Friday, January 30, 2009

War Through The Generations: WWII

When the new year began and I started reading books for the "War Through The Generations Challenge: WWII," I did not know the entire month would be devoted to this genre. I have read a total of 7 books on the Holocaust which was my original goal, I had intended though to read 2 more books, "The Journey" by H. G. Adler and "The Rape of Nan king" by Iris Chang, but I just cannot read anymore on this subject, my emotions are exhausted. It was the last book that I completed yesterday, that "was the final straw." This book I had started off speed reading because it appeared to be written in a textbook type fashion, a just the facts type of book, but after reading several pages I was pulled in to the book and it became emotionally anguishing.
"Hitler's Willing Executioners, Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust" by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.
This book is considered controversial; it is in my opinion a very biting and "full in your face" research to the question of, "how could the Holocaust have happened?"
The author writes lengthily about anti-Semitism in Europe in the previous centuries before WWII. He digs deep and albeit not very tenderly in the role of the Catholic church in promoting anti-Semitism, he includes Martin Luther as also being an anti-Semite. The author goes on to say that what happened during the Holocaust ran much deeper and more evil that anti-Semitism, the Nazi's that came to power in 1933 preached that the Jews were not human, and thus extinguishable. The Jews were blamed for all the problems in Germany, the Nazi's looked upon the Jews as being "hostile and dangerous" for their country. This began by not allowing the Jews to take part in the social situations of life in Germany, signs were posted "Jews Not Allowed." The next step was in beating, abusing, and degrading the Jewish people. Many of the Jewish men's beards were cut, or shaved. Often the Jewish men would be paraded on the streets holding signs, while the Nazi's stood on the sides of the streets mocking and ridiculing. Many buildings and synagogues were burned and destroyed by the Nazi's. From 1933 until Kristallnacht which was November 9-10, 1938, many Jews emigrated from Germany. During and after Kristallnacht the vicious brutality, carnage, and murderous genocide of the Jews increased. In June of 1941 the Nazi's began the massive extermination of the Jews in the Soviet Union. On September 1, 1941 it was required for Jews to wear the yellow star of David sewn onto their clothes with the word Jude. There were 10,005 concentration camps and ghettos, and there could have been more. There were 52 main concentration camps, and 1,202 satellite camps. These places were "a world without restraint, all of the prisoners were dehumanized, and robbed of individuality." There is more that 1 chapter devoted to the hideous mass murder's of the Jews, the details of how far away from the Jews head the Nazi would need to hold the gun, the details of how blood, brains, and bone fragments would be left on the Nazi's clothes. There are descriptions of how women and children were murdered.
My final paragraph on my review of this book is on the German people themselves, the active role that they played. There were 8 million members of the Nazi Party! Most Germans were allied with the Nazi's, most believed in their ideology of bringing the country into a better economy, and to be a great world power again, they were swept up in Hitler's visions for their country. Very few Germans defied the Nazi's, this includes the Church. In Weimar 70-80% of the protestant pastors were allied with the Nazi's. The German people consciously chose to align themselves with Hitler and with the Nazi's.
I have a question that I do not believe has been addressed before. What happens to a country such as Germany that is guilty of the horrific, hideous atrocity as the Holocaust? What residual affects are on the country? I am aware that most of the people that were involved in the genocide of the Jews are now dead. Often when something this evil has taken place, the after affects do not just go away after a generation, they are penetrated far too deep.
This book is not for the "faint of heart," but it is a powerful book that you will never forget!


Anna said...

Sounds like a really powerful book. I think I'll look into this one. My maternal grandparents and an uncle were living in Germany at the time of the war. They were Germans who did not agree with Hitler and were living in fear. My grandmother told stories that if you didn't have your radio on to hear Hitler's speeches and a neighbor noticed, they could report you and you would be punished. I've been told my great-grandfather was a dissenter and taken away by the Gestapo. My grandparents and uncle even served time in a camp. So there were a lot of Germans who didn't agree with the Nazis but simply were too afraid to outwardly oppose.

I've created a post for your review here on War Through the Generations and added the link to the book reviews page.

Diary of an Eccentric

Sandy Nawrot said...

The topic of this book reminds me of "Into That Darkness" by Gitta Sereny. Sereny interviews the commandant of Treblinka while he is in prison, and exhaustively researches all of his stories, explanations, etc. She poses the same question. To me, it seems to come down to fear. Not only for their own safety, but the safety of their wives and children. Many people, however, did speak out and act against the Third Reich. Many did not live long. Addressing the affect of the aftermath on Germans is complex. Most are embarassed and prefer not to discuss, even with the current generation.

BTW, I love your pictures. Do you take them yourself?

Matt (Matt's Book Blog) said...

Another book worth reading on this topic is They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer

An long, powerful excerpt is at:

Also, on the psychology of evil and making ordinary people evil, there is The Nuremberg Diary by psychologist Gustave Gilbert. He interviewed Goering and others. For a taste, see