Perhaps now, generations after the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, it’s time to take measure of what has happened to the perpetrators, the victims, and the few survivors. Fulbrook (German History/Univ. Coll. London, A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust, 2012, etc.) does just that.
The author effectively describes the brutal Germanic efficiency in the industrialized murder of homosexuals, “asocials,” and, overwhelmingly, Jews. Throughout her substantial text, Fulbrook movingly vivifies her outstanding research with individual histories. The methodological murders by the Third Reich began with the elimination of disabled, “useless” adults and children in the name of eugenic cleansing. Torture, dehumanization, and killing followed, and a considerable portion of the German population knew about the atrocities. Thousands were employed in the death camps, soldiers sent home snapshots of mass shootings, roundups were openly conducted in villages and cities, major industries worked expendable slave labor, and smoke filled the air in neighborhoods near the ovens. “The ‘it’ about which people allegedly ‘knew nothing’ was raging all around them,” writes Fulbrook. Nevertheless, the killers professed ignorance: “ ‘Forgetting’ seemed to be a privilege of the persecutors.” There were some postwar trials. The Russians were assiduous in meting out punishment, the Western allies less so, but few perpetrators were punished or even tried. The capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann brought fresh attention to Nazi crimes, but with the passage of time, it grew late for punishment of the culpable or compensation for anyone. Despite the increasing availability of memoirs, Anne Frank’s narrative, recovery of stolen artworks, film and TV presentations of Holocaust stories, and museums and monuments, through the decades and the passing of the afflicted survivors and their affected progeny, more persecutors evaded justice. “This continuing imbalance,” writes the author, “can only be recognized, and no longer rectified,” As they read this important contribution to Holocaust studies, especially now in the time of neo-Nazis, readers may wonder, is it all in the past?
An astute, significant academic study of how civilization can go horribly wrong. Never again?