Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

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Vintage Books, 1997 - History - 634 pages
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has revisited a question that history has come to treat as settled, and his researchers have led him to the inescapable conclusion that none of the established answers holds true. That question is: "How could the Holocaust happen?" His own response is a new exploration of those who carried out the Holocaust and of German society and its ingrained anti-semitism - and it demands a fundamental revision of our thinking about the years 1933-1945. Drawing principally on materials either unexplored or neglected by previous scholars, Goldhagen marshals new, disquieting, primary evidence - including extensive testimony from the actual perpetrators themselves - to show that many beliefs about the killers are fallacies: They were not primarily SS men or Nazi Party members, but perfectly ordinary Germans from all walks of life, men (and women) who brutalized and murdered Jews both willingly and zealously. And they did so, moreover, not because they were coerced (for, as he shows irrefutably, so many were informed by their own commanders that they could refuse to kill without fear of retribution) ... not because they slavishly followed orders (a view seemingly supported by Stanley Milgram's famous Yale "obedience experiment") ... not because of any tremendous social, psychological, or peer pressure to conform to the behaviour of their comrades (for no such evidence exists) ... and not for any reasons associated with Hannah Arendt's disputed notion of the "banality of evil." They acted as they did because of a widespread, profound, unquestioned, and virulent antisemitism that led them to regard the Jews as a demonic enemy whose extermination was not only necessary but also just. Again and again, it is the killers' own words that give us a portrait, both shocking and immediate, of their world: the organization of their daily lives, how they did what they did, their reactions to it, even their recreations in the killings fields, which included everything from sports and entertainment to the hobby of taking snapshots of their deeds and victims - to be freely exchanged and collected among themselves - leaving a devastating record of self-indictment that the author reproduces here. All of Goldhagen's documentary evidence is set within a fresh analysis of the phenomenon of German antisemitism itself, which revises many conventional views. He shows that it was already deep-rooted and pervasive in German society before Hitler came to power, and that there was a widely shared view that the Jews ought to be eliminated in some way from German society. When Hitler, ultimately, chose mass extermination as the only "final solution," he was thus easily able to enlist vast numbers of Germans to carry it out.

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User Review  - MiaCulpa - LibraryThing

I'm not in the slightest surprised that "Hitler's Willing Executioners" is a controversial book; Any theory that blames the German people (and friends) for the evil done in their name rather than that ... Read full review

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User Review  - SPQR2755 - LibraryThing

Very hard to read. It is a sweeping indictment of a whole culture and its institutions well argued and documented. Is it a broad brush? Maybe, but it rings more true than not. Read full review

Contents

Recasting the View of Antisemitism A Framework for Analysis
27
The Evolution of Eliminationist Antisemitism in Modern Germany
49
Eliminationist Antisemitism The Common Sense of German Society During the Nazi Period
80
Copyright

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About the author (1997)


Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is an Associate of Harvard University's Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. His doctoral dissertation, which is the basis for the book, was awarded the American Political Science Association's 1994 Gabriel A. Almond Award for the best dissertation in the field of comparative politics. After publication of this book in Germany, in 1997 Daniel Johan Goldhagen won the highly prestigious Democracy Prize. He is the author of A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair.

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