Following on the heels of the groundbreaking scholarship of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Christopher Browning, Johnson
(History/Central Michigan Univ.; Urbanization and Crime, not reviewed, etc.) takes a chilling look at what motivated the German
people to pursue the course of the war and the Holocaust.
Writing with a vigor and economy that belie his academic background, Johnson focuses his attention on three locales in the
Rhineland region—Cologne, Krefeld, and Bergheim—sifting through layer upon layer of social mores and records to analyze the
ways the general population reacted to and participated in Nazi atrocities. The boundaries of his study—established by cases tried
in the Special Courts ordained in various cities (where political offenders were prosecuted) and Gestapo files (where many cases
ended without an official prosecution)—are fleshed out by means of extensive interviews with Jewish survivors, German
perpetrators, and other German citizens. Johnson argues that although the National Socialists routinely and consciously used terror
as a tool against their enemies, not all objects of this terror were treated equally. The state’s fearsome, and fearsomely arbitrary,
apparatus directed constant terror against some groups (Jews, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses), partial or intermittent terror
against others (e.g., the clergy), and none at all against still others (party members and some lucky ordinary Germans). Johnson
concludes that Nazi terror, though a factor, was by no means the sole factor in motivating the German people, many of them
moved by anti-Semitism or the thirst for petty revenge, to participate in the Holocaust. The interviews, along with the author’s
narrative skills, keep the text moving, making its 600 pages seem far shorter than its heft would suggest.
A fascinating look at ordinary life, terror, and persecution during the Holocaust.