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Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust [Hardcover]

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 19 1996
A work of the utmost importance--as authoritative as it is explosive--Hitler's Willing Executioners will fundamentally change our perception of the Holocaust and of Germany in the Nazi period. Goldhagen reaches conclusions that are both uncompromising and savage, rejecting as inadequate the conventional historical explanations for how an entire country could allow the Holocaust to happen, and gives the first detailed, broad-ranging account of the actual killers of the Jews. 31 photos.

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In a work that is as authoritative as it is explosive, Goldhagen forces us to revisit and reconsider our understanding of the Holocaust and its perpetrators, demanding a fundamental revision in our thinking of the years between 1933-1945. Drawing principally on materials either unexplored or neglected by previous scholars, Goldhagen marshals new, disquieting primary evidence that explains why, when Hitler conceived of the "final solution" he was able to enlist vast numbers of willing Germans to carry it out. A book sure to provoke new discussion and intense debate.

From Publishers Weekly

Goldhagen's gripping and shocking landmark study transforms our understanding of the Holocaust. Refuting the widespread notion that those who carried out the genocide of Jews were primarily SS men or Nazi party members, he demonstrates that the perpetrators?those who staffed and oversaw the concentration camps, slave labor camps, genocidal army units, police battalions, ghettos, death marches?were, for the most part, ordinary German men and women: merchants, civil servants, academics, farmers, students, managers, skilled and unskilled workers. Rejecting the conventional view that the killers were slavishly carrying out orders under coercion, Goldhagen, assistant professor of government at Harvard, uses hitherto untapped primary sources, including the testimonies of the perpetrators themselves, to show that they killed Jews willingly, approvingly, even zealously. Hitler's genocidal program of a "Final Solution" found ready accomplices in these ordinary Germans who, as Goldhagen persuasively argues, had absorbed a virulent, "eliminationist" anti-Semitism, prevalent as far back as the 18th century, which demonized the Jews and called for their expulsion or physical annihilation. Furthermore, his research reveals that a large proportion of the killers were told by their commanders that they could disobey orders to kill, without fear of retribution?yet they slaughtered Jews anyway. By his careful estimate, hundreds of thousands of Germans were directly involved in the mass murder, and millions more knew of the ongoing genocide. Among the 30 photographs are snapshots taken by the murderers of themselves and their victims.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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IN THINKING ABOUT German antisemitism, people have a tendency to make important, unacknowledged assumptions about Germans before and during the Nazi period that bear scrutiny and revision. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Research, Flawed Thesis Nov. 20 2003
Format:Paperback
The Holocaust is one of the most horrendous acts of inhumanity ever recorded. In his book, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Daniel Goldhagen proposes an explanation of how this event not only could have taken place, but how it was perpetrated by ordinary people not brain-washed party goons who "were just following orders". The book has two primary goals. The first is to argue that the elimination of the German Jews was the product of "elimination anti-Semitism" which was uniquely German. The second is that due to this idea of elimination anti-Semitism, it was easy and natural for ordinary Germans to begin the wholesale slaughter of Jews because it had been programmed into them. Goldhagen goes to great lengths to back up his arguments. He provides us with some insight into the Holocaust heretofore not seen. His research is meticulous, his arguments are compelling; however, for his thesis to work, the history of European anti-Semitism must be either rewritten or ignored. Goldhagen's zeal to prove the German people totally responsible for the Holocaust seems to have colored his recollection of history.
Goldhagen spends the first part of his book repeatedly and redundantly explaining his thesis of elimination anti-Semitism. While he makes good points to the "why's" of the anti-Semitism, he seems to have a problem with his "where's". Goldhagen is so intent on this argument preceding his ordinary German argument that he creates an anti-Semitic Germany which stands alone in Europe in its depth of anti-Semitism. The history of Western Europe does not exactly agree with Goldhagen's analysis that Germany was the only place the Holocaust could have occurred because of its unique brand of elimination anti-Semitism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important thesis June 28 2004
Format:Paperback
Goldhagen committed the cardinal sin in academia: he made money. This, to me, seems to be the primary rationale for the heavy-handed dismissal encountered so often when the subject of "Hitler's Willing Executioners" comes up.
What Goldhagen does is present the fact that many people would rather avoid--that ordinary German condoned, supported and actively participated in the mass slaughter of European Jews. He unflinchingly presents a picture of pre-war Germany and the long line of anti-Semitic behavior present in Europe, especially Germany. There is no escaping blame under Goldhagen's view--any German who did not actively resist were as guilty as those who participated, and that, in essence, is what made the Shoah the tragedy on the grand scale that it was.
Goldhagen's scathing view of Germany as well as his conviction often comes across as negative, especially to those who are more willing to forgive and forget, to consign the actions of the Nazis to a different time and place. However, what Goldhagen makes evident is the truism so often repeated in Holocaust Studies: All evil requires to flourish is that good men do nothing. So it was in Hitler's Germany, and so it is in "Hitler's Willing Executioners".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars but were they willing? Jan. 29 2004
