Date:         Thu, 11 Apr 1996 05:51:20 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List on German History 
Sender:       H-NET List on German History 
From:         H-GERMAN EDITOR Dan Rogers 
Subject:      Symposium on Goldhagen's _Hitler's Willing Executioners_

Editor's note: we are extraordinarily grateful for this first-hand report,
and hope that subscribers who have found it useful will write privately to
Maria Mitchell and Peter Caldwell to thank them.  We would also like to
reiterate our plea that all discussion on this potentially emotional issue
be reasonbly informed on the theses in question, and not solely an attempt
to make one's personal views on the Holocaust known.  We may have to forgo
submissions that do not meet this standard.  Many thanks. d.r.

Submitted by:   Maria Mitchell 

The following is a report on the Monday, April 8 symposium organized by
the Holocaust Research Institute at the Holocaust Memorial Museum on
Daniel Goldhagen's book, _Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans
and the Holocaust_.  It is based on Maria Mitchell's notes with Peter
Caldwell's collaboration; the text was written by Maria Mitchell.  This
report is in no way intended to be a definitive or official account of the
proceedings, and we ask that others in attendance contribute their
comments and impressions. This report is also not presented as an
intervention in the debate about Goldhagen's thesis; we tried to eliminate
all personal opinion in the text. The symposium was a long and unusual
one.  It shed much light on the gap between academic history and popular
history and the passions with which the Holocaust is inevitably debated.
The audience on the whole supported Goldhagen and reacted sharply to his
critics.  There was an overflow crowd of at least 600 people, many of whom
had to watch the proceedings on a video screen outside the auditorium.
The symposium began at 4:30 p.m. and was scheduled to conclude at 8:30 p.m.

The program of the conference was as follows:

        Introduction to Conference: Michael Berenbaum, Director, United
        States Holocaust Research Institute

        Presentation: Daniel Goldhagen, Assistant Professor of Government
        and Social Studies, Harvard University

        Comment:  Konrad Kwiet, J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Senior
        Scholar-in-Residence, United States Holocaust Research Institute;
        and Professor of German, and Deputy Director of the Centre for
        Comparative Genocide Studies, Macquarie University, Australia

        Yehuda Bauer, Jona M. Machover Professor of Holocaust Studies,
        Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Ida E. King Distinguished
        Visiting Professor of Holocaust Studies, Stockton College

        Moderator: Lawrence Langer, Professor Emeritus of English, Simmons
        College

        Presentations: Christopher Browning, J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro
        Senior Scholar-in-Residence, United States Holocaust Research
        Institute; and Professor of History, Pacific Lutheran University

        Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, Cologne University

        Moderator: Richard Breitman, Professor of History, American
        University; and Editor-in-Chief, _Holocaust and Genocide Studies_

        Final Comments: Leon Wieseltier, Literary Editor, The New Republic

It is important to note that we left after Christopher Browning's
presentation. Neither of us remained to hear Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm's
paper, Daniel Goldhagen's response to Christopher Browning, or Leon
Wieseltier's concluding comments.

Berenbaum introduced the conference with a plea for "civil discourse" and
by noting that the Research Institute had been criticized for hosting a
symposium on Goldhagen's book.  He then set out the following questions:
How essential was antisemitism to the motivation of the perpetrators?  How
endemic was antisemitism to German social and political culture?

For the purposes of his presentation, Goldhagen organized his thesis into
three major points: (a) "exterminationist antisemitism" was a "cultural
norm" in Germany already by the late nineteenth century; (b) the
perpetrators all shared a Hitlerian view of the Jews; (c) most German
citizens shared this view as well.  His conclusion on the basis of these
three points was that the majority of ordinary Germans was prepared to
kill Jews.  In asserting that "exterminationist antisemitism" was a
"cultural norm" by the end of the nineteenth century in Germany, Goldhagen
argued that "eliminationist antisemitism" became part of German culture
due to certain set of historical circumstances which, he claimed, changed
fundamentally after World War II.  Jews became a symbol of all that was
evil in late nineteenth-century Germany as antisemitism became infused
with the "concept of race"; the goal of this type of antisemitism,
widespread through all cultures and social classes in late
nineteenth-century Germany, was exclusively to eliminate Jews.  This
version of antisemitism became, according to Goldhagen, official public
ideology uncontested within German society.  It maintained that Jews were
racially different from Germans, harmful to Germany, and therefore had to
be eliminated.  Because there was no institutionally supported alternative
view in Germany before 1945, Germans were raised on eliminationist
antisemitism as they were on their "mothers' milk".  This is why,
according to Goldhagen, perpetrators had so little difficulty murdering
Jews.  Careerism, peer pressure, "myopic bureaucratism" (all of which he
labeled "ahistorical") played no role; because some of those pressured did
resist "governmental coercion" to kill, it was clear that there was no
"real coercion".  Exterminationist antisemitism was the only motivation
and Germans' collaboration must therefore be ascribed - and ascribed
exclusively - to virulent antisemitism. This explained, in Goldhagen's
words, why Germans were not only zealous about eliminating the Jews but
exceptionally cruel in doing so.  This held, furthermore, not only for the
collaboration of the perpetrators, but also for that of German citizens,
whose refusal to intervene reflected their adherence to exterminationist
antisemitism.  In the 1930s, Goldhagen concluded, the vast majority of
German citizens supported the Final Solution.

