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Rethinking the Holocaust

Rethinking the Holocaust

Yehuda Bauer
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking the Holocaust
    Book Description:

    Yehuda Bauer, one of the world's premier historians of the Holocaust, here presents an insightful overview and reconsideration of its history and meaning. Drawing on research he and other historians have done in recent years, he offers fresh opinions on such basic issues as how to define and explain the Holocaust; whether it can be compared with other genocides; how Jews reacted to the murder campaign against them; and what the relationship is between the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel.The Holocaust says something terribly important about humanity, says Bauer. He analyzes explanations of the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman, Jeffrey Herf, Goetz Aly, Daniel Goldhagen, John Weiss, and Saul Friedländer and then offers his own interpretation of how the Holocaust could occur. Providing fascinating narratives as examples, he deals with reactions of Jewish men and women during the Holocaust and tells of several attempts at rescue operations. He also explores Jewish theology of the Holocaust, arguing that our view of the Holocaust should not be clouded by mysticism: it was an action by humans against other humans and is therefore an explicable event that we can prevent from recurring.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14807-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    This is not another history of the Holocaust. Rather, it is an attempt to rethink categories and issues that arise out of the contemplation of that watershed event in human history. True, I make the occasional regression into a historian’s professional deformation and camouflage my research in case studies that illustrate some of the more general points I am trying to make. But my case studies have another rationalization. A historian, in my estimation, has to do two things, especially when dealing with a subject such as this: one, research and analyze; and two, remember that there is a story...

  5. Chapter one What Was the Holocaust?
    (pp. 1-13)

    The objectivity of the historian becomes an issue with subjects besides the Holocaust, but a historian dealing with the Holocaust cannot avoid the issue.

    Following upon some ideas put forward by Karlheinz Deschner, among others, it is important to start by denying the possibility of an “objective” stance.¹ Many have said this before: we are the product of our environment, tradition, education, prejudices, and so on. The influence of our environment can be disastrous, for we may be swayed by a regime and its consensual impact, or even by a consensus created by our fellow-historians, and hence write what is...

  6. Chapter two Is the Holocaust Explicable?
    (pp. 14-38)

    It has often been said that if the Holocaust is totally inexplicable, utterly mysterious, or “uniquely unique”—in a sense that the author of the phrase, A. Roy Eckardt, didnotmean—then it is also outside history and therefore irrelevant to rational discourse.¹ Absolute uniqueness thus leads to its opposite, total trivialization: if the Holocaust is a onetime, inexplicable occurrence, then it is a waste of time to deal with it. Some authors take good care to state that when they talk about its inexplicability, they do not mean the processes that led to the establishment of the Nazi...

  7. Chapter three Comparisons with Other Genocides
    (pp. 39-67)

    I have said already that the only way to clarify the applicability of definitions and generalizations is with comparisons. The question of whether the Holocaust had elements that have not existed with any other form of genocide (whereas there are no major elements of other genocides that cannot be found in yet other genocides) is extremely important if we want to find out more about social pathology in general.¹ When one discusses unprecedented elements in a social phenomenon, the immediate question is, Unprecedented in comparison with what? The very claim that a historical event is unprecedented can be made only...

  8. Chapter four Overall Interpretations: Zygmunt Bauman, Jeffrey Herf, Goetz Aly
    (pp. 68-92)

    The beginning of Holocaust historiography is marked by attempts to deal with the destruction of the Jews of Europe in an overall, general manner. This is true mainly of the first great pioneers of Holocaust research: Gerald Reitlinger, Joseph Tennenbaum, Raul Hilberg, Karl Schleunes, Dietrich Uwe Adam, and some others.¹ Basically, all their attempts concentrated on explaining how the German National Socialist state organized the murder of the Jews. In other words, they dealt mainly with the perpetrators, and the research was based largely on German documentary materials. Later the first attempts were made to describe the way Jews reacted....

