism.'

On the other hand, Goldhagen does, for example, mention that a senior SS official 'who was no friend of the Jews', Das Schwarze Korps,'the official organ of the SS, the most ideologically radical of all Nazi papers and naturally also a virulently anti-Semitic one', and 'even the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, who presided over the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews', repudiated, indeed were 'repelled' by, the 'unnecessary brutality', 'frenzied sadists', 'senseless acts of terror', and so forth. He does not, however, register the potentially fatal implications of [70] these acknowledgements for his thesis. (HWE, pp. 105, 121, 394, 509-10 n. 165) Compounding error with contradiction, Goldhagen instead avers that the 'Nazified German mind' was equally compatible with a broad spectrum of types -- ranging from the 'revelling, sadistic slayers' and the 'zealous but faint-of-heart killers' to the 'dedicated but non celebratory executioners' and the 'approving but uneasy and conflicted killers' -- and that 'it is hard to know what the distribution of the various types was.'(HWE, pp. 259-61; see also pp. 509-10 n. 165) That being the case, gratuitous cruelty plainly did not distinguish the 'Nazified German mind'. Goldhagen's fixation on the gratuitous cruelty of Germans is thus, even on his own terms, wrong headed: the 'sadistic slayer' is, for Goldhagen, no more proof of a 'Nazified German mind' than the 'uneasy and conflicted killer.'

Consider now Goldhagen's complementary empirical claim. The gratuitous cruelty of the police battalions was pervasive. Goldhagen's study is mostly given over to chronicling German atrocities attendant on the Final Solution. Undaunted by the 'horror, brutality, and frequent gruesomeness of the killing operations', the police battalions, according to Goldhagen, 'easily became genocidal killers' of Jews. Indeed, Goldhagen maintains that the police battalions tortured and murdered Jews with 'relish and excess', 'cruel abandon', 'unmistakable alacrity', 'evident gusto', 'dedication and zeal', as a 'pleasurable pursuit', 'in the most gratuitous, willful manner'. (HWE, pp. 19, 185, 191, 237, 238, 255, 256, 259, 378, 387, 447) Goldhagen underlines that the police battalions committed their monstrous deeds openly -- for example, with 'loved ones' in attendance -- and even 'memorialized' them in photographs: 'It is as if they were saying, "Here is a great event. Anyone who wants to preserve for himself images of the heroic accomplishments can order copies".'(HWE, pp. 241-7)

First, a brief word about this latter argument. To prove that ordinary Germans were in thrall to homicidal anti-Semitism before Hitler's rise to power, Goldhagen points to the public aspect of the atrocities. Yet compare the war in the Pacific. Recalling that the Allied combatants' practice of collecting Japanese ears 'was no secret', John Dower reports:

'The other night', read an account in the Marine monthly Leatherneck in mid-1943, 'Stanley emptied his pocket of "souvenirs" -- eleven ears from dead japs. It was not disgusting, as it would be from the civilian point of view. None of us could get emotional over it.' Even as battle-hardened veterans were assuming that civilians would be shocked by such acts, however, the press in the United Sates contained evidence to the contrary. In April 1943, the Baltimore Sun ran a story about a local mother who had petitioned authorities to permit her son to mail her an ear he had cut off a Japanese soldier in the South Pacific. She wished to nail it to her front door for all to see. On the very same day, the Detroit Free Press deemed newsworthy the story of an underage youth who had enlisted and 'bribed' his chaplain not to disclose his age by promising him the third pair of ears he collected.

Scalps, bones, and skulls were somewhat rarer trophies, but the latter two achieved special notoriety ... when an American serviceman [71] sent President Roosevelt a letter opener made from the bone of a dead Japanese (the President refused it), and Life published a full page photograph of an attractive blond posing with a Japanese skull she had been sent by her fiance in the Pacific. Life treated this as a human-interest story ... Another well-known Life photograph revealed the practice of using Japanese skulls as ornaments on us military vehicles. 62

Yet as shown above, Dower's account of the Pacific war does not at all rely on the kind of 'monocausal explanation' that Goldhagen purports is the only plausible one. Note incidentally that, unlike the Americans, the Germans firmly forbade such publicity. 'To every normal person', a German chief of staff lectured, 'it is a matter of course that he does not take photographs of such disgusting excesses or report about them when he writes home. The distribution of photographs and the spreading of reports about such events will be regarded as a subversion of decency and discipline in the army and will be punished strictly.'

Indeed as Goldhagen suggests, those violating the Nazi taboo suffered harsh penalties. (63)

Returning to the main argument, nearly all the ordinary Germans assembled in the police battalions, according to Goldhagen, brutalized Jews with 'gusto', 'relish' and 'zeal'. Compare first the extreme case of 'those soulless automata' (Hohne) staffing the concentration camps. 'Among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the pure clinical sense', Victor Frankl recalled. Yet the 'majority of the guards', although morally 'dulled' by the relentless brutality of camp life, 'refused to take active part in sadistic measures'. The 'sadists, brutal criminals ... who enjoyed torturing human beings, and did it with passionate conviction', Auschwitz survivor Dr. Ella Lingens-Reiner similarly suggested in her memoir, were only a minority among several SS types in the camp. 'Compared with our general living conditions', gratuitous cruelty 'played an insignificant role. The deaths and cases of grave, permanent physical injury caused by those acts of brutality were, comparatively speaking, not so very numerous.' 'There were few sadists', Lingens-Reiner later testified at the Auschwitz trial. 'Not more than five or ten per cent.' 'Nothing would be more mistaken than to see the SS as a sadistic horde driven to abuse and torture thousands of human beings by instinct, passion, or some thirst for pleasure', concurred Auschwitz survivor Benedict Kautsky. 'Those who acted in this way were a small minority.' Thus ordinary Germans were, if Goldhagen's thesis is correct, much more pathologically cruel than the concentration camp personnel. Seen from Goldhagen's theoretical side, that would also make ordinary Germans much more in thrall to Nazi-like anti-Semitism than the camp guards. (64)

[72] Interpreting the Evidence

Amid the manifold repetitions of his sweeping generalization, Goldhagen suddenly reveals that its empirical basis is but fragmentary, indeed paper-thin.

Few survivors have emerged, and so it is often up to the Germans to report their own brutality -- however much there was -- and thereby to incriminate themselves, which they are naturally reluctant to do. Moreover, the Federal Republic of Germany's investigating authorities were generally not interested in learning about instances of cruelty, since by the time of these investigations, all crimes, except murder, had passed the time limit for prosecution that is specified in the statute of limitations. No matter how much a German in a police battalion had beaten, tortured, or maimed a Jew, if he did not kill the victim, he could not be prosecuted for his actions. (HWE, p. 255; see also p. 261)

And again in an endnote:

... the interrogations focus on establishing what crimes were committed and who committed them. The only crime with which all but the earliest investigations (and they were few and unrevealing) were concerned was murder, because the statute of limitations had expired for all other crimes. So the investigators were generally interested in acts of cruelty only insofar as they were perpetrated by the tiny percentage of perpetrators whom they indicted or believed they might indict, because such acts of cruelty would help to establish a perpetrator's motive; investigators, therefore, did not ask about or delve into the cruelties that the vast majority of perpetrators committed. (HWE, p. 600 n. 5)

The actual documentation, according to Goldhagen, at best 'suggests' that gratuitous cruelty figured as a 'part' of the police battalions' repertoire. (HWE, p. 255) The wonder would be were it otherwise. Who ever doubted that there were sadistically cruel Germans? To sustain his thesis, however, Goldhagen must prove considerably more. What marks off its novelty, after all, is the audacious indictment of nearly all battalion members -- hence ordinary Germans -- as sadistic anti-Semites.

