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Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust Paperback – January 28, 1997

3.2 out of 5 stars 276 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In a work that is as authoritative as it is explosive, Goldhagen forces us to revisit and reconsider our understanding of the Holocaust and its perpetrators, demanding a fundamental revision in our thinking of the years between 1933-1945. Drawing principally on materials either unexplored or neglected by previous scholars, Goldhagen marshals new, disquieting primary evidence that explains why, when Hitler conceived of the "final solution" he was able to enlist vast numbers of willing Germans to carry it out. A book sure to provoke new discussion and intense debate. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Goldhagen's gripping and shocking landmark study transforms our understanding of the Holocaust. Refuting the widespread notion that those who carried out the genocide of Jews were primarily SS men or Nazi party members, he demonstrates that the perpetrators?those who staffed and oversaw the concentration camps, slave labor camps, genocidal army units, police battalions, ghettos, death marches?were, for the most part, ordinary German men and women: merchants, civil servants, academics, farmers, students, managers, skilled and unskilled workers. Rejecting the conventional view that the killers were slavishly carrying out orders under coercion, Goldhagen, assistant professor of government at Harvard, uses hitherto untapped primary sources, including the testimonies of the perpetrators themselves, to show that they killed Jews willingly, approvingly, even zealously. Hitler's genocidal program of a "Final Solution" found ready accomplices in these ordinary Germans who, as Goldhagen persuasively argues, had absorbed a virulent, "eliminationist" anti-Semitism, prevalent as far back as the 18th century, which demonized the Jews and called for their expulsion or physical annihilation. Furthermore, his research reveals that a large proportion of the killers were told by their commanders that they could disobey orders to kill, without fear of retribution?yet they slaughtered Jews anyway. By his careful estimate, hundreds of thousands of Germans were directly involved in the mass murder, and millions more knew of the ongoing genocide. Among the 30 photographs are snapshots taken by the murderers of themselves and their victims.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 28, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679772685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772682
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (276 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

When in 1996 I published Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, I was transformed unexpectedly, and almost instantly, into the author of a #1 international bestseller of a book published in 15 languages, and the unwitting progenitor of an impassioned international "Goldhagen Debate," which has since become a fixed part of the western, and especially the German, cultural landscape. The book, about the perpetrators of the Holocaust and ordinary Germans' role in it, told buried truths about the tens upon tens of thousands who carried out Hitler's plan to exterminate the Jews: these perpetrators were willing executioners, willing because they were antisemites who believed that exterminating Jews was right and necessary. Survivors of the Holocaust -- the people who learned of the perpetrators' beliefs firsthand from the perpetrators themselves -- heartily applauded the book, as did younger Germans and people elsewhere who hankered for these tabooed subjects to be finally discussed openly, even as some others clung to various untenable positions with the effect of denying the humanity of the killers and of exonerating them. Immediately, upon its publication, its contributions were recognized. The New York Times wrote: "Masterly...One of those rare new works that merit the appellation landmark." The Philadelphia Inquirer judged it: "The most important book ever published about the Holocaust...Eloquently written, meticulously documented, impassioned...A model of moral and scholarly integrity." It was honored as a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and Time named it one of the two best non-fiction books of the year. In country after country, similar views and admiration greeted Hitler's Willing Executioners -- as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany conveyed with its summation of the effect of the publication of Hitler's Willing Executioners, which it endorsed as "The most spectacular nonfiction success of this year." With time, as a flood of scholarly studies have come out which have substantiated Hitler's Willing Executioners' conclusions, more and more who have read the book's vast amount of new research and evidence and its challenging perspectives have come to appreciate and accept what the Holocaust's survivors had known all along. And so, a front page article in the New York Times on 15 October 2010 announced that the revolution in understanding that Hitler's Willing Executioners produced about the Holocaust has unequivocally become, just fifteen years after the book's publication, the consensus view in Germany. The establishment German Historical Museum in Berlin has opened a major exhibition that confirms and builds upon the conclusions of Hitler's Willing Executioners: "This exhibition is about Hitler and the Germans -- meaning the social and political and individual processes by which much of the German people became enablers, colluders, co-criminals in the Holocaust," said the authoritative Constanze Stelzenmüller, until recently the director of the German Marshall Fund Berlin Office. "That this was so is now a mainstream view, rejected only by a small minority of very elderly and deluded people, or the German extreme right-wing fringe. But it took us a while to get there."

Thus I became a public intellectual, the startling winner of Germany's prestigious Democracy Prize (there have been only six since it was established) awarded only when someone earns it (the previous winner, seven years earlier, was the East Germany democracy movement), with a debate forever a suffix to my name. I have always been determined to write and speak forthrightly about important topics-topics about which many want to hear, even if many others desperately do not want the truth to be heard. Whether it is about Nazism and the Holocaust, powerful institutions' moral duties, or the dangers of Political Islam, I have never held my tongue out of fear of what people, including powerful people, might say.

