IDEOLOGY OF DEATH: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany by John Weiss

IDEOLOGY OF DEATH: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany

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Why did the most savagely anti-Semitic regime in history gain power in Germany rather than, say, France (scene of the Dreyfus affair) or Russia (with its widespread pogroms)? Weiss (History/Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY; The Fascist Tradition, not reviewed, etc.) doesn't quite satisfactorily answer this question, but he does come close. In the process, he has produced a detailed, clearly written account of German anti-Semitism from Luther to Hitler, nicely integrating political, social, and intellectual history. He demonstrates how the demonization of the Jews came to pervade almost every segment of a German society otherwise characterized by oligarchy and torn by class conflict; Jews, he documents, became the scapegoats for popular resentment at the excesses of capitalism, communism, and modernism. In fact, even such leaders of the anti-Nazi opposition as Leipzig mayor Karl Goederler believed that ""the Jewish people belongs to a different race."" Weiss also hypothesizes that what made genocidal thinking take root in Germany was the popularity of eugenics and other aspects of ""racial hygiene"" among physicians, anthropologists, and political leaders. Unfortunately, after making some interesting comparisons between French and German attitudes toward democratic government, he largely abandons the comparative approach that would be essential to answering the question implied in the book's subtitle. The most serious flaw is Weiss's periodic tendency to be overly deterministic, assuming that after 1933 ""the iron logic that led to the Holocaust was set in motion."" Finally, Weiss appears to have engaged in very little firsthand research, although he has done a fine job of synthesizing insights from secondary sources. Neither very original nor entirely convincing in its thesis that a Nazi-like regime could only have gained power in Germany, this is still an extremely stimulating and informative work.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1996
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee