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Hitler's Willing Executioners


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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.


Though scholarly, this work, originally a Ph.D. thesis, promises to have a wide influence. Goldhagen (government, Harvard) endeavors to show that the common apologia for the Germans‘that Hitler "brainwashed" them‘is nonsense and that most Germans gave their active assent to genocide. An ordinary German commander, for example, might feel himself bound by a strict code of conduct yet not be at all averse to murdering Jews. The book ends with a detailed notes section and an appendix that explains the correct methodology for studying the Nazi period. Like Raul Hilberg's great Destruction of the European Jews, Goldhagen's work is a landmark in Holocaust studies. It does not supersede any of the standard histories of the Holocaust by Hilberg, Dawidowicz, Levin, Gilbert, and others simply because its primary aim is not to describe events but to explore and explain motivation. In so doing it provides a fuller understanding of the Holocaust. The work will be the subject of an international symposium held at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on April 8. Highly recommended for most libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/95.]‘Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa District Lib., Ill.

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. (Mar.)

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