A challenging overview of critical questions in Holocaust studies, proposing new directions for research and discussion.
Bauer (Jews for Sale?, 1994) does not reiterate the history of the Holocaust or present new, original research. Instead, he identifies the most crucial issues for current conceptions of the Holocaust, both in popular culture and academic study. First is the problem of the definition of the catastrophe: Is the Holocaust “a onetime, inexplicable occurrence,” or substantially the same as other instances of genocide? The author extends his well-reasoned claim that the Holocaust differed significantly yet remains within the compass of explicable historical phenomena into a wider discussion of attempts to explain the Holocaust. His examination of analyses by Zygmunt Bauman, Jeffery Herf, and Goetz Aly will probably be of interest mainly to specialists; a chapter spotlighting Daniel J. Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, however, addresses the book’s enormous popularity and the controversy it provoked. Drawing on documents recently made available by John Weiss and Saul Friedländer, Bauer convincingly refutes Goldhagen’s “simplistic” argument that the overwhelming majority of ordinary Germans enthusiastically participated in the annihilation of the Jews, while praising Goldhagen’s attempt to demystify the sources of the Holocaust. Chapters on Jewish resistance and on theological responses have still wider interest: Bauer asserts persuasively, and provocatively, that Jewish resistance was significant in the sense that Jews were not merely passive objects, yet their rare and usually futile attempts are too easily exaggerated by Hollywood formulas or the imperatives of patriotism and piety into “nostalgic hero worship.” While Bauer concludes that any attempt to account for the Holocaust theologically or to work the catastrophe into existing theologies is a “dead end,” he admits that such attempts are “fascinating,” and he reviews mystical, magical, and rationalist positions with zest as well as precision.
A superb historian’s proposals for Holocaust studies, with much to offer the nonspecialist.