According to the historian Raul Hilberg, the United States alone captured 40,000 linear feet of documents on the murder of European Jews. Add to this other captured documents, police and court records, memoirs, oral histories, film documentaries, interviews, two thousand books in many languages (there are over ten thousand publications of varying size on Auschwitz alone), and we can say that the Holocaust is a uniquely well-documented historical event. Yet a host of unanswered questions remain, and we have not even agreed on a name for the terrible thing that happened. The term “The Final Solution” has passed into common usage, but, fortunately, this obscene Nazi euphemism does not correspond to fact because nearly half of the European Jews survived. “Holocaust” is the choice of the Jewish organizations, but as Arno Mayer points out in Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?, Holocaust is a “religiously freighted word concept,…a term whose standard meaning is a sacrificial offering wholly consumed by fire in exaltation of God.” And in truth, why should one find sacrificial offering or exaltation of God in the involuntary agony of the Jewish millions, many of whom were converts or unbelievers?
Others resent the Hebrew “Shoah,” which, in the words of Philip Lopate, shares “the same self-dramatizing theological ambition to portray the historic suffering of the Jews during World War II as a sort of cosmic storm rending the heavens.’1 Arno Mayer prefers “Judeocide,” arguably an apt term but one unlikely to win any more followers than his careful distinctions between “anti-Semitism” as the institutionalized form of prejudice, “Judeophobia” as a personal prejudice, and “anti-Judaism” as hostile feelings or actions directed against the Jewish religion and its adherents.
Clearly, finding the right name is not our gravest concern (I shall be using all these terms freely) regarding the worst mass murder—or one of the worst mass murders—in history, even though by choosing a name we are inevitably making a religious and political statement. Moreover, by hedging the question—writing “the worst,” as opposed to “one of the worst”—I have already opened a hornet’s nest in the Holocaust controversy. After all, did not Stalin and Mao kill many more people than Hitler? Did not the Turks murder proportionately more Armenians? Conversely, was not the Holocaust a unique event, aiming as it did at the extermination of an entire people, something neither Stalin, nor Mao, nor Enver Pasha sought to achieve?
Some of the writers under review have raised these questions, risking accusations of either Jewish ethnocentrism or German apologetics, cold war propaganda or an attempt to rewarm the now somewhat discredited theory of totalitarianism. At least, no serious historian would agree with those on the far right and the far left who try to compare the Final Solution to Hiroshima, My-Lai, or the bombing of Dresden. Nor need anyone pay heed to those who claim that the Holocaust never took place. (Note, however, that the foremost promoters of this persistent fantasy are not SS men, but such pseudo-scholars as the French university professor Robert Faurisson and the socialist Paul Rassinier, himself a former inmate of Buchenwald.)2
While elaborate critical discussions of the Holocaust have been taking place, we are still debating precisely who decided to proceed with the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” when or why they did so, or what in fact they had in mind. It seems possible that no such clear-cut decision was ever taken, that the program of destruction, although it carried out general aims clearly announced by Hitler, evolved gradually, as an ad hoc affair. Was there a blueprint for murder from the very beginning, and, if so, why did the Nazis foster a vigorous program of forced Jewish emigration during the first eight years of their rule? Why was emigration suddenly forbidden in 1941, after it had become nearly impossible anyway? When did the Holocaust actually begin? Immediately after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, or only after effective Soviet military resistance had been met, or only after things had begun to go badly for the German army on the Eastern front? What was Hitler’s part in the entire affair, and what were the activities of Himmler, the Waffen SS, the army, the bureaucrats, the capitalists, the German public, the satellite governments, and the authorities in subjugated countries? What is one to make of the Reich railroad officials, who charged tourist group passenger fares for the Jews deported to the death camps (children paid only half fare) and then crammed them into cattle cars?
What share do the Poles or other non-German peoples have in responsibility for the Holocaust? Why did the Jews not resist more vigorously, and how guilty were their leaders and their ghetto police? How about the Catholic and the other churches, the Pope, the antifascist resistance, the German conservatives, the European bourgeoisie, the working-class movement, the non-Jewish concentration camp inmates, the Kapos and other Prominenten in the camps, the Foreign Office, the State Department, Anthony Eden, President Roosevelt, and Stalin? Why did proportionately more Jews survive in Fascist Italy and in Germany’s allies such as Bulgaria, Romania, Finland, and Hungary than in the anti-Nazi and democratic Netherlands, anti-Nazi and undemocratic Poland, or in the occupied Soviet territories? Why did almost all the Jewish citizens of the Danish puppet state survive, but only a few of the Jews in Norway, which had resisted the German invasion? Why was it possible to spirit Jews across the sea from Denmark to neutral Sweden, but not across the thousand miles of the common Swedish-Norwegian border?
Was the German fury rooted in the country’s peculiar social and political development, in the traumas of World War I and the Versailles Treaty, or a fear of Bolshevism? What made the mass killings possible: German centralization and bureaucratic efficiency or, conversely, the anarchic disorganization of the Nazi state? Is it true that Nazi anti-Semitism had only a modest appeal for the German people, and, if so, why did Germans do the Nazis bidding in carrying out the Final Solution? Or was the killing chiefly the work of Nazi political troops? The debate continues, and Arno Mayer sounds most convincing when he writes in the preface of his work that “at bottom the Judeocide remains as incomprehensible to me today as five years ago, when I set out to study and rethink it.” But why, then, is he so sure of his numerous provocative theses on the remaining 450 pages of his book?
A great many of the works reviewed here are personal reminiscences, and it is decidedly easier to comment on them than on the convoluted scholarly histories, which I shall deal with later. Admittedly, most of these memoirs lack the intellectual depth and brutal honesty of such classics of the Holocaust as Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz.3 Admittedly also, the reminiscences under review seem to follow a well-established pattern: a happy and secure middle-class existence interrupted by a lightning bolt of terror and followed by unspeakable agonies; quiet heroism; survival through self-respect and a desire to tell the world about it; liberation; a painful search for a new place in the world; a modest career and a contented family life, although one marred by terrible dreams. Still, one cannot read enough of these stories. Lately the number of such published reminiscences has increased dramatically, perhaps because most of the survivors are now retired and have time to document their lives; perhaps too, because old age compels them to look back with some longing even to a homeland which proved treacherous and cruel.
Most survivor stories begin in Eastern Europe, which means that their authors have had to cope not only with German but also with native anti-Semitism. Malvina Graf (The Kraków Ghetto and the Plaszów Camp Remembered), Frieda Frome (Some Dare to Dream), and Zofia S. Kubar (Double Identity) came from educated middle-class families in Poland and Lithuania, which may well have been the key to their survival: they had some money as well as friends in the local population.