[73] The evidentiary basis of Goldhagen's thesis is not only exiguous. It is also highly selective. He categorically discounts all 'self-exculpating claims of the battalion men to opposition, reluctance, and refusal'. Explaining his methodology, Goldhagen recalls that criminals do not typically confess to more than can be proven against them. What can be denied is denied. Hence Goldhagen infers that the police battalions, although acknowledging the genocide, concealed their sadism: 'Even when they could not completely hide that they had given their bodies to the slaughter, they in all likelihood denied that they had given to it their souls, their inner will and moral assent.' (HWE, pp. 467-8, 534 n. 1) Leaving to one side the purely speculative nature of this claim, the fact is that the police battalions did openly confess to more -- much more -- than could have been proven against them. (65) Consider just a tiny sample of the incriminating admissions that Goldhagen reports or cites:

One killer even tells of a time he was sent alone with a Jew to the woods. He was under absolutely no supervision, so it was a perfect opportunity to let a victim flee, had he opposed the existing war of racist purgation. But he shot him. (HWE, p. 193)

'I would like to mention now that only women and children were there. They were largely women and children around twelve years old ... I had to shoot an old woman, who was over sixty years old. I can still remember, that the old woman said to me, will you make it short or about the same.' (HWE, p. 219)

'I would like also to mention that before the beginning of the execution, Sergeant Steinmetz said to the members of the platoon that those who did not feel up to the upcoming task could come forward. No one, to be sure, exempted himself.' (HWE, p. 220)

'I must admit that we felt a certain joy when we would seize a Jew whom one could kill. I cannot remember an instance when a policeman had to be ordered to an execution. The shootings were, to my knowledge, always carried out on a voluntary basis; one could have gained the impression that various policemen got a big kick out of it.'(HWE, p. 452) (66)

Indeed, Goldhagen's evidence of gratuitous brutality is culled almost entirely from the gratuitously self-incriminating testimony of the police battalions. Plainly this was not, by his own reasoning, typical criminal testimony. The police battalion members did not seek at every opportunity to minimize their responsibility. Yet Goldhagen indiscriminately excludes all 'self-exculpating' testimony on the assumption that they did.

It bears emphasis that the issue is not whether the testimony of the police battalions was riddled with lies, distortions and omissions. Of course it [74] must have been. The point rather is Goldhagen's blanket dismissal of all testimony impeaching his thesis. Thus he reports a police battalion member's gratuitous admission about killing Jewish patients in a hospital, while maintaining that the member's explanation that a superior officer threatened him 'must be discounted' on principle. (HWE, pp. 200-1, 533 n. 74) Indeed, Goldhagen highlights the absence of testimony that the police battalions dissented from this or that criminal act. (HWE, p. 201) Yet all claims of dissent are anyhow automatically disregarded by him.

Acknowledging that the police battalions did initially recoil from their murderous assignment, Goldhagen nonetheless denies that this demurral at all registered moral qualms. Emphatically and repeatedly, he instead diagnoses the 'unhappy, disturbed, perhaps even incensed' state of the police battalions as merely a 'visceral reaction' to the 'physically gruesome', 'aesthetically unpleasant' task at hand: 'The men were sickened by the exploded skulls, the flying blood and bone, the sight of so many freshly killed corpses of their own making. 'Contradicting himself, Goldhagen also states in the very same breath that the police battalions were 'given pause, even shaken by having plunged into mass slaughter and committing deeds that would change and forever define them socially and morally.' (HWE, pp. 192, 220-2, 250, 252, 378, 400-1, 538 n. 39, 543 n. 98)

'Had this reaction been the consequence of principled opposition and not mere disgust', Goldhagen critically argues, 'the psychological strain would, with subsequent killings, have likely increased and not subsided completely... But like medical students who might initially be shaken by their exposure to blood and guts yet who view their work as ethically laudable, these men easily adjusted to the unpleasant aspect of their calling.' (HWE, p. 261)

The Killers' Mental Anguish

Thus the police battalions' effortless psychological accommodation to the genocide demonstrates their Nazi-like anti-Semitism. Yet consider Goldhagen's treatment of the Nazi 'ideological exponents' recruited from bodies such as the SS, SD and the Gestapo to form the Einsatzgruppen. (67) As the genocide unfolded, the Einsatzgruppen did suffer, according to Goldhagen, escalating psychological distress. Goldhagen recalls the Nuremberg testimony of Einsatzgruppe commander, Otto Ohlendorf: 'I had sufficient occasion to see how many men of my Gruppe did not agree to this [genocidal] order in their inner opinion. Thus, I forbade the participation in these executions on the part of some of these men and I sent some back to Germany.' On account of the severe emotional strain, Goldhagen further reports, 'transfers occurred frequently' in the Einsatzgruppen and Himmler even issued explicit orders allowing for Einsatzgruppen members to excuse themselves. To explain why 'the SS and security units were so lenient', Goldhagen also cites Himmler's assessment that the judeocide 'could only be carried out by... the staunchest individuals ... [by] fanatical, deeply committed National Socialists.' Goldhagen further highlights SS leader Reinhard Heydrich's orders that [75] the Einsatzgruppen recruit local collaborators for the killings in order to preserve the psychological equilibrium of our people.' (HWE, pp. 149, 380-1, 578-9 n. 13) Indeed precisely on this account, Goldhagen emphasizes, the Nazi leadership eventually switched to gas chambers:

Himmler, ever solicitous of the welfare of those who were turning his and Hitler's apocalyptic visions into deed, began to search about for a means of killing that would be less burdensome to the executioners ... The move to gassing... -- contrary to widely accepted belief -- was prompted not by considerations of efficiency, but by the search for a method that would ease the psychological burden of killing for the Germans. (HWE, pp. 156-7; see also p. 521 n. 81)

The severe disorientation of Einsatzgruppen members -- culminating in the breakdown of some and the barbarization of others -- and its repercussions for Nazi policy -- the use, for example, of local collaborators, gas chambers, and military style executions to assuage the sense of individual guilt -- are in fact amply attested to in the documentary record. 'Even Himmler's most aggressive Eastern minion', Hohne recalls

became a victim of the nightmare von dem Bach-Zelewski was taken to the SS hospital ... suffering from a nervous breakdown and congestion of the liver. Haunted by his guilt, he would pass his nights screaming, a prey to hallucinations... The Head SS doctor reported to Himmler: 'He is suffering particularly from hallucinations connected with the shootings of Jews in the East. (68)

Goldhagen also suggests that the specific genocidal task allotted the Einsatzgruppen was less stringent than that of the police battalions: 'The men in some of the police battalions had a more demanding, more psychologically difficult road to travel. Unlike the Einsatzkommandos, they were not eased into the genocidal killing, and integral to their operations was the emptying of ghettos of all life, with all the brutalities that it entailed.'(HWE, p. 277)

Distilling the essence of Goldhagen's argument, we reach yet another truly novel conclusion: ordinary Germans in the police battalions 'easily adjusted' to the genocide; the specialized units in the Einsatzgruppen, although less morally taxed, experienced acute psychological strain; ordinary Germans were much more Nazified than the Nazi ideological warriors in the Einsatzgruppen. QED.

