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Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew Paperback – September 1, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Historians have long debated whether the origins of the Holocaust can be traced to a German tradition of anti-Semitism that Adolf Hitler was able to channel to his advantage (a view taken by Daniel Goldhagen in his book Hitler's Willing Executioners), or whether, instead, the mass murder of Europe's Jewish population was the byproduct of the Nazi war against neighboring states (Christopher Browning's position in Ordinary Men). In Official Secrets, American University historian Richard Breitman proposes an explanation that lies somewhere in between: whereas most ordinary Germans approved of the persecution of Jews, he maintains, the German leadership nonetheless took pains to keep the facts of the Final Solution out of the public eye, fearful that those ordinary Germans might not have approved of wholesale slaughter. Widening the scope of his inquiry, Breitman points out that the Holocaust was well mapped out in the pages of Mein Kampf, which the Allied leaders had studied well before war broke out. Those leaders also knew, thanks to detailed intelligence reports and intercepted German radio messages, of the existence of extermination camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka. Breitman examines why the Allies did so little to oppose the Holocaust as it unfolded--or, as he puts it, why "the U.S. government and the British government did not try to do what might have worked." His thoughtful answers are likely to excite further debate among historians. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Breitman's important, dispassionate study adds to the already considerable body of evidence that Britain's top intelligence analysts knew, as early as September 1941, that the Germans were systematically carrying out mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied Soviet territories and planning their liquidation in the lands they conquered. Drawing on newly declassified British decodes of intercepted German police wireless-telegraphy messages, the author, an eminent Holocaust scholar and American University professor of history, establishes the crucial role of the battalions of the German Order Police, run by Gestapo bureaucrat Kurt Daluege, the arch-rival of Security Police chief Reinhard Heydrich. Breitman concludes that many police executioners obeyed the orders to murder Jews without compunction because they had long since internalized the pervasive anti-Semitic prejudice. In this respect, his study lends support to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, though Breitman qualifies this by arguing that while Jew-hatred was an integral part of 1930s Germany's political and social life, the Nazi regime had to reinforce and radicalize this prejudice in various sectors of society. Breitman also reviews the failure of both the British and Americans to rescue European Jewry and delivers a damning indictment of the U.S. news media for failing to make clear to the American people the true nature of Nazism. His meticulously documented study makes a compelling case that the Western powers could have made a significant difference in saving Jewish lives earlier, if the political will to do so had existed. Editor, Elisabeth Sifton.
Copyright 1998 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: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809001845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809001842
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,228,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In this account of Nazi atrocities,Richard Breitman, professor of history at American University, presents a factual picture in many ways more horrifying than dramatizations of the events.
The author draws on recently released transcripts of British intelligence intercepts of German Order Police (ORPO) radio transmissions, and he integrates this information with material previously known to scholars of the Holocaust.
Breitman presents convincing evidence that ridding Europe of all Jews was an early goal of Hitler, not one that emerged later in the war. This goal was pursued ruthlessly by the SS and ORPO with ever-increasing efficiency as the war progressed. Even when it was clear that the Germany could not win the war, its leaders continued their all-out effort to accomplish this objective.
What did the Allies know of the atrocities? During the war, the American people had heard reports of persecution of the Jews by the Nazis, but they were astounded when allied troops uncovered the horrifying extent of the extermination. Yet this book presents evidence that high officials in Britian and the United States were aware of this throughout the war. Reports from the Polish Government-in-Exile emphasized that all Jews, including women and children were being eliminated. Jewish organizations, and individul citizens in many countries were also reporting this, and the ORPO radio intercepts confirmed it.
Unfortunately, not all allied officials had access to all of the information, and there was considerable disagreement about its accuracy and relevance. Some thought the reports were fabricated or grossly exaggerated. Even if substantially true, there was disagreement over what could be done about it.
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Format: Paperback
I have read this book twice. Perhaps the author repeats himself. I may even have a few minor quibbles with some of research regarding conclusions. All that does not matter. Why? Because the author makes you think twice about commonly held beliefs. A good author in this area makes you want to read his footnotes. Again why? Because what he has written makes you want to know more. The author had me bookmarking where I was reading, and his footnotes, so I could go back and forth.

This book goes into detail about the role of the German police battalions in the mass murder that resulted from Hitlers racial policies. Something that very few researchers have written about. I would rate this book, and Brownings writing on Police Battalion 101, as the two best books on the subject.
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Format: Paperback
Like anything on this topic, it is first and foremost heartbreaking. I did have questions about the repeated assertion that the Allies should have bombed Auschwitz because they knew the extent and nature of what was going on there and could have stopped/slowed down the monstrous "machinery" of death. What I don't understand is why he thinks that would have helped. The very people that the bombing was supposed to save, according to the author, were THERE, on the ground - and would have been killed too. It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

From what I've read/seen on the bombing subject, precision bombing was not all that precise back then, which is why plenty of towns without military value were hit. So I'm not convinced on that point.

Additionally, regarding the decoded info, it may have been impossible to act on without revealing the source. The big picture was to win the war and letting on that they knew these "top secrets" may have saved some lives but cost more lives in the long run. Also, as the author acknowledges numerous times, much remains classified so the full story is not yet known.

As far as making accusations about who didn't do what or didn't do enough, I feel strongly that fingers should be pointed in the right place - at the Nazis and their wicked collaborators alone. The Allies may have been imperfect but they were on the side of the Angels,and they did no less than save the world! The monstrous Nazis, and they alone, have the blood of those poor innocent people on their hands to eternity. Lastly,it would be decent to give a mention to the millions of other, non-Jewish victims - such as the gypsies, prisoners of war, etc. who shared the tragic fate of the Jews. They seem forgotten in this book.
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Fascinating and very unsettling look into the Holocaust from a new perspective.
What did the Allies know about the Holocaust and what if anything could they have done to stop it? It also looks at the German mechanism and the criminal lunatics who took part in the Holocaust and carried the horrific atrocities.
If you are interested in this dark part of history it may explain what happened.
A very balanced researched book.
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