Format:Paperback
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book has proved to be one of the most controversial written on the subject. Perhaps that's not surprising - Goldhagen labels hundreds of thousands of ordinary German's as murderers and assistants to genocide. The book is not going to appeal to neo-nazi's, Hitler apologists or those who believe that it was the few who perpetrated the genocide. But the real question is: does Goldhagen's argument and evidence stand up to scrutiny? The answer is perhaps yes and no. There is no shortage of evidence and compelling eye-witness and documentary accounts. His argument is strongly worded and thoroughly checked, but sometimes there are points when he simplifies or presents as fact something which is clearly an opinion, and one that is not backed up. Goldhagen does not really say anything that has not been said before, but he focuses on it when it has formerly been only part of the whole story - what enrages some is that he directly assigns blame. Martin Gilbert's 'the Holocaust' or Primo Levi's 'The Drowned and the Saved' or the writings of Rabbi Hugo Gryn are better argued and present similar cases but do not seek to accuse the ordinary German as a willing executioner. Therefore the issue that raises the hackles of those angry with this book comes down to 'willing'. had the book been called 'Hitler's Executioners' (which would not have been as contentious) then less wrath may have been provoked.
But is this book worth reading and taking seriously? In my opinion yes. The wealth of evidence cannot reasonably be denied, if it is read as a compendium of documentary evidence about the role of ordinary German's in the genocide then it is a valuable and vitally important book. It's more radical argument can be taken separately - an editorial on the news presented - and that is more open for those to deny or to oppose if they want.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Rather struck by the realization that Goldhagen's book had ranked 2nd place in TIME Magazine's Best Nonfiction of 1996 category, I promptly consulted a local library for a copy of the book, unwaivering in my confidence that the proclamation attributed to a popular news magazine that the professor's conclusions "seem indisputable" was remotely defensible. Barely had I begun to read, than my curiosity quickly dissolved into utter disbelief. A futile attempt to loacate multiple examples of the supposedly "indisputable" conclusions had soon dwindled into a feverish search for even one such statement, my perserverence sustained by a recurring sentiment, "It's in here, someplace!"
Alas, my intensive probing through 500-plus pages of utter nonsense ended in vain, my lust for a satisfying explanation for the recent appraisal left unfulfilled. Appalled and disgusted, I became hardpressed to restrain myself from subjecting this literary abomination to a hurried rendezvous with the notorious 451. For clearly, apart from "The Bell Curve", "The South Was Right", and "A Natural History of Rape", Goldhagen's manuscript qualifies as one of the few collaborations of ink, woodpulp, and binding that can be confidently deemed worthy of the fireplace.
For starters, the book's central thesis pertaining to a "German eliminationist anti-semitism" is easily countered by the fact that among the perpetrators of the atrocities include Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, Slavs, Lithuanians, Dutch, Romanians, and Danish, or that broad category the victims themselves include gypsies, homosexuals, mentally ill, Russians, Slavs, or simply people who wore glasses.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Willing Executioners? by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
A very informative book. A better title for the tome would have been "Socialism's Willing Executioners : Ordinary socialists and the Wholecost. Read more
Published on April 9 2007 by Institute for Journalism
2.0 out of 5 stars wow find an excuse
this book was hightly recommended but not worthy of it. Dont buy it, its a horrible read, even for those hard-core holocaust researchers. It is bland and bias. Read more
Published on March 12 2005
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but Correct
I read many of the reviews of the Goldhagen book and I am amazed at how evident people's prejudices and political views are in their opinion of it. Read more
Published on July 17 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing and Deeply Misunderstood Book
I suspect that the many detractors of this book have not really read it, at least not all of it, based on their misinformed and ad hominem attacks on the author. Read more
Published on June 25 2004 by Michael Leone
4.0 out of 5 stars Read the title, please.
Some of the previous reviewers of this book seem to be highly upset that the author didn't include an analysis of other nation's histories of race and politically based genocide. Read more
Published on June 15 2004 by PJM
1.0 out of 5 stars Subjective, despicable... useless
I've read a lot about WW2 and the Nazis so it was not hard to pick up and purchase this book. Unfortunatley, this is not a thoughtful book. Read more
Published on June 3 2004 by tierny
1.0 out of 5 stars Garbage
The author leaves the reader to believe that mass attrocity on this scale could only be orchestrated by the Germans because of their national character, history, demographics and... Read more
Published on May 5 2004 by Charles Henley
3.0 out of 5 stars History and emotion
This book raises important questions and goes a fair way in resolving them. However, there's too much emotion in it and it ends up sounding more like a rant at times than a serious... Read more
Published on April 14 2004 by Gary Scott
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well written racist propoganda
If this were written for any other culture people would be more up in arms. But since we are so open to painting all Germans as evil inhuman creatures, than books like this exist... Read more
Published on March 4 2004 by Sylo
4.0 out of 5 stars Socialism's willing executioners and the Wholecaust
"Socialism's Willing Executioners : Ordinary socialists and the Wholecaust" would be a better title. Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2004 by Rex Curry
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