The Death Marches

With the Red Army rapidly advancing on the Eastern front in the war's last stages, Himmler ordered the evacuation of the concentration camps. Goldhagen analyzes one of these 'death marches' leaving off [76] from the Helmbrechts camp. Even at the war's end and effectively left to their own devices, Goldhagen argues, ordinary Germans brutalized Jews. The general significance of Goldhagen's case study is not at all clear. He first claims that there were 'certain patterns and recurrent features of death marches.' But then he immediately qualifies that the death marches were a 'chaotic phenomenon, with sometimes significant variations in their character;' that 'the disparities among the death marches were such that it would be hard to construct a persuasive model of them;' and that the death march was an 'incoherent phenomenon' emerging out of the 'chaos of the last months of the war.'(HWE, pp. 364, 369)

The guards leading the death marches were drawn from concentration camp personnel. One 'typical' male guard, Goldhagen reports, was a Romanian of German ancestry who was ten years old when Hitler came to power. It is not immediately obvious what his sensibility might reveal about anti-Semitism in Germany before the Nazi era. (HWE, pp. 336-7) Goldhagen also reports that all the female guards belonged to the SS, at least half of them volunteers. Because they did not enter the elite Nazi order until late 1944, he maintains, these female SS guards were nonetheless typical Germans. Yet so late in the war when defeat was in sight, arguably only fanatics would embrace the Nazi cause. (69) To clinch his argument, Goldhagen recalls that 'the head woman guard referred to them in her testimony as "SS" guards with ironical quotation marks around "SS".' Wasn't Goldhagen's 'methodological position', however, to 'discount all self-exculpating testimony'? (HWE, pp. 337-8, 467, original emphasis)

Trying to cut a last-minute deal with the Americans, Himmler issued explicit orders not to kill the Jews. Yet 'the Germans', Goldhagen observes, indulged in 'multifarious cruel and lethal actions' against them. Indeed, 'the purpose of the march in the minds of the guards, no matter what the higher authorities conceived it to have been, was to degrade, injure, immiserate, and kill Jews.' Thus, the comparatively youthful female guards 'were without exception brutal to the Jews'. On the other hand, a survivor credited by Goldhagen recalls that 'the older men of the guard unit were for the most part good-natured and did not beat or otherwise torment us. The younger SS men were far more brutal.' But then 'the Germans' were not a homogeneous lot. Indeed recall Goldhagen's claim that avowed Nazis were not more anti-Semitic than ordinary Germans and that the Hitler regime did not exacerbate anti-Semitism. But in a striking refutation of his thesis, the overall evidence cited by Goldhagen suggests that younger SS guards were much crueler than unaffiliated, older guards 'bred not only on Nazi German culture.'(HWE, pp. 276, 337, 339, 346, 356-7, 360-1)

Goldhagen also adduces the guards' zigzag line of retreat as prima facie evidence of their sadistic anti-Semitism. The manifest intent was to further torture the Jews: 'the aimlessness of the routes that they followed ... suggest that the marches, with their daily, hourly yield of debilitation and death, were their own reason for being', 'viewing the maps ... should be sufficient to convince anyone that the meanderings could have had no end [77] other than to keep the prisoners marching. And the effects were calculable -- and calculated'. (HWE, pp. 365-6) Yet ten pages earlier Goldhagen reported that the guards 'had no prescribed route, so they had to feel their way towards some undetermined destination. They did not even possess a map ... As one guard states: "Throughout the march, the guards were unaware of where we were supposed to march to." The guards had to improvise constantly with the changing conditions.' (HWE, p. 356) It would seem that sadistic anti-Semitism is not the only plausible explanation for the 'aimlessness' and 'meanderings' of the death marches.

Even if Goldhagen's malignant spin on the evidence is credited, however, his thesis is scarcely proven. Just yesterday a heady dream, the Third Reich was for many Germans now a ghastly nightmare. The world had come crashing in. Abject surrender was only a matter of time. The arch-criminal, arch-enemy Judeo-Bolsheviks of incessant Nazi propaganda were fast closing in. Judgment Day was at hand. Yet Himmler had ordered that the remnant Jews -- these ambulatory skeletons of an evil past, these terrifying tokens of the vengeance to come -- be kept alive. Some guards deserted. (HWE, p. 360) Hating them and fearing them, wishing they would just die, the hardened and cowardly core tormented the Jews. The death march is, for Goldhagen, irrefutable proof that 'situation factors were not what caused the Germans to act as they did.'(HWE, p. 363) Yet is wanton brutality, under these circumstances, really so surprising?

Goldhagen also indicts the cruelty of German bystanders. He points up, for instance, the 'frequent unwillingness of local German citizens' along the death march route to 'spare food for Jewish "subhumans".'(HWE, pp. 365, 348) Yet in the directly ensuing narrative, Goldhagen recounts that despite the 'chaos and general food shortage of the time' on the 'first day of the march ... German civilians responded to the supplications of the Jews for food and water, only to meet the interdiction of the guards'; on the 'seventh day, a town's Mayor proposed to accommodate the Jewish women in the hall that had been prepared with bedding for a large group of women auxiliaries of the German army who had been expected'; on the 'eighth day... a few women from Sangerberg tried to pass to the prisoners some bread. A male guard threatened one of the women who wanted to distribute food that he would shoot her if she should try again to pass food to the prisoners'; on the 'sixteenth day... [the guards] allowed the Jews to have some soup that the people of Althutten had prepared, but forbade them from receiving any other food'; and on the 'twenty-first day... the guards still refused to allow townspeople... to feed the Jews.' Indeed, civilians 'freely offered' food to Jews 'throughout the march.'(HWE, pp. 348-9; see also p. 365) To judge by Goldhagen's account, the truly noteworthy fact would seem to be not the infrequent but the frequent willingness of ordinary Germans even after twelve years of Nazi rule to reach out to Jews (70) [78] 'German children', recalls a survivor of the Helmbrechts death march, 'began to throw stones at us.'Clinching his thesis, Goldhagen concludes: 'The German children, knowing nothing of Jews but what they learned from their society, understood how they were to act.' (HWE, p. 365) Thus, to dispel any lingering doubt that pre-Nazi homicidal German anti-Semitism explains the Final Solution, Goldhagen points to German children stoning Jews in 1945.

