European History Quarterly, 32:4(October 2002).

Aviel Roshwald

Accounting for Complicity: Recent Works on the Holocaust


European History Quarterly, Oct. 2002 review of Legacies of DachauOmer Bartov, ed., The Holocaust: Origins, Implementation, Aftermath, London and New York, Routledge, 2000; x + 300 pp.; ISBN 0415150361

Christopher R. Browning, Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000; xi + 185 pp.; ISBN 05217749OX

Barbara Engelking, Holocaust and Memory: The Experience of the Holocaust and Its Consequences: An Investigation Based on Personal Narratives, ed. Gunnar S. Paulsson, trans. Emma Harris, London, Leceister University Press and The European Jewish Publication Society, 2001; xx + 348 pp.; ISBN 0718501594

Jean Claude Favez, The Red Cross and the Holocaust, ed. and trans. John and Beryl Fletcher, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999; xxxii + 353 pp.; ISBN 052141607X

William Laird Kleine- Ahlbrandt, Bitter Prerequisites: A Faculty for Survival from Nazi Terror, West Lafayette, IN, Purdue University Press, 2001; xiii + 479 pp.; ISBN 1557532141

Arieh J. Kochavi, Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States, and Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948, Chapel Hill, NC, University of orth Carolina Press, 2001; xiii + 377 pp.; ISBN 0807826200

Harold Marcuse, Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp, 1933-2001, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001; xxii + 590 pp.; ISBN 0521552044

Naomi Samson, Hide: A Child's View of the Holocaust, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 2000; xii + 194 pp.; ISBN 0803 292724

Marion Yorck von Wartenburg, The Power of Solitude: My Life in the German Resistance, ed. and trans. Julie M. Winter, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 2000; xxxi + 96 pp.; ISBN 08032 9915X

Nancy Wood, Vectors of Memory: Legacies of Trauma in Postwar Europe, Oxford, Berg, 1999; vii + 204 pp.; ISBN 1859732941


The books surveyed in this review include a broad array of approaches to the history and legacy of the Holocaust, ranging from archivally-based historical research on the genocidal campaign itself, to analyses of collective memory of the Holocaust, to episodic personal memoirs written by survivors a half-century or more after the events in question. Yet a comparison of these diverse materials reveals some interesting overlaps in theme and perspective. Chief among them is the implication of an ever-expanding circle of collaborators in the implementation of the Nazi-orchestrated genocide against the Jews and the growing impact of that realization on public modes of commemorating the Holocaust.

[6 paragraphs omitted]

The Bartov collection reviewed here contains articles by Michael Burleigh and Henry Friedlander delineating the involvement of members of the German medical community in the systematic murder of the mentally-ill and handicapped which, as mentioned above, provided critical technical insights as well as experienced personnel that could later be used in the development of the far more ambitious mass murder of Jews. Gordon Horowitz's article encapsulates the results of his pathbreaking study of the Mauthausen concentration camp, which shocked its readers by exposing how intertwined the camp's administration was with the local civilian economy and how hard it was for ordinary townsfolk not to have some idea of the brutality of conditions inside the camp. In his impressively researched book, Harold Marcuse makes a similar point about the relationship between Dachau the camp and Dachau the town.

In other words, rather than diffusing responsibility for the Holocaust, recent scholarship has exposed how the seemingly impersonal workings of the modern German state bureaucracy depended on the active, well-informed, deliberate participation of countless willing individuals and the semi-informed, indirect collusion of myriad others. We are also repeatedly reminded in these studies that those who felt uncomfortable carrying out assaults on civilians suffered no penalty for their qualms and were allowed to avoid participation (unless they occupied significant positions of command over entire districts and actively blocked deportation orders). The old line about 'just following orders' really has no historical or ethical validity.

[3 long paragraphs omitted]

European History Quarterly, Oct. 2002, review of MarcuseIn Germany itself, Harold Marcuse argues, commemoration of the Holocaust can be divided into phases correlated with the social, cultural and political ascendancy of successive generations of Germans ranging from the cohort many of whose members had participated in war crimes, to those Germans who had just come of age during the war, to their children, and on to the second postwar generation. If Marcuse's preoccupation with neat generational categorization appears excessive at times, his overarching analysis of German modes of amnesia, denial, and commemoration is engaging and informative. Using the wartime and postwar history of the Dachau concentration camp as a case study, Marcuse tells a much larger story about the history of Holocaust memory; he argues that victimization, ignorance, and resistance were the three pillars of the postwar German response to the Holocaust. By victimization, he refers to an assortment of claims, ranging from assertions that German society was itself a victim of Nazi policies to recollections of the Wehrmacht's tribulations on the Eastern Front, the population's suffering at the hands of Allied bombers and Soviet occupiers, and the partition of the country by the victorious powers. These claims to the status of victimhood were reinforced by assertions of mass ignorance about the nature of the crimes being committed against the Jews, and by exaggerated portrayals of the extent of direct and indirect resistance to the Nazis by ordinary Germans.

