Monday, June 25, 2007

Reviewed: Frielander, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945

THE YEARS OF EXTERMINATION: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 by Saul Friedländer was reviewed by Richard J. Evans, Cambridge University, in Sunday's New York Times. Evans finds that the book "now establishes itself as the standard historical work on Nazi Germany’s mass murder of Europe’s Jews." Friedlander "has written a masterpiece that will endure." Evans writes:
And yet “The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945” is no ordinary academic book. True, Friedländer seems to have read virtually every printed source and secondary work on his vast subject in English, German and French. His judgments are scrupulous and levelheaded. And he treats the historical controversies that have raged around so many of the topics he covers with untiring fair-mindedness. He writes without a trace of polemic or of facile retrospective moralizing. The book meticulously satisfies every requirement of professional historical writing.

What raises “The Years of Extermination” to the level of literature, however, is the skilled interweaving of individual testimony with the broader depiction of events. Friedländer never lets the reader forget the human and personal meanings of the historical processes he is describing....The result is an account of unparalleled vividness and power that reads like a novel....

[Jews] were the victims, Friedländer argues, not of anonymous processes generated in the machinery of Nazi and SS administration, but of one man above all: Adolf Hitler. Friedländer is critical of the recent, voluminous literature, mainly by a younger generation of German historians, that attempts to depict the extermination program as the outcome of coldly rational processes of decision-making by administrators, “experts” and officials in the German-occupied areas of Eastern Europe, who decided that the Jews would have to be killed so that the limited food supplies available in the area could go to the Germans, or to make room for German settlers or Germans left homeless by Allied bombing raids.

Such arguments do not explain the manic obsessiveness with which Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the man in charge of implementing the extermination program, tracked down Jews to arrest and kill, even traveling to Germany’s ally Finland to try and persuade its government to surrender that country’s tiny Jewish population, which was of no objective economic or strategic importance to Germany at all. Nor do these arguments do justice to the virulent language of hatred used by the Nazi leaders, Hitler and Goebbels in particular, when they spoke, as they did almost unceasingly, of the Jews.

To read the rest, click here.

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