 

6. An Ordinary Slaughter?

Imbued as his study is with the ideological imperatives of 'Holocaust studies' (on which more presently), Goldhagen unsurprisingly harps on the categorical uniqueness of the Nazi genocide. Thus 'there is no comparable event in the twentieth century, indeed in modern European history... the theoretical difficulty is shown by its utterly new nature', 'the Holocaust was a radical break with everything known in human history ... Completely at odds with the intellectual foundations of modern western civilization ... as well as the ... ethical and behavioural norms that had governed modern western societies'. The perpetration of the genocide by the Germans accordingly 'marked their departure from the community of "civilized peoples".'(HWE, pp. 4, 5, 28, 386, 419) No doubt facets of the Nazi holocaust -- for example, the annihilation centres such as those at Treblinka and Sobibor -- were unique. The case Goldhagen mounts, however, sheds less light on the historical singularities of the judeocide than it does on his own singularly ahistorical sense. It bears emphasis that the matter at issue is not whether the crimes of the Nazi era were monumental. Rather it is whether these monumental crimes are without any historical precedent or parallel.

What distinguished Hitler's rule above all, according to Goldhagen, was the concentration camp. It was the 'emblematic', 'novel', 'distinctively new', 'revolutionary', institution of Nazi Germany, one that 'most prominently set Germany apart from other European countries, and that to a large extent gave it its distinctive murderous character'. (HWE, pp. 170, 456-60) Yet, as Hitler more or less accurately charged, 'the idea of concentration camps was born in British brains' during the Boer War. Some 150,000 women and children were corralled in what pro-Boer British MPs dubbed at the time 'concentration camps'. In a litany that would soon become numbingly familiar, a contemporary witness to the Boer repression reported 'the wholesale burning of farms ... the deportations ... a burnt out population brought by hundreds of convoys ... deprived of clothes ... the semi-starvation in the camps... the fever-stricken children lying ...upon the bare earth... the appalling mortality.' Fully a quarter of the internees eventually succumbed to measles, typhoid and other pestilence. (71)

[79] Recalling Aktion Reinbard, Goldhagen observes that 'in the value-inverted world of Germany during the Nazi period, naming a genocidal undertaking after someone -- in this case, the assassinated,Reinhard Heydrich -- was to honour him.' (HWE, p. 532 n. 55) In an insane society like Nazi Germany, a campaign of mass murder was named after a mass murderer. In a sane society like ours, the first atomic bomb, which killed 200,000 Japanese, was christened 'Little Boy', and a programme of mass assassination that left 20,000 Vietnamese dead was named after the phoenix, the legendary symbol of rebirth and regeneration. In the 'bizarre world' of Nazi Germany, Goldhagen highlights, more 'solicitude' was shown for dogs than Jews: 'The dog's fate... was greatly preferable to that of Jews. In every respect, Germans would have agreed, it was better to be a dog.' Goldhagen goes on to observe that 'any but those beholden to the Nazi creed' would have found such a state of affairs 'deeply ironic and disturbing', 'psychologically gripping, even devastating'. The 'sensibilities' of these Nazified Germans, however, did not 'remotely approximate our own.' They were 'too far gone', their 'cognitive framework' was such that this 'telling juxtaposition could not register.'(HWE, pp. 268-70) Yet foreigners visiting the United States are almost immediately struck that more solicitude is shown for pets than the homeless. Indeed the 'cognitive framework' of many an American is such that the 'telling juxtaposition' of supermarket aisles lined with pet food while children in the US go to bed hungry does not 'register'. (I leave to one side the 'telling juxtaposition' of pampering animals while world-wide 35,000 fellow human beings perish each day from starvation.)

The 'perversity of the Nazified German mind was such', according to Goldhagen, that the deaths of German children during the Allied terror-bombing' did not ... arouse sympathy 'for Jewish children: 'Instead, thinking of their children spurred the Germans to kill Jewish children.' (HWE, p. 213) Recall that the attack on Pearl Harbor aroused no pangs of sympathy for the Japanese. 'Japan's surprise attack', John Dower reports, 'provoked a rage bordering on genocidal among Americans.'The firebombing of Tokyo in 1945, which left some 100,000 civilians dead -- 'scorched and boiled and baked to death', in the words of the mastermind of the new strategy, Major- General Curtis LeMay -- not only evoked 'no sustained protest' but was 'widely accepted as just retribution'. The President's son and confidant, Elliott Roosevelt, supported bombing Japan 'until we have destroyed about half the civilian population', while a key presidential advisor favoured the 'extermination of the Japanese in toto.' Nearly one-quarter of the respondents in a December 1945 Fortune magazine poll wished that the United States had had the opportunity to use 'many more' atomic bombs before Japan surrendered. (72)

 

Pervasive Racism

An egregious feature of Nazism, Goldhagen emphasizes, was its racist underpinnings. In fact, so aberrant were the racist ravings of Nazi Germany, according to Goldhagen, that 'we 'can barely grasp them:


80] Germany during the Nazi period ... operat[ed] according to a different ontology and cosmology, inhabited by people whose general understanding of important realms of social existence was not 'ordinary' by our standards. The notion, for example, that an individual's defining characteristics were derived from his race and that the world was divided into distinct races ... was an extremely widespread belief. That the world ought to be organized or reorganized according to this conception of an immutable hierarchy of races was an accepted norm. The possibility of peaceful coexistence among the races was not a central part of the cognitive landscape of the society. Instead, races were believed to be inexorably competing and warring until one or another triumphed or was vanquished. (HWE, P. 460; see also p. 458)

For argument's sake, let us leave to one side Goldhagen's bizarre claim that judging an individual by his race and dividing the world into distinct races is 'not "ordinary" by our standards', indeed, is alien to our 'ontology and cosmology.' Yet even racist Social Darwinism was very far from peculiar to Nazi Germany. Consider the views -- altogether unexceptional until quite recently -- of Theodore Roosevelt. 'It is for the good of the world', opined one of the most revered twentieth-century US presidents, 'that the English-speaking race in all its branches should hold as much of the world's surface as possible.' Elaborating on this theme in his classic Winning of the West, Roosevelt reflected:

The settler and pioneer have at bottom justice on their side; this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages ... It is indeed a warped, perverse, and silly morality which would forbid a course of conquest that has turned whole continents into the seats of mighty and flourishing civilized nations. All men of sane and wholesome thought must dismiss with impatient contempt the plea that these continents should be reserved for the use of scattered savage tribes, whose life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid, and ferocious than that of the wild beasts with whom they hold joint ownership...