My most recent project, Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity, has issued both in a book (which is being published already in eight languages) and a feature length documentary (the first ever to focus on the phenomenon of genocide itself) that had its national broadcast premiere on PBS on April 14. Worse Than War tells people what I have learned about genocides and genocide in my three decades of studying them, explaining not just how to understand their many complex facets, but also how to stop the killing. As Hitler's Willing Executioners did for the Holocaust, Worse Than War poses a powerful challenge to deeply entrenched myths about why genocides happen. It fundamentally reconfigures our understanding of genocide as a global phenomenon and reconceptualizes it as one aspect of a more fundamental form of politics that can be called "eliminationism." I am gratified that Worse Than War, more than a decade in the writing, has already garnered enormous praise, with words such as "magisterial," "pathbreaking," "masterful," "monumental," and "wholly convincing" gracing the reviews.

I hope that you choose to have a look at it. Whether or not you end up agreeing with every conclusion and proposal in Worse Than War, the book and the film offer a plethora of new information and perspectives not just on genocide or eliminationism but on critical aspects of humanity and modernity, society and politics. I hope to rouse your intellect and conscience, even if I at the same time challenge your views about the most foundational matters of politics, society, and human nature.

For more information, please visit http://goldhagen.com/.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Daniel Goldhagen has created a storm in the study of the Holocaust with his new book Hitler's Willing Executioners (based on his PhD research). The furore that the book unleashed was immediate and intense. In a symposium on the book held at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Yehuda Bauer dismissed the book, the author and the fact that the research was deemed good enough for a PhD. The book has also raised scholarly eyebrows because the author makes the claim that his version of events is `totally new'.

A.J.P. Taylor once said that in history, the most important duty of the historian is to ask the right questions. Daniel Goldhagen does this even though the academic world has descended upon him. Goldhagen asks how ordinary Germans become perpetrators in the Final Solution. The question, is obviously important, but unfortunately what Goldhagen gives us is a monocausal answer: `antisemitism' or, as Goldhagen terms it `eliminationist antisemitism'. His thesis is that `eliminationist antisemitism' was a cultural norm in Germany by the late 19th century; that all the perpetrators shared this view of the Jews; and, furthermore, most Germans accepted this view of the Jews.

Yet, what I think is more disturbing than this argument is Goldhagen's claim that his thesis is totally new: `the perpetrators, "ordinary Germans", were animated by antisemitism, but a particular type of antisemitism that led them to conclude that Jews ought to die... Simply put, the perpetrators, having consulted their own convictions and morality and having judged the mass annihilation of Jews to be right, did not want to say "no"' (p. 14).

One certainly does not have to dig that far into the literature to find the origins of some of his ideas.
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Format: Paperback
The Holocaust is one of the most horrendous acts of inhumanity ever recorded. In his book, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Daniel Goldhagen proposes an explanation of how this event not only could have taken place, but how it was perpetrated by ordinary people not brain-washed party goons who "were just following orders". The book has two primary goals. The first is to argue that the elimination of the German Jews was the product of "elimination anti-Semitism" which was uniquely German. The second is that due to this idea of elimination anti-Semitism, it was easy and natural for ordinary Germans to begin the wholesale slaughter of Jews because it had been programmed into them. Goldhagen goes to great lengths to back up his arguments. He provides us with some insight into the Holocaust heretofore not seen. His research is meticulous, his arguments are compelling; however, for his thesis to work, the history of European anti-Semitism must be either rewritten or ignored. Goldhagen's zeal to prove the German people totally responsible for the Holocaust seems to have colored his recollection of history.
Goldhagen spends the first part of his book repeatedly and redundantly explaining his thesis of elimination anti-Semitism. While he makes good points to the "why's" of the anti-Semitism, he seems to have a problem with his "where's". Goldhagen is so intent on this argument preceding his ordinary German argument that he creates an anti-Semitic Germany which stands alone in Europe in its depth of anti-Semitism. The history of Western Europe does not exactly agree with Goldhagen's analysis that Germany was the only place the Holocaust could have occurred because of its unique brand of elimination anti-Semitism.
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Format: Hardcover
One hopes that at some future date, Goldhagen (or an editor who acutally knows his job) will return to this work and do some serious editing. Clearly Goldhagen simply took his doctoral thesis, and with precious little revision, transformed it into a book that is barely readable, due to its dense and repetitive language. The reader should be warned that the narrative does not flow freely in this book.

For those readers who have the stomachs to wade through the book to its conclusions, they will find some useful material. In particular, Goldhagen has shown that more ordinary Germans were active participants in the Holocaust than has been previously believed, and in this he is to be commended.

If he had left it at that (and had made his book somewhat more readable), most of the criticism this book has received never would have occurred. Unfortunately, Goldhagen attempts to extend his argument by stating that virtually all Germans were culturally hard-wired to participate in a Holocaust, once the right circumstances were in place. He maintains that German culture has essentially programmed Germans to be eleminationist anti-semites, either tacitly or actively, and furthermore, this is a cultural feature unique to the Germans.

The flaws in this argument should be obvious to anyone. For one thing, Goldhagen assumes that the average German, if he or she did not actively oppose the Nazi regime, was therefore tacitly supporting it and by extension was anti-semitic, abetting the more active Holocaust participants. How does one prove that one is not an eliminationist anti-semite under the conditions Goldhagen has provided?
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