Goldhagen Argumentative Essays

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust is a 1996 book by American writer Daniel Goldhagen, in which he argues that the vast majority of ordinary Germans were "willing executioners" in the Holocaust because of a unique and virulent "eliminationistantisemitism" in the German political culture, which had developed in the preceding centuries. Goldhagen argues that this "eliminationist antisemitism" was the cornerstone of German national identity, and that this type of antisemitism was unique to Germany and because of it, ordinary German conscripts killed Jews willingly. Goldhagen asserts that this special mentality grew out of medieval attitudes from a religious basis, but was eventually secularized.

The book aims to dispel several popular notions about the scope of German complicity in the Holocaust, which Goldhagen regards to be myths. These "myths" include: the notion that most Germans did not know about the Holocaust; that only the SS, and not average members of the Wehrmacht, participated in murdering Jews; and that genocidal antisemitism was a uniquely Nazi ideology that had no historical antecedents in Germany.

The book, which began as a Harvard doctoral dissertation, was written largely as an answer to Christopher Browning's 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Much of Goldhagen's book is concerned with the actions of the same Reserve Battalion 101 of the Nazi German Ordnungspolizei. His narrative challenges numerous aspects of Browning's book, however. Goldhagen had already indicated his opposition to Browning's thesis in a review of Ordinary Men in the July 13, 1992 edition of The New Republic titled "The Evil of Banality".

Goldhagen's book stoked controversy and debate in Germany and the United States. Some historians have characterized its reception as an extension of the Historikerstreit, the German historiographical debate of the 1980s that sought to explain Nazi history. The book was a "publishing phenomenon",[1] achieving fame in both the United States and Germany, despite its "mostly scathing" reception among historians,[2] who were unusually vocal in condemning it as ahistorical and, in the words of Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, "totally wrong about everything" and "worthless".[3][4]

Hitler's Willing Executioners won the American Political Science Association's 1994 Gabriel A. Almond Award in comparative politics, and the Democracy Prize of the Journal for German and International Politics. The Journal asserted that the debate fostered by Goldhagen's book helped sharpen public understanding about the past during a period of radical change in Germany.[5]

The Evil of Banality[edit]

In 1992, the American historian Christopher Browning published a book titled Ordinary Men about the Reserve Police Battalion 101, which had been used in 1942 to massacre and round up Jews for deportation to the Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland. The conclusion of the book, which was much influenced by the Milgram experiment on obedience, was that the men of Unit 101 were not demons or Nazi fanatics but ordinary middle-aged men of working-class background from Hamburg, who had been drafted but found unfit for military duty. In the course of the murderous Operation Reinhard, these men were ordered to round up Jews, and if there was not enough room for them on the trains, to shoot them. In other, more chilling cases, they were ordered simply to kill a specified number of Jews in a given town or area. In one instance, the commander of the unit gave his men the choice of opting out of this duty if they found it too unpleasant; the majority chose not to exercise that option, resulting in fewer than 15 men out of a battalion of 500 opting out. Browning argued that the men of Unit 101 agreed willingly to participate in massacres out of a basic obedience to authority and peer pressure, not blood-lust or primal hatred.[6]

In his review of Ordinary Men published in July 1992,[7] Goldhagen expressed agreement with several of Browning's findings, namely, that the killings were not, as many people believe, done entirely by SS men, but also by Trawnikis; that the men of Unit 101 had the option not to kill, and – a point Goldhagen emphasizes – that no German was ever punished in any serious way for refusing to kill Jews.[8] But Goldhagen disagreed with Browning's "central interpretation" that the killing was done in the context of the ordinary sociological phenomenon of obedience to authority.[8] Goldhagen instead contended that "for the vast majority of the perpetrators a monocausal explanation does suffice".[9] They were not ordinary men as we usually understand men to be, but "ordinary members of an extraordinary political culture, the culture of Nazi Germany, which was possessed of a hallucinatory, lethal view of the Jews. That view was the mainspring of what was, in essence, voluntary barbarism."[10] Goldhagen stated that he would write a book that would rebut Ordinary Men and Browning's thesis, and prove instead that it was the murderous antisemitic nature of German culture that led the men of Reserve Battalion 101 to murder Jews.

Goldhagen's thesis[edit]

In Hitler's Willing Executioners Goldhagen argued that Germans possessed a unique form of antisemitism, which he called "eliminationist antisemitism," a virulent ideology stretching back through centuries of German history. Under its influence the vast majority of Germans wanted to eliminate Jews from German society, and the perpetrators of the Holocaust did what they did because they thought it was "right and necessary." For Goldhagen the Holocaust, in which so many Germans participated, must be explained as a result of the specifically German brand of antisemitism.[11]

Goldhagen charged that every other book written on the Holocaust was flawed by the fact that historians had treated Germans in the Third Reich as "more or less like us," wrongly believing that "their sensibilities had remotely approximated our own."[12] Instead, Goldhagen argued that historians should examine ordinary Germans of the Nazi period in the same way they examined the Aztecs who believed in the necessity of human sacrifice to appease the gods and ensure that the sun would rise every day.[13] His thesis, he said, was based on the assumption that Germans were not a "normal" Western people influenced by the values of the Enlightenment. His approach would be anthropological, treating Germans the same way that an anthropologist would describe preindustrial people who believed in absurd things such as trees having magical powers.[14]

Goldhagen's book was meant to be an anthropological "thick description" in the manner of Clifford Geertz.[15] The violent antisemitic "cultural axiom" held by Martin Luther in the 16th century and expressed in his 1543 book On the Jews and Their Lies, according to Goldhagen, were the same as those held by Adolf Hitler in the 20th century.[16] He argued that such was the ferocity of German "eliminationist antisemitism" that the situation in Germany had been "pregnant with murder" regarding the Jews since the mid-19th century and that all Hitler did was merely to unleash the deeply rooted murderous "eliminationist antisemitism" that had been brooding within the German people since at least Luther's time, if not earlier.[17]

Hitler's Willing Executioners marked a revisionist challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy surrounding the question of German public opinion and the Final Solution.[18] The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw, a leading expert in the social history of the Third Reich, wrote, "The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference,"[19][20] that is, that the progress leading up to Auschwitz was motivated by a vicious form of antisemitism on the part of the Nazi elite, but that it took place in a context where the majority of German public opinion was indifferent to what was happening.[21] In several articles and books, most notably his 1983 book Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Kershaw argued that most Germans were at a minimum at least vaguely aware of the Holocaust, but did not much care about what their government was doing to the Jews.[22] Other historians, such as the Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka, the Israeli historian David Bankier, and the American historian Aron Rodrigue, while differing from Kershaw over many details about German public opinion, arguing that the term "passive complicity" is a better description than "indifference", have largely agreed with Kershaw that there was a chasm of opinion about the Jews between the Nazi "true believers" and the wider German public, whose views towards Jews seemed to have expressed more of a dislike than a hatred.[21] Goldhagen, in contrast, declared the term "indifference" to be unacceptable, contending that the vast majority of Germans were active antisemitics who wanted to kill Jews in the most "pitiless" and "callous" manner possible.[23]

As such, to prove his thesis Goldhagen focused on the behavior of ordinary Germans who killed Jews, especially the behavior of the men of Order Police Reserve Battalion 101 in Poland in 1942 to argue ordinary Germans possessed by "eliminationist antisemitism" chose to willingly murder Jews.[24] The 450 or so men of Battalion 101 were mostly middle-aged, working-class men from Hamburg who showed little interest in National Socialism and who had no special training to prepare them for genocide.[25] Despite their very different interpretations of Battalion 101, both Browning and Goldhagen have argued that the men of the unit were a cross-sample of ordinary Germans.[25]

