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Goldhagen in Hebrew


"Hitler's Willing Executioners" was recently translated into Hebrew. Professor Anita Shapira of Tel Aviv University reviewed the book in the last issue of "Sefarim" (Books) the weekly supplement of "Ha'aretz" (The Land), an Israeli daily newspaper.

The article is palpably different from most of other reviews of the book in the US, Germany and Israel. Before pointing out the issues in which she differs with Goldhagen, she summarizes what the book is about. She also deals with the aftermath of the publication in the US and in Germany, asking why it was so bitterly attacked and dismissed by historians of the Holocaust  "the elders of the tribe"  while enthusiastically accepted by the public at large, in particular in Germany.

Goldhagen shifts the center of Holocaust studies upside down. Away from the "other planet," from abstract evil, from deus ex machina bureaucracy, from apparently erudite distinctions of "intentionalism" and "functionalism" into down to earth simple description of Germans  not necessarily Nazis -- killing Jews  women, children and men -- torturing them, beyond the call of duty, willingly. He comes closer to the narrative of victims and survivors. Shapira reminds the reader of the German perpetrator who was willing to spare the life of his victim, if the victim would be able to tell which of the eyes of the potential killer is made of glass. The victim identified on the spot the glass eye, because it expressed more humanity than the other one.

Similarly to other historians she is critical of Goldhagen explanation of the Holocaust as a direct result of German antisemitism. In her opinion Goldhagen grasps the German history in a simplistic manner.

"The heart of the book is not the unsuccessful attempt in providing the final and absolute explanation to a question in front of which struggled in vain historians, philosophers and theologians in the last 50 years, and will continue to do so in the centuries to come. The heart of the book lies in taking the Holocaust out from sterile, polite, academic portrayals, where it has been so far, into the valley of human sorrow, while touching right upon pain and horror."

Anita Shapira makes reference to the change of opinion as to Hitler and the Third Reich. Hitler is now portrayed as a leader whose many decisions were rational. She mentions the article of Gordon Craig in the New York Review of Books, (reviewing a book by John Lukacs on Hitler's historiography, I believe) where he writes that Hitler influenced the history of twentieth century more than any other individual. In her view, the book of Goldhagen stands even more out against the background of this change of outlook.


Source: Aharon Meytahl <[email protected]> Sat, 7 Feb 1998 on <[email protected]>

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