Graf and Frome had a taste not only of German but also of Soviet rule, and have little good to say about the latter. Malvina Graf escaped from the German to the Soviet zone in occupied Poland in 1939, but she found conditions so bad there that she and her brothers registered for repatriation to German-held territory. The USSR and Nazi Germany were allies at that time; still, the Grafs’ attempt to go home was interpreted as disloyalty to the Soviet Union, and Graf, relatives, and friends were rounded up for deportation into the Soviet interior. She managed to go into hiding, however, only to fall into the hands of the Germans in 1941. Subsequently, she landed at the Plaszów concentration camp and was finally liberated, in Bavaria, by the Americans.
Frieda Frome experienced the Soviet occupation of Lithuania from 1940 to June 1941, when the Red Army was forced to withdraw from the country. This allowed the right-wing nationalist Lithuanian “Partisans” to emerge from prison and to begin massacring the Jews. The arriving Germans needed only to coordinate and expand this activity. Most of Frome’s family—and 90 percent of all Lithuanian Jews—perished in the Final Solution, but Frome and her sister survived by escaping from the Kaunas ghetto in 1944 and by hiding with warmhearted Lithuanian peasants. Liberated by the Red Army, she found life in Soviet Lithuania unbearable and fled again in 1945, the beginning of a long odyssey that ultimately led her to the United States. Frome sympathizes with the plight of Lithuanians, a tiny nation caught between German and Russian imperialism. Still, her account makes clear that, even without the German occupation, Lithuania and the other East European nation-states would have done their best, if by more peaceful means, to diminish the number of Jews and other ethnic minorities in their midst.
The university student Zofia S. Kubar was one of the approximately 18,000 Jews who hid in Warsaw during the war. She escaped from the ghetto in 1943 and succeeded in leading a new life on the Aryan side of the wall by looking less than conspicuously Jewish and by proving herself cool and resourceful. She was constantly in danger from blackmailers, often hordes of young boys who spied on Jews in hiding, squeezed them dry, and then denounced them to the Gestapo for yet another monetary reward. But she was also helped along by many decent Poles, sometimes complete strangers, who risked their lives on her behalf.
The penalty for assisting or even trading with a Jew in German-occupied Poland was death, a fact that makes all comparisons between wartime Polish-Jewish relations and, say, Danish-Jewish relations blatantly unfair. Yet such comparisons are made again and again in Western histories—and virtually always to the detriment of Poles, with scarce notice taken of the 50,000 to 100,000 Jews said to have been saved by the efforts of Poles to hide or otherwise help them.4 This is not to say that Polish anti-Semitism was not a strongly and widely felt prejudice, for it certainly was, or that life was not hard for most Jews in prewar Poland; it is to say only that one must not ignore the crucial differences between wartime conditions in Eastern and Western Europe.
The Czech Jewish novelist Jirí Weil lived in Prague in 1939, during the Nazi invasion. He pretended to kill himself and went into hiding in the city, which enabled him to survive the occupation. A longstanding Communist, Weil was nevertheless critical of Stalinism in both his prewar and postwar novels, which led to his expulsion from the Party and an isolated existence in Prague until his death in 1959. Life With a Star, an allusion to the Star of David that the Jews were forced to wear during the Nazi occupation, is a partly autobiographical novel. Its hero, Josef Roubicek, a modest bank clerk, submits at first to the Jewish community set up under the Nazis, which exposes him to heartless bureaucratic treatment in the purest Kafkaesque tradition and prepares him, inexorably, for the day of his deportation. But after losing his Christian mistress, who is hanged by the Nazis, his meager belongings, and even his cat—his sole remaining companion—Roubicek finally becomes a rebel. He hides out by joining a small resistance group of Communist workers. “It was then,” Weil writes,
when the last sheets of my scribblings were burning in the stove, annulling the name of Josef Roubicek, that I understood that the Josef Roubicek who wanted to make excuses, to evade, and to dodge, only to avoid freedom, no longer existed and would never exist again.
Melancholy, subdued (the Germans figure in the novel invariably as “they”), this is undoubtedly the best product of the socialist realist literary movement of the 1950s, if not the only good one.
Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s memoirs, From That Place and Time, do not quite fit into the category of survivor reminiscences, because this well-known historian of the Holocaust was in the United States during the war. Nonetheless, she spent a year during 1938 and 1939 as an American research student in Vilna, or what was then Polish Wilno and is today Lithuanian Vilnius.
Dawidowicz is most informative and entertaining on the often glorious history of Jewish Vilna, Yiddish culture, the rabbinical tradition, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (which she later helped to transplant to New York City), the anti-religious Jewish socialist Bund, and the local Jewish artists, scholars, and writers. But she overstates the extent of official Polish anti-Semitism before World War II. I doubt that Jewish political representation in the interwar Polish parliament or the vigorous Jewish trade union movement was tolerated by the government only because of foreign political considerations, as she implies; the Polish regime was far too cantankerous and conceited for that. And what of the fact, which she does not mention, that the mobilized Polish army in 1939 included several thousand Jewish reserve officers, or that hundreds of Jews were among the masses of captive Polish reserve officers murdered by the Soviets at Katyn?
When Poland was about to be attacked, Dawidowicz returned to New York by traveling across Nazi Germany, ironically the only safe exit route for a US citizen at that time. In fact most Jews holding a US or British passport, whether in Germany or in occupied Europe, survived the Holocaust unharmed. Jewish citizens of states relatively friendly to Germany, such as Turkey, were generally not so fortunate if caught in occupied Europe.
The late Stefan Korbonski, who was head of civilian resistance in German-occupied Poland and who was awarded the Yad Vashem Medal of Honor for “Righteous Gentiles” in 1980, writes in The Jews and the Poles in World War II that the Germans executed about 2,500 Poles for their actions on behalf of Jews. In his short book, Korbonski argues somewhat tendentiously that a workable symbiosis took place between the Polish and Jewish cultures, yet his complaints of an anti-Polish bias on the part of the Western, especially the Jewish, public are not unjustified. When will it finally be recognized that the presence of 3.3 million Jews in prewar Poland was not an accident but the consequence of the Polish kings’ and nobles’ having welcomed the Jews expelled from Western Europe? When will publicists cease to compare the situation in Denmark, where there were a few thousand assimilated Jews, with that in Poland, where Jews made up 10 percent of the population and, as Arno Mayer points out, easily half of all physicians and lawyers in private practice?
The very high proportion of Jews in the free professions, industry, and business was natural in a society traditionally made up of noble landowners and peasants. The trouble was that during the interwar period the members of a new Polish middle class came into their own at the universities; some of them saw no outlet for their ambitions in that impoverished country other than through seizing Jewish wealth and positions.
