The last word on the Holocaust by the world's leading expert on the subject.
The extermination of the Jews of Europe triggers disbelief. This volume presents a thorough historical study of the events while attempting to keep some of the traces of the primary sense of disbelief.
The work is based on a vast array of contemporary sources and recent historical literature. Its interpretive framework is founded on the lethal impact of several converging factors: The growing crisis and the collapse of liberal democracy throughout continental Europe on the eve of the war and during its first year, and the anti-Semitic tradition it exacerbated; the raging anti-Jewish campaign of Adolf Hitler's Germany and the readiness of its leader, at a given point in time, to implement his extermination threats against the Jews; the course of the war that became total in 1941 and offered Hitler the context and the circumstances to launch the "Final Solution."
The Holocaust as history extends beyond the usual analysis of German policies, decisions, and measures that led to this most systematic and sustained of modern genocides. It includes the reactions of the surrounding world (authorities, populations, churches, social elites), related facets of everyday life throughout the continent, and their individual expressions. All these elements demand, as is attempted here, one single integrated narration.
The history of the victims is an intrinsic part of this overall context; their attitudes (hope, despair, passivity, collaboration, and resistance) found expression in both collective responses and individual testimonies. Here, the individual voices are weaved into the overall narrative and are the main carriers of disbelief: Some of them end in liberation, most are cut by extermination.
What raises The Years of Extermination to the level of literature, however, is the skilled interweaving of individual testimony with the broader depiction of events. Friedlšnder never lets the reader forget the human and personal meanings of the historical processes he is describing. By and large, he avoids the sometimes unreliable testimony of memoirs for the greater immediacy of contemporary diaries and letters, though he also makes good use of witness statements at postwar trials. The result is an account of unparalleled vividness and power that reads like a novel.