The holocaust remains a serious issue that many authors have written about. People seek to understand the holocaust in terms of the motives behind the mass killings and what actually transpired during that time. ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners – Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust’ is a book by Daniel Goldhagen, which seeks to explain the role of ordinary Germans in the holocaust. The book examines the various issues that show the participation of Germans including how they supported the Nazis in the holocaust. The book has been deemed controversial gaining popularity among some people while being condemned by others. The purpose of this essay is to analyze different issues addressed in this book and how different people responded to them. In addition, Inga Clendenin’s book, ‘Reading the Holocaust’ will also be used to illustrate some of the views expressed. ‘Survival in Auschwitz’ by Primo Levi will also be incorporated in the analysis.
One of the major issues discussed in this book is the existence of anti-Semitism, which existed in the German culture long before World War II. Anti-Semitism can be defined as harboring hostile attitudes towards Jews. Anti-Semites is the word used to identify people who hate Jews based on their culture, religious beliefs and all other aspects related to the Jewish people. The author of this book argues that ordinary Germans had developed a deep hatred for Jews making the situation more favorable for the Nazis who wanted to eliminate the Jews. The kind of anti-Semitism that existed in Germany is called ‘eliminationist anti-Semitism’. This meant that they wanted the Jews eliminated from the society in which other people lived. Ordinary Germans may not at the time known that it would result in mass killings but it they encouraged the Nazis to take Jews into concentration camps. When ‘eliminationist anti-Semitism’ is deep rooted in the minds of people, the results are likely to be dangerous. The mass killings seen in Europe during the Holocaust are an example of this kind of anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semites believe that whatever they are doing is right and is in protection of their rights. In this book, Goldhagen is of the opinion that ordinary Germans were led to believe that the elimination of the Jew population from Europe was the right thing for them to do. The hostility exhibited by the people towards Jews set a perfect stage for the Nazi to perform their tasks. In addition, personal beliefs are powerful but group beliefs are even more powerful. By having a common belief, ordinary Germans could easily be manipulated by the Nazis, to support and participate in the killing of Jews. The author also notes that, some of the Germans were not involved in the actual killings but ensured that Jews were sent to the concentration camps, which were avenues for the elimination of Jews from the society. The author insists that the culture that had developed among Germans created a deep sense of hatred that resulted in hostile treatment of Jews. It is important to note that, there may have been occasions where ordinary Germans were forced to act in an aggressive manner towards Jews, but most of the time, they did it out of their own free will. The anti-Semitic beliefs ensured that they believed that Jews should not be part of their society and the Europe at large.
Another issue that is discussed in this book is manpower that was provided by ordinary Germans under the leadership of the Nazi. In order to execute their mission efficiently, the Nazi under the leadership of Hitler, needed many people to oversee different areas of the operation. For example, there had to be police officers who could use force to take Jews from their homes and transport them to concentration camps. Moreover, there had to be supervisors who oversaw the actions of the people living there. These people comprised of Germans taken from all industries in the country. They were not forced to work here and the author says that most did it as a sign of the hatred they had for Jews. According to the author, most literary works written about the holocaust focus on the Nazi and their leadership without examining the role of ordinary Germans in the actions witnessed. The author saw the need of conducting research in relation to this issue.
The common belief is that ordinary Germans were coerced into following orders given by the Nazi leadership against the Jews. However, the author disputes this view saying that they had a choice to make and they chose to work for the Nazis. The perpetrators as written by the author were people with a moral responsibility as it is with all human beings. People should always act in a manner that protects human life, which is in contrary to what the Germans did. An example that is given in this book is that of the Police Battalion 101. This group of police officers was made up of ordinary Germans who had families in Germany. They were asked to work in Poland and participate in the killing of the many Jews who lived there. The Battalion had a choice of refusing the task given to them but they accepted it without question. In a world where people live with no hostility towards each other, situations like this would have led to a demonstration by the people asking to be relieved of such duties. However, the German officers easily accepted whatever tasks were given to them. It is a concern for the author that the wives of the police officers got entertained by watching the killing of Jews by their husbands. This shows that they accepted and generally supported the atrocities committed against the Jews.