Even though many Poles were guilty of anti-Semitism, as they surely were, it ought not to be forgotten that according to the Nazi scheme the entire leadership of the Polish nation was to be destroyed, beginning with the systematic extermination of officers, professionals, teachers, and priests. The Soviets seemed determined to achieve much the same goal, murdering thousands of members of the Polish elite and deporting about 1.7 million Poles.
True, the Polish resistance offered only a very small amount of armed help to the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943; still, the SS commander suppressing the ghetto uprising wrote in his report that his soldiers “have been repeatedly shot at from outside the Ghetto.—i.e., from the Aryan part.” I wonder whether anyone fired a shot elsewhere in Europe on behalf of persecuted Jews. (The Italian troops who protected Jews from being rounded up by German units in occupied France did not have to go that far.)5 The Polish underground and the London-based Polish government-in-exile repeatedly alerted the world to the Final Solution, and it was not the fault of the Polish resistance that the West would not take these reports seriously.
Korbonski emphasizes that one half of the nearly six million Polish citizens killed during World War II were Gentiles, and he rightly resents Claude Lanzmann’s manipulative selection, in Shoah, of stupid sounding Polish witnesses to the Jewish Holocaust. Or what must Korbonski, a genuine hero, have felt when he was conspicuously not invited, in 1981, to the conference of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council? But he makes himself unattractive by presenting a long list of Jews who presided over the Soviet terror in Poland, and by remaining silent about the sickening pogroms against Jewish survivors that took place in a number of Polish towns and villages after World War II.
Polish-Jewish relations are plagued by one-sided, highly emotional interpretations. Heroes of the Polish resistance refuse to understand that for many Jews in pre–World War II nationalist Eastern Europe, communism seemed the only salvation, and that, after 1944, only a small minority of the Jews in Poland became murderous police chiefs and political commissars. In the other camp, some Jewish publicists act as if the Poles themselves set up the gas chambers. No doubt the Germans would have had little difficulty in recruiting Poles as camp guards, just as they had no difficulty in recruiting Ukrainians, Russians, Lithuanians, and Latvians. The fact is, however, that the Germans judged the Poles unworthy of even such a task. The unholy competition for claiming primacy in suffering continues, and it may take another forty years before Jews and Poles begin talking reasonably with each other.
The dispute between Jews and Poles is closely tied to the continued controversy between Catholics and Jews, Poland being a most Catholic country and the Pope himself a Pole. The most recent episode is the issue of the small Carmelite convent established, in 1984, within the Auschwitz camp, and a twenty-three-foot cross erected near it. Jewish organizations objected to what appeared to them as an attempt to “Christianize” Auschwitz, and in 1987, at Geneva, four cardinals, led by the Cardinal of Lyon, reached an agreement with European Jewish leaders that by February 1989, the convent would be moved outside the camp, as part of a future interreligious center. The Cardinal of Lyon stated the case for moving the convent as follows:
It is the attempt to totally exterminate the Jews…of which Auschwitz is the symbol. Such affliction and suffering have conferred on the Jewish people through its martyrs a particular dignity that is quite properly its own. And to construct a convent at Auschwitz would, for me, impinge on that dignity.
But when the convent and its dozen or so nuns stayed put, Jewish militants organized noisy demonstrations at the site this past summer, with some of the protesters reportedly being roughed up by Polish construction workers. Angered by the spectacle, the Cardinal Archbishop of Kraków, one of the original signers of the agreement, indicated that he would no longer honor his commitment. He was supported by the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Josef Glemp. The Solidarity newspaper criticized Glemp’s statements for wounding the feelings of the families of Holocaust victims; and the Cardinal of Lyon has said the agreement must be kept. As for the Pope, he has yet to take a public position on the matter.
An underlying issue in all this vehemence is, quite obviously, the failure of the Church effectively to oppose the carrying out of the Final Solution. But why does the behavior of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust create so much more controversy than that of the German Protestants, or the International Red Cross, or neutral Switzerland? The answer is that the Protestant churches, to take only one example, had always been acquiescent because of their nationalism and their traditional subservience to the state. With a few notable exceptions, Protestant clergymen, especially Lutherans, acted under the Nazis as executive arms of the German state. How different is the Catholic Church with its universalist ideology and its disciplined following!
Roman Catholicism represents a beautiful anachronism in our age of crazed nationalism; virtually every devout Catholic preserves in his heart some remnant of his denomination’s transnational loyalty and the duty of Catholics to defy immoral laws. Indeed, no other institution produced a greater number of heroes in the years before and during the Holocaust: Polish, German, Italian, and French nuns, monks, and lay priests, who gave their lives or suffered imprisonment for the sake of Jews. But the Roman Church itself, although powerful enough to stop the Nazi euthanasia program’s extermination of Germans who were handicapped, retarded, “asocial,” and gravely ill, did not undertake the same concerted effort on behalf of the Jews, the Gypsies, or the Soviet prisoners of war (some three million of the latter group alone perished in the Nazi camps). By speaking up in public against these horrors, the Church might just have created enough turmoil among German Catholics to stop, or at least to slow down the Nazi program.
It really makes no difference whether Popes Pius XI and XII were prevented from confronting Hitler by the time-honored duty of the Church to survive even in the most inhospitable environment, by their personal sympathy for the German nation, by their justified fear of Bolshevism, or by their conviction that quiet, unobtrusive assistance to individuals, especially to converted Jews, would be more efficient. The fact remains that the Church could and should have done more, if for no other reason than to assert its institutional position in the face of the most abysmal neo-pagan attacks on its eternal values. Unfortunately, until this day, the Vatican has not chosen to express its sorrow over that tragic historical shortcoming. Nor are many Jews willing to admit that the Catholic Church was guilty of no other crime but the unquestionably grave sin of omission.
If further proof is needed that the Nazis did not reserve their satanic cruelty for Jews alone, then Wanda Póltawska’s And I Am Afraid of My Dreams, an eloquent account of her concentration camp experiences, provides that evidence. The daughter of a Catholic post-office clerk in Lublin, she was only nineteen when she was arrested in 1941 for having served as a courier in the Polish resistance. Tortured mercilessly, she spent half a year in a Lublin prison and then three years in the Ravensbrück concentration camp near the German capital.
In the camp, scores of her fellow resistance fighters, all young women, were taken away periodically to be shot, while Póltawska and dozens of her companions were used as guinea pigs in a medical experiment whose sole purpose seems to have been to determine how much suffering human beings could sustain. Some died as a result of the operations. Few things show better the uniqueness of Nazi brutality than the insane procedures inflicted on these women, which consisted of removing their leg bones or injecting them with bacterial cultures, all under conditions of unspeakable filth and neglect that would have invalidated any conceivable scientific results. A good number of German doctors and nurses participated in the proceedings, and even though Póltawska’s chief torturer, Professor Karl Gebhardt, was later hanged for his crimes, it is well known that many of the Nazi doctors involved continued to thrive in postwar Germany.6
Was there really no difference between the treatment of Jews and Catholic Poles at Ravensbrück? Not during the first years of the young Polish women’s imprisonment, but later they began receiving Red Cross packages as well as letters from home and were occasionally helped by Polish prisoners of war. More important, these women were sustained by their youth, their ardent patriotism, and the knowledge that friends and family awaited them in Poland. Unlike most Jews, Póltawska had a home to return to, where she now lives as a practicing psychiatrist and, perhaps understandably, a right-to-life activist.
