Wide-ranging study of the Holocaust argues that WWII was something of an afterthought for the architects of genocide.
“Hitler and his Nazi associates used the war in Europe, with its massive violence, as a cover or camouflage for the real war they meant to fight,” writes McKale (History/Clemson Univ.). That was the war against Jews, no matter where in the world they lived; anti-Semitism was central to Nazi thought and practice. Pragmatic considerations kept Hitler from immediately attending to his promise in Mein Kampf to rid Europe of Jews on coming to power in 1933; propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels explained that “both domestic and foreign pressures prevented a more radical anti-Jewish policy,” a point that sorely displeased party radicals and may have contributed to the purge of Ernst Röhm’s SA soon thereafter. Measures to remove Jews from business proved unpopular and were not uniformly enforced, McKale adds; the disappearance of Jewish business leaders would have endangered Germany’s recovery from depression, and Jewish firms employed many Aryan workers. Still, when rising international opposition to German expansionism made war inevitable, the Nazi regime renewed its campaign against the Jews with murderous force. Even then, the author notes, not all Germans and not even all Nazis shared the regime’s hostility to Jews. Members of the killing units on the Eastern Front who refused to participate in the slaughter were quietly reassigned to other posts; “none suffered punishment for their refusal to involve themselves in the grisly work,” McKale argues, which puts the lie to postwar protestations that had Germans opposed the genocide they would have been shot. The author also observes that most ordinary Germans did in fact know full well of the murders taking place all around them—and so did the Allies, at least as early as 1941.
Breaks little ground and enters a crowded field, but nonetheless: a useful one-volume survey.