A great historian crowns a lifetime of thought and research by answering a question that has haunted us for more than 50 years: How did one of the most industrially and culturally advanced nations in the world embark on and continue along the path leading to one of the most enormous criminal enterprises in history, the extermination of Europe's Jews?
Giving considerable emphasis to a wealth of new archival findings, Saul Friedlander restores the voices of Jews who, after the 1933 Nazi accession to power, were engulfed in an increasingly horrifying reality. We hear from the persecutors themselves: the leaders of the Nazi party, the members of the Protestant and Catholic hierarchies, the university elites, and the heads of the business community. Most telling of all, perhaps, are the testimonies of ordinary German citizens, who in the main acquiesced to increasing waves of dismissals, segregation, humiliation, impoverishment, expulsion, and violence.
An eminent Holocaust historian gives voice to both the perpetrators and victims of Nazi Germany's prewar persecutions.
Historian and memoirist Friedländer (Reflections of Nazism, 1984; When Memory Comes, 1979; etc.) here offers the first part of a two-volume study of the Holocaust. This eloquent, richly documented history focuses on the period from the rise of the Nazis to the onset of war in 1939, and traces how the Nazi regime gradually drew the German nation into a war against its Jewish population, first harassing, then isolating, and finally openly attacking Jews throughout Germany. The author relies heavily on the words of both notorious racists and everyday Germans, as well as the reactions of Jews and gentile critics of the regime to its increasingly violent actions, drawing from letters, diaries, speeches, and newspaper articles. The first shot was aimed at the "excessive influence" of Germany's Jews on her cultural life, and it's documented here with excerpts from the letters of famous composers, painters, and writers, including Thomas Mann's correspondence with Albert Einstein. This portrait of the German people is not unmixed: While we encounter professors who were all too pleased to have their Jewish department heads and colleagues dismissed as threats to Aryan culture, we also read a German businessman's description of the seizure of Jewish shops by entrepreneurs who were "like vultures swarming down . . . their tongues hanging out with greed, to feed upon the Jewish carcass." The institutionalized ostracism and pauperization of Germany's Jews was fueled, according to Friedländer, by "a synthesis of murderous rage" and polluted idealism, created by the Nazi regime and embraced by the German people.
Not surprisingly, the notes and list of works cited here take up 80 pages. The exhaustive spade work makes this the richest, fullest study of its kind. The reader comes as close as one would ever want to get to Nazi Germany of the 1930s.