Kwiet began by accusing Goldhagen of having written and promoted the book
in order to become famous, stating that - no matter what the outcome of
this debate - Goldhagen had "made it".  To stand out and attract media
attention among the numerous publications in Holocaust Studies, Kwiet
said, one has to advocate a spectacular thesis; this was exactly what
Goldhagen did.  In particular, Kwiet criticized Knopf's packaging of the
book, especially its claim that the thesis relied on "new material".  Most
of the material, according to Kwiet, was borrowed from Christopher
Browning's book _Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final
Solution in Poland_.  Very little else was new at all, according to Kwiet;
the bulk of the book relied on secondary sources.

Not only was Goldhagen's material well-known, continued Kwiet, but nothing
about Goldhagen's thesis was original either.  The reliance on
generalizations about national character and portrayal of the Germans as
"exceptional" represented the heart of the _Sonderweg_ thesis, according
to Kwiet, which was debunked well over a decade ago.  For this reason,
Kwiet found particularly "irritating" Goldhagen's claim to understanding
fully and finally the Holocaust.  No other scholar, said Kwiet, has ever
made such an arrogant claim.  In this context, he quoted Hilberg and
Friedlaender, who said of the book (paraphrased):  It's worthless, despite
all of Knopf's overhype.  On the more specific level, Kwiet challenged
Goldhagen's portrayal of women as equally involved/antisemitic and his
disregard for the non-Jewish victims of the Nazi regime.  How does
Goldhagen explain the murder of the Gypsies and other groups, he asked, if
murder was motivated exclusively by exterminationist antisemitism?  Kwiet
also criticized Goldhagen's interpretation of postwar German society,
particularly his claim that antisemitism disappeared after 1945.  Kwiet
quoted Goldhagen to the effect that Germans today are "like us".  If
that's so, Kwiet asserted, then we can't expect Germans to display any
sort of sensitivity or responsibility vis-a-vis the Holocaust; it might
just as well be forgotten.  Kwiet concluded by describing Goldhagen's
perspective as "more than frightening". In contrast to Goldhagen, who had
received loud applause from the audience, Kwiet was met with near silence.

Kwiet was succeeded by Yehuda Bauer, who began by asserting that
Goldhagen's thesis is simply a re-warmed _Sonderweg_ argument, one that
was widespread in the decades after World War II.  This interpretation,
Bauer maintained, was in fact the very one that he, Bauer, had been
arguing for the last thirty years, although in a much more sophisticated
form.  His own work, Bauer asserted, explored political and cultural
structures as well as contesting voices and institutions in German
society.  It also relied on work that Polish and other Israeli scholars
have produced for the last several decades, work to which Goldhagen,
according to Bauer, had no access to because he didn't read those
languages.  The fact that Goldhagen's argument rested on German and
English-language sources represented a serious problem, continued Bauer;
among his few non-German/English sources was one in Czech - "probably
copied from me", said Bauer.

Goldhagen's lack of comparative research was problematic not only in terms
of other secondary material, according to Bauer, but also in terms of his
very thesis.  What about Rumania, he asked, and its tradition of
exclusionist antisemitism dating from the nineteenth century?  What about
Rumanians' enthusiasm for rounding up and killing Jewish men, women, and
children?  Why didn't Goldhagen deal with any other traditions of
antisemitism, including the Polish, the Russian, and the French?  In this
regard, Bauer made reference to George Mosse's assertion that, if you had
told people in 1900 that there would be a Final Solution, their response
would have been (paraphrased), "Oh, those bad, very bad French."  Bauer
then attacked Goldhagen's advisor at Harvard.  Goldhagen, he said, should
not be held responsible for this shoddy work, in particular for its lack
of a comparative focus.  Instead, it is his advisor who must be blamed:
How was this work awarded a PhD at Harvard when it doesn't cover the most
basic issues?  Bauer then criticized Goldhagen for ignoring competing
strains of German history and, in doing so, for not being able to answer
the questions: If eliminationist antisemitism was dominant already in the
nineteenth century, why then did the Holocaust not take place until the
twentieth? What was the difference?  How was it that Hitler came to power?
Bauer chided Goldhagen for not dealing adequately with the breakdown of
the Weimar Republic.  In this regard, he cited the fact that, in the
Weimar Republic's last free election, 67% of Germans did not vote for
Hitler.  Was Hitler voted in, asked Bauer, solely because people supported
his antisemitism?