Using Geertz's anthropological methods, Goldhagen argued by studying the men of Battalion 101 one could engage in a "thick description" of the German "eliminationist antisemitic" culture.[26] Contra Browning, Goldhagen argued that the men of Battalion 101 were not reluctant killers, but instead willingly murdered Polish Jews in the most cruel and sadistic manner possible, that "brutality and cruelty" were central to the ethos of Battalion 101.[27] In its turn, the "culture of cruelty" in Battalion 101 was linked by Goldhagen to the culture of "eliminationist antisemitism".[28] Goldhagen noted that the officers in charge of Battalion 101 led by Major Wilhem Trapp allowed the men to excuse themselves from killing if they found it too unpleasant, and Goldhagen used the fact that the vast majority of the men of Battalion 101 did not excuse themselves to argue that this proved the murderous antisemitic nature of German culture.[29] Goldhagen argued for the specific antisemitic nature of Battalion 101's violence by noting that in 1942 the battalion was ordered to shoot 200 Gentile Poles, and instead shot 78 Polish Catholics while shooting 180 Polish Jews later that same day.[30] Goldhagen used this incident to argue the men of Battalion 101 were reluctant to kill Polish Catholics, but only too willing to murder Polish Jews.[30] Goldhagen wrote the men of Battalion 101 felt "joy and triumph" after torturing and murdering Jews.[31] Goldhagen used antisemitic statements by Cardinal Adolf Bertram as typical of what he called the Roman Catholic Church's support for genocide.[32] Goldhagen was later to expand on what he sees as the Catholic Church's institutional antisemitism and support for the Nazi regime in Hitler's Willing Executioners's sequel, 2002's A Moral Reckoning. Goldhagen argued that it "strains credibility" to imagine that "ordinary Danes or Italians" could have acted as he claimed ordinary Germans did during the Holocaust to prove that "eliminationist" anti-Semitism was uniquely German.[33]


What some commentators termed "The Goldhagen Affair"[34] began in late 1996, when Goldhagen visited Berlin to participate in debate on television and in lecture halls before capacity crowds, on a book tour.[35][36] Although Hitler's Willing Executioners was sharply criticized in Germany at its debut,[37] the intense public interest in the book secured the author much celebrity among Germans, so much so that Harold Marcuse characterizes him as "the darling of the German public".[38] Many media voices noted that, while the book launched passionate national discussion about the Holocaust,[39] this discussion was carried out civilly and respectfully. Goldhagen's book tour became, in the opinion of some German media voices, "a triumphant march", as "the open-mindedness that Goldhagen encountered in the land of the perpetrators" was "gratifying" and something of which Germans ought to be proud, even in the context of a book which sought, according to some critics, to "erase the distinction between Germans and Nazis".[34]

Goldhagen was awarded the Democracy Prize in 1997 by the German Journal for German and International Politics, which asserted that "because of the penetrating quality and the moral power of his presentation, Daniel Goldhagen has greatly stirred the consciousness of the German public." The laudatio, awarded for the first time since 1990, was given by Jürgen Habermas and Jan Philipp Reemtsma.[36][40]Elie Wiesel praised the work as something every German schoolchild should read.[41]

Debate about Goldhagen's theory has been intense.[42] Detractors have contended that the book is "profoundly flawed"[43] or "bad history".[44] Some historians have criticized or simply dismissed the text, citing among other deficiencies Goldhagen's "neglect of decades of research in favour of his own preconceptions", which he proceeds to articulate in an "intemperate, emotional, and accusatory tone".[45] In 1997 the German historian Hans Mommsen gave an interview in which he said that Goldhagen had a poor understanding of the diversities of German antisemitism, that he construed "a unilinear continuity of German anti-semitism from the medieval period onwards" with Hitler as its end result, whereas, said Mommsen, it is obvious that Hitler's antisemitic propaganda had no significant impact on the election campaigns between September 1930 and November 1932 and on his coming to power, a crucial phenomenon ignored by Goldhagen. Goldhagen's one-dimensional view of German antisemitism also ignores the specific impact of the völkisch antisemitism as proclaimed by Houston Stuart Chamberlain and the Richard Wagner movement which directly influenced Hitler as well as the Nazi party. Finally, Mommsen criticizes Goldhagen for errors in his understanding of the internal structure of the Third Reich.[46] In the interview Mommsen distinguished three varieties of German antisemitism. "Cultural antisemitism," directed primarily against the Eastern Jews, was part of the "cultural code" of German conservatives, who were mainly found in the German officer corps and the high civil administration. It stifled protests by conservatives against persecutions of the Jews, as well as Hitler's proclamation of a "racial annihilation war" against the Soviet Union. The Catholic Church maintained its own "silent anti-Judaism" which "immuniz[ed] the Catholic population against the escalating persecution" and kept the Church from protesting against persecution of the Jews, even while it did protest against the euthanasia program. Third was the so-called völkisch antisemitism or racism, the most vitriolic form, the foremost advocate of using violence.[46]

Christopher Browning wrote in response to Goldhagen's criticism of him in the 1998 "Afterword" to Ordinary Men published by HarperCollins:

Goldhagen must prove not only that Germans treated Jewish and non-Jewish victims differently (on which virtually all historians' agree), but also that the different treatment is to be explained fundamentally by the antisemitic motivation of the vast majority of the perpetrators and not by other possible motivations, such as compliance with different government policies for different victim groups. The second and third case studies of Hitler's Willing Executioners are aimed at meeting the burden of proof on these two points. Goldhagen argues that the case of the Lipowa and Flughafen Jewish labor camps in Lublin demonstrates that in contrast to other victims, only Jewish labor was treated murderously by the Germans without regard for and indeed counter to economic rationality. And the Helmbrechts death march case, he argues, demonstrates that Jews were killed even when orders have been given to keep them alive, and hence the driving motive for the killing was not compliance to government policy or obedience to orders, but the deep personal hatred of the perpetrators for their Jewish victims that had been inculcated by German culture.[47]

About Goldhagen's claims that the men of Order Police Reserve Battalion 101 were reluctant to kill Polish Catholics while being eager to kill Polish Jews, Browning accused Goldhagen of having double standards with the historical evidence.[48] Browning wrote:

Goldhagen cites numerous instances of gratuitous and voluntaristic killing of Jews as relevant to assessing the attitudes of the killers. But he omits a similar case of gratuitous, voluntaristic killing by Reserve Police Battalion 101 when the victims were Poles. A German police official was reported killed in the village of Niezdów, whereupon policemen about to visit the cinema in Opole were sent to carry out a reprisal action. Only elderly Poles, mostly women, remained in the village, as the younger Poles had all fled. Word came, moreover, that the ambushed German policeman had been only wounded, not killed. Nonetheless, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 shot all the elderly Poles and set the village on fire before returning to the cinema for an evening of casual and relaxing entertainment. There is not much evidence of "obvious distaste and reluctance" to kill Poles to be seen in this episode. Would Goldhagen have omitted this incident if the victims had been Jews and an anti-Semitic motivation could have easily been inferred?[49]

About the long-term origins of the Holocaust, Browning argued that by the end of the 19th century, antisemitism was widely accepted by most German conservatives and that virtually all German conservatives supported the Nazi regime's antisemitic laws of 1933–34 (and the few who did object like President Hindenburg only objected to the inclusion of Jewish war veterans in the antisemitic laws that they otherwise supported) but that left to their own devices, would not have gone further and that for all their fierce anti-Semitism, German conservatives would not have engaged in genocide.[50] Browning also contended that the long prior to 1933 antisemitism of German conservative elites in the military and the bureaucracy meant that they made few objections, moral or otherwise to the Nazi/völkisch antisemitism.[50] Browning was echoing the conclusions of the German conservative historian Andreas Hillgruber who once presented at a historians' conference in 1984 a counter-factual scenario whereby, had it been a coalition of the German National People's Party and the Stahlhelm that took power in 1933 without the NSDAP, all the antisemitic laws in Germany that were passed between 1933 and 1938 would still have occurred but there would have been no Holocaust.[51]

The Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer wrote that Goldhagen's thesis about a murderous antisemitic culture applied better to Romania than to Germany and murderous anti-Semitism was not confined to Germany as Goldhagen had claimed.[52] Bauer wrote of the main parties of the Weimar Coalition that dominated German politics until 1930, the leftist SPD and the liberal DDP were opposed to anti-Semitism while the right-of-the-centre Catholic Zentrum was "moderately" antisemitic.[53] Bauer wrote of the major pre-1930 political parties, the only party that could be described as a radically antisemitic was the conservative German National People's Party, who Bauer called "... the party of the traditional, often radical anti-Semitic elites..." who were "... a definite minority" while the NSDAP won only 2.6% of the vote in the Reichstag elections in May 1928.[53] Bauer charged that it was the Great Depression, not an alleged culture of murderous anti-Semitism that allowed the NSDAP to make its electoral breakthrough in the Reichstag elections of September 1930.[53]

Formally, at least, the Jews had been fully emancipated with the establishment of the German Empire, although they were kept out of certain influential occupations, enjoyed extraordinary prosperity.... Germans intermarried with Jews: in the 1930s some 50,000 Jews were living in mixed German-Jewish marriages, so at least 50,000 Germans, and presumably parts of their families, had familial contact with the Jews. Goldhagen himself mentions that a large proportion of the Jewish upper classes in Germany converted to Christianity in the nineteenth century. In a society where eliminationist norms were universal and in which Jews were rejected even after they had converted, or so he argues, the rise of this extreme form of assimilation of Jews would hardly have been possible.[54]

Despite having a generally critical view of Goldhagen, Bauer wrote that the final chapters of Hitler's Willing Executioners dealing with the death marches were "... the best part of the book. Little is new in the overall description, but the details and the way he analyzes the attitude of the murderers is powerful and convincing".[55] Finally Bauer charged "... that the anti-German bias of his book, almost a racist bias (however much he may deny it) leads nowhere".[55]

Concerning Order Police Reserve Battalion 101, the Australian historian Inga Clendinnen wrote that Goldhagen's picture of Major Trapp, the unit's commander as an antisemitic fanatic was "far-fetched" and "... there is no indication, on that first day or later that he found the murdering of Jewish civilians a congenial task".[56] Clendinnean wrote that Goldhagen's attempt to "... blame the Nazis' extreme and gratuitous savagery" on the Germans was "unpersuasive", and the pogroms that killed thousands of Jews committed by Lithuanian mobs in the summer of 1941, shortly after the arrival of German troops, suggested murderous anti-Semitism was not unique to Germany.[57] Clendinnean ended her essay by stating she found Browning's account of Battalion 101 to be the more believable.[58]

The Israeli historian Omer Bartov wrote that to accept Goldhagen's thesis would also have to mean accepting that the entire German Jewish community was "downright stupid" from the mid-19th century onwards because it is otherwise impossible to explain why they chose to remain in Germany, if the people were so murderously hostile or why so many German Jews wanted to assimilate into an "eliminationist anti-Semitic" culture.[59] In a 1996 review in First Things, the American Catholic priest Father Richard John Neuhaus took issue with Goldhagen's claim that the Catholic and Lutheran churches in Germany were genocidal towards the Jews, arguing that there was a difference between Christian and Nazi anti-Semitism.[60] Neuhaus argued that Goldhagen was wrong to claim that Luther had created a legacy of intense, genocidal anti-Semitism within Lutheranism, asking why, if that were the case, would so many people in solidly Lutheran Denmark act to protect the Danish Jewish minority from deportation to the death camps in 1943.[60] The Canadian historian Peter Hoffmann accused Goldhagen of maligning Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, arguing that Goldhagen had taken wildly out of context the list of Jewish doctors forbidden to practice that Goerdeler as Lord Mayor of Leipzig had issued in April 1935. Hoffmann contended that what happened was that on April 9, 1935, the Deputy Mayor of Leipzig, the National Socialist Rudolf Haake, banned all Jewish doctors from participating in public health insurance and advised all municipal employees not to consult Jewish doctors, going beyond the existing antisemitic laws then in place.[61] In response, the Landesverband Mitteldeutschland des Centralvereins deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens e. V (Middle German Regional Association of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith) complained to Goerdeler about Haake's actions and asked him to enforce the existing antisemitic laws, which at least allowed some Jewish doctors to practice.[61] On 11 April 1935, Goerdeler ordered the end of Haake's boycott, and provided a list of "non-Aryan" physicians permitted to operate under the existing laws and those who were excluded.[62]

Others have contended that, despite the book's "undeniable flaws", it "served to refocus the debate on the question of German national responsibility and guilt", in the context of a re-emergence of a German political right, which may have sought to "relativize" or "normalize" Nazi history.[63]

Goldhagen's assertion that the almost all Germans "wanted to be genocidal executioners" has been viewed with skepticism by most historians, a skepticism ranging from dismissal as "not valid social science" to a condemnation, in the words of the Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer, as "patent nonsense".[1][64][65] Common complaints suggest that Goldhagen's primary hypothesis is either "oversimplified",[66] or represents "a bizarre inversion of the Nazi view of the Jews" turned back upon the Germans.[2] One German commentator suggested that Goldhagen's book "pushes us again and again headfirst into the nasty anti-Semitic mud. This is his revenge...."[67]Eberhard Jäckel wrote a very hostile book review in the Die Zeit newspaper in May 1996 that called Hitler's Willing Executioners "simply a bad book".[68] The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw wrote that he fully agreed with Jäckel on the merits of Hitler's Willing Executioners".[68] Kershaw wrote in 2000 that Goldhagen's book would "... occupy only a limited place in the unfolding, vast historiography of such a crucially important topic-probably at best as a challenge to historians to qualify or counter his 'broad-brush' generalisations".[69]

In 1996, the American historian David Schoenbaum wrote a highly critical book review in the National Review of Hitler's Willing Executioners where he charged Goldhagen with grossly simplifying the question of the degree and virulence of German Antisemitism, and of only selecting evidence that supported his thesis.[70]:54–5 Furthermore, Schoenbaum complained that Goldhagen did not take a comparative approach with Germany placed in isolation, thereby falsely implying that Germans and Germans alone were the only nation that saw widespread antisemitism.[70]:55 Finally, Schoenbaum argued that Goldhagen failed to explain why the anti-Jewish boycott of April 1, 1933 was relatively ineffective or why the Kristallnacht needed to be organized by the Nazis as opposed to being a spontaneous expression of German popular antisemitism.[70]:56 Using an example from his family history, Schoenbaum wrote his that mother in law, a Polish Jew who lived in Germany between 1928–47 never considered the National Socialists and the Germans synonymous, and expressed regret that Goldhagen could not see the same.[70]:56

Hitler's Willing Executioners also drew controversy with the publication of two critical articles: "Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's 'Crazy' Thesis", by the American political science professor Norman Finkelstein and initially published in the UK political journal New Left Review,[71] and "Historiographical review: Revising the Holocaust", written by the Canadian historian Ruth Bettina Birn and initially published in the Historical Journal of Cambridge.[2] These articles were later published as the book A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth.[2] In response to their book, Goldhagen sought a retraction and apology from Birn, threatening at one point to sue her for libel and according to Salon declaring Finkelstein "a supporter of Hamas".[2] The force of the counterattacks against Birn and Finkelstein from Goldhagen's supporters was described by Israeli journalist Tom Segev as "bordering on cultural terrorism . . . The Jewish establishment has embraced Goldhagen as if he were Mr Holocaust himself . . . All this is absurd, because the criticism of Goldhagen is backed up so well."[72]

The Austrian-born American historian Raul Hilberg has stated that Goldhagen is "totally wrong about everything. Totally wrong. Exceptionally wrong."[3] Hilberg also wrote in an open letter on the eve of the book launch at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that "The book is advertised as something that will change our thinking. It can do nothing of the sort. To me it is worthless, all the hype by the publisher notwithstanding".[4]Yehuda Bauer was similarly condemnatory, questioning how an institute such as Harvard could award a doctorate for a work which so "slipped through the filter of critical scholarly assessment".[73] Bauer also suggested that Goldhagen lacked familiarity with sources not in English or German, which thereby excluded research from Polish and Israeli sources writing in Hebrew, among others, all of whom had produced important research in the subject that would require a more subtle analysis. Bauer also argued that these linguistic limitations substantially impaired Goldhagen from undertaking broader comparative research into European antisemitism, which would have demanded further refinements to his analysis.