According to the author, the actions shown by ordinary Germans during the Holocaust have done little to absolve them from the guilt of participating in the holocaust. By focusing on the actions of the police officers of Battalion 101, the book raises issues that had not been considered in earlier literary works. The police officers were informed that they could refuse to follow the orders given to them with no consequences but they willingly continued with the acts. The author shows that it is impossible to say that ordinary Germans were not part of the Holocaust. In fact, the book shows that they were actively involved in actions that led to the holocaust.
Another important issue that shows the involvement of ordinary Germans in the holocaust is the participation of the clergy. During the times when hostility towards Jews mounted, the public churches in Germany, cast out Jews. The situation was already difficult for the Jews and being cast out of the church was a step that increased the powers of the Nazis. This is because they could easily capture the Jews without any complaints from the church. In a normal situation, people run for refuge in the church because it is viewed as a safe haven. However, during World War II, the German public churches could not help Jews but gave them away to the enemy. This shows the extent to which anti-Semitism had gone. The people hated Jews so much that they could not relate with them even in the church. When a person was exterminated from the church, they would definitely end up in concentration camps, which was a death sentence for them.
This book has had many followers as well as opposers. Historical scholars have been known to refute the opinions held by Goldhagen saying that they are baseless and discriminatory. However, the debate on whether ordinary Germans were involved in the holocaust still rages on. It is important to note that the opinions expressed in the book, were reached after great research some of which involved actual interviews with the perpetrators. The language used in this book has also been a topic of discussion. The author keeps on referring to specific examples and incidences of how ordinary Germans killed Jews. The Police Battalion 101 is one of the most used examples where police who comprised of young German men, killed many Jews. The author describes vividly how they would go from place to place executing Jews. The descriptions given in this book show a heartless group of people who used state machinery to kill others.
‘Reading the Holocaust’ by Inga Clendinnen is another literary work about the holocaust. In writing this book, the author tries to create a different approach as compared to what other people have written. She acknowledges the fact that people have had a difficult time accepting the horrific nature of the holocaust. She admits that some authors have attached too much feeling to their findings on the holocaust making it difficult for them to approach the issue in a scholarly perspective. This created the need for her to write a book that would give a detailed account of the holocaust giving both the victims’ and perpetrators view of the holocaust. Most of the works written about the holocaust have focused on the victims’ perspective ignoring what the perpetrators had in mind while doing what they did. This book shows that it is important for people to brace the facts about the holocaust, which have been ignored for many years.
The author tries to define the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators. She argues that it is important to put every action in its rightful context in order to understand it better. The author begins with noting that the gypsies were also the target of the Nazi. She says that attacks on the Gypsies began long before the attacks on the Jews. The author says that people have chosen to forget such events due to the painful memory it brings. However, in order to place the holocaust in its rightful historical context, the people must understand each event and how it led to the holocaust. This book also quantifies each text with an account of a person who witnessed the events. This makes it easier for the reader to identify with the holocaust and relate with the different people who were affected by the holocaust. In addition, the author argues that it is important to understand the situation of Germans who participated in the holocaust for example, the police. When a person understands what they were going through during that time, they can begin to understand their situation. The book quotes other authors who have written about the holocaust in order to give real life experiences of the people.
This book is very different to Goldhagen’s book ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners’. The writers’ approaches to writing are different as well as their views. Goldhagen focuses on finding ways that ordinary Germans accepted and supported the holocaust. He gives examples of the atrocities committed by the police officers and clergymen against the Jews. On the other hand, Clendinnen focuses on giving a wholesome approach to the analysis of the holocaust. She argues that as a historian, it is important to place all information in its rightful context before making conclusions. She also wants people to understand the perspectives held by the victims and as well as the perpetrators. In addition, by giving accounts of events before and after the holocaust, the author makes it easier for readers to understand the holocaust. The accounts by survivors give credibility to the information she gives. She gives stories of people like Primo Levi who was in a concentration camp and lives to tell the happenings.