Or, as Roosevelt succinctly put it in his private correspondence, 'if we fail to act on the "superior people" theory .... barbarism and savagery and squalid obstruction will prevail over most of the globe.' (73)

[81] The intent on killing, Goldhagen concludes, was the defining feature of the Nazi genocide: 'It was the will and the motivation to exterminate European Jewry... the will ... that is the crucial issue.' And again: 'This issue -- the issue of will -- is the crucial issue.' Goldhagen goes on to maintain that 'in this sense the German perpetrators were like the perpetrators of other mass slaughters'. Thus as in 'any other mass slaughter or genocide', Germans killed because they 'believed that they were right to kill'. In fact it is a 'grave error', Goldhagen warns, to assume that people cannot 'slaughter whole populations -- specially populations that are by any objective evaluation not threatening -- out of conviction. The historical record, from the ancient times to the present, amply testifies to the ease with which people can extinguish the lives of others, and even take joy in their deaths.' (Reply, pp. 44-5, HWE, p. 14, original emphasis)

Yet Goldhagen also maintains that the Nazi genocide was singular precisely because Germans killed from 'conviction' and a sense of 'right':

One of the remarkable features of the genocide ... is how readily and naturally Germans... understood why they were supposed to kill Jews ... Anti-Semitism in Germany was such that when Germans ... learned that the Jews were to be killed, they evinced not surprise, not incredulity, but comprehension. Whatever their moral or utilitarian stances towards the killing were, the annihilation of the Jews made sense to them. (HWE, p. 403, original emphasis)

Leaving to one side this gross contradiction, yet another leaps off the page. If the Nazi genocide was, on the 'crucial issue', like 'any other mass slaughter', it could not have marked 'a radical break with everything known in human history'. Indeed to judge by this account, it was a commonplace.

The circle is complete. From the mystifying premise that it was utterly new, through a welter of nonsensical assertions, misrepresentations, contradictions and non-sequiturs, to the trivializing conclusion that it was utterly old: thus Daniel Jonah Goldhagen makes 'sense' of the Nazi genocide.

 

7. The Holocaust Studies Industry

Hitler's Willing Executioners adds nothing to our current understanding of the Nazi holocaust. Indeed, recycling the long discarded thesis of a sadistic 'German mind', it subtracts from our understanding. The fact is that Goldhagen's book is not scholarship at all. Between the gross misrepresentations of secondary literature and the glaring internal contradictions, it does not deserve consideration as an academic inquiry. Yet the book did indisputably elicit an avalanche of praise. How does one account for this paradox and what is its significance? I want to address these questions in two areas: scholarship and politics. It bears emphasis that, however informed, the remarks that follow are speculation. They clearly belong in a separate category from the preceding analysis of the text itself.

[82] The Nazi extermination of the Jews spawned two parallel, indeed contradictory, bodies of literature. Historians working with the German materials have gradually reached consensus that most ordinary Germans did not share Hitler's obsession with the Jews. A broad range of solid scholarly research has concluded that popular German anti-Semitism neither accounted for Hitier's triumph nor was it the impetus behind the Final Solution. Focusing on the Jewish victims, a second corpus held as its major premise that popular German anti-Semitism was the mainspring of Hitler's success and the Jewish catastrophe that ensued. Ideological and politically driven, this field, currently known as 'Holocaust studies', is largely devoid of scholarly interest. (74) Indeed virtually every substantive work touching on relevant themes -- for example, Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews, Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Arno Mayer's Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? has landed on the 'Holocaust studies' index. (75) The division of labour between those working with the German and Jewish materials on the Nazi genocide was, until the publication of Hitler's Willing Executioners, mutually respected. For reasons not difficult to discern, neither side ventured too far afield: scholars in the German field steered clear of the political hornet's nest of Holocaust studies; mainly a propaganda enterprise, Holocaust studies ignored German scholarship. (76)

Firmly anchored in the Holocaust paradigm, yet scrutinizing not the Jewish victims but the German perpetrators, Goldhagen's book marks the first foray of a holocaust ideologue across the divide. The venture comes at a time when Holocaust studies is trying to entrench itself as a reputable field of scholarly inquiry. (77) Indeed, Goldhagen himself is a candidate for the first endowed chair in 'Holocaust and Cognate Studies' [83] at Harvard University. Although it obscures the meaning of the Nazi holocaust, Goldhagen's foray does cast a harsh if unwitting light on Holocaust studies. Seeking to reconcile an ideologically loaded thesis with radically incompatible empirical findings, Goldhagen mangles the scholarly record and gets mired in a morass of internal contradictions. What Hitler's Willing Executioners conclusively demonstrates is the intellectual barrenness of Goldhagen's field: ignoring as they do the findings of German scholarship, the claims of Holocaust ideologues prove unsustainable when put to an empirical test. (78)

Holocaust studies first flourished in the wake of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. This is the crucial political context for comprehending the Goldhagen phenomenon. It is a fact seldom noticed that, until the war, Israel and Zionism occupied barely a marginal place in American Jewish intellectual life. In the wake of Israel's victory and its realignment with us power, Jewish intellectuals suddenly discovered the Jewish state, now celebrated as a bastion of Western Civilization doing battle on the front lines with and, against all odds, smashing the Arab hordes. They also suddenly discovered the Nazi genocide. (79) A tiny cottage industry before 1967, Holocaust studies began to boom. This was not a coincidence. Basking as they were in Israel's reflected glory, American Jews had also to contend with increasing censure of its repressive policies. In these circumstances, the Nazi extermination proved politically useful but only as it was represented in a specific ideological account. Anti-Semitism, according to Zionist ideology, expresses the Gentile's natural and irreconcilable animus for Jews. The Nazi genocide marked in this reading the ineluctable culmination of Gentile anti-Semitic hatred. Thus interpreted, the Nazi extermination both justified the necessity of Israel and accounted for all hostility directed at it: the Jewish state was the only safeguard against the next outbreak of homicidal anti-Semitism and, conversely, homicidal anti-Semitism was behind every attack on, or even defensive manoeuvre against, the Jewish state. 'The Holocaust' is in effect the Zionist account of the Nazi holocaust. It was seized upon and methodically marketed [84] because it was politically expedient. Politically inexpedient was the scholarly consensus showing that most ordinary Germans did not elect or later support Hitler because of his anti-Semitism; indeed, that they opposed Nazi violence and did not approve the genocide.

In this light, key elements of Goldhagen's study take on new resonance. 'Without a doubt... the all-time leading form of prejudice and hatred within Christian countries', anti-Semitism, according to Goldhagen, 'has been a more or less permanent feature of the western world.' Effectively derogating all other forms of bigotry, Goldhagen thus endows anti-Semitism with a unique ontology, one that virtually defies historical analysis. We have already seen that, for Goldhagen, where anti-Semitism is not manifest it may yet be latent, and that anti-Semitism and even philosemitism 'tend strongly toward a genocidal "solution".' (80) Thus all Gentiles are potential if not actual homicidal anti-Semites. Going well beyond Zionist, let alone standard scholarly, analyses, Goldhagen purports that anti-Semitism 'is always abstract in its conceptualization and its source.' Goldhagen conceives anti-Jewish animus as 'divorced from actual Jews', 'fundamentally not a response to any objective evaluation of Jewish action', 'independent of the Jews' nature and actions', and so on. Indeed according to Goldhagen, anti-Semitism is strictly a Gentile mental pathology: its 'host domain' is 'the mind.' (HWE, pp. 34-5, 39, 42, original emphases)

