A magnificent new history that tracks the gradual evolution of the Final Solution.
In this orderly, horrifying study, former BBC creative director Rees (Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss, 2013, etc.) emphasizes that the creation and implementation of gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps did not occur overnight as a solution to the “Jewish problem.” Instead, the Nazi resolution to annihilate the Jewish population developed after a long process of ideological propaganda emerging from the top of the Nazi leadership—Hitler was making anti-Semitic declarations as early as 1919—and led to the trial-and-error installation of killing methods, beginning with the experimental gassing of disabled people in early 1940. Rees moves through these stages chronologically, building the “origins of hate” through the early Christian world and culminating in the “eugenics” movement of the turn of the 20th century. At the same time, the author warns against drawing “a straight line from the pre–First World War hatreds of the Jews to the Third Reich and the Holocaust.” Other factors compounding the toxic mix began to convince the German public that the Jews were an “enemy” and to blame for the loss of the war, the communist uprising, and the Weimar government and misery of hyperinflation. The early chapters, which delineate the conditions in which Nazism took root among a vulnerable people (beaten down by social and economic conditions), are especially instructive and chilling. The consolidation of Nazi power moved from public humiliation of Jews to the Nuremberg Laws, while political empire-building via the Anschluss resulted in an efficient “conveyor belt” of persecution and expulsion by Heinrich Himmler’s SS. The Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 inaugurated the “racial war” Hitler had prophesied, leading to more pragmatic solutions to “containing” the Jews, from ghettos to deportation to mass murder. Over the course of this increasingly grim narrative, Rees employs first-person accounts—from interviews he conducted during the past 25 years—to render palpable senses of humanity and context.
A thorough, concise, evenhanded work, essential for libraries and schools.