Goldhagen replied to his critics in an article Motives, Causes, and Alibis: A Reply to My Critics:

What is striking among some of those who have criticized my book — against whom so many people in Germany are openly reacting — is that much of what they have written and said has either a tenuous relationship to the book's contents or is patently false. Some of the outright falsehoods include: that little is new in the book; that it puts forward a monocausal and deterministic explanation of the Holocaust, holding it to have been the inevitable outcome of German history; that its argument is ahistorical; and that it makes an "essentialist," "racist" or ethnic argument about Germans. None of these is true.[74]

Ruth Bettina Birn and Volker Riess recognised the need to examine the primary sources (the Police Battalion investigation records) Goldhagen had cited and determine if Goldhagen had applied the historical method in his research. Their task was complicated by the way that "Goldhagen's book [had] neither a bibliography nor a listing of archival sources".[75] Their conclusions were that Goldhagen's analysis of the records:

seems to follow no stringent methodological approach whatsoever. This is the problem. He prefers instead to use parts of the statements selectively, to re-interpret them according to his own point of view, or to take them out of context and make them fit into his own interpretative framework. [...] Using Goldhagen's method of handling evidence, one could easily find enough citations from the Ludwigsburg material to prove the exact opposite of what Goldhagen maintains. [...] Goldhagen's book is not driven by sources, be they primary or secondary ones. He does not allow the witness statements he uses to speak for themselves. He uses material as an underpinning for his pre-conceived theory.[76]

Accusations of racism[edit]

Several critics, including David North,[2][77] have characterized Goldhagen's text as adopting Nazi concepts of identity and utilizing them to slur Germans. Hilberg, to whom Browning dedicated his monograph, wrote that "Goldhagen has left us with the image of a medieval-like incubus, a demon latent in the German mind ... waiting for the opportunity for the chance to strike out".[78] The American columnist D. D. Guttenplan, author of The Holocaust on Trial also dedicated to Hilberg, wrote that the only difference between Goldhagen's claims of an eliminationist culture and those of Meir Kahane was that Goldhagen's targets were the Germans, and whereas Kahane's targets were the Arabs.[78] Guttenplan charged that Goldhagen's remarks about the deaths of 3 million Soviet POWs in German custody in World War II as "incidental" to the Holocaust were factually wrong, stating that the first people gassed at Auschwitz in August 1941 were Soviet POWs.[79] Influenced by the thesis about the Jews and Soviets as equal victims of the Holocaust presented in the American historian Arno J. Mayer's 1988 book Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? Guttenplan argued that the Nazi theories about "Judo-Bolshevism" made for a more complex explanation for the Holocaust than the Goldhagen thesis about an "elminationist anti-Semitic" culture.[79]

Goldhagen has said that there is no racist or ethnic argument about Germans in his text. Some of his critics have agreed with him that his thesis is "not intrinsically racist or otherwise illegitimate", including Ruth Bettina Birn and Norman Finkelstein (A Nation on Trial).[80]

Popular response[edit]

When the English edition of Hitler's Willing Executioners was published in March 1996, numerous German reviews ensued. In April 1996, before the book had appeared in German translation, Der Spiegel ran a cover story on Hitler's Willing Executioners under the title "Ein Volk von Dämonen?".[81] The phrase ein Volk von Dämonen (translated "a people/nation of demons") was often used by the Nazis to describe Jews, and the title of the cover story was meant by Rudolf Augstein and the editors of Der Spiegel to suggest a moral equivalence between the Nazi view of Jews and Goldhagen's view of Germans.[81] The most widely read German weekly newspaper Die Zeit published an eight-part series of opinions of the book before its German publication in August 1996. Goldhagen arrived in Germany in September 1996 for a book tour, and appeared on several television talk shows, as well as a number of sold-out panel discussions.[64][82]

The book had a "mostly scathing" reception among historians,[2][83][84][85] who were vocal in condemning it as ahistorical.[86] "[W]hy does this book, so lacking in factual content and logical rigour, demand so much attention?" Raul Hilberg wondered.[87] The pre-eminent Jewish-American historian Fritz Stern denounced the book as unscholarly and full of racistGermanophobia.[84] Hilberg summarised the debates: "by the end of 1996, it was clear that in sharp distinction from lay readers, much of the academic world had wiped Goldhagen off the map."[88]

Steve Crawshaw writes that although the German readership was keenly aware of certain "professional failings" in Goldhagen's book,

[T]hese perceived professional failings proved almost irrelevant. Instead, Goldhagen became a bellwether of German readiness to confront the past. The accuracy of his work was, in this context, of secondary importance. Millions of Germans who wished to acknowledge the (undeniable and well-documented) fact that ordinary Germans participated in the Holocaust welcomed his work; his suggestion that Germans were predestined killers was accepted as part of the uncomfortable package. Goldhagen's book was treated as a way of ensuring that Germany came to terms with its past.[1]

Crawshaw further asserts that the book's critics were partly historians "weary" of Goldhagen's "methodological flaws", but also those who were reluctant to concede that ordinary Germans bore responsibility for the crimes of Nazi Germany.[1] In Germany, the leftist general public's insistence on further penitence prevailed, according to most observers.[66] American historian Gordon A. Craig and Der Spiegel have argued that whatever the book's flaws, it should be welcomed because it will reinvigorate the debate on the Holocaust and stimulate new scholarship.[84]:287


In May 1996, Goldhagen was interviewed about Hitler's Willing Executioners by the American journalist Ron Rosenbaum. When Rosebaum asked Goldhagen about scholarly literature that contends that Austrian anti-Semitism was far more virulent and violent than German anti-Semitism, and if the fact that Hitler was an Austrian had any effect on his thesis, Goldhagen replied:

There were regional variations in anti-Semitism even within Germany. But Hitler's exemplified and brought to an apotheosis the particular form of eliminationist anti-Semitism that came to the fore in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Whatever the variations, I think Austrian and German anti-Semitism can be seen of a piece, where there was a central model of Jews and a view that they needed to be eliminated.[89]

Rosenbaum inquired about Goldhagen's "pregnant with murder" metaphor, which suggested that the Shoah was something inevitable that would have happened without Hitler and Milton Himmelfarb's famous formulation "No Hitler, no Holocaust".[90] Rosenbaum asked "So you would agree with Himmelfarb's argument?"[90] Goldhagen replied: "If the Nazis had never taken power, there would not have been a Hitler. Had there not been a depression in Germany, then in all likelihood the Nazis wouldn't have come to power. The anti-Semitism would have remained a potential, in the sense of the killing form. It required a state."[90] Rosenbaum asked Goldhagen about Richard Levy's 1975 book The Downfall of the Anti-Semitic Political Parties in Imperial Germany which traced the decline of the völkisch parties in the early 20th century until they were all but wiped out in the 1912 Reichstag election. Goldhagen replied that voting for or against the wildly antisemitic völkisch parties had nothing to do with antisemitic feeling, and that people could still hate Jews without voting for the völkisch parties.[91]