A Manichean View

Seen through Goldhagen's effectively ultra-Zionist lens, in the dialectic of anti-Semitism, not only can Gentiles do no good but Jews can do no evil. Ever-guilty Gentiles and ever-guiltless Jews: these are the reciprocal faces of the supra-historical, Manichean paradigm in which Goldhagen situates the judeocide. It is worth emphasizing that the issue is not the Nazi genocide per se but rather Goldhagen's ideological framework. Indeed what makes Goldhagen's ideological framework seem so plausible is that in the Nazi holocaust the reality was, if not absolute Gentile guilt, at any rate absolute Jewish innocence. Yet his approach implies that Gentiles always harbour homicidal anti-Jewish animus and Jews never bear responsibility for Gentile animus. By this logic, Jews a priori always enjoy total moral impunity. The Jewish state is accordingly immunized from legitimate censure of its policies: all criticism is and must be motivated by fanatical anti-Semitism. If Gentiles are always intent on murdering Jews, then Jews have every right to protect themselves however they see fit; whatever expedient Jews might resort to, even aggression and torture, constitutes legitimate self-defence. Is it any wonder that many Jews in particular, apologists for Israel warmed to Goldhagen's thesis? (81)

[85] In this connection, one cannot but be struck by the parallels between the Goldhagen phenomenon and an earlier ideologically serviceable best-seller, Joan Peters's From Time Immemorial, which maintained that Palestine was literally empty on the eve of Zionist colonization. In both cases, 1) a relative unknown claimed to scoop a stodgy, benighted academic establishment. Peters was an occasional journalist, Goldhagen a recent Harvard Ph.D. 2) the scholarly breakthrough was actually a caricatured version of a stale, Zionist thesis long repudiated in the academic literature. 3) purporting as it did to be an academic study, the book had to cite the documentary record and extant scholarship, both of which pointed to the opposite conclusion. Thus the evidence adduced in support of the novel thesis was either grossly misrepresented or else actually gainsaid the thesis. 4) prominent scholars with no specialized knowledge of the field helped to launch the ideological enterprise. Peters's book jacket featured fulsome blurbs by Lucy Dawidowicz ('the historical truth') and Barbara Tuchman ('a historical event'); Goldhagen's book jacket has blurbs by Simon Schama ('phenomenal scholarship and absolute integrity') and Stanley Hoffmann ('truly revolutionary... impeccable scholarship ... profound understanding). 5) once the ideological juggernaut achieved sufficient momentum, what little mainstream criticism there was subsided. (82)

Touted as the ultimate testament to the Nazi Holocaust, Hitler's Willing Executioners in fact fundamentally diminishes its moral significance. For what is the essence of Goldhagen's thesis if not that only deranged perverts could perpetrate a crime so heinous as the Final Solution? Lurid as Goldhagen's account is, the lesson it finally teaches is thus remarkably complacent: normal people -- and most people, after all, are normal -- would not do such things. Yet the overwhelming majority of SS guards, Lingens-Reiner testified after the war, were 'perfectly normal men who knew the difference between right and wrong.' 'We must remember', Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi wrote, that 'the diligent executors of inhuman orders were not born torturers, were not (with a few exceptions) monsters: they were ordinary men.' Not deranged perverts but 'perfectly normal men', 'ordinary men': that is the really sensational truth about the perpetrators of the Final Solution. 'From our findings', observed the American psychiatrist responsible for the Nuremberg defendants, we must conclude not only that such personalities are not unique or insane, but also that they could be duplicated in any country of the world today. We must also realize that such personalities exist in this country and that there are undoubtedly certain individuals who would willingly climb over the corpses of one half of the people of [86] the United States, if by so doing, they could thereby be given control of the other half.

Indeed the men sitting in the dock at Nuremberg constituted Germany's, as it were, 'best and brightest'. Of the twenty-one Nazi leaders indicted at the Trial of German Major War Criminals, six scored 'superior' and twelve 'very superior' on the IQ test. Truly these were the 'whiz kids' of Germany. Or consider the Nazi elite murderers sitting in the dock at the Einsatzgruppen trial. 'Each man at the bar', recalled the Nuremberg Tribunal in its final judgement, has had the benefit of considerable schooling. Eight are lawyers, one a university professor, another a dental physician, still another an expert on art. One, as an opera singer, gave concerts throughout Germany before he began his tour of Russia with the Einsatzkommandos. This group of educated and well-bred men does not even lack a former minister, self-frocked though he was. Another of the defendants, bearing a name illustrious in the world of music, testified that a branch of his family reached back to the creator of the 'Unfinished Symphony'... (83)

'The most refined shedders of blood', Dostoyevsky long ago recognized, 'have been almost always the most highly civilized gentlemen', to whom the official criminal misfits 'could not have held a candle'. No doubt the intellectual class singing Goldhagen's praises much prefers his conclusion that, unlike the crazed Nazis, truly 'civilized gentlemen' do not commit mass murder.

End Part 2/2

FOOTNOTES

49. John W. Dower, War Without Mercy, New York 1986.

50. Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution, pp. 124-30.

51. Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, ch. 9; Steinert, Hitler's War and the Germans ,pp.136-45,334-5.

52. Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution, ch. 8; Gordon, Hitler, Germans and the Jewish Question', pp. 182-6; Hans Mommsen, 'What Did the Germans Know About the Genocide of the Jews?' in Walter H. Pehle, ed., November 1938, New York 1991; Mommsen, 'The Realization of the Unthinkable', pp. 108, 128, 131 n. 12; Steinert, Hitler's War and the Germans, pp. 55, 140-5, 335. Probably only a small minority of Germans had specific knowledge of the death camps or gassings.

53. Kershaw, 'German Popular Opinion and the "Jewish Question"', pp. 366-84 (quote at pp. 383-4, original emphasis); Ian Kershaw, 'German Public Opinion During the Final Solution: Information, Comprehension, Reactions', in Asher Cohen et al., Comprehending the Holocaust, New York 1988, pp. 146-55 (quotes at pp. 146-7, 155).

54. For the corrosive effects of the brutalizing combat and Nazi propaganda on ordinary German perpetrators, see especially Omer Barcov's companion studies, The Eastern Front, 1941-45, New York 1986 and Hitler's Army, Oxford 1991. Goldhagen denies that the war brutalized the Germans. (HWE, p. 275) Yet he also reports, for example, that a police battalion lieutenant who originally 'refused to allow his men to participate in the killing of the Jews ... was later to become a zealous killer, who performed with extreme ardor and brutality towards the victims.' (HWE, p. 535 n. 4) Goldhagen does not account for this metamorphosis. Is 'brutalization' so implausible an explanation? Goldhagen also dismisses as 'nonsense' the postwar rationale of, for example, the police battalion members that their participation in the genocide was partly in reaction to Allied atrocities: 'Their killing began when Germany reigned supreme and hardly a bomb was being dropped on it.'(HWE, 537 n. 23) Police Battalion 101 the focus of Goldhagen's study-embarked on outright genocide in July 1942. Yet Britain launched the first bomber offensive deliberately aimed at civilian German targets in May 1940. By early 1942, it was engaged in massive terror-bombing of German cities. The Allies, incidentally, inflicted far more civilian casualties on Germany than they themselves suffered. Almost entirely restricted to Britain, German bombing of civilians caused about 51,000 deaths. The Allied air assaults, however, left about 600,000 German civilians dead. See Clive Ponting, Armageddon, New York 1995, pp. 239-40.

