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THE HOLOCAUST by Wolfgang Benz


A German Historian Examines the Genocide

by Wolfgang Benz & translated by Jane Sydenham-Kwiet

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-231-11214-9
Publisher: Columbia Univ.

What more can be said about the Holocaust? Much, but it is not said here, though Benz is one of Germany’s leading Holocaust scholars. Instead, this is a simple, straightforward account, chronologically told, of the central event of this fast-closing century. Touted somewhat alarmingly by its publisher as Holocaust history from the “German perspective,” this is by no means an apologist work. Benz (Antisemitism Research/Technical University of Berlin; The Jews of Germany, 1933—1945, not reviewed) clearly recognizes that the Holocaust was an event of a monstrosity unimaginable to most—though unfortunately not to the Nazis. He opens with the infamous Wannsee conference of January 20, 1942, correcting the common misapprehension that it was here the Nazis decided upon the Final Solution, which in fact had already been “settled.” Benz also elliptically alludes to the mass collusion of ordinary Germans, reminding us that people all over Germany could hear Thomas Mann’s radio broadcasts from London, which informed Germans what the Wehrmacht and Nazis were doing in occupied Europe. From the Wannsee Conference, the author retreats into the immediate past to examine Nazi policy toward the Jews and the increasingly difficult and dangerous conditions under which German Jews lived. He delineates the rapid and, in hindsight, inevitable progression from stripping Jews of their civil rights to sending them to the gas chambers. Benz also provides excellent coverage of the ghettos in occupied eastern Europe, the massacres carried out by the Einsatzgruppen on the eastern front, and the near-genocide of the Sinti and Roma people. He raises but does not address the “intentionalist” vs. “functionalist” debate (intentionalists believe Hitler always intended to exterminate the Jews, while functionalists believe the Holocaust was an exigency created by the chaos of war) and makes no mention of the euthanasia program that both chronologically and psychologically preceded genocide. Cursory, but competent.