Camp hierarchy was a complex affair, but not even those on top could feel secure. Violent death was an everyday possibility both for old-timers and for the Prominenten, or low-level bosses recruited from among the common criminals (green triangles) and political prisoners (red triangles), or, less frequently, from among the “asocials” (black triangles), homosexuals (pink triangles), Gypsies (brown triangles), and Jews. These people held the lives of others in their hands, yet even a slight mistake or the appearance of leniency could lead to their own execution.
As Louis J. Micheels explains in Doctor #117641, rank and position were not the only sources of privilege: it was enough to own a good coat or to look well-fed. A less than haggard face inspired respect, and could open the way to receiving food, which, in turn, led to power and more privileges. Micheel’s account makes one wonder whether he is truly describing life in the anus mundi, the Auschwitz concentration camp. While his parents were killed in another camp, Micheels, a Dutch Jewish medical student and a doctor-nurse in the Auschwitz main camp, slept in a real bed, moved about, read good books, played music, consorted with his Jewish fiancée, grew jealous of her flirtations, and once even made love to her, hidden in a closet. Here is how he describes one of his work assignments:
The laboratory was four miles from the camp, and it took us about an hour to walk there. But it was a pleasant walk…along the banks of the Sola River, past an agricultural station staffed by woman prisoners, to whom we waved enthusiastically in passing…. In the cold early morning the sky was sometimes a beautiful red, setting aglow the fields to the left across the river. To the right, in the distance, we could see the chimneys of the crematorium in Birkenau. It was a glaring and dramatic contrast…. My room [in the laboratory], spacious, neat, and clean, was on the first floor in the back; its large window looked to the fields beyond…. [SS] Untersturmführer Münch…was friendly, showed personal interest in people, never deliberately humiliated anybody.
Only when Auschwitz was evacuated, toward the end of the war, did Micheels share in the misery of ordinary prisoners.
In a death camp like Treblinka practically no new arrival escaped annihilation: hence the horrendous losses among Polish and Lithuanian Jews, most of whom were transported directly from the ghetto to the death camps. Those, however, who were sent to Auschwitz, which was both a death camp and a labor camp, often escaped immediate selection for annihilation, provided that they looked relatively young and healthy. Eva Schloss (Eva’s Story), whose mother married Anne Frank’s father after the war, arrived in Auschwitz from Holland only in May 1944, passed the first selection, and was detailed to the “Canada Commando,” a privileged outfit charged with sorting out the confiscated belongings of the new arrivals. Her father and brother succumbed to hunger and exhaustion during the last days of the war, but Eva and her mother survived to be liberated in Auschwitz by the Red Army.
Unlike other survivors, she has only good things to say about the generosity and kindness of the Soviet soldiers she met. Of routine interest only (if any Auschwitz experience can be called routine), Eva’s Story nevertheless confirms what has become evident from all the testimonies under review here, namely that a good social background, education, self-confidence, and familiarity with the German language were of immense help in the struggle for survival. Schloss’s reminiscences also confirm what we have known for a long time, that whereas both her and Anne Frank’s family were hidden by heroic Dutch Gentiles, they were also betrayed to the Gestapo by their Dutch neighbors, and were questioned and guarded by the Dutch police under SS orders.
Who are the survivors? What price in self-respect did they have to pay for being able to dodge the continual selection process? As their testimonies show, even the most heroic and noble among them may not be free of a gnawing sense of guilt. In the criminal univers concentrationnaire none remained wholly innocent, if only because he once grabbed a piece of bread before the others.
(No sooner had I written the above lines on the tormented conscience of survivors than I recalled a bilingual—English and Hungarian—book of interviews published recently in Hungary, whose subject, a Hungarian peasant and former prisoner of war in the Soviet Union, told the author: “Eating human flesh, that happened sometimes. When there really isn’t anything else, you have to eat that too…. I too ate human flesh.” The book reports that Lajos M., the Hungarian peasant, suffered a nervous breakdown in old age.7 )
Some survived thanks to their special skills; others were saved by belonging to a closely knit political group. Unbroken tells of the struggle for survival and the resistance activity of a small team of brave young German Communists, Das Rote Sprachrohr (Red Megaphones), not all of whom were Jews. Few stories have appeared, in English, on the tragedy of German Communists in the Third Reich. This alone makes the book worth reading, despite its dogmatism and naiveté.
The author, Len Crome, served with the International Brigades in Spain and is the brother-in-law of Jonny Hüttner, whose story forms the major part of the book. A Jew and longstanding Communist, Hüttner was arrested in 1936 and escaped from the Dora camp in April 1945,8 having passed through several prisons and camps, including Auschwitz. His condition alternated between abject misery and—whenever Communists succeeded in seizing control of the camp’s internal administration—relative comfort and security. Communists in power were greatly preferable to professional criminals in power, but even Communists protected mainly their own kind, which meant substituting other names for the names of Party comrades on the list of those destined to die.
Camp conditions varied not only for different categories of prisoners but also according to the degree of overcrowding, the urgency of reducing the number of inmates, or the mood of the commandants. None of the accounts of survivors under review tells a story of unrelieved suffering; none escaped unspeakable brutalities.
Most contributors to the illustrated documentary collection Lódz Ghetto9 perished in the death camps, which makes their testimonies even harder to bear. These diarists, poets, and ghetto officials tell of heroes and scoundrels, of human dignity and utter debasement. Above all, the documents tell of ghetto leaders who sacrificed lives in the hope of saving other lives. The “Eldest of the Jews,” Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the autocratic leader of the Jews of Lódz, caused many thousands of Polish Jews to board trains that would take them to the death camps. His ghetto police, assisted by the Germans, suppressed strikes and internal resistance. He ordered the execution of members of the Jewish resistance and handed over to the Gestapo those who tried to go into hiding or hid others.
Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides, the editors of this heartbreaking anthology of accounts of ghetto life, calculate that only about 10,000 of the 200,000 people in the Lódz ghetto survived the war. They conclude that but for Rumkowski’s deceitful or misinformed assurances of their safety, the Jews might not have willingly boarded the death trains. But even Adelson and aides are uncertain whether Rumkowski, who himself was killed in 1944, had been deliberately deceitful. And if the Jews had refused to board the trains, what then?
