Why? Explaining the Holocaust

Peter Hayes. Norton, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-393-25436-5
Hayes (How Was It Possible?), professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at Northwestern University, answers eight questions relating to the Shoah in order to show that it is “no less historically explicable than any other human experience.” Particular themes frame the chapters, which have subtitles such as “Why the Germans?,” “Why Didn’t More Jews Fight Back More Often?,” and “Why Such Limited Help from Outside?” An economic historian by training, Hayes delves into the day-to-day functioning of the Nazi slave-labor system. He also examines the fraught nature of the relationship between Polish Jews and gentiles during the Holocaust. His analysis of Jewish leaders’ diverse survival strategies shows that none had much effect against the relentless Nazi murder machinery. In Minsk, for example, the two heads of the ghetto actively supported armed resistance, yet “that availed them little as the ghetto’s population dropped from 100,000, in October 1941, to 12,000, in August 1942.” In his concluding chapter on legacies and lessons, Hayes sturdily debunks a number of Holocaust myths. But it’s also the book’s weakest section; his lessons there focus on prevention of the Holocaust’s recurrence and are stated vaguely: e.g. “Be self-reliant but not isolationist.” Hayes reveals the virtues of dealing with this overwhelming subject in a topical rather than a chronological way. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/10/2016
Release date: 01/17/2017
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-393-25437-2
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-393-35546-8
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