Bauer concluded by saying that, while Goldhagen's answer was "wrong", his
question remains important.  But, he continued, it's one that needs to be
dealt with with "humility", not arrogance.  In asserting that, "I'm right
and all those who have come before me are wrong," Goldhagen, according to
Bauer, displayed an astounding lack of sensitivity vis-a-vis his subject.
Goldhagen also ran the risk, Bauer continued, of becoming another Arno
Mayer after "Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?"  Following a big media
splash and a great deal of discussion, Bauer says, Mayer's book has
completely and justifiably been forgotten.  Mayer's work, he said, is gone
and rightly so; no one cites or talks about it anymore.  You, he said,
turning to Goldhagen, do not want to end up like Arno Mayer.  You have
started your career the wrong way, he concluded; you do not begin with
Public Relations, you end with it.

Lawrence Langer then spoke as moderator.  Making reference to Goldhagen's
having exceeded the time limit for his initial presentation, Langer
suggested he be "gracious" and forgo his comment so that discussion could
begin.  Goldhagen did respond, however, beginning - to much applause - by
asserting that his book was a product of his own work, so one should not
hold his tutors responsible.  "I'm older than I look," he said.  "I can
take responsibility for myself."  His thesis, Goldhagen continued, was
new, even if his documentation was not.  Kwiet, he asserted, misread my
book entirely, while Bauer and I agree more than we disagree.  After
Goldhagen sat down, discussion began.  Among the questions/comments from
the audience, Goldhagen was asked about the marketing of the book.  In
response, he said that everything Knopf had done to promote the book had
been cleared by him, and that he stood behind the publisher's claim that
it would "rewrite the history of the Holocaust entirely".  Kwiet then
stated that there was no historical proof that German citizens had
applauded the Final Solution. Germans responded with indifference and
silence, Kwiet said, not with applause.  In his answer to Kwiet, Goldhagen
countered that indifference equalled support.  In a question shortly
afterward from the floor, Jerry Muller of Catholic University said he now
regretted having invited his graduate students to the symposium.  This has
been an exceptionally poor example of scholarly exchange, he said, because
you older scholars have been enormously disrespectful to this young man.
You are exhibiting pettiness and jealousy over the fact that he's become
important, and betraying the very purpose of our undertaking.  In response
to Muller's comment, the audience burst into enthusiastic applause.
Lawrence Langer interjected amidst the turmoil that honest academic
disagreement did not have to be characterized as "petty".  The lights came
on and the scheduled break began.

It appeared that the entire audience returned from the break.  Beginning
the second half of the proceedings, Richard Breitman introduced
Christopher Browning, who began by noting that he had written in _Ordinary
Men_ that another person with a different perspective might not read the
same documents similarly.  Little did I expect, he continued, for that to
happen so quickly or so dramatically.  Browning then asserted that
Goldhagen's thesis was by no means new, "the claims of the book's
promotion notwithstanding".  (He was met with an audible moan from the
audience.) The greatest flaw of Goldhagen's thesis, he continued, was its
"monocausality" and focus on "demonological antisemitism".  According to
Goldhagen, Browning said, there was no reluctance for Germans to overcome
in order to be able to kill.  They killed for pleasure and because they
thought they were doing the right thing; they enjoyed it.

Browning continued by saying that much of Goldhagen's thesis rested on his
treatment of sources, many of which he himself used in _Ordinary Men_.
Browning critiqued Goldhagen's methodology as follows:  By disregarding
any testimony from postwar trials in which German perpetrators expressed
reservations or remorse - on the grounds that this was a simple attempt to
gain clemency - Goldhagen guaranteed that the sources would support his
pre-formulated conclusion.  Goldhagen's exclusionist principle was
"deterministic", according to Browning, and failed to account for examples
of Schutzpolizei who helped Jews or those who suffered emotionally from
what they did.  Goldhagen's approach also excluded the possibility that
Germans could and did distinguish between socially acceptable antisemitism
and unacceptable plans for mass murder.  Browning's next point concerned
the issue of non-German perpetrators in the Holocaust and particularly
Goldhagen's disregard for sources that address this question.  Here
Browning relied on a case study of Luxembourgians who had been integrated
into the German killing forces.  These men, he argued, had presumably not
been imbued with the "cultural norm" of exclusionist antisemitism, but
they nonetheless participated in the crimes to the same degree as did
German men.  This showed the power of peer pressure and other social
forces at work, asserted Browning.  Such time-specific and situational
pressures found no place in Goldhagen's work.

Goldhagen, Browning concluded, has written a book of "key hole" history,
finding in German history only what he wanted to see and ignoring such
powerful and competing cultural forces as Catholicism, Socialism, etc.
Goldhagen operated outside of a historical context, according to Browning;
he consequently offered a one-dimensional analysis.  Goldhagen
disregarded, furthermore, the degree of Nazi control of society and the
real penalties that existed for speaking out.  Browning accused Goldhagen
of writing simplistic, Manichean, and "popular" history and concluded with
a quote from Primo Levi to the effect that things are never as simple as
people would like them to be.  Nothing in history is very easy.

We left as Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm of Cologne University began speaking.

Maria D. Mitchell, m_mitchell@acad.fandm.edu
Assistant Professor of History, Franklin & Marshall College
American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, 1995-1996

Peter Caldwell, caldwell@ruf.rice.edu
Assistant Professor of History, Rice University
Fellow at the Center for German and European Studies,
Georgetown University, 1995-96