Very few works have dealt with the concentration camp commandants, although Claude Lanzmann and Gitta Sereny, among others, have interviewed former SS men involved in running the camps.10 In The Soldiers of Evil, the Israeli historian Tom Segev makes a careful attempt to construct a collective portrait of the concentration camp commandants, after interviewing several of them or talking to their families. The book would have benefited from some statistical data, for example, on the social and geographic origin of the commandants or on their education and training. From Segev’s account one gathers that the commandants came from almost all social strata, except the aristocracy and upper bourgeoisie, and that many, but by no means all, were born into Austrian and South German Catholic families.
The large number of Austrians among the officers in charge of the Final Solution, such as Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Odilo Globocnik, Franz Stangl, Amon Göth, and Karl Fritsch, as well as Adolf Eichmann (the latter an Austrian by choice, however, not by birth), does not necessarily prove that the Austrians were more zealous Nazis than the Germans. Rather, as latecomers in the Reich, they may have been given the less desirable assignments. The camp commandants “were mediocre people,” Segev writes, “without imagination, without courage, without initiative.” They obeyed orders, but they were “not Germans like all the Germans and not even Nazis like all the Nazis.” Almost without exception, they joined the Party and the SS very early; the SS was their family, with which they tended to identify fully.
More than anything else, they were soldiers—soldiers by choice. Political soldiers, in the service of evil. The military was more than employment for them, more than a career. It was a way of life.
No SS man was obliged to serve in a concentration camp, but most saw no reason to avoid it. Once there, they grew into the job and became more wicked daily, as had the woman I once saw in a German television documentary on the Majdanek trial. A Bavarian farmhand, she first became a prison guard and then a supervisor in a concentration camp, where one of her specialties was drowning “unruly” Jewish women in the latrine. After the war, she went back to being a farmhand until she was arrested and tried. During the trial she sat in the dock, an old peasant woman, knitting.
Scholars of the Final Solution have been called the skilled craftsmen of the “Holocaust enterprise” and, to be sure, they earn rewards in fame, royalties, and endowed Holocaust Chairs. Understandably too, some critics worry about the possible ritualization and trivialization of a subject which cannot be treated like any other historical study. Can mass murder be dealt with as one more academic topic? Can it be submerged in a mass of footnotes? In the words of Nora Levin: “The world of Auschwitz was, in truth, another planet.”11 But as Michael Marrus argues in his excellent survey The Holocaust in History, “the alternative, silence, is surely a counsel of despair.” In any case, the writings of a good many contemporary scholars make admirable efforts to understand something that is basically incomprehensible. I am thinking here in particular of the work of such scholars as Marrus, Uwe Dietrich Adam, Yehuda Bauer, Randolph L. Braham, Martin Broszat, Christopher R. Browning, Lucy S. Dawidowicz, Saul Friedländer, Martin Gilbert, Raul Hilberg, Michael H. Kater, Walter Laqueur, Robert J. Lifton, Charles S. Maier, George L. Mosse, Gerald Reitlinger, Karl A. Schleunes, and Shulamit Volkov. Most of these writers, and others as well, are cited in Marrus’s work; several have contributed to or are discussed in Unanswered Questions, also under review here.
A question addressed by all these historians concerns the centrality of anti-Semitism in Nazi ideology and in German public opinion. Most historians agree that anti-Semitism was not a predominant ideology in nineteenth-century Germany. Or are we to forget that anti-Semitism was more virulent in France and Russia at the turn of the century than in Germany, and that during World War I German troops marching into Russian territory were received as liberators by the Jewish population? Nor was anti-Jewish ideology a constant preoccupation of the leaders of the Third Reich. Only a minority of the early Nazis were “paranoid anti-Semites,” and anti-Jewish propaganda did not do much for the Party’s popularity before 1930. It was, however, absolutely central to the thinking of Hitler, for in his perverted version of Darwinism the Jews were the “antirace,” a mortal threat to his plans, to the German nation, and to the human race.
As Saul Friedländer has explained, it was fanatical hatred of the Jews that distinguished Hitler’s ideology from that of the other fascists, not his anti-Marxism, which was common to all of them. The Jews, not the Marxists or the Bolsheviks, were the targets of Hitler’s first and last ideological statements. He could, and did, conclude an alliance with Stalin, whom he admired in many ways; an “arrangement” with the Jews was unthinkable for him. What remains unexplained, therefore, is why so many Germans willingly participated in the Final Solution. Some writers point to the demonic appeal of Hitler. Others repeat, although less categorically, Hannah Arendt’s thesis on the banality of evil: the willingness of the faceless bureaucrats to do what they perceived to be their Führer’s wish, especially because the incessant power struggle within the Nazi bureaucracy could be won only by gaining the approval of its supreme arbiter.
Historians also generally agree on the uniqueness of the Holocaust: unlike the other monsters of the twentieth century, the Nazis aimed at total success. As the German liberal historian Eberhard Jäckel has written:
Never before had a state…decided that a specific human group, including its aged, its women, its children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, and then carried through this regulation using every possible means of state power.12
In 1986, a number of German historians, Ernst Nolte and Andreas Hillgruber among them, raised the issue of the uniqueness of the Holocaust, arguing that it was only one of several cases of genocide, and that the Nazis were merely imitating Stalin’s “Asiatic” politics. The ensuing Historikerstreit, the “Dispute of Historians” over recent German history, aroused the educated German public, painfully bringing home such issues as German self-respect, national identity, and Germany’s place among civilized nations. Nolte’s and Hillgruber’s position was angrily rejected by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas and scores of liberal German historians. The emerging consensus seems to be that while there is little use in constantly worrying over German national identity, and even though it may have been excessively self-accusing on the part of some historians to try to turn the Holocaust into a (West) German national obsession, it would be far worse to attempt to forget it. The Holocaust was indeed unique, the only true genocide of our times.
Yet a disturbing dilemma remains for historians. At least two thousand learned books have been written on the murder of 5.1 million Jews and considerably fewer on the death, by artificially created famine, deportation, and outright murder, of 14.5 million Soviet “class enemies” (kulaks), or on the total number of victims of Stalinist terror, estimated at some 20 million.13 Even less has appeared on the Communist massacres in China, Cambodia, and Tibet or, for example, on the murder of the Nigerian Ibo. Such a vast discrepancy cannot be explained away by the shortage of archival sources, or by the argument that the Ukrainian kulaks, unlike the Jews, were determined enemies of their state. Why then were the children of kulaks also treated as class enemies, regardless of their social and economic condition? It appears that the preoccupation with the Jews and their killers reflects a tendency to concentrate on those who are “ours”: the educated and civilized West Europeans. Not only has the history of the Holocaust been a central and necessary concern of the Jewish communities in the Western countries but historians generally have been overwhelmed by the spectacle of a nation once thought to be among the most “civilized” destroying one of the most civilized of peoples. They have been less concerned with the mass murder of peasants.14
How did the Holocaust take place? The question is the subject of a complex historical debate, separating “intentionalists” from “functionalists,” and the extremists in each camp from the moderates. The intentionalists argue for a “straight path,” meaning that Hitler’s thinking from very early on followed a coherent line, calling implicitly and explicitly for the elimination of Jews. The question of just how early divides the extreme and more moderate intentionalists. Moreover, as Ernst Nolte sees it, because the Nazis hated modernity more than anything else, and because, for them, Jews in Germany were the quintessential representatives of modernity, they never flinched in their early decision to do away with them. Hitler only awaited the favorable opportunity before issuing the orders to his underlings.