Primo Levi is one of the survivors of the holocaust who was courageous enough to observe things and keep an account of what was going on in one of the concentration camps. In his book, ‘Survival in Auschwitz’, Levi gives a detailed report of how life in Northern Italy changed for him during the holocaust. As a Jew during that time, he lived in constant fear for his life. The Nazis were advancing toward his home region at around 1943 and it was apparent that it was only a matter of time before they came for him. Levi gives a picture of how the Nazis took hold of all the Jews in the area and transported them in cargo trains. The journey to the concentration camp in Auschwitz–Poland, took four days and they stayed with no food and water. In the camp, only those people capable of working were taken. Women, children and the old were taken to the gas chambers and killed. Levi signifies that only very few people were admitted to the camp. Levi had the task of adapting to the new environment and be able to survive. He knew that the survival rate of people in concentration camps was very low but he still held onto hope. The food was rationed and people were dying of hunger in the camps. The working conditions were also very harsh making them weaker by the day. They usually worked in the rain and snow and many would soon die of cold related illnesses. He was saved from manual work by his skills in chemistry, which earned him a position in the chemistry department. This book continues to be a useful resource on the how life at concentration camps was like.
This book gives a firsthand experience of the holocaust. Primo Levi gives the story of the many Jews who were captured or killed during the holocaust. This is a highly valuable book since not many people survived the concentration camps. Levi stayed in the Auschwitz concentration camp for eleven months. This is considered one of the longest times that a person survived in a camp because most of the people died after two to three months. Levi considers himself lucky because the sickness, which he thought would kill him, saved him from the death march before the camp was saved by the Red Army. The information given in this book is highly credible since it is from survivor of the holocaust. The events that are recounted in the book actually happened to Levi and he documented them to shed a new light to the horrific nature of the holocaust.
In comparison to the other books discussed in this essay, this book is very different. Goldhagen and Clendinnen base their works on the research they have conducted on the holocaust. Their report may be from books that they have read or interviews with victims and perpetrators. However, Primo Levi’s book is an account of the real things that happened to him. His book is like a bibliography only that he gives events that happened in the part of his life when he lived in a concentration camp. The other two authors may have based some of the information on personal opinion reducing their credibility. Levi’s book is easily believable because it is a personal story.
Secondly, the purpose of the three books is different. The purpose of ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners’ is to give information regarding the participation of ordinary Germans in the holocaust. ‘Reading the Holocaust’, was written to give an understanding of the different party’s involved in the holocaust. On the other hand, ‘Survival in Auschwitz’ is meant to give the reader a survivor’s experience at a concentration camp. The three books refer to the same event but have different approaches. The authors also use different writing skills and language to express their views. Clendinnen and Levi give their personal experiences and feelings while writing the book while Goldhagen gives a well explains thesis based on research rather than feelings. Goldhagen and Clendinnen focus on the perpetrators and their relationship with the victims. On the other hand, Levi makes no attempt at making accusations or explaining the actions of the perpetrators. His is simply an account of his experiences and how he felt during the time he lived at a concentration camp.
In conclusion, the three books discussed above provide the reader with information that is useful in analysis of the holocaust. All of these books have sparked serious debate regarding the events surrounding the holocaust. Goldhagen’s book brought a new angle to the scholarly studies of the holocaust. Most authors used to shy away from the issue of ordinary Germans participating in the killing of Jews. However, this book has given examples that show how ordinary Germans may have supported the holocaust. The theory of ‘eliminationist anti-Semitism’ is an issue that gives the reader a preliminary of what led to the decision by Germans to support the killing of Jews. Inga Clendinnen has also done good job at giving the reader different perspectives that a scholar can use to understand the holocaust. It is important to note that she uses Levi’s book as a point of reference. The three books discussed here provide the reader with a detailed account of the holocaust from different perspectives.