A great historian crowns a lifetime of thought and research by answering a question that has haunted us for more than 50 years: How did one of the most industrially and culturally advanced nations in the world embark on and continue along the path leading to one of the most enormous criminal enterprises in history, the extermination of Europe's Jews?
Giving considerable emphasis to a wealth of new archival findings, Saul Friedlander restores the voices of Jews who, after the 1933 Nazi accession to power, were engulfed in an increasingly horrifying reality. We hear from the persecutors themselves: the leaders of the Nazi party, the members of the Protestant and Catholic hierarchies, the university elites, and the heads of the business community. Most telling of all, perhaps, are the testimonies of ordinary German citizens, who in the main acquiesced to increasing waves of dismissals, segregation, humiliation, impoverishment, expulsion, and violence.
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Born in Prague, Saul Friedländer spent his boyhood in Nazi-occupied France. He is a professor of history at UCLA, and has written numerous books on Nazi Germany and World War II.Review:
At first glance, the volume before us is a conventional enough historical narrative. Divided into two roughly equal parts, it recounts the step-by-step process by which the Nazi regime tightened its menacing grip over the Jews of Germany in the years between 1933 and 1939. In a welcome departure from much current Holocaust historiography, Friedlander weaves the victims' story into his general narrative, showing the often tardy and confused responses of Jews at all levels of society as they became tangled in the ever-growing web of administrative measures aimed against them.
The great virtue of Friedlander's presentation lies in his ability to juxtapose different themes and facets while preserving an orderly chronological narrative. We are shown the international as well as the domestic context of Hitler's speeches relating to Jews; the callous and cynical deliberations of Nazi leaders, as well as the decisions of lower-level functionaries; the passivity of ordinary Germans, as well as the despair of the trapped Jewish victims. Moreover, by skillfully introducing some of the methods of contemporary social history (which in the past he has criticized), Friedlander persuasively demonstrates the great variety of individual situations in Nazi Germany, especially during the early years.
Despite its carefully differentiated analysis, Freidlander's book nonetheless has its weaknesses. Considerably more attention might have been paid to the response of German Jewry to its impoverishment, isolation, and persecution. There is virtually no mention of Jewish religious leaders and their reactions, no discussion of the German Jewish intellectuals and the way they confronted Nazi policy. Nor is there much information about internal deliberations within communal bodies. Similarly unexplored are the dilemmas posed by emigration from the Third Reich, as well as the effects of positions adopted by German Zionists.
Friedlander remains cautious to a fault about shaping his material into a cohesive whole or offering anything like an overall interpretation of the events he describes. Notwithstanding its wealth of insight and detail, reading this book is thus, at times, an oddly frustrating experience. Still, it remains a considerable achievement, an important landmark in the as yet unfinished project of grasping the nature and the meaning of the Holocaust. -- Commentary, Robert S. Wistrich
Mr. Friedländer draws strength from memory, yet adheres scrupulously to the discipline of a historian's detachment. He writes history with a novelist's sense of the telling detail; he is both analytic and evocative. -- The New York Times Book Review, Fritz Stern
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