For their part, the functionalists uphold the theory of a “crooked path,” arguing that the Third Reich was a maze of competing power groups, rival bureaucracies, and threatening personalities, and that the Final Solution occurred only as a result of these rivalries. It emerged “bit by bit,” writes the Munich historian Martin Broszat, depending on local initiatives by such vicious and aggressive leaders as the SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Nazi security system. In this setting, the role of Hitler could only have been indirect. He gave no instructions that anyone has been able to document; rather, his underlings attempted to follow faithfully, as Hans Mommsen argues, the vision of an ideologically obsessed but essentially lazy leader. Still, no serious historian has argued that Hitler would not have known what was happening.
Such a summary only hints at the range of issues discussed in The Holocaust in History and Unanswered Questions. Yet I am tempted to agree with Saul Friedländer, who writes that even though the functionalist argument fits better with the main tendencies of modern historical analysis, the evidence itself strengthens the traditional intentionalist position, chiefly because of Hitler’s pathological hatred of the Jews. Hitler controlled the rhythm of the anti-Jewish measures, and while he was restrained between 1933 and 1939 by his conservative allies as well as by world opinion, and while between 1939 and 1941 he was groping for a new solution to the “Jewish Question,” in 1941 he no longer had any grounds to hesitate. According to Friedländer’s explanation, Hitler knew that the invasion of the Soviet Union would burden him with millions more Jews, and therefore planned the massacres well in advance; he subsequently would have given direct orders for their execution. But Friedländer also writes,
The historian’s paralysis arises from the simultaneity and the interaction of entirely heterogeneous phenomena: messianic fanaticism and bureaucratic structures, pathological impulses and administrative decrees, archaic attitudes within an advanced industrial society.
Or as Martin Broszat has pointed out: any thesis concerning the Final Solution is a matter of probability, not certainty. No written order by Hitler to proceed with the Final Solution has ever been found; yet the justification for extermination was already spelled out in Mein Kampf.
The Holocaust is not the primary concern of Arno Mayer’s historical research. Nor, to be just, is it that of several other historians whose names I have listed above. But Mayer, who was born in Luxembourg and who in 1940 had to flee the Nazis, is deeply concerned with the subject, and has grown impatient with what he perceives as a trivialization and fragmentation of Holocaust studies. Finally, as is shown by his numerous publications, Mayer’s interest lies in the survival into the twentieth century of the “old order” in Central and Eastern Europe, and in what he sees as the disastrous consequences of that survival. In Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? he sets out to prove that the upper classes and powerful economic forces that dominated the old order were instrumental in Hitler’s political triumph, in the anti-Bolshevik crusade against Soviet Russia, and, albeit less directly, in the murder of the European Jews. I do not believe that Mayer has accomplished his purpose, for one reason because of his excessive assurance, which invites the reader to become a believer without giving him the evidence on which to base a belief. His book lacks notes or footnotes, and only secondary sources are listed in the bibliography.
As Mayer clearly indicates at the outset, he wishes to look beyond the Holocaust to find the causes of the crisis of Western civilization during the first half of the twentieth century. Justly castigating the now fashionable fragmentation of the historical discipline, Mayer proposes to recall “the centrality of ideology, politics, and war in human affairs.” First, he writes, we must abandon the vantage point of the cold war, for without discarding “the residual cold war blinkers” we cannot trace the interconnection of anticommunism and anti-Semitism; and it was anticommunism, he asserts, that led Germany’s old elites, whether in the army, the bureaucracy, or high industrial circles, to collaborate with the Nazi regime and support the military drive for unlimited living space in Eastern Europe, the precondition for the Final Solution.
Second, he argues, we must place the “Judeocide” in its pertinent historical setting, the great European upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century: World War I, the ensuing Bolshevik revolution, the Nazi counterrevolution, and World War II, which was, in Mayer’s view, the inevitable outcome of the Nazi counterrevolution. Mayer proposes an inclusive interpretative model in order both to explain the horrors of our time and to show that both Germany’s Eastern campaign and Judeocide were integral components of the Thirty Years’ War of the twentieth century.
Mayer believes the Bolshevik Revolution was the great emancipatory event in Eastern Europe, especially for the Jews, and that, in its liberating effects, it can be compared to what the French Revolution accomplished for Western Europe and its Jews. Tragically, however, the “time-honored elites” in Germany and East Central Europe weathered the crises of 1917–1919 and remained determined to preserve the unstable old regimes in which they still held power. The Great Depression caused the “power elite of big business and agriculture, seconded by the old civil- and military-service nobility” to turn to Hitler “because he, unlike them, was adept at rallying popular support for the defense of the established but endangered economic, social, and cultural order.”
Putting aside the question of how liberating was a revolution that systematically suppressed all competing revolutionary parties and dissenters of every kind, this sounds to me very much like the old Marxist adage about fascism being “the last bastion of capitalism.” But Mayer himself subsequently contradicts this thesis:
While big business at critical moments encouraged the Nazi defiance, it was not its prime mover…. Fascism prevailed in Germany less because some sectors of big business used it as a stratagem to save capitalism than because the old elites resorted to it to preserve their superannuated positions of class, status, and power.
Without a doubt the latter statement, not the first, is Mayer’s true thesis, but no matter; both theses, in assuming that the historian must assign a dominant role to one group or the other, are open to the same question. How can anyone determine who were the prime movers and who were merely secondary when considering, on the one hand, the vast horde of German noblemen, officers, judges, imperial bureaucrats, professors, and land-owners and, on the other, the no less numerous capitalists, industrialists, businessmen, managers, and commercial farmers?
Mayer sees the Nazi takeover and the war as reactionary moves, inspired primarily by anti-Marxism; Nazi anti-Semitism was for him far less important. “There is no evidence to support the view that the destruction of the Jews was the primary motive and purpose of Hitler’s pursuit of power and determination to go to war.” Even after the attack on the Soviet Union, Mayer states categorically and repeatedly, the Jews were not to be annihilated, only “extruded.” The invasion of Russia was
not to trap the Jews for a predetermined Judeocide. Rather, Operation Barbarossa was both a military campaign to conquer boundless living space in the east and a crusade to eradicate the Soviet regime and the Bolshevik ideology.
