Hitler and the Holocaust is the product of a lifetime's work by one of the world's foremost authorities on the history of anti-Semitism and modern Jewry. Robert S. Wistrich begins by reckoning with Europe's long history of violence against the Jews, and how that tradition manifested itself in Germany and Austria in the early twentieth century. He looks at the forces that shaped Hitler's belief in a "Jewish menace" that must be eradicated, and the process by which, once Hitler gained power, the Nazi regime tightened the noose around Germany's Jews. He deals with many crucial questions, such as when Hitler's plans for mass genocide were finalized, the relationship between the Holocaust and the larger war, and the mechanism of authority by which power-and guilt-flowed out from the Nazi inner circle to "ordinary Germans," and other Europeans. He explains the infernal workings of the death machine, the nature of Jewish and other resistance, and the sad story of collaboration and indifference across Europe and America, and in the Church.
Wistrich, professor of modern Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has masterfully condensed four decades of Holocaust research into an accessible and informative book that will benefit specialists and lay readers alike. This new addition to the Modern Library's Chronicles series of short histories is organized thematically, exploring 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, the context and events that yielded the Third Reich and what differentiates the Holocaust from other 20th-century genocides. As depicted here, the few rays of light offered by the noble actions of Denmark, Italy and Bulgaria are snuffed out by the Protestant and Catholic churches' inactivity, the shameful behavior of Britain and the U.S., and the atrocious actions of Germans and other Europeans, particularly the German allies. Wistrich (The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph) continually refers and responds to other Holocaust studies; of particular interest is the controversy concerning "ordinary men" and "ordinary Germans" that erupted with Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Christopher Browning's studies. Wistrich draws a connection between the infamous Nazi euthanasia program and later developments, and briefly discusses the debate between "functionalists" (those who believe the Holocaust to be an outcome of the war) and "intentionalists" (those who believe Hitler always intended to exterminate the Jews). The general reader will be interested in Wistrich's detailed description of the decision to implement the "Final Solution." The most provocative chapter, though, is surely the last, on "Modernity and the Holocaust." Most commentators (secular and religious) have argued that the Holocaust represents the complete antithesis of Western civilization, but some scholars interpret it as the logical, brutal outcome of Western modernity's bureaucratic, technocratic and rationalist impulse. Wistrich's balanced, nuanced discussion is illuminating. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (On-sale: Oct. 2) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 04, 2003
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