History of an Obsession

Klaus P. Fischer, Author
Klaus P. Fischer, Author Continuum $39.5 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8264-1089-4
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 04/01/2001
Paperback - 544 pages - 978-0-8264-1327-7
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The release of Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners on the role of ordinary Germans in the Nazi extermination of the Jews stirred up a furious round of attacks and counterattacks. This book will probably not soothe the bitter wrangling, but it ought to. It is a detailed, well-written, sober and analytic study that deserves the widest possible circulation. Fischer starts not with Bismarck or with WWI, but with the 11th century, and his descriptions of the role of emancipation, the rise of nationalism and the so-called scientific racism in the late 19th century are thorough and cogent, showing the reader the steps by which the unspeakable was accomplished. Although the rise of Nazism has been told many times, Fischer makes a clearly reasoned, well-researched attempt to put a horrible crime and a horrid epoch into an appropriately complex historical context. As Fisher says of Goldhagen, ""the dark logic of cruelty is not illuminated by a monocausal explanation that rejects all other cultural or psychological reasons.... Goldhagen reveals himself as one of Jakob Burckhardt's terrible simplificateurs by attributing `eliminationist anti-Semitism' to the average German citizen, thus draining the real meaning out of both `anti-Semitism' and `ordinary German.'"" The responses of Jews to the Nazi regime are detailed here, as are the responses of clergymen, industrialists, the military leaders, academics and civil servants. Now that eyewitnesses are passing from the scene, the field is being left to historians. Fischer's book should serve them as an indispensable guide. (Aug.)
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