Marrus, professor of history at the University of Toronto, attempts not a history of this most significant--and shattering--event in Jewish history in two millennia, but a historiography. He is concerned less with the events themselves than how they have been understood and portrayed.
The History and Future of Holocaust Research – Tablet Magazine
How did world leaders respond? World Jewry? In the process, he touches on issues that may strike the non-specialist as arcane: the extent of anti-Semitic attitudes in Germany, in various East European countries, assessments of collaboration with--or resistence to--imposition of the final solution in vanquished countries, the precise number of Jews who perished--whether it was 5. The work is interesting for that aspect, though Marrus at times appears uncertain about which path he wishes to follow. He succeeds in creating a valuable overview of the significant works that treat each of the pertinent subjects--sort of a grand annotated bibliography of the current state of historical discussion of the Holocaust.
The close reading of facts, in the best of historians, as represented here is an important corrective to those who are tempted to trade in too-easy generalizations about the events, or those who would distort facts to serve their own political or ideological ends. Marrus is especially fine in tempering criticism of Jewish leaders in Europe and the United States, reminding us that they did not know, while events were overwhelming them, what we now know in the light of a kindlier day.
This perspective itself is a valuable contribution. For many, it is still difficult and painful to read even so dispassionate a treatment of the Shoah. The nearness of the crimes scenes to the scholars researching it is also a vexing matter. The Holocaust is recent history and contemporary history.
It is being written from private archives, from interviews with survivors, direct witnesses, and in former camps and places where bones, ashes, and personal effects are uncovered. With digital mapping software, historians can more easily plot and visualize the paths of deportees or the layout of a ghetto, thereby corroborating and combining testimonies. A proponent of the Geographical Information System, historian Waitman Beorn applies spatial concepts to his analysis of Wehrmacht complicity. Beorn reexamines key documents of the Holocaust with a new emphasis on the meaning of topography and distance.
The killing sites that they selected often with the help of local collaborators varied significantly ravines, Jewish cemeteries, wells, peat bogs, shell craters , but they were not random. They were selected for physical, spatial, and ideological reasons e.
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They formed a cordon around a village to prevent Jews from escaping deportations or shooting sites. Soldiers could decide on the spot if they might remain at the edge of the operation, block Jews who beseeched them to open up the circle to allow escape, or if they might move closer to the action in the center. These choices of position reflected attitudes and shaped peer relationships and individual reputations.
Those who opted to stand outside the cordon were deemed weaker characters. Postwar memoirs and testimonies of soldiers continued to draw on spatial references. When questioned about massacres, a former soldier gave a vivid account, which proved his proximity but then claimed that he was hundreds of meters from the violence. This amounts to a proximity version of self-exculpatory testimony and a form of psychological distancing. Proximity determined the emotional impact—how closely one directly experienced the violence.
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A Jewish-Lithuanian philosopher of this era, Emmanuel Levinas, described the act of violence as an ontological event that changes the lives of all involved: victims, survivors, perpetrators, collaborators, witnesses, and their descendants. Historians interact with those involved and their descendants. They study personal photographs, diaries, letters, and recollections. These opportunities to get closer to the past in a more intimate, personal way also challenges historians to maintain their distance and to avoid bias and moralizing.
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For scholars of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in Europe, one way to avoid the fragmentation of micro-histories or of disconnected mass murder sites is through biography and studies of socio-political networks. High ranking and ordinary German occupiers—be they policemen, regional governors, plunderers, technocrats, or women in various supportive roles—moved around Europe.
The individual and collective biographical trend stress the interwar period as formative years or as a stage of development that is then put to the test of wartime of adaptation, complicity or resistance, and all the gray areas of behavior in between. Klausner is close to an epicenter of the mass murder and forced to confront the depths of his anti-Semitism, at first indifferent to the Jews and then in the face of the genocide struggling with his conscience and humanity.
The biography boom has also placed the Nazi era in a 20th-century narrative of German history. Holocaust history has been pushing the chronology of Nazi Germany forward into aftermath studies. The deep causes, structural ones that extend backwards into the 19th century and earlier are treated lightly, if at all.