As Mayer sees it, only after the military drive against the Soviets had taken a disastrous turn, during the winter of 1941–1942, did the Nazis vent their frustrated anger on the Jews.
Indeed, had the blitzkrieg succeeded in the east as it had in the west the year before, Europe might ironically have been spared the worst horrors of the twentieth century.
It is impossible to agree with this reasoning. As other critics have pointed out, Hitler’s Judeocide was not merely a byproduct of Hitler’s anticommunist crusade; it was one of Hitler’s chief war aims. And Mayer seems to me factually wrong in tying the Judeocide to German setbacks on the Eastern front; there is ample evidence to show that the Einsatzgruppen, the specially formed police battalions of the SS, began the systematic liquidation of Eastern Jewry as soon as circumstances permitted, a few weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
Other questions arise about Mayer’s analysis of the situation following World War I in Eastern Europe, the vast stretch of the continent lying between Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union. In his view, this region was generally characterized by the survival of a reactionary anti-Marxist, anti-Bolshevik old order, a point which is essential for his overall thesis.
Along with the countries of the Iberian Peninsula, the countries of this rimland remained prime bastions of Europe’s fading old order, rooted in preindustrial economies. Their ruling classes were dominated by landed nobles and gentrified middle classes; their governing classes by civil and military service nobilities.
The old ruling elites, Mayer continues, all but blocked land reform in Eastern Europe, leaving smallholders and agricultural workers at the mercy of the landowners. But Mayer himself exempts Czechoslovakia, a democratic country dominated by bourgeois politicians and businessmen. And what of the others? The native Bulgarian nobility and the Serbian nobility had both disappeared under the Ottomans, and the Muslim landowners had left with the retreating Ottoman armies in the nineteenth century. Both independent Serbia and Bulgaria were essentially peasant societies. After World War I, the newly created Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia as well as expanded Romania seized the properties of German-speaking and Hungarian landowners, that is, most of the large estates, and distributed the land among the peasants.
Unfortunately, the peasants of Romania and Yugoslavia, short of cash and farming know-how, benefited little from the land distribution. The political and administrative leaders of Bulgaria, prewar Serbia, and postwar Yugoslavia had largely peasant roots or were descendants of small merchants. Romania and newly independent Poland were characterized by often violent struggles for power between disparate social groups, among them noble landowners.
Only in Hungary between the wars can one talk of the partial survival of the old order: aristocratic landowners, petty nobles, civil-and military-service nobility, and Jewish capitalists, but even in Hungary social change came in the 1930s, with people from both the middle class and lower-middle class demanding and getting more and more jobs in the civil administration and Jewish-owned enterprises.
“The fall of the Romanov, Habsburg, and Hohenzollern empires,” Mayer writes, “brought a distinct relaxation of both official and informal discrimination” against the Jews. In reality official discrimination before World War I had existed at most in the Russian empire, not in the German Reich or in Austria-Hungary. There was unofficial discrimination and prejudice everywhere, of course, but at least in the lands under Francis Joseph, which comprised much of Central Eastern Europe, Jews had virtually unlimited opportunities for education and employment. They could, and did, become army generals, judges, civil servants, and cabinet members. They entered the hereditary nobility and sat in both houses of parliament. Never before and never since have the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe enjoyed greater personal dignity than the ancien régime of the Habsburg dynasty.
Here, then, is the crux of the matter. The dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918 marked the end, or the beginning of the end, of the old order of hereditary and service nobles, who had been tolerant of minority religions and ethnic groups to a degree unheard of since that time. The states that were carved out of the empire experienced grave economic crises and social upheavals. In Hungary, the only East European country where the old nobility had survived more or less intact, the nobles and the Jewish capitalists were pitted against people emerging from the middle and lower-middle classes who had an unquenchable appetite for political and economic power.
No doubt, in Hungary as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, both the old elites and the new social forces were anti-Marxist and anti-Bolshevik. But the new elites and their fascist and fascist-influenced parties—the Iron Guard in Romania and the Arrow Cross in Hungary were only two of many—were also étatist, anti-capitalist, anti-aristocrat, antiliberal, and xenophobic. They were also radically anti-Semitic, for they associated the Jews with everything they hated: Bolshevism, the old order of noble landowners and capitalists, foreign domination, and the Habsburgs. Because their countries were nation-states in name only, the new East European elites clamored for the forcible assimilation or the oppression of alien minorities, among whom they counted the Jews. Unfortunately, Arno Mayer nearly ignores the populist, social revolutionary element in East European chauvinism and anti-Semitism.
The coming of World War II brought cataclysmic regional conflicts and civil wars to the Eastern European countries, causing some of them to fall victim to Nazi aggression and others to jump on the Nazi bandwagon. The war also hastened social revolution and suppression of the ethnic minorities. The Jews were the first victims slaughtered by the Germans with varying degrees of assistance from local administrations and peoples. All the Eastern European regimes (where they existed) repeatedly adjusted their policy toward Jews to the dictates of “national interest” and the changing lines of battle. No Eastern European government was consistently murderous toward Jews during the war years; none was without guilt. As Arno Mayer himself points out, of all Hungarian social classes, the aristocracy resisted the Final Solution most consistently.
After the war came the turn of the 12 million German settlers in Eastern Europe: those who had not fled with the retreating German army were by and large driven out, deported, or killed. Other minorities were treated similarly, under the motto of settling accounts with fascists and Nazi collaborators. The drive against minorities continues to our day, against the Hungarians in Romania, the Turks in Bulgaria, the Albanians in the Kosovo region. The few remaining Jews and Germans are also leaving.
The tragedy of the East European Jews must be seen against this background. They were murdered by the German Nazis and the East European fascists, not by the entire population. Yet we must ask: What would have become of the East European Jews without Hitler? No doubt thousands of them would have sought their fortune in the West as part of the great migration begun at the end of the nineteenth century. Others would have been completely assimilated into a new industrialized society; but still others would have left because they found the radical nationalism in Eastern European countries intolerable.
