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-by Jean Bethke Elshtain


How German Was the Holocaust?

(Third of three parts; click here to read Part 2)

Let me note here that there are good reasons to read Goldhagen's book. One is negative-in order to learn how not to frame a work of history in a way that does a disservice to the complexity of the story one aims to tell. The other is positive-there are powerful stories here, worth the telling. Goldhagen's insistent and boastful claims to originality aside, the chapters in the middle part of this overlong tome, chapters that embody Goldhagen's own research on Police Battalions, life in "work" camps, and death marches, are often riveting. Why Goldhagen tethers this to nasty asides, especially against the distinguished historian Christopher Browning and his powerful book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, is a mystery to me.

What I want to do is to unpack a bit of Goldhagen's conceptual apparatus, for that is the book's big weakness. He is operating with too few and too simplistic concepts. First, he insists there must be one overarching explanation-not many overlapping, reinforcing, perhaps partially competing explanations, but an explanation.

Second, he sets up his thesis in such a way that it is unclear that he would countenance any compelling counterevidence.The way he presents the argument is along the lines of "When did you stop beating your wife?" Everything Germans did or did not do is accounted for by reversion to his reductionistic claim that they all embraced "eliminationist anti-Semitism." (That this leads him to silence or to dismissal on the anti-Nazi resistance goes without saying, other than a few swipes at Martin Niemoeller for being an anti-Semite. It is also not clear to me that Goldhagen understands the difference between the Confessing Church and theDeutsche Christe, the pro-Nazi Protestants in the Third Reich who are the subject of Doris Bergen's excellent work. If he does, he intentionally blurs it, for by acknowledging any such distinction he would be contradicting ...

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