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

3.3 out of 5 stars 284 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: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (284 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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: Paperback
In America, we say, we think, we feel, "It can't happen here." Yet again and again we receive warnings that -- well, we are wrong in that imagination, for it can happen here. We can drop to the depths of a great cultural depravity wherein we easily hunt and kill neighbors before breakfast for the fun of it. History shows that remarkable nature of humans, again and again -- NOTHING exempts a culture from it, if the culture comes to tolerate and welcome the kind of division and divisiveness that for 150 years the German culture tolerated and then came to celebrate. The low point of German cultural depravity came about because the German culture entertained, then tolerated, then celebrated a form of class warfare, of racism, of strengthening the German group identity by demonizing the outsider, by dehumanizing and demonizing the Jew, by dehumanizing the Slavic peoples, by mocking other cultural and racial groups, thereby building up the Aryan Master Race of Germans.

After the war for many years and even continuing today, Germans say "that was the Nazis!" or "... had to go along with it, the Nazis were too powerful and brutal". In other words, the same soup, reheated. Create your group by the defining the outsider rudely. The soft fictions that there were magical Nazi beings who took over Germany, a race of Nazis we should all loathe, and yet they weren't Germans. Germans are good, loving, honest, modest. Bosh.

Germans suffer from the same condition we all do. There were no Nazis, distinct from Germans. There were no Germans distinct from Humans. We are all human, we can, if we allow it--we can all become a Nazi.
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