``LIFE UNWORTHY OF LIFE'' by James M. Glass


Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler's Germany
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 Glass, an expert in the interplay of politics and the psychology of illusion, takes on the darkest example of that phenomenon, the Holocaust. Like Daniel Goldhagen in his controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), Glass (Government/Univ. of Maryland) eschews the conventional wisdom that the majority of Germans under Hitler were merely indifferent to the fate of the Jews. Rather, he argues fairly convincingly, Nazi Germany, including the world of medicine, was permeated by ``a culture-wide phobia against touching Jewish flesh . . . [and] a firm belief in the absolute necessity of maintaining racial purity.'' Within German medical science, there was a shift from a paradigm based on objective use of evidence to one in which the paramount value was a desire to preserve this racial purity. This underlay a pseudoscientific discourse in which the Jews were depicted as disease carriers and, along with the Gypsies, as ``life unworthy of life.'' Glass outlines in considerable detail the ways in which the pre-Nazi German medical profession was implicated in eugenic theories that contained a considerable body of anti-Semitic propaganda, and the post-1933 medical and scientific establishment's close and enthusiastic support of the Nazis. Glass draws effectively on previous researchers' work on the infamous T-4 euthanasia program, which extended racial purity to the extermination even of German children, and later adults, who were handicapped, and the writings of such previous students of Nazi medical ``science'' as Robert Jay Lifton and Gotz Aly. For much of the book, he is engaged in a spirited polemic against other theorizers of the Holocaust (particularly Lifton, Zygmunt Bauman, Hans Mommsen, and Hannah Arendt) that may leave nonspecialists feeling they have wandered into a private argument. Despite that shortcoming and an occasional loss of focus, Glass makes a compelling case, a bit more understated than Goldhagen's and more effective as a result.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1997
ISBN: 0-465-09844-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1997