In 2006, the American columnist Jonah Goldberg argued that "Goldhagen's thesis was overstated but fundamentally accurate. There was something unique to Germany that made its fascism genocidal. Around the globe there have been dozens of self-declared fascist movements (and a good deal more that go by different labels), and few of them have embraced Nazi-style genocide. Indeed, fascist Spain was a haven for Jews during the Holocaust" he said.[92] Goldberg went on to state that Goldhagen was mistaken in believing that "eliminationist antisemitism" was unique to Germany, and Goldberg charged "eliminationist antisemitism" was just as much of modern Palestinian culture as it was of 19th-20th-century German culture, and that in all essentials Hamas today was just as genocidal as the NSDAP had been.[92] In 2011, in an apparent reference to Hitler's Willing Executioners, the American columnist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran were all "eliminationist anti-Semites".[93] From a different angle, the American political scientist Norman Finkelstein charged that the book was Zionist propaganda meant to promote the image of a Gentile world forever committed to the destruction of the Jews, thus justifying the existence of Israel, and as such, Goldhagen's book was more concerned with the politics of the Near East and excusing what Finkelstein claimed was Israel's poor human rights record rather than European history.[94] In turn during a review of A Nation On Trial, the American journalist Max Frankel wrote that Finkelstein's anti-Zionist politics had led him to "get so far afield from the Goldhagen thesis that it is a relief to reach the critique by Ruth Bettina Birn".[95]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ abcdCrawshaw, Steve (2004). Easier fatherland. Continuum International. pp. 136–7. ISBN 978-0-8264-6320-3. 
  2. ^ abcdefgShatz, Adam. (April 8, 1998) Goldhagen's willing executioners: the attack on a scholarly superstar, and how he fights backSlate. Retrieved January 4, 2008.
  3. ^ ab"Is There a New Anti-Semitism? – A Conversation with Raul Hilberg". Logos. Winter–Spring 2007. 
  4. ^ abKwiet, Konrad (2000). "Hitler's Willing Executioners and Ordinary Germans: Some Comments on Goldhagen's Ideas"(PDF). Jewish Studies Yearbook. 1.  Published by the Central European University, based on a public lecture series.
  5. ^Debra Bradley Ruder (1997-01-09), Goldhagen Wins German Prize for Holocaust Book, Harvard Gazette .
  6. ^Browning, Chris. Ordinary Men : Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, New York : HarperCollins, 1992. p. 57
  7. ^Goldhagen, Daniel (July 1992), "The Evil of Banality" (excerpts from Goldhagen's Review, H-NET List on German History). Originally in The New Republic, July 13–20, 1992. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  8. ^ abGoldhagen (1992), p.49.
  9. ^Guttenplan, D. D. (2002), The Holocaust on Trial (Google Books preview) W. W. Norton, p.214. ISBN 0393346056 .
  10. ^Goldhagen (1992), pp.51–52.
  11. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. "The Fictions of Ruth Bettina Birn". Archived from the original on June 4, 2004. 
  12. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, Alfred Knopf: New York, 1996 pp. 27, 269.
  13. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, Alfred Knopf: New York, 1996 p. 28.
  14. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, Alfred Knopf: New York, 1996 pp. 28, 30.
  15. ^Clendinnean, Inga Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 p. 117.
  16. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 p. 284.
  17. ^Rosenbaum, Ron Explaining Hitler, New York: HarperCollins, 1998 p. 339.
  18. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996 pp. 8–9
  19. ^Evans, Richard In Hitler's Shadow, New York: Pantheon, 1989 p. 71
  20. ^Marrus, Michael The Holocaust in History, Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 p. 91.
  21. ^ abBrowning, Christopher "Afterword", Ordinary Men, New York: HarperCollins, 1998 pp. 200–201.
  22. ^Marrus, Michael The Holocaust in History, Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 pp. 90–91.
  23. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996 pp. 439–440.
  24. ^Clendinnean, Inga Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 pp. 115–117.
  25. ^ abClendinnean, Inga Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 p. 119.
  26. ^Clendinnean, Inga Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 pp. 117–118.
  27. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 pp. 256–257.
  28. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 pp. 254–256.
  29. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 pp. 249–253.
  30. ^ abGoldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 p. 240.
  31. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 p. 261.
  32. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 pp. 453-454.
  33. ^Goldhagen, Daniel Hitler's Willing Executioners, New York: Alfred Knopf 1996 p. 408.
  34. ^ abArt, David. The Politics of the Nazi Past in Germany and Austria. 2006, pp. 88–9
  35. ^Cowell, Alan. (September 8, 1996). Author goes to Berlin to debate Holocaust. The New York Times. Accessed January 4, 2008.
  36. ^ abElon, Amos. (January 26, 1997). The antagonist as liberatorThe New York Times. Accessed January 4, 2008.
  37. ^Carvajal, Doreen. (May 7, 1996) Forum on Holocaust canceled after an author withdrawsThe New York Times. Accessed January 4, 2008.
  38. ^Marcuse, Harold. Legacies of Dachau. 2001, p. 381
  39. ^Landler, Mark. (November 14, 2002) Holocaust writer in storm over role of Catholic ChurchThe New York Times. Accessed January 4, 2008.
  40. ^Deborah Bradley Ruber. "Goldhagen Wins German Prize For Holocaust Book". Harvard Gazette. 
  41. ^Lamont, William (1998). Historical Controversies and Historians. Routledge. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-85728-740-0. 
  42. ^Aschheim, Steven E. (2001). In times of crisis. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-299-16864-3. 
  43. ^Barnouw, Dagmar (2005). The war in the empty air. Indiana University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-253-34651-3. 
  44. ^Caplan, Jane. Nazi Germany. 2008, p. 18
  45. ^Caplan, Jane (2008). Nazi Germany. Oxford University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-19-927687-5. 
  46. ^ abMommsen, Hans (December 12, 1997). "Interview"(PDF). Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  47. ^Browning, Christopher "Afterword", Ordinary Men, New York: HarperCollins, 1998 pp. 204-207.
  48. ^Browning, Christopher "Afterword", Ordinary Men, New York: HarperCollins, 1998 p. 212.
  49. ^Browning, Christopher "Afterword", Ordinary Men, New York: HarperCollins, 1998 p. 212-213.
  50. ^ abBrowning, Christopher "Afterword", Ordinary Men, New York: HarperCollins, 1998 p. 197.
  51. ^Hillgruber, Andreas, "Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Heinz Janßen, and the Enlightenment in the Year 1986", Piper, Ernst (Ed.), Forever In The Shadow Of Hitler?, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1993, p. 225.
  52. ^Bauer, Yehuda Rethinking the Holocaust, Yale: New Haven, 2000 p. 107.
  53. ^ abcBauer, Yehuda Rethinking the Holocaust, Yale: New Haven, 2000 p. 101.
  54. ^Bauer, Yehuda (2000), Rethinking the Holocaust, Yale: New Haven, pp. 98-99, 100.
  55. ^ abBauer, Yehuda Rethinking the Holocaust, Yale: New Haven, 2000 p. 108.
  56. ^Clendinnean, Inga "The Men in the Green Tunics", Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 p. 122.
  57. ^Clendinnean, Inga "The Men in the Green Tunics", Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 pp 130.
  58. ^Clendinnean, Inga "The Men in the Green Tunics", Reading the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 p. 132.
  59. ^Bartov, Omer Germany's War and the Holocaust Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2003 p. 127.
  60. ^ abNeuhaus, Richard John (August 1996). "Daniel Goldhagen's Holocaust". First Things. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 
  61. ^ abHoffmann, Peter "The German Resistance and the Holocaust" p. 105-126 from Confront! Resistance in Nazi Germany edited by John J. Michalczyk, New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2004 p. 113
  62. ^Hoffmann, Peter "The German Resistance and the Holocaust", Confront! Resistance in Nazi Germany edited by John J. Michalczyk, New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2004 p. 113-114.
  63. ^Stackelberg, Roderick (1999). Hitler's Germany. Routledge. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-415-20115-5. 
  64. ^ abMarcuse, Harold (2001). Legacies of Dachau. Cambridge University Press. p. 381. ISBN 978-0-521-55204-2.
Map listing (in German) the presence of Judensau images on churches of central Europe; the ones that were removed marked in red
Title page of Martin Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies. Wittenberg, 1543. Goldhagen used Luther's book to argue for the deep-rooted unique "eliminationist" antisemitism of German culture.

Marina Cattaruzza, "Review of Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah, Hitler's willing executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, London, Little, Brown and Company, 1996", Cromohs 3 (1998): 1-5 <URL:>.

1. With print runs reminiscent of a best-selling novel, and numerous re-editions just a few months after being translated into all the major European languages, Hitler's willing executioners has become a veritable cause célèbre in the publishing world, with a distribution and resonance far beyond the disciplinary field to which it belongs. For the first time, in fact, a study on the extermination of the Jews, presented as a doctoral dissertation in comparative politics at the University of Harvard, and structured according to traditional scientific canons, has become a media success of staggering proportions, attracting the interest of a vast public of non-specialists, and inviting comparison with Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List more than with other scholarly works on the subject, even the most authoritative [1] . The amount of media attention given to the author, who was invited to participate in countless TV talkshows, round-tables, debates and interviews, particularly in the United States and Germany, surpassed anything experienced even by those historians of the Shoah who are specially committed to reaching the largest possible audience, in order to keep the memory of what happened alive.

The extraordinary success of Hitler's willing executioners was bound to make its effect felt also on debate about the book, and in fact attention soon shifted from the historiographical plane to the Goldhagen "phenomenon", and to the consequences his theories would have among such a vast international readership both as regards the way that Germans are perceived (not only those of the Third Reich, but also those of today), and the way contemporary Germans perceive themselves. A cursory glance at the titles of the articles written about the "Goldhagen Controversy" in the German Federal Republic is enough to give a clear idea: A nation of "final solutioners"? ; A nation of murderers? ; "The Germans" - a nation of willing Jew-killers? ; A nation of anti-semites? ; Demonization explains nothing[2]. Other commentators preferred to see the book's success as a manifestation of the barely concealed disapproval and distrust with which American public opinion views the increasingly authoritative role played on the international scene by a newly reunited Germany [3] .

Even in the specialist reviews written by historians, great attention was paid to those passages in the book which could most easily be seen as relevant to present-day Germany as well, although these were only minor parts of the enterprise as a whole. A typical example is the interest aroused by note 38 on page 582, where the author stresses that his arguments should not be taken as implying the existence of a timeless German character, and admits that the character structure and cognitive models of present-day Germans have changed dramatically compared to those of their counterparts during the Third Reich. This comment, no more than an incidental aside and quite irrelevant to Goldhagen's theories about the principal causes of the genocide, was taken by several critics as proof that his book was not based on a solidly scientific approach [4] .

2. What I would like to do here, however, is to focus on two questions more specifically historiographical in nature which are raised by Hitler's willing executioners:

a) the book's place in the historiography on National Socialism;

b) the new elements it contributes to historical research on the extermination of the Jews.

