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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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First Sentence
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
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing and Deeply Misunderstood Book June 25 2004
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.
Goldhagen's premise (thesis) is pretty logical and straightforward: the palpable and continuous history of Anti-Semitism generally in Europe and in Germany particular, created the conditions for the Holocaust. Germans generally had no regard for the Jews, a distorted "cognitive model" Goldhagen calls it, bolstered by centuries of Anti-Semitic apoplexy. It's difficult to swallow, perhaps, for modern readers, that human beings could detest other human beings, or at the least, have such little regard for their annhilation, but Goldhagen provides evidence, reams of it, all of it footnoted, and unlike Finkelstein, his chief critic, Goldhagen actually knows German and has pored through hitherto neglected documentation to bolster his premise. (It is an argument, remember folks, and you can always feel free to disagree with him after you've "read" the book...)
He shows that ordinary Germans, despite what many scholars of the Holocaust have said, were not just people simply following orders, or who provided little or no hindrance to the killing of the Jews because they were "afraid" of the Nazis, but that they in fact actively resented and contributed willingly to their murders. How? Goldhagen gives a litany of examples -- focusing on the police battallions -- of how average and "ordinary" Germans assisted in the kinds of crimes that we liken to killers like Henry Lee Lucas. But unlike that psychopath, these were Germans (cops) who had families and children and who played sports and even went to the theater. How could they do such things?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History and emotion April 14 2004
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 history tome.
It begins by tracing anti-Semitism in Germany, paying special attention to the 19th century and how that "intellectual" anti-Semitism flowed into the Nazi race-based anti-Semitism. It then looks at concerte examples, with much attention paid to police batallions.
The actions of the police batallions is the closest the book comes to dealing with the question of what ordinary Germans (i.e., women, children, and those too old to be conscripted) knew about the Holocaust, other than a few passing references.
One thing it does not do, though it comes close, is paint all Germans as evil hate-mongers, as other reviews state. Goldhagen goes to some lengths in the preface to counter this perception, but I suspect it falls on deaf ears.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Research, Flawed Thesis Nov. 20 2003
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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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
4.0 out of 5 stars An important thesis
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... Read more
Published on June 28 2004 by southern rose
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
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely thought provoking
Goldhagen has undoubtedly written a very controversial book. It is worth noting that his is the province of political science rather than history per se. Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2004 by Bill Stevenson
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