55. A perpetrator is anyone who knowingly contributed in some intimate way to the mass slaughter of Jews, generally anyone who worked in an institution of genocidal killing. This includes all people who themselves took the lives of Jews, and all those who set the scene for the final lethal act, whose help was instrumental in bringing about the deaths of Jews. So anyone who shot Jews as part of a killing squad was a perpetrator. Those who rounded up these same Jews, deported them (with knowledge of their fate) to a killing location, or cordoned off the area where their compatriots shot them were also perpetrators, even if they themselves did not do the actual killing. Perpetrators include railroad engineers and administrators who knew that they were transporting Jews to their deaths. They include any Church officials who knew that their participation in the identification of Jews as non-Christians would lead to the deaths of the Jews. They include the by now proverbial "desk murderer"... who himself may not have seen the victims yet whose paperwork lubricated the wheels of deportation and destruction.'(HWE, p. 164; see also pp. 165, 523 n. 3)

56. For Goldhagen's misrepresentation of the German archives, see Ruth Bettina Birn, 'Revising the Holocaust', The Historical Journal, vol. 40, no. 1, 1997, pp. 195-215. After submitting this manuscript for publication, I came across Birn's important review. Although our arguments occasionally overlap, her focus is Goldhagen's misuse of the archival sources, a topic I do not directly address.

57 HWE, pp. 181-5, 203-22. Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men, New York 1992, pp. 45-8, 61ff, 170-1. Even Nazi stalwarts organized in, for example, the Einsatzgruppen could refuse participation in the judeocide without suffering substantive penalties .

Indeed, all German perpetrators could also exercise many options, short of outright refusal, to evade murderous orders. See Hans Buchheim, 'Command and Compliance', in Helmut Krausnick, Hans Buchheim, Martin Broszat, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, Anatomy of the SS State, New York 1965, pp. 373-5, 387; Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, p. 55; Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, vol. 3, pp. 1024-5; Heinz Hohne, The Order of the Death's Head, London 1969, p. 357; Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess, eds,'The Good Old Days', New York 1991, pp. xx, 62, 75-86.

58. Browning, Ordinary Men, pp. 73, 150ff, 184.

59. HWE, pp. 17, 188, 228, 256, 259, 386, 388-9, 396-8, 400, 457, 480 n. 40, original emphasis. Faulting 'conventional explanations' for ignoring the cruelty dimension, Goldhagen, in his inimitable style, alleges: 'They do not acknowledge the "inhumanity" of the deeds as being anything other than epiphenomenal to the underlying phenomenon to be explained.'(HWE, p. 392)

60. On these and related points, see Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941-4 5, p. 115; Richard Breitman, The Architect of Genocide, New York 1991, p. 250; Buchheim, 'Command and Compliance', pp. 338 (quote), 351, 361-2, 363 (quote), 372;Joachim Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, New York 1970, pp. 115 (quote), 118 (quote), 121 (quote); Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, vol. 1, pp. 326 (quote), 332-3 (quote), vol. 3, pp. 904, 1009-10; Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, London 1974, pp. 70,142-3, 150, 171-3, 201-3; Hohne, The Order of the Death's Head, pp. 307, 325 (quote), 328 (quote), 364-6, 382 (quote), 383, 386ff; Klee et al., 'The Good Old Days', pp. 195ff (quote); Mommsen,'The Realization of the Unthinkable', p. 99.

61. Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, New York 1984, p. 18, see also p. 93; Wolfgang Sofsky, The Order of Terror, Princeton, 1997, pp. 137-49.

62. Dower, War Without Mercy, p. 65.

63. HWE, pp. 268, 585 n. 73. Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, vol. I, p. 325; Klee et al., 'The Good Old Days', p. 195ff. For the German photographs, see also Bartov, Hitler's Army, pp. 104-5.

64. Hohne, The Order of the Death's Head, p. 363; Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, p. 92; Ella Lingens-Reiner, Prisoners of Fear, London 1948, pp. 129, 41 (see also ch. 8); Bernd Naumann, Auschwitz, New York 1966, p. 91; Tzvetan Todorov, Facing the Extreme, New York, 1996, p. 122; Sofsky, The Order of Terror, ch. 20. Ironically, Goldhagen chastises other historians for ignoring survivor testimony (see Goldhagen's review of Browning in The New Republic, 13-20 July 1992, yet on this the crucial point of his thesis, Goldhagen himself ignores what the classic survivor accounts report. For a clinical study that reaches the same conclusions as the survivors, see Zillmer, The Quest for the Nazi Personality, especially pp. 117, 119, 180-1. Regarding earlier versions of the Goldhagen thesis, Lingens-Reiner cautioned:

When one report after the other focused the glare of its searchlight on the final horrors and the most outrageous atrocities, I began to feel ... that something was missing, something therefore was wrong. Not that the most terrifying descriptions of inhuman cruelties and inhuman misery were not true! Yet, when the spotlight picked them out, it seemed to me that the background which made them possible, the day-to-day happenings and 'normal' aspects of concentration camp life, became almost invisible and unintelligible. And if only the sensational horrors were registered, there was a danger that the far deeper, but less blatant, horror of the whole system would not be fully understood. (p. ix)

65. Note that, according to Browning, 'there was a pronounced reluctance of the witnesses to criticize their former comrades' and that 'such denunciations by the policemen, even of unpopular superiors, much less of their comrades, were extremely rare.' Ordinary Men, pp. 108, 151-2.

66. For other examples, see HWE, pp. 198, 228, 252, 540 n. 58.

67. For the Einsatzgruppen, see especially Trials of War Criminals, vol. iv (cited phrase on p. 490).

68. See Breitman, The Architect of Genocide, pp. 196-7, 204; Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, pp. 21, 55, 95; Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, vol. I, pp. 327-8, 332-3, vol. 3, pp. 1008-10; Hohne, The Order of the Death's Head, pp. 357, 363 (quote), 366-7; Ernst Klee et al., 'The Good Old Days', pp. 5, 60, 68, 81-3, 129; Trials of War Criminals,vol. iv, pp. 83, 206, 245, 311.

69. Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution, p. 150.

70. Goldhagen's treatment of German anti-Semitism at the end of the war is typically disingenuous. From the multitude of immediate postwar surveys with their wildly contradictory findings, he culls only the most damning statistic. Thus he reports that 'a survey done by American occupation authorities at the end of 1946 revealed that fully 61 per cent of Germans were willing to express views that classified them as racists or anti-Semites.'(HWE, p. 593 n. 53) But turning to the cited study, we also learn that, according to a survey a year earlier, fully 61 percent agreed that 'the actions against the Jews were in no way justified.' Frank Stern, The Whitewashing of the Yellow Badge, Oxford 1992, pp. 117-18. For a sensitive appraisal of the postwar surveys, see Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the Jewish Question', pp. 197-209. juxtaposing one finding that nearly 80 per cent of Germans totally opposed Hitter's anti-Semitism against another -- albeit in response to a 'badly phrased question' -- that nearly 40 per cent approved the extermination, Gordon concludes that no definitive conclusion is possible from these surveys.