With regard to the first point, some critics see Goldhagen's work as representing "a step backwards of nearly fifty years" in the historical research on Nazism, since in postulating the existence in Germany of a kind of "permanent" eliminationist antisemitism, the author is reproposing the theories put forward in the forties and fifties by the British historian A.J.P. Taylor about the unbroken continuity of German history "from Luther to Hitler"[5] . This is the line taken by Omer Bartov, Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Eberhard Jäckel, with only minor differences in approach and emphasis[6].

Other historians have preferred instead to emphasize that Goldhagen's approach places him among the so-called 'intentionalists'[7], the only difference being that he tries to extend the category of those whose intention was to exterminate the Jews, from Hitler to the vast majority of the German population.

Both attempts at pigeon-holing are rather unsatisfactory, since they are based on external criteria of a formal nature. The comparison with A.J.P.Taylor is wrong because his theories are based on an evaluation of National Socialism in which the genocide of the Jews is not the defining feature. According to Taylor's reconstruction of events, the crucial factor was the aggressive, expansionist militarism of the German-Prussian state, of which National Socialism was only the most recent and radical manifestation. This conception, shared by the most influential political figures on the Allied side, was to have important consequences for the post-war configuration of central Europe, and for the dismemberment of Prussia, seen as the "original cause" of the devastation of Europe brought about by Nazi Germany[8]. The idea of placing Goldhagen among the intentionalists is problematic too, since their theories revolve around the fact that Hitler's role was central to the extermination of the Jews, in opposition to the paradigm of a "progressive radicalization" set in motion by various factors, both central and peripheral, common to the Third Reich. If the intentionalism were extended to include the German people as a whole, the result would be to deprive of any meaning a category created specifically to highlight the crucial role of individual personalities (in this case Adolf Hitler) in shaping the course of history.

In reality, the most fruitful and stimulating parts of Goldhagen's work link up with recent studies about the role of "ordinary men" in the dynamics of the extermination. They belong to the same field of inquiry as the works of Christopher Browning [9], have certain similarities with Raul Hilberg's monumental study [10], and connect up with the recent exhibition documenting the crimes of the Wehrmacht in Eastern Europe [11] and with the work of Omer Bartov on the "barbarisation" of the German soldiers at the Russian front [12]. Although Daniel Goldhagen's declared aim is to propose a new general interpretation of the extermination of the Jews (see pp. 375-406 in particular: Explaining the perpetrators' actions; assessing the competing explanations), his work actually provides us with some important evidence about a crucial problem of a more limited nature, which was the direct participation of hundreds of thousands of Germans in performing the extermination.

3. Another category which might usefully be applied when attempting an analysis of Goldhagen's work and which has been ignored until now is the dilemma between the universal meaning of National Socialism and the specifically German one. This dualism was already present in the interpretations of Nazism emerging immediately after Germany's defeat. German historians in particular, such as Gerhard Ritter [13] and Friedrich Meinecke [14], placed great emphasis on that "general crisis of European civilization" of which Nazism was the most radical symptom. Whereas one of the most significant contributions to the historical reconstruction of the more specifically German aspects of the Nazi phenomenon was George Mosse's work on The Crisis of German Ideology.

Of all contemporary scholars of National Socialism, Goldhagen is probably the most convinced supporter of the theory that the extermination of the Jews was a specifically German product, although he points out that it was only partially the result of Nazi policy, since he argues that eliminationist antisemitism was deeply rooted and widespread in German society before Nazism and cannot simply be ascribed to Hitler's rise to power. In his opinion, in fact, all Nazism did was to give political expression and practical application to a general wish for extermination which was already part of the collective (German) consciousness. In this sense, there is a kind of parallel with the theories of Taylor who, though starting from a different conception of Nazism, believed that the objectives of Hitler were almost identical to those of the German people [15].

The book is divided into three main sections, two of which are devoted to analysing the specific nature of German antisemitism from the Reformation to the rise of Nazism; the third describes the consequences of what he defines as "eliminationist antisemitism" during the implementation of the so-called "final solution".

In this third section, the part of the book which contains the empirical research, Goldhagen analyses three "case studies" connected to three different aspects of the history of the genocide. He examines the treatment of Jews in concentration camps, the behaviour of Battalion 101 of the Order Police in Poland, and the story of one of the many "death marches" enacted in the last six months of the war. His reconstruction of these situations leaves little room for doubt: in the camps, in the activities of Battalion 101, and in the course of the death marches, the Jews were singled out specifically as the victims of a global genocidal plan far more radical than the forms of enslavement and oppression envisaged for those races simply deemed "inferior" (like the Russians and the Poles) or the political persecution to which German anti-Nazis were subjected.

There is nothing new about this fact: indeed, most of the historians who have studied Nazi racial ideology and its implications for the new configuration of Europe have reached the same conclusion. But before Goldhagen, no-one had drawn such a close parallel between the underlying principles of Nazi racial policy and the day-to-day behaviour of the people Goldhagen provocatively calls "ordinary Germans".

4. His reconstruction of events shows that there was a frightening correspondence between the eliminationist antisemitism of men like Hitler and Himmler and the routine practice of the genocidal slaughterers (the camp guards and members of the police battalions, but also the Lithuanians, Latvians, Ukrainians and "ethnic Germans" who took part).

Taking as his starting-point the argument that the prime motive force behind the extermination of the Jews was the "eliminationist antisemitism" with which Germans had been imbued at least since the nineteenth century, and to which National Socialism merely the provided the opportunity to make manifest, Goldhagen manages to put together an impressive amount of evidence showing that many Germans did behave as if they were motivated by a complete acceptance of Hitler's vision of the Jew as the "poisoned mushroom" (Giftpilz) of mankind.

Numerous examples are provided, including the humiliation of the victims which preceded the killing operations (such as forcing elderly orthodox Jews to dance, cutting off their beards, urinating on them), the gratuitous acts of brutality, the search-and-destroy missions performed with zeal and dedication, the slaughtering of women and children and the old and infirm, even in their beds. The documentation also provides evidence of various cases of Jews being killed through personal initiative, in isolation from the group actions and without any specific order to do so.

Of particular interest is the "decoding" of language which Goldhagen performs, having established his basic theory (that the majority of Germans approved of Hitler's plans to exterminate the Jews). In this perspective, statements which at a first glance might seem to denote ethical or principled opposition the slaughter, are interpreted as mere expressions of disgust for the more unpleasant aspects of the task of killing. As Goldhagen puts it: "As such, the decision to kill or not to kill was a matter of taste and not of principle" (p.250). This theory finds indirect support in the conclusions reached by Christopher Browning, in his pioneering work on Police Battalion 101 [16] for which he used the same archive sources subsequently consulted by Goldhagen. Although Browning's overall interpretation of the men's behaviour is less drastic than Goldhagen's, he too remarks that the motivations given in court by that minority of men who refused to participate in the killing part of the operations do not denote a moral disapproval of their comrades' behaviour: instead, these men tend to stress their own "weakness" [17] .

5. The same sources [18] provide further important evidence pointing to the extenT to which eliminationist antisemitism was almost the universal "cognitive code" of the individuals involved in the killing, and was accepted as such. Lieutenant Buchmann, for example, a Hamburg businessman who was one of the few who refused right from the start to take part in the killing of the Jews, explained his attitude with the fact that he had travelled abroad on business and had also come into contact with many Jews through his commercial activity. For this reason, his perception was different from that of his fellow-soldiers. Another defendant stated that not only many years later did he become fully aware of what he had done during that time.

In his analysis of the three different situations, Goldhagen also lays great emphasis on how Jews were constantly treated much worse than non-Jewish victims. In the concentration camps, for example, both working and living conditions were such that the death rate among Jews was far higher than among the other prisoners. Only for the Jews were those camps tantamount to death camps, which nobody was supposed to leave alive. In the case of Battalion 101, men who already had the murder of thousands of Jewish women and children on their consciences, suddenly showed scruples about carrying out the usual reprisals against the Polish population following a partisan ambush in which a German soldier had been presumed killed [19].

Finally, in the most shocking case study, concerning the little-known episode of the death march from the Helmbrechts work-camp to Prachatice, in Czechoslovakia, the genocidal practice continued against the Jewish women prisoners even after Himmler had expressly forbidden that any more Jews be killed (April 1945). In the course of this march, at least 178 out of a total of 580 Jewish women died, corresponding to 30% of the total. According to the American doctor who examined the survivors, half would have died within twenty-four hours if they had not received immediate lifesaving measures. None of the non-Jewish prisoners - German women imprisoned for political motives - died during the march.

