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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1 (Book Review)

Book Reviewed: Nazi Germany & The Jews Vol. 1  (ISBN: 0060928786)

Author: Saul Friedlander

Publication Year: 1998

Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

PROS: Extraordinary historical detail & scholarship, comprehensive

CONS: May be too detailed for casual readers

Most of us know the basic facts of the Holocaust. That is one of the most comprehensive genocides that the world has ever known.

Most of us know that the Nazi system killed millions of people who did not look like or support the Aryan “mold” of the Third Reich.

Few of us know how comprehensive and detailed the Holocaust really was and how it continued for as long as it did.

Nazi Germany and the Jews Volume 1, by Saul Friedlander, was written as a defense to a historian’s argument that the view of Nazi Germany is biased toward a simplistic “good vs evil” argument. Friedlander argued that the Holocaust was not a historic aberration. The Holocaust was a systematic and comprehensive destruction of non-Aryan (specifically Jews) that preyed upon a country in desperate economic woes and a world filled with lackluster concern for the plight of the victims. Throughout this comprehensive 512 page work, Friedlander documents how the Third Reich was able to complete such horrible deeds with extraordinary detail and insight. He argues that the people inside and outside of Germany knew what was going on, but chose not to act, either by default or on purpose.

I came to read Nazi Germany and the Jews Volume 1 on a Twitter suggestion from Scot Nagasaka, senior partner of Change Lab, a social justice organization. I am glad that he gave me that suggestion because completely changed how I look at the history during this period. The book opened my eyes to the total destruction that was planned out by the Nazi persecutions.  After coming out of horrible losses in World War I, Hitler offered the German people a myth. He wasn’t the first person to offer this myth, but he was one of the strongest supporters of that myth.  The myth: The Germans were a great people who had lost to the influence of Jews and their supporters. By eliminating the Jews, the Germans could once again reclaim their power and usher in a new era of German power.  That myth, simple as it sounds, would lead to the deaths and torture of millions of people from places as diverse as Russia and Greece.

This part I knew, but I never completely understood how Hitler and his party managed to achieve this on such a large scale unchecked. Friedlander’s book gave me part of the answer. In the book, Friedlander argues that several factors) led to the rise and unchecked growth of Nazi-ruled Germany including:

  1. Total  Nazi control of every part of societ
  2. Passive acceptance of anti-Semitism in the culture at that time & unwillingness of other nations to deal with the “Jewish problem"
  3. Lack of coordinated support from the inside & outside community

This is just the tip of the iceberg and Friedlander provides as much as a layperson can comprehend in the 500+ that compromise the book. For those who are interested in learning about this period of history, this is definitely a book to consider. It is not designed to be light read by any means: however it doesn’t veer off into the level of a graduate college thesis (though it comes close at times) either. It’s the kind of book you read when you are ready to fully invest yourself in a comprehensive look at the factors that led to this terrifying piece of human history.

In any case, the implications that come from this book have staggering consequences.

Two Khan Academy videos that bring this into perspective:

  1. Hitler and the Nazis Come to Power: http://youtu.be/EtZnPoYbRyA
  2. Night of the Long Knives: http://youtu.be/ZrbbKMnPDUk
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