Date:         Thu, 4 Apr 1996 09:15:30 -0600
Reply-To:     H-GERMAN EDITOR Dan Rogers 
Sender:       H-NET List on German History 
From:         H-GERMAN EDITOR Dan Rogers 
Subject:      Goldhagen's _Hitler's Willing Executioners"

We have received several communications wondering about a possible
H-German review of Daniel J. Goldhagen's _Hitler's Willing Executioners_,
though no one who has read the book has offered any comment directly to
H-German.  In order to insure that all H-German subscribers are aware of
this book, which has received attention, among other places, in the
_Chronicle of Higher Education_, the _New York Times_, the "Today Show,"
and _Time_ magazine, we are cross-posting a single item that recently
appeared on the H-Net list Holocaus.  At the end of this message there
also appears an excerpt from a recent _Time_ on-line story about the book.

While we appreciate the passions that Goldhagen's book has awakened, we
would also be grateful if, at this early stage, we could limit the
discussion to those who have actually read _Hitler's Willing
Executioners_.  If other comments were to then follow from those who
haven't read the book, fine; but we do not wish to start a free-for-all on
"what did the Germans know and when did they know it" at this point.  Many
thanks. d.r.

Submitted by:   Peter Erspamer 

 Date:         Tue, 2 Apr 1996 09:43:00 CST
 Sender: H-Net History of the Holocaust List 
 From: "Tadeusz K. Gierymski" 
 Subject:      Goldhagen's "Hitler's willing executioners."

 Daniel J. Goldhagen had an article in NYT, March 17, 1996, about his
 book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holo-
 caust," Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

 Since then NYT has published two reviews of it, including the one in
 today's issue of April 1, 1996, by Dinitia Smith, under the title:

     View of Ordinary Germans' Role in Holocaust Is Challenged

         In his immense, angry new book, Daniel Jonah
         Goldhagen has challenged a fundamental
         assumption of the Holocaust, that Germans
         blindly followed orders, or were coerced by
         their superiors, in murdering Jews.

         In "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary
         Germans and the Holocaust" (Alfred A. Knopf)
         Goldhagen argues that thousands of Germans, even
         though told by their superiors they could refuse
         orders to kill Jews, eagerly participated in the
         slaughter, and killed zealously, with unnecess-
         ary brutality.

 Goldhagen, an assistant professor of government and social studies at
 Harvard University and a son of a Holocaust survivor, said last week
 in his office:

         I say these people believed what they were doing
         to Jews was the right thing. The most committed
         anti-Semites in history come to power and turn a
         private fantasy into the core of the state.

 Goldhagen depicts Germany even before the Nazi period as "pregnant
 with murder," gripped by "hallucinatory anti-Semitism," a society in
 which anti-Semitism was a "culturally shared cognitive model," a
 profoundly ingrained, reflexive response, writes Dinitia Smith.

         The book, 461 pages of text, 141 pages of
         footnotes and appendices, is one of the most
         scathing indictments of ordinary Germans during
         the Nazi period to be published.

 "This book is a challenge," said the 36-year-old Goldhagen. "I put
 forward the conventional explanations. And I say they're all wrong."

 In chapter 15, "Explaining the perpetrators' actions: Assessing the
 competing explanations," pp. 375-415, he rejects as false such
 explanations for German behavior as:

  1. That the killing was primarily done by SS and Nazis.
  2. That the perpetrators were coerced.
  3. That they were compelled according to the once famous Milgram's
     model of obedience to authority.
  4. That, as Hannah Arendt maintained, they behaved like mindless
  5. That the entire Final Solution was so fragmented and compart-
     mentalized that the ordinary Germans did not know what they were
  6. That were they to disobey they would suffer dire consequences.

 Many other writers (e.g. Christopher R. Browning) made points
 somewhat similar to Goldhagen's contention about ordinary Germans'
 extraordinary willingness to take part in the murder of Jews,

         But no other major book has made the point with
         such force that there was something basic in the
         German character that brought about the

 He writes

         It was as if humanity had entered "a new moral

         But their actions were the result of a German
         society saturated with anti-Semitism. Even Karl
         Barth, the Swiss theologian who taught in Germa-
         ny in the early 1930s and became an opponent of
         Nazism, had "a deep-seated anti-Semitism.

         Most anti-Semites just wanted to get Jews out of
         the country, but to Germans, Jews were metaphy-
         sical enemies. Some Germans protested the kill-
         ing of Poles, and of handicapped people, but not
         of Jews. Even members of the anti-Hitler
         Resistance were anti-Semitic.

         Finally, when SS chief Heinrich Himmler, hoping
         to negotiate with Americans at the end of World
         War II, forbade the further killing of Jews,
         some Germans kept on.

 There is already a strong reaction against Goldhagen's book.

 Istvan Deak, professor of history at Columbia University in New York,
 whose writings on WW II and Holocaust are highly and deservedly res-
 pected, said:

         I refuse to accept that any nation has national
         characteristics. We can only say many Germans
         participated. To say that anti-Semitism is a
         German specialty is wrong. To say this is
         somehow a national characteristic is

 Walter Laqueur, author of "The Terrible Secret" and chairman of the
 International Research Council of the Center for Strategic and
 International Studies in Washington, questions the newness of
 Goldhagen's thesis:

         That the Germans were eager participants --
         there are any number of books by people who
         survived which attest to this.

 There will be a symposium on "Hitler's Willing Executioners" at the
 U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington next Monday.

 His book will be published in Germany this August. Goldhagen hopes
 that the reaction to it

         is based on the veracity of the book,

 but he obviously expects some flak, saying

         My account raises difficult issues that Germans
         need to address.

 He reflects on his "radical" thesis thus:

         Everyone is ready to believe perpetrators of
         other mass slaughters wanted to do it. Do
         you know anyone who says that the Serbs didn't
         want to murder Muslims? Only with Germans do we
         say they were obedient to authority. There is a
         reluctance to believe that people who are core
         members of Western civilization would do such a

 What, then, does his book say about modern Germany? - asked Dinitia
 Smith. His answer:

         Germany is a very changed country. After 1949, it
         was against the law to make an anti-Semitic
         statement. It's very hard for an individual to
         maintain views the whole world is saying are
         wrong. Germany is the great success story of the
         post-war period. The Germans have remade them-
         selves into liberal democrats.

 Smiling, Goldhagen gave a small shrug, and said:

                 They're like us.

 Tadeusz K. Gierymski

 (Based on NYT articles, Goldhagen's book, and other sources.)

[end of Holocaus cross-post]

To see Time Magazine article, go to