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Randall L. Bytwerk

We Did Not Know!

Nazi propaganda and the Holocaust.

Two books, published almost simultaneously in 2006, add significantly to our knowledge of the public face of the Holocaust. Peter Longerich's "Davon haben wir nichts gewusst!" Die Deutschen und die Judenverfolgung 1933-1945 ["We Didn't Know Anything About That!" The Germans and the Persecution of the Jews] is the more ambitious of the two. Longerich tracks Nazi public rhetoric on the Jews for the twelve years of Hitler's rule, and attempts to reveal the German public's thinking about what it heard and saw. Jeffrey Herf's The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust focuses on Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda during the war, and makes no determined attempt to analyze how it was received. Neither book presents startling news, but both provide an astonishing amount of carefully considered evidence from the period. Most readers of Books & Culture will prefer Herf's cogent analysis to 448 pages of reasonably clear German, but despite their areas of common focus, the books are worth reading together.

The two present parallel, and largely consistent, chronological surveys of what Germans saw and heard during the war. Besides the familiar public statements by Hitler, Goebbels, and other Nazi leaders (e.g., Hitler's statements like this one: "If Jewry imagines itself to be able to lead an international world war to exterminate the European races, then the result will not be the extermination of the European races but rather the extermination of Jewry in Europe!"), both books trace the propaganda found in newspapers and posters. Longerich provides a greater sampling of newspapers, and also considers newsreels, the radio, and Allied broadcasting and leaflets, but the wider range of sources does not lead to significantly different conclusions.

Both books give only limited attention to the comprehensive system of Nazi speakers and propagandists at the local level, who regularly received guidelines on what they were to say about Jews in speeches and conversations. ...

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