Some of the most brutal scenes of the massacres perpetrated by Battalion 101 were actually photographed by the perpetrators themselves (see the photographic documentation contained in the book); we are told, furthermore, that the photos were hung on the wall of the barracks and that copies could be ordered. It seems that many were, indicating that the men were particularly eager to preserve images of the events they had taken part in. The inscriptions on the back of these photos reveal the same mixture of cynicism and linguistic euphemisms which can be found in the reports written by the Einsatzgruppen employed to exterminate Jews in the Soviet Union. The photo of a German soldier shooting a Jewish woman who is holding a child in her arms bears the inscription: "Ukraine 1942, Action against Jews, Ivangorod".

6. Goldhagen's work belongs to that line of historical investigation into Nazi crimes which in recent years has shifted attention from the SS and the death camps onto the massacres perpetrated by men of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei), of the Secret Police (Geheime Feldpolizei) and of the Wehrmacht itself, in Poland and the Soviet Union.

These studies have provided us with evidence and information about these other institutions of killing which obliges us to rethink the dynamics of the Holocaust. Here are some of the elements which have emerged:

a) The extermination of the Jews did not take place exclusively or for the most part in the gas chambers of the death camps. The Jews in the Russia occupied by the Wehrmacht were exterminated by being lined up and machine-gunned by the thousands. It has been known for some time that this killing was not only done by the Einsatzkommandos controlled by the SS Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst) under the command of Reinhard Heydrich [20] , but also by auxiliary units like the Ordnungspolizei and the Feldpolizei[21], by non-German auxiliary forces, and on numerous occasions, even by units of the Wehrmacht itself[22].

b) As well as the gassings and other forms of mass extermination performed in the death camps in Poland, numerous mass executions took place as part of Aktion Reinhard, evidently due to the fact that the gas chambers failed to keep up with demand. In the light of these facts, we must reconsider the central role hitherto assigned to the gas chambers in the process of exterminating the Jews of Europe, and we must ask ourselves to what extent this central role was due to the symbolic force of the inescapable association between modernity and death which the gas chambers represented then, and still do now [23].

Most of the killing operations made use of methods much less sanitized and rationalized than those in the Zyklon B facilities [24], although in these mass slaughters too, grotesque forms of rationalization were introduced, based on experience, and lacking in any technological infrastructures.

c) If the historical analysis is extended to the people involved in the killings in Poland and the Soviet Union, using the techniques proper to microhistorical investigation, then the number of "perpetrators" increases dramatically. Goldhagen estimates that several hundred thousand "ordinary people" (whether Germans or not) were directly involved in the massacres.

d) From the first attempts at comparison, it would seem that the psychological reactions of the "ordinary Germans" on receiving the order to kill tens of thousands of Jews (including women and children), were not very different from those of the "death-head" SS units serving in the extermination camps or the Einsatzkommandos busy behind the Eastern front.

7. As mentioned previously, Goldhagen traces the criminal, genocidal behaviour of these "ordinary Germans" back to their "eliminationist antisemitism", which induced them all to perceive themselves as Weltanschauungskrieger (ideological warriors), as soon as they were given the chance. Rightly, this interpretation has been strongly contested by historiographical criticism. Goldhagen fails to show that German antisemitism at the end of the nineteenth century presented the unique "eliminationist" features that attributes to it. Indeed, the concept of "eliminationist antisemitism" is extremely imprecise in itself; of necessity perhaps, since Goldhagen contends that all the political forces of the Second Reich had this attitude towards the Jews, including even the assimilationist liberals, whose views were shared by many German Jews as well. The book provides no convincing explanation, however, for the behaviour of the Latvians, Estonians and Ukrainians who served in auxiliary units, and who were guilty of crimes just as terrible as those committed by the Germans, and seemed to be equally untouched by moral qualms. How exactly do the bloody pogroms against the Jews of Latvia, and the slaughter of thousands of Jews by the Croatian Ustachies [25]fit into Goldhagen's scheme of things? These actions were no different in kind from the actions of the "ordinary Germans". The fact that Goldhagen should contend that German National Socialism was the motive force behind the extermination is not wrong in itself, but it does not quite resolve the problem.

But the crucial question which must be tackled, in my opinion, is to what extent the perpetrators themselves saw the extermination of the Jews as of a different nature from other types of extermination. To give an example, what was the subjective attitude of the guards on surveillance duty in those prison camps where three and a half million Soviet prisoners of war met their deaths, mostly from starvation [26] ? It seems reasonable to assume that these guards were faced with a situation that contradicted all their acquired beliefs regarding soldierly ethos, which had laid down very clear rules about the treatment of prisoners of war long before the signing of the Geneva Convention. This was a massacre of immense proportions, perpetrated on the basis of beliefs, stereotypes and prejudices which could only have been of recent origin. In fact, throughout the period of the Republic of Weimar, relations between the Red Army and the "illegal Reichswehr" (known as the Schwarze Reichswehr) were idyllic. Nor can it be said that the Russian people were the "historical enemy" of Germany. On the borders to the east, it was the Poles who had that dubious distinction. This example offers cause for reflection upon the speed with which a stereotype can gain credit, especially in extreme circumstances [27] and in situations in which the perpetrators have complete power over their victims. Another more general question is whether there is a causal relationship between the negative stereotype and the atrocities committed, or whether the stereotype is not a surreptitious form of self-justification.

8. What was the attitude of those German army soldiers in Russia and Jugoslavia, for example, who carried out reprisals against civilian populations and took thousands of lives (and here too, many were women and children)? These were numbers out of all proportion to the incidents that provoked the punitive action. How would the "ordinary German soldiers" have behaved if Moscow and Leningrad had fallen, since Hitler had ordered that they should be "razed to the ground" (in the Siege of Leningrad alone, a million civilians lost their lives)?

Goldhagen provides a long list of examples in which Jews were discriminated against more than Poles and Russians. However we still lack similar material about killing operations in which the principal victims were not Jewish.

Both Goldhagen's book and the essays accompanying the exhibition on the crimes of the Wehrmacht, not to mention Bartov's work on the barbarization of warfare on the Russian Front, describe the existence of cognitive structures in which Judaism was inextricably linked to Bolshevism (so much so, as to provide partial confirmation of Ernst Nolte's controversial theories in Der europäische Bürgerkrieg 1917-1945), alongside the perception of Jews as being a source of disease [28]. Often, the mass executions were justified by 'resistance activity', 'sabotage behind the lines', and suchlike. These motivations, however far they may have been from any factual reality, offer some useful insight into the mindset of the perpetrators. The projection of 'absolute evil' which the Germans had been called upon to free humanity from, was made up of a symbiosis between Judaism and Bolshevism, in which the former constituted the biological basis for the latter. This explains the need to motivate the mass killings of the Jewish population with non-existent acts of resistance: clearly, there would never be peace behind the lines as long as the element from which Soviet communism [29] originated continued to exist there. The other side of the equation, the "Soviet Untermensch" , was to be defeated in a "war of extinction", in which all of the conventional rules ceased to apply; the conquered populations of Russia were not doomed to complete extermination (with the exception of the Communist party elite), but were to be decimated.

Approached from yet another angle, the problem posed by Goldhagen's book could be formulated in the following way: given that for the Nazi leaders, the genocide of the Jews was to be total, and was one of the main priorities of the regime, and that in this sense it was different from the other kinds of extermination planned and implemented, is it possible that this point of view was shared by the men who were the material executioners? Might not almost every German have belonged, at least potentially, to the 'perpetrators' category?

Two of the 'case studies' Goldhagen presents refer to concentration camp situations, or in other words, to situations in which the racist, genocidal logic of Nazism is presented, as it were, in vitro. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the male and female guards working in these institutions had fully internalized the values (and non-values) of Nazi racism. Moreover, a sample taken from the guardroom of the concentration camps can scarcely be considered as representative of "ordinary Germans", as Goldhagen repeatedly claims.

