Life Unworothy of Life: Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler's Germany

James M. Glass, Author
James M. Glass, Author Basic Books $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-465-09844-6
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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Recent Holocaust studies have set out to measure the participation of German society at large in crimes against the Jews and other groups (e.g., Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners). In this vein, Glass, a professor of politics and government at the Univ. of Maryland, refutes the common response of Germans after the war--""we did not know""--by citing the willing and enthusiastic participation of much of German society in anti-Jewish actions. The author posits that theories of racial hygiene in the pre-Nazi era were exploited by political, scientific and medical elites under Hitler to demonize the Jews as contaminated and unfit to live. This gave rise to a mass psychosis in which all levels of society acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews. Glass argues that the bureaucracy of the Holocaust--the countless workers and clerks who maintained train schedules, manufactured the gas chambers and crematoria, kept medical records, redistributed confiscated Jewish property--was so extensive that German citizens could not possibly have been unaware of the fate of their fellow citizens marked for annihilation. Demonstrating the pervasive collaboration of the medical establishment with extermination centers to make use of human corpses, Glass quotes a pathologist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin: ""There was wonderful material among these brains.... I accepted [them], of course. Where they came from and how they came to me was really none of my business."" This is compelling scholarship that enlarges our understanding of one of history's worst crimes. (Oct.)
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