In Hitler and the Holocaust
, part of the Modern Library Chronicles series, Robert S. Wistrich is less concerned with detailing the "what" and "how" of this century's most infamous genocide than he is in answering the seemingly unanswerable: "Why?"
World War II, Wistrich posits, was not only a German attempt to obtain territorial hegemony but simultaneously (and perhaps more importantly, in Hitler's eyes) a crusade against the "mythical Jewish enemy," those people he felt were the source of "all evils"--internationalism, pacifism, democracy, Marxism, and Christianity among them. Jews were nonpeople--vermin, bacteria, a contagion--and therefore "unworthy of life." This ideology was most immediately a reaction to Germany's defeat in World War I and the economic chaos and national humiliation that followed, but Wistrich suggests, this "apocalyptic theology" was only the ghastly tip of an anti-Jewish iceberg that had floated on European seas for the best part of two millennia. The Nazi agenda was aided and abetted, Wistrich goes on, as much by the indifference toward and abandonment of the Jews by most European Christian religious bodies (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) and American and British political exigencies as it was by modern technology.
This is a grave, dense book, one almost entirely unrelieved by anecdote. It is, as well, rigorous, adamant, and sure to generate controversy. Though it catalogues many individual trees, many of them difficult to behold, its primary value is to look upon the entire Holocaust forest and to describe that disturbing, grotesque panorama in eschatological terms. --H. O'Billovitch
From Publishers Weekly
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)
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