Germany's War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories 9780801468827

Omer Bartov, a leading scholar of the Wehrmacht and the Holocaust, provides a critical analysis of various recent ways t

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Germany's War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories

Table of contents :
PART ONE. War of Destruction
1. Savage War: German Warfare and Moral Choices in World War ll
2. From Blitzkrieg to Total War: Image and Historiography
PART TWO. Extermination Policies
3. Killing Space: The Final Solution as Population Policy
4. Ordering Horror: Conceptualizations of the Concentrationary Universe
5. Ordinary Monsters: Perpetrator Motivation and Monocausal Explanations
PART THREE. Interpretations
6. Germans as Nazis: Goldhagen's Holocaust and the World
7. Jews as Germans: Victor Klemperer Bears Witness
8. Germans as Jews: Representations of Absence in Postwar Germany

Citation preview

Germany's War and the Holocaust

Germany's War and the Holocaust DISPUTED HISTORIES

• Orner Bartov


Ithaca and London

Copyright© 2003 by Cornell University All rights reserved. Except for brief CNC>tations in a review,

this book, or parts thereof, must not be rep.ociuced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher. For

information, address Cornell University PJ:'ess, Sage House,

512 East State Street, Ithaca, New York


First published 2003 by Cornell University Press First printing, Cornell Paperbacks, 2003 Printed in the United States of America library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bartov, Omer.

Germany's war and the Holocaust: disputed histories I Omer Bartov. Includes bibliographical~ and index. ISBN o-8014-3824-1 (alk. paper)-ISBND-8014-8681-5 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) 2. World War, 1939-1945 -Germany. 3. Germany-Armed Pon:es-History-World War, 1939-1945. 4. World War, 1939-1945-CampaignsEastem Front-Atrocities. 5. National socialism-Historiography. 6. War crimes. 7. World War, 1939-1945-Atrocities. I. Title. D804.3.B362 2003

940.53'18-dc21 2002014121

Cornell University Press strives to use environmentally responsible suppliers and materials to the fullest extent possible in the publishing of its books. Such materials include vegetable-based, low-VOC inks and add-free papers that are recycled, totally chlorine-free, or partly composed of nonwood fibers. For further information, visit our website at Ooth printing 10 9 8 7 6 54 3 2 1 Paperback printing 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2


For Shira and Rom

Contents ix

Introduction PART ONE


Savage War: German Warfare and Moral Choices in World War ll 2. From Blitzkrieg to Total War: Image and Historiography



3 33

Extermination Policies

3· Killing Space: The Final Solution as Population Policy 4· Ordering Horror: Conceptualizations of the Concentrationary Universe 5· Ordinary Monsters: Perpetrator Motivation and Monocausal Explanations PART THREE

79 99 122


6. Germans as Nazis: Goldhagen's Holocaust and the World 7· Jews as Germans: Victor Klemperer Bears Witness 8. Germans as Jews: Representations of Absence in Postwar Germany Abbreviations Acknowledgments Index



241 243



n the last few years, three issues have been at the forefront of historical scholarship on modern Germany, and especially the Thild Reich. First, the study of the Holocaust and other aspects of Nazi Germany's policies of mass murder has expanded enormously. Second, the relationship between the German military and the regime's policies of occupation, subjugation, 11ethnic cleansing," and genocide has received increasing attention. And third, a growing volume of literature has focused on the impact of World War n and genocide on the formation of postwar identity and the politics of memory, especially in Germany, but also in many other European countries, the United States, and Israel. Several events can serve to illustrate the new focus in research and writing on, as we1l as public interest in, the criminal nature of Germany's war between 1939 and 1945, the genocidal policies pursued by the Nazi regime, and the links between the two. One prominent example is the publication of and subsequent debate on Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book, Hitler's Willing Executioners. 1 Based on the study of several reserve police units involved in the murder of thousands of Jews, an examination of a number of Nazi labor camps, and a reconstruction of some of the death marches during the last months of the war, the book argues that the Holocaust was the direct outcome of a uniquely German type of exterminationist antisemitism. Goldhagen insists on erasing the distinction between Nazis and Germans and asserts that by the time of the Third Reich, following a long process of an evolving culture of antisemitism, the vast majority of Germans would have.been glad to participate in, and certainly supported, the elimination of the Jews of Europe. This book tmleashed a major scholarly and public debate in the 1 D. J. Goldhagen. ffitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Gmrums tmd the Holocaust (New York, 1!)96).