Marcuse suggests that all three claims, so vital to the reconstitution of a workable German identity after the war, have been eroded - if not completely debunked - over the course of time. But the mode of debunking has itself evolved, just as modes of commemoration at Dachau have done. If, in the 1950s, camp survivors had to organize themselves, lobby, and agitate just to preserve the camp as a memorial to its victims and to secure funding and permission for the construction of some commemorative structures on the campsite, in the following decade and beyond, the German government and even local authorities from the town of Dachau proved much more cooperative in working towards the preservation or reconstruction of camp buildings. The most recent improvement project has been designed to add educational features to camp exhibits, making it something of a museum about Nazi persecution as well as a memorial to its victims. Similarly, the German generation of the 1960s was much more vocal than its elders had been in its denunciation of Nazi crimes and of ex-Nazis in positions of economic and political authority in the Federal Republic of Germany. But, Marcuse points out, the protestors of 1968 responded to the Nazi legacy in an ideologically simplistic manner, one that served to differentiate themselves neatly from the culture and mores of their parents' generation without leading them to develop a sense of empathy for the victims or to think critically about the cultural continuities between the German wartime and postwar generations. Indeed, part of the German New Left veered towards a stridently anti-Israeli polemical style that glibly equated Israeli policies with Nazi conduct and this in some cases slipped over the edge into outright anti-Semitism. Marcuse feels that the latest generation to come of age is proving able to develop a sophisticated historical understanding of the Holocaust in its human as well as political dimensions. Educational programs, including field trips to a redesigned Dachau concentration camp, can contribute to shattering the old myths and replacing them with a new self-understanding, serving as the foundation for a more nuanced politics of ethical engagement.

Historical scholarship has an important role to play in this process. Works such as those discussed at the beginning of this article have contributed significantly to dismantling the German myths of victimhood, ignorance, and resistance. (The Austrian public's attachment to corresponding myths has proven much more unshakable.) But the impact is often indirect. As Nancy Wood points out, the mass media play a powerful role in shaping popular images of the past, and this has manifestly been the case with the Holocaust. The broadcast of the American television mini-series Holocaust in the 1970s did more than any book to raise public awareness in Germany of this episode in the nation's past. The Historikerstreit of the 1980s, in which liberal philosopher Jürgen Habermas responded with outrage to the effort by a number of eminent German historians to relativize the Holocaust, was largely played out in the press. And the exhibit on the German military's complicity in war crimes that toured Germany few years ago raised a storm of controversy, precisely because it was so effective in debunking the myth that the common German soldier (i.e. the ordinary German) had merely been doing his honorable wartime duty, while the SS dirtied its hands with atrocities. The exhibit was itself built on the research of scholars such as Bartov, of course, but it was the exhibit and the attendant press coverage that focused the attention of the German public, not the scholarship itself.

The one scholarly account that did successfully play to a mainstream audience was Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners.[6] As Wood points out, it was precisely one of the aspects of the book that earned it the opprobrium of the scholarly community - its alleged voyeuristic efforts at conveying a first-hand impression of war crimes from the perpetrator's own sensory perspective - that made it so gripping a read for the general public. The moral implications are ambiguous, but in so far as it contributed to the dismantling of Marcuse's mythical triptych, which its enthusiastic reception by the German general public would suggest that it did, the book may have served a laudable purpose. In any case, Wood observes, less controversial scholarly interpretations of historical events themselves depend partly on undocumentable assumptions and scenarios, and in some ways, Browning's well-known assessment of Reserve Police Battalion 101 rested no less on inference and conjecture than did Goldhagen's.[7] Interestingly, in the book reviewed here Browning concedes that - although in contrast to Goldhagen - he still holds to the view that only a minority of the men in this battalion were eager to participate in their initial massacres of Polish Jews, he is now more strongly inclined than before to believe that this critical minority's main motivation was anti-Semitic ideology.

Alongside all these various media of representation and modes of analysis, memoir literature and oral history retain an important function. The memoir-style, interview-based narrative by Marion Yorck von Wartenburg, widow of Kreisau Circle member and von Stauffenberg cousin and associate Peter Yorck, reminds us that a few Germans did in fact resist the Nazis, although the intellectual refinement and socially privileged status of the circles in which the author grew up and lived underlines how exceptional her perspective in fact was. Naomi Samson's gripping recollections of a childhood spent in hiding in German-occupied Poland gives the reader an inkling of the horror of the Nazi war against the Jews in a way that only a first-hand testimonial can do.

[one paragraph omitted, also 7 endnotes. They are followed by the author blurb:]

Aviel Roshwald is Professor of History at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. His most recent book is Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia and the Middle East, 1914-1923 (London 2001). His previous publications include Estranged Bedfellows: Britain and France in the Middle East during the Second World War (New York 1990) and a volume co-edited with Richard Stites, European Culture during the Great War: The Arts, Entertainment, and Propaganda, 1914-1918 (Cambridge 1999).


review scanned by H. Marcuse from a photocopy provided by Cambridge University Press, April 2002, uploaded to web August 3, 2003
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