  9. Chapter five Overall Interpretations: Daniel J. Goldhagen, John Weiss, Saul Friedländer
    (pp. 93-118)

    No book on the Holocaust has caused the kind of public controversy that Daniel Goldhagen’sHitler’s Willing Executionershas. Hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold in the United States alone. Translations of the book have appeared in a number of languages. The number of reviews has amounted to a near deluge. In Germany, a major public discussion took place in major papers, chiefly but not exclusively in the intellectual weeklyDie Zeit, and in overflowing lecture halls. In Israel, on the other hand, peculiarly perhaps, little attention has been given to the book. It was clear from the...

  10. Chapter six Jewish Resistance—Myth or Reality?
    (pp. 119-142)

    Jewish reaction to Nazi policies has been addressed many times before, although much of the material is available only in Hebrew and Yiddish.¹ Are there still new insights to be gained? I think so.

    Twenty years ago I defined Jewish resistance as “any group action consciously taken in opposition to known or surmised laws, actions or intentions directed against the Jews by the Germans and their supporters.”² I am no longer sure that that definition is valid, because it avoids dealing with individual acts of resistance, armed or unarmed, which have to be taken into account as an expression of...

  11. Chapter seven Unarmed Resistance and Other Responses
    (pp. 143-166)

    Historians describing Jewish reactions in the Holocaust have often concentrated on the Judenräte to the exclusion of other centers of power in the beleaguered Jewish communities.¹ Jewish police are mentioned, to be sure—almost always as traitors to the Jewish people because of their role in cooperating or collaborating with the Germans in delivering Jewish victims to the Nazi murder machine. Jewish ghetto police were established by German orders in almost all East European ghettos. They were nominally under Judenrat supervision but became in many places units of traitors collaborating with the Germans. In fourteen ghettos, however, the police were...

  12. Chapter eight The Problem of Gender: The Case of Gisi Fleischmann
    (pp. 167-185)

    The fate of Jewish women and the problems they had to face have so far just barely been touched upon in the Holocaust literature. From the research that has been done to date, there seems little doubt that in some ways their fate and their problems were indeed different from those of Jewish men. And if all human experience has a gender-related agenda, as women’s studies tells us, the Holocaust can be no exception. Indeed, it seems to me that the problems facing women as women and men as men have a special poignancy in an extreme situation such as...

  13. Chapter nine Theology, or God the Surgeon
    (pp. 186-212)

    Jewish theological explanations of the Holocaust offer a variety of justifications for God’s action or inaction at the time (tzidduk ha’din—“justification of [God’s] judgment”), some more and some less grounded in Jewish religious tradition. That tradition has the concept of an all-powerful Being who cannot be asked for any explanation because humans are too puny to understand his leadership (hanhaga) of the world. His ways are not our ways. God, then, can be removed from the argument altogether in consideration of Job’s submission at the end of his struggle with the Almighty: Job admits God’s infiniteness and his own...

  14. Chapter ten Rescue Attempts: The Case of the Auschwitz Protocols
    (pp. 213-241)

    Could the Jews murdered in the Holocaust have been rescued? That question has caused and will continue to cause innumerable sleepless nights. Possible answers have to be formulated with great circumspection. Historians are not supposed to ask such “what if” questions, although most historians in fact do so.¹

    The Holocaust could have been prevented, as could World War II, which provided its context, had the Great Powers stopped Nazi Germany when it was still weak. But no one knew then that a Holocaust would happen. Nobody knew that a Holocaust was even possible, because nobody knew what a Holocaust was;...

  15. Chapter eleven From the Holocaust to the State of Israel
    (pp. 242-260)

    In this book I do not memorialize the Holocaust. I ask questions about what happened and why.¹ I deal mainly with what happened during the war. But I do hold the view accepted by many colleagues that although the Holocaust itself occurred during the world war, theperiodof the Holocaust stretches from the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933 to the dissolution of the displaced persons (D.P.) camps in Central Europe after the war. In these camps, the core of the survivors lived until 1948. Most of them then emigrated either to Israel or to the West, where...

  16. Appendix Speech to the Bundestag
    (pp. 261-274)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 275-310)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 311-320)
  19. Index
    (pp. 321-335)