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by Jean Bethke Elshtain

The Nazi Seduction

Why do Hitler and the Nazis continue to fascinate?

The deluge of books about Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler apparently knows no end. In addition to those here under review, dozens of others have appeared in the past two or three years alone, and many more are sure to come. By contrast, scholarly study of Stalinism and the gulag is relatively neglected. As Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag, although "some eighteen million people passed through this massive system," we pay far less attention to Stalin's victims than we do to Hitler's. Many of the millions killed during the Stalin era were simply "driven to a forest at night, lined up, shot in the skull, and buried in mass graves before they ever got near a concentration camp—a form of murder no less 'industrialized' and anonymous than that used by the Nazis." But no archival film-footage records these scenes that played out behind the Iron Curtain, no harrowing photos comparable to those that followed the liberation of the Nazi camps. Stalin's victims "haven't caught Hollywood's imagination in the same way. Highbrow culture hasn't been much more open to the subject."

Why is it, Applebaum wonders, that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger "has been deeply damaged by his brief, overt support of Nazism which developed before Hitler had committed his major atrocities," yet "the reputation of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has not suffered in the least from his aggressive support of Stalinism throughout the postwar years, when plentiful evidence of Stalin's atrocities was available to anyone interested." Her answer is that the literary Left, many of whom were enchanted by the Soviet experiment, did not want to broach the subject. Indeed, this has been so much the case that decades after Stalin's death, it was still possible "for an American academic to publish a book suggesting that the purges of the 1930s were useful because they promoted upward mobility. … It is possible—still—for a British literary editor to reject an article because it is 'too anti-Soviet.'" It ...

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