x Introduction United States and Britain and, even before its appearance in a German translation, dominated the academic and media scene in Germany for many months. Obviously, Goldhagen's thesis came very close to leveling a charge of collective guilt at the German people during the Hitler dictatorship, an argument that had been rejected by the majority of Germans and most foreign scholars for many years. At the same time, the book insisted on the centrality of antisemitism to the genocidal policies of the regime. This assertion refocused the debate on the nature of Nazism, which for the previous couple of decades had veered away from ideology and prejudice and insisted on structural factors as the main causes of Nazi policy.2 Finally, the book insisted on observing the individual perpetrators (andAo a somewhat lesser extent, individual victims), and thereby reversed a trend that emphasized the bureaucratic and mechanical aspects of the killing process and greatly underplayed the individual identity and motivation of the killers. The second and more or less simultaneous event had to do with the publication of the diaries of the philologist Victor Klemperer, a converted Jew married to an "Aryan': woman who spent the entire period of the Nazi dictatorship in Dresden, writing a highly detailed and perceptive account of these years in his diary. 3 This massive two-volume work competed with Goldhagen's book as one of the sensational best sellers of the 1990s in Germany. In some ways, Klemperer's diary presented precisely the opposite view, since it demonstrated both the stubborn. patriotism of a man who was being persecuted by the regime for what it perceived as his alien nature, and at the same time provided numerous examples of German individuals who expressed sympathy for their Jewish neighbors and at times even came to their help. In another sense, however, Klemperer's diary offered the German public a new view of the reality of the Third Reich, since it was written by a highly articulate m~r of the German academic elite who simultaneously had been pushed to the margins of society and reported on its progressive deformation from within the belly of the beast. Rather than being either an account by an insider-which would have normally contained a great deal of conscious and unconscious apologetics-or by an outsider-who could not be expected to provide much insight into German society-this was an extraordi2

For a review of these historiographical developments, see 0. Bartov, ed., Tht Holo-

CIIUSt: Origins, Implementation, AftertMth (London, 2000), 1-18. 3

V. Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness, 2 vols. (1995; New York, 1998-1999).

Introduction narily acute analysis of the day-to-day workings of German life under Hitler by the epitome of the insider transformed into the paradigmatic outsider. Thus Klemperer's book refocused scholarly and public attention on the plight of German Jewry and the process whereby a small but significant segment of German society had been marginalized, ostracized, deported, and finally murdered in full view of their German co-citizens. Precisely Klemperer's patriotism and insistence on his Germanness compelled readers of this text to ponder how those who had contributed so much to German culture could have been stripped of their identity and handed over to the killers. In other words, Klemperer made the victim into a recognizable fellow German and thereby erased the barrier that had kept the victims of the regime more conveniently as alien foreigners and Jews. The third event that marked the changing focus of scholarly research and public interest was the exhibition "War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941-1944,'' which toured Germany and Austria throughout the second part of the 19908 and was viewed by close to a million visitors.4 What made this exhibition into a major event was both the exhibit itself, which contained many hundreds of photographs, mostly taken by the perpetrators, of atrocities committed or facilitated by regular army soldiers, and the public debate that was unleashed repeatedly thanks to the fact that the exhibition moved from one town to the next. What many Germans found hard to take was that the exhibition demonstrated in the most graphic manner the complicity of Wehrmacht soldiers in the Holocaust and other crimes of the regime, especially in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The army had long managed to protect itself from the charges of complicity with the Nazi regime that had been leveled at other agencies of the dictatorship. Although scholarship had begun exposing military involvement in Nazi policies as early as the 1