Most ordinary Germans in the 20th century left their hometowns, willingly or not, or if they did not, the spaces in which they lived changed dramatically from regime to regime, occupation, to reunification, as the German question and the criminal legacy of the Third Reich became central to European history. The current political and sociological implications of this wartime anti-Semitism proved incendiary. Complicity was more than a local affair, as in Jedwabne, or Vilnius, or Kiev.
Yet there were other important regional leaders whose biographies intersected and shaped European history, not just Hitler and Stalin, such as the entanglement among the Axis leaders Mussolini, Tiso, Antonescu, Laval, Horthy, Franco, and Kvaternik. The radicalization, escalation narrative is no longer restricted to studies of German rank and file but narrated as Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, French, Hungarian, Romanian, and Dutch history. Polish police wishing to avoid harsh reprisals from Nazi leaders secretly killed Jews they uncovered in hiding.
Local Poles assisted by turning over Jews fearing that the discovery of Jews would lead to more violence against them and their families residing in or near the hidden Jews. Rather than judge and condemn collaborators, historians are teasing out the myriad motives and local pressures and perceived crises. But more could be done to show how the biographies of local non-Jewish actors in the occupied population intersected with German overseers, producing a negative synergy that expanded the number of Jews murdered across Nazi occupied Europe.
Obviously the Europeanization of Holocaust could not have occurred without the collapse of the Soviet Union. Research has increased because of major declassification efforts and rise in oral history and memoir writing, and many collections digital and in print provide powerful material which number in the tens of millions of pages and tens of thousands of videotaped testimony.
The International Tracing Service archives and restitution records are already moving the field into new directions that will represent the experiences of millions of non-Jewish forced laborers and displaced persons. While some historians bemoan the continued ethnic approach to the past i. And they influenced the source material and how historians interpret it. For example, a large proportion of German Jews survived through emigration, and there exists more survivor testimony from western European Jews who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau than Jews who were deported to gassing centers in Poland or who were shot in Ukraine.
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We know less about Jewish prewar life in other countries. The way we conduct our research has changed so dramatically in the past decades that it is hard now to discern the overall impact. We have become creatures of the database research and laptop search and find, not the paper-archival finding aid.
The problem with the database is that it is mostly a fishing expedition, and inductive. And even though the sweeping destruction caused by the Holocaust was not the direct outcome of race science, the latter was one of its important conditions.
His inquisitive scrutiny of an impressive amount of relevant literature shows that eugenics and antisemitism were not necessarily related and that the Holocaust was motivated more by the latter than by the former. Behind the Nazi anti-Jewish actions Stone finds not the trumpeted triumph of modern eugenics, science and technology, but mystical antisemitism and political conspiracy theories.
He also stresses repeatedly that this finding excludes neither the fact that other groups — primarily Gypsies and Slavs — were victims of the genocide, nor its devastating consequences. He opposes those who reject the literal approach but also queries the coherence of Nazi discourse which places race at the core of the Third Reich.see
Living Histories: Seven Stories from the Holocaust
Unlike many previous approaches to the Holocaust, Stone focuses mostly on the perpetrators—without neglecting their victims—arguing that the examination of the former is crucial to the understanding of the Holocaust and the beliefs that motivated the Nazi decisions pp. Yet, he stresses,.
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But, despite his modesty, what the historian-philosopher Stone generously provides us with is an original way — elaborated mainly with the help of history, anthropology, and cultural-philosophical criticism — of examining the various approaches of the Holocaust. I show too that although there was no clear plan for genocide until as late as —42, nevertheless the logic of the Nazi Weltanschauung This picture does not include any Jewish element, which implied, ultimately, their disappearance pp.
For instance, the latter, in his much-discussed book Modernity and the Holocaust 3 , borrowing a rather schematized version of Weberian terminology, argues that the Holocaust was the product of a bureaucratic and rationalized world. But the evidence Stone finds has justifiably led him to the conclusion that antisemitism and genocide are never implemented coolly, without passion.