71. Adolf Hitler, My New Order, New York 1941, p. 777; Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, New York 1979, pp. 522-4, 531-40, 548-9 (quote at 534). The phrase 'concentration camps' was borrowed from the notorious reconcentrado camps set up by the Spanish to deal with the Cuban guerrillas.

72. Dower, War Without Mercy, pp. 36,40-1, 53-55

73. Theodore Roosevelt, Winning of the West, New York 1889, vol. 1, p. 119, vol. 4, pp. 54-6; Elting E. Morison, ed., The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Cambridge 1951, vol. 2, pp. 1176-77, vol. 8, p. 946. Denouncing the Nazis' racist Weltanschauung, the Nuremberg Tribunal repeatedly cited these words from a Hitler speech:

But long ago man has proceeded in the same way with his fellow man. The higher race -- at first higher in the sense of possessing a greater gift for organization -- subjects to itself a lower race and thus constitutes a relationship which now embraces races of unequal value. Thus there results the subjection of a number of people under the will often of only a few persons, a subjection based simply on the right of the stronger, a right as we see it in nature can be regarded as the sole conceivable right because founded on reason.

Although plainly racist, Hitler's argument was but an anemic version of Roosevelt's. In the Tribunal's final judgement, of the two individuals specifically lauded for lightening humanity's dark history, the first was 'President Theodore Roosevelt'. Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, vol. IV, pp. 33, 279, 497.

74. Compare, for example, Raul Hilberg's scathing assessments of Lucy Dawidowicz, the doyenne of Holocaust studies in the US, and Israel Gutman, director of the Research Centre of Yad Vashem in Israel. See Hilberg, The Politics of Memory.

75. To be sure, the sins varied. Hilberg was blackballed for allegedly minimizing Jewish resistance. Yet the ideological phantom of Jewish resistance only obscures the non-instrumental character of the Nazi genocide. Indeed, the claim of 'Jewish partisan activity' was the Einsatzgruppen's main pretext for the slaughter. For illuminating commentary on the ideological recasting of the Holocaust to incorporate Jewish resistance, see Tom Segev, The Seventh Million, New York 1993, pp. 109-10, 179-80, 183-4 and especially ch. 24. The banishment of Hannah Arendt from the Holocaust fold for pointing up the crucial role of Jewish cooperation in the Final Solution is well known. Recent revelations concerning Arendt's relationship with Martin Heidegger have fueled new speculation. Thus Richard Wolin suggests that this affair was behind Arendt's 'calumnies about the Jews'. The New, Republic, 9 October 1995. Yet Arendt's indictment of Jewish collaboration pales beside that of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising leader Yitzak Zuckerman: 'We didn't figure that the Germans would put in the Jewish element, that Jews would lead Jews to death... There isn't another chapter in Jewish history in which the murderers themselves were basically Jews.'A Surplus of Memory, New York 1993, pp. 210, 212; see also pp. 192 , 208-9. Arno Mayer's main blasphemy was emphasizing the salience of anti-Bolshevism alongside anti-Semitism in Nazi ideology. The hatchet man in his case was then-Harvard graduate student Daniel Goldhagen. See The New Republic, 17 April 1989.

76. Alongside Holocaust studies, a veritable Holocaust industry has sprung up. The recent publication of a Holocaust cookbook -- to rave notices, no less -- points up the marketing possibilities of Holocaust kitsch. Cara DeSilva, ed., In Memory's Kitchen, New York 1996.

77. Revealingly, Holocaust studies has been exempted from the current mainstream assault on what is disparagingly dubbed 'victim studies' -- for example, women's and gay and lesbian studies. The explanation for this discrepancy is plainly not comparative scholarly worth. One may also note that the field of Judaic studies has enjoyed comparable immunity from current mainstream attacks on ethnic studies.

78. Indeed, Goldhagen is to Holocaust scholarship what Elie Wiesel is to Holocaust memory. In a highly-praised new memoir, All Rivers Run to the Sea, New York 1995, Wiesel documents his credibility as a witness. Recently liberated from Buchenwald and only eighteen years old, he reports, 'I read The Critique of Pure Reason don't laugh! in Yiddish.'(pp. 139, 163-4) Leaving aside Wiesel's acknowledgement that at the time 'I was wholly ignorant of Yiddish grammar' (pp. 139, 163-4), The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish. This is only one of a number of extraordinary episodes in the book (for others, see pp. 121-30, 202). He who 'refuses to believe me', Wiesel protests, 'is lending credence to those who deny the Holocaust.'(p. 336)

79. In Alexander Bloom's Prodigal Sons, New York 1986, a richly detailed portrait of the New York Jewish intellectual scene through the late 1960s, there is scarcely a mention of either Zionism or Israel. The memoirs of prominent American Jewish intellectuals across the political spectrum confirm that 'none of us were Zionists' (Sidney Hook, Out of Step, New York 1987, p. 5), that 'the Six-Day War probably formed a turning point'(Irving Howe, A Margin of Hope, New York 1982, p. 277), and that Israel after the June war was 'now the religion of the American Jews' (Norman Podhoretz, Breaking Ranks, New York 1979, p. 335). To cite one illustrative example, Dissent magazine devoted only two or three articles to Israel from its founding in 1954 through the 1967 war. Yet in subsequent years, Dissent editors Irving Howe and Michael Walzer were seen both here and in Israel as intellectual mainstays of the Jewish state. One may further note that the only allusions in Dissent before the June war to the Nazi Holocaust were two critical reviews of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem and an article commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

80. Goldhagen locates 'eliminationist anti-Semitism' -- the tendency towards extermination -- in Germany. Yet, in his formulation, it must be a general tendency. At any rate, Goldhagen never specifies why it was peculiar to Germany. To adduce the Nazi holocaust as evidence is plainly a post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument.

81. A full discussion of the origins of Holocaust culture would also have to include domestic sources. Aligned with black people against the Jim Crow system in the South, many Jews broke with the Civil Rights alliance in the late 1960s when the struggle for equality no longer turned on caste discrimination from which they themselves had suffered but rather economic privilege. Articulating the class outlook of an ethnic group that had largely 'made it' in the US, Jewish neo-conservatives figured prominently in the assault on the poor. Playing the Holocaust card to deflect criticism, they wrapped themselves in the cloak of virginal innocence and bandied about the claim of 'black anti-Semitism'. In addition, former Jewish leftists joining the political mainstream exploited the Holocaust as they tarred the New Left with charges of anti-Semitism.

82. For the Joan Peters hoax, see Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds, Blaming the Victims, New York 1988, ch. 1; and Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, ch. 2. For the record, an abridged version of this manuscript was submitted to Harper's, The Nation, The New, Republic and The New York Review of Books. No editor disputed the findings; none, however, expressed interest in publishing them.

83. Naumann, Auschwitz, p. 91; Primo Levi, The Reawakening, New York 1965, p. 214; Zillmer, The Quest for the Nazi Personality, pp. 79, 48; Trials of War Criminals, vol. iv, p. 500.

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End Part 2/2 -- Begins: 1/2


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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