9. But it is undeniable that although he takes some rather debatable historical premises as his starting-point, Goldhagen does manage to reconstruct the mental world of the material perpetrators of the final solution, in a way that had never been attempted before. Of course, this study is not sufficient to give a clear answer to the question of whether the mass execution of the Jews was a priority for 'ordinary Germans' too, and whether that was one of the principal reasons for their approval of Hitler. As we have already said, in order to investigate that question, we would need similar studies to Goldhagen's, relative to other groups of perpetrators, which analyse their mental attitude towards non-Jewish victims too. However, Goldhagen's book has the merit of opening up a new perspective on ways of viewing the Holocaust, and it is the first to raise crucial questions about the extent to which eliminationist antisemitism was present among the German population as a whole. Using extensive testimonies from the perpetrators themselves, it offers a chilling insight into the mental and cognitive structures of hundreds of Germans directly involved in the killing operations. Further studies are needed to decide to what extent these mental structures can be extended to include more numerous sections of the German population in the years of the Second World War.

[1] - For instance, Raul Hilberg's book, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York, London 1985), considered by many to be the standard work of reference on the genocide of the Jews, did not enjoy anything like the success of Hitler's willing executioners.

[2] - See Julius H. Shoeps (ed.), Ein Volk von Mördern? Die Dokumentation zur Goldhagen-Kontroverse um die Rolle der Deutschen im Holocaust, Hamburg 1996, for a collection of the most important reviews appearing in Germany and the United States.

[3] - See for example Volker Ullrich, Hitlers willige Mordgesellen, in Schoeps, cit. pp. 89-92. Cfr. also the comments by Giovanni Gozzini in "Carnefici e tedeschi", Passato e Presente, 42, (1997) pp.5-16, and in particular pp.6 foll.

[4] - See for example, Hans-Ulrich Wehler's review "Wie ein Stachel im Fleisch", illuminating in many other ways, which was originally published in "Die Zeit", and then republished in Schoeps, cit., pp. 193-209.

[5]- See especially, A.J.P.Taylor, The course of German history, London 1945.

[6] - With regard to Wehler, see note 4. Cfr. Omer Bartov, "Ganz normale Monster", in Schoeps, cit., pp. 63-80; Eberhard Jäckel, "Einfach ein schlechtes Buch", in: ibidem, pp. 187-192.

[7] - See for example, G.Gozzini, "Carnefici e tedeschi"; Jerry Adler, "Geschichtsstunde", in Schoeps, cit., pp. 81-86.

[8] - See Andreas Hillgruber, Zweierlei Untergang. Die Zerschlagung des Deutschen Reiches und das Ende des europäischen Judentums, Berlin 1986. As is well-known, Hillgruber's article was at the centre of a heated debate in the course of the "Historikerstreit". Throughout this debate, however, no attention was paid to the interesting new elements in Hillgruber's theories, regarding the way in which Nazi Germany was perceived by the English political class in general, and by Churchill in particular.

[9] - Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland, New York 1992.

[10] - See note 1.

[11] - Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (ed.), Vernichtungskrieg, Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1945, Hamburg 1996.

[12] - Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare, London 1985. See also, for a micro-historical approach to the extermination of the Jews in Galicia, Thomas Sandkühler, "Endlösung" in Galizien. Der Judenmord in Ostpolen und die Rettungsinitiativen von Berthold Beitz 1941-1944, Bonn 1996.

[13] - See Gerhard Ritter, "The Historical Foundations of the Rise of National Socialism", in The Third Reich, London 1955, pp. 381-416. In this analysis, Nazism is seen as a manifestation of modern totalitarianism produced by mass society, irrational currents and the worship of violence. In Die Dämonie der Macht, too, which only touches on the problem of National Socialism in the last few pages, Ritter takes Rankian categories as a starting-point and gives pride of place in his analysis to the disparity between power politics and ethics, a disparity which is seen as being a general problem.

[14] - See Friedrich Meinecke, Die Deutsche Katastrophe, Berlin 1948. In this complex analysis, specifically German features such as Prussian militarism, power politics, and so on, are inserted into a "universal" context whch includes the rise of modernity, the triumph of technology and political Machiavellianism applied to mass political society.

[15] - See, in particular, A.J.P.Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War, London 1961.

[16] - Cfr. note 8.

[17] - For a comment on the interpretative criteria adopted by Browning with regard to the behaviour of the members of Police Battalion 101 involved in the mass slaughter of Jewish civilians in Poland, see Marina Cattaruzza, "Il ruolo degli 'uomini comuni' nello sterminio degli Ebrei europei", Storia della Storiografia, 30 (1996), pp. 141-150.

[18] - The material relative to the legal investigations into the activities of Battalion 101 is to be found at the Zentral Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen, in Ludwigsburg.

[19] - Browning seems to be much more sceptical about the scruples that are supposed to have bothered the men of the 101 during the reprisals against Polish civilians. Cfr. Christopher R. Browning, "Dämonisierung erklärt nichts", in Schoeps, cit., pp.118-124. This difference in Browning's and Goldhagen's interpretations of the emotive attitude of the Germans when atrocities were committed against non-Jewish victims touches one of the main problems raised by Hitler's willing executioners: to what extent did the perpetrators's attitude towards their Jewish victims extend also to the other forms of extermination practised by the Nazis?

[20] - Cfr. the groundbreaking work by Helmut Krausnick, Hitlers Einsatzgruppen. Die Truppen des Weltanschauungskrieges 1938-1942, Frankfurt 1985.

[21] - For an estimate of the numbers involved, see Christopher R. Browning, "Beyond 'Intentionalism' and 'Functionalism': The Decision for the Final Solution Reconsidered", in The Path to Genocide. Essays on Launching the Final Solution, Cambridge 1992, pp. 86-121.

[22] - In Serbia, units of the Wehrmacht killed numerous Jews, Gypsies, and Serb civilians using methods identical to those of the Einsatzgruppen. In just two weeks, in October 1941, they slaughtered 9,000 people. In White Russia, too, from September to December 1941, companies of the 727 Infantry Regiment took part in the shooting of thousands of Jews from the ghettoes. Cfr. Vernichtungskrieg. Verbtrechen der Wehrmacht. As regards the non-German volunteers active in genocidal operations, see Raul Hilberg, Carnefici, vittime, spettatori, Milan 1994 (First American edition 1992), pp. 87 foll.

[23] - See for example, Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, Oxford 1989.

[24] - For an excellent summary of the use of gas chambers in the extermination operations, see Israel Gutman (ed.) Enzyklopädie des Holocaust. Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden, Berlin 1993, vol. I, pp. 504 foll. (under "Gaskammern").

[25] - For the pogroms in Latvia, see Margers Vestermanis, "Der lettische Anteil an der 'Endlösung'. Versuch einer Antwort", in U.Jackes, E.Jesse, R. Zittelmann (eds.), Die Schatten der Vergangenheit. Impulse zur Historisierung des Nationalsozialismus, Frankfurt 1992, pp. 426-449. For the killings in Croatia, in which the majority of Croatian Jews lost their lives, see Holm Sundhaussen, "Jugoslawien", in Wolfgang Benz (ed.), Dimension des Völkermords. Die Zahl der jüdischen Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, München 1991, pp. 311-330; only a minority of Jews were handed over to the Germans to be sent to the concentration camps.

[26] - For the most complete documentation of this terrible massacre, see Christian Streit, Keine Kameraden. Die Wehrmacht und die sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen 1941-1945, Stuttgart 1978.

[27] - With regard to the crimes committed by the Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union, Omer Bartov has pointed out that the German soldiers belonged to age-groups which had known nothing but National Socialism and had received their early socialization in the Hitler Youth movement. From the letters written from the Front, diaries and other material, it would seem that almost all of them accepted the stereotype (constructed deliberately in the event of an attack on the Soviet Union), of the Russian as a merciless foe, diabolical and 'non-human', who would inflict far worse cruelties upon the German people than the Wehrmacht was inflicting upon civilians and soldiers in the occupied zones. Cfr. Omer Bartov, "The Conduct of War: Soldiers and the Barbarization of Warfare", The Journal of Modern History, 64 (1992), pp. 32-45.

[28] - See for example Christopher R. Browning, "Genocide and Public Health: German Doctors and Polish Jews, 1939-1941", in The Path to Genocide, pp. 145-168.

[29] - This blending together of the two concepts 'Jew' and 'Bolshevik' is particularly evident in the language used in the messages and reports of the Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union. See in particular Hannes Heer, "Verwischen der Spuren, Vernichtung der Erinnerung", in Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944, pp. 160-176; B. Boll, H. Heer, W. Manoschek, H. Safrian, Das Eiserne Kreuz, in: ibidem, pp. 177-182.

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