As the Habsburg monarchy crumbled, it was only a matter of time before the old nobility, the imperial bureaucracy, and the German as well as Jewish bourgeoisie would give up their places to the sons and grandsons of native peasants. The new elite, unlike the old, has shown no patience for alien cultures. Such slogans of the interwar period as “Poland for the Poles” and “Romania for the Romanians” heralded the end of the multinational Eastern Europe. In the new national societies, there would have been little room left for Jewish life and culture.15
Why did it happen? Why did millions die and other millions survive? After plowing through many dozens of books, and having recalled my own experiences as both a victim and a witness, I have no clear answers, and Arno Mayer seems to me right when he asserts that Hitler’s Judeocide remains incomprehensible. But perhaps there are lessons, as suggested by Zygmunt Bauman’s forthcoming book, Modernity and the Holocaust:
The lesson of the Holocaust is the facility with which most people, put into a situation that does not contain a good choice…argue themselves away from the issue of moral duty…adopting instead the precepts of rational interest and self-preservation. In a system where rationality and ethics point in opposite directions, humanity is the main loser…. And there is another lesson of the Holocaust, of no lesser importance…. The second lesson tells us that putting self-preservation above moral duty is in no way predetermined, inevitable and inescapable. One can be pressed to do it, but one cannot be forced to do it, and thus one cannot really shift the responsibility for doing it on to those who exerted the pressure. It does not matter how many people chose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation—what does matter is that some did.
—August 31, 1989
September 28, 1989
Philip Lopate, “Resistance to Holocaust,” Tikkun, Vol. 4, No. 3 (May/June 1989), p. 56. ↩
See Pierre Vidal-Naquet, “Theses on Revisionism,” in Unanswered Questions, pp. 304–319. ↩
Translated from the Italian by Stuart Woolf (Orion Press, 1959; reprinted by Macmillan, 1988). ↩
Nechama Tec estimates, in When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 11, that between 50,000 and 100,000 Jews survived the war in Poland, but it is not clear from her account whether these figures include only Polish citizens or all Jewish survivors in Polish territory. To complicate matters, not all survivors were indebted to Polish Gentiles. Some had been left behind in the concentration camps by the retreating Germans and were liberated by the Red Army; others had been able to “pass” as Gentiles without any Polish assistance, or joined Jewish resistance groups in the forest. On the other hand, many Jews who had been helped by Polish Gentiles failed to register as Jewish survivors after World War II and are consequently not in the statistics. Consider, too, that the boundaries of Poland—and of the other Eastern European countries—changed radically during and after the war, meaning that statistical data on the dead and the survivors are at best approximations. ↩
The SS commander reporting on the Warsaw ghetto revolt was Major General Jürgen Stroop, hanged in Warsaw in 1951. See The Stroop Report, translated from the German and annotated by Sybil Milton, introduction by Andrzej Wirth (Pantheon Books, 1979), p. 29. This report, in fact, contains such statements as: “The Jews and Polish bandits succeeded in repelling the first penetration of the Ghetto by ambushing the participating units, which included tanks and armored cars” (p. 4), and: “The main Jewish fighting unit, which was intermingled with Polish bandits .” It is true that Stroop also states: “The Polish population has by and large welcomed the measures implemented against the Jews” (p. 11). As for the admirable behavior of the Italian army in France, Yehuda Bauer, in A History of the Holocaust (Franklin Watts, 1982), writes (p. 236): “The French police, especially the socalled Garde Mobile who searched intensively for Jews for deportation, were not allowed to function in the Italian zone because the Italians opposed such actions and all other anti-Jewish acts as well.” ↩
On the nightmare of the Nazi euthanasia program and medical experiments, see especially Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (Basic Books, 1986). ↩
Zsolt Csalog, Lajos M., Aged 42 (Budapest: Maecenas, 1989), pp. 18–19. On the troubled reminiscences of a great many survivors, see Anton Gill, The Journey Back from Hell: An Oral History, Conversations with Concentration Camp Survivors (Morrow, 1988). Of no less interest and value is Ruth Schuertfeger, Women of Theresienstadt: Voices from a Concentration Camp (Berg, 1989), which, besides describing life in Theresienstadt, Bohemia (Czech Terezin), contains testimonies in verse and prose as well as contemporary drawings by women inmates. As is well known, Theresienstadt was a “model” concentration camp, designed to mislead foreign visitors and the German public; it had formal autonomy, a welfare system, and schools. Most of its inmates ended up, nevertheless, in the gas chambers. One group was comprised of highly decorated Austrian Jewish war veterans, who, rather than emigrating, trusted the promises of the Gestapo and paid for it by being deported first to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz, where all were killed. Another major publication, David G. Roskies, ed., The Literature of Destruction: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe (The Jewish Publication Society, 1988), contains one hundred articles on the suffering of Jews from the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 587 BC to Auschwitz. ↩
In the same year the young German Communist Jonny Hüttner was arrested in Berlin, the young Austrian Communist Karlo Stajner was arrested in Moscow. Unlike Hüttner, however, who was given three years, then freed, then immediately rearrested and sent to a camp without a new trial, Stajner was given ten years, then retried far away from any court, in a Siberian camp, and sentenced to another ten years. He left the USSR for Yugoslavia in 1956, after twenty years in Soviet captivity. Perhaps this reveals a difference between the Stalinist and the Nazi concepts of justice. See Karlo Stajner, Seven Thousand Days in Siberia, translated by Joel Agee, with an introduction by Danilo Ki (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988). ↩
The film Dark Music, which was released in the spring of 1989 and was directed by Kathryn Taverna and Alan Adelson, is based on the documents and photographs in this book. Both the book and the film were inspired in turn by Lucjan Dobroszycki’s five-volume work, in Polish, on the Lódz ghetto, which has also been issued in an abridged version as The Chronicle of the Lódz Ghetto, 1941–1944 (Yale University Press, 1984). ↩
See Gitta Sereny, Into that Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder (McGraw-Hill, 1974), which analyzes the life of Franz Stangl, an Austrian policeman who became commandant of the Treblinka death camp. See also Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess, with an introduction by Lord Russell of Liverpool, translated by Constantine FitzGibbon (World Publishing Company, 1959); and Peter R. Black, Ernst Kaltenbrunner: Ideological Soldier of the Third Reich (Princeton University Press, 1984). ↩
Nora Levin, The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry, 1939–1945 (Schocken, 1973), pp. xi–xii. ↩
Eberhard Jäckel, “Die elende Praxis der Untersteller,” Die Zeit (September 12, 1986), as quoted in Charles S. Maier, The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity (Harvard University Press, 1988), pp. 75–76. On Maier’s work, see Gordon Craig’s “Facing Up to the Nazis,” in The New York Review (February 2, 1989). ↩
The figure on the number of Jewish victims is that of Raul Hilberg in Unanswered Questions, p. 171; the figure on Stalin’s victims is that of Charles Maier in The Unmasterable Past, p. 74. For a detailed analysis of Stalinist terror, see Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (Oxford University Press, 1986). The still widely used figure of six million Jewish dead was the estimate of Adolf Eichmann. ↩
This theme is, incidentally, most thoughtfully explored in Maier, The Unmasterable Past, pp. 71–84. ↩
On all this, see Ezra Mendelsohn, “Relations Between Jews and Non-Jews in Eastern Europe Between the Two World Wars,” in Unanswered Questions, pp. 71–83. ↩