Holocaust

Roger Moorhouse on an important, scholarly account of the Nazi genocide

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Reviewed by: Roger Moorhouse
Author: Peter Longerich
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price (RRP): £12.99

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The question of precisely when the order for the genocide against the Jews was given continues to exercise many in the historical fraternity. But, as Peter Longerich argues, this question can serve to undermine our wider understanding of the Holocaust.

Longerich’s book is, in one sense, a return to basics. It is a solid, thorough account of the Nazi genocide, methodically tracking the evolution and implementation of the policy against the Jews culminating in the Holocaust.

The focus is primarily on the perpetrators – both the desk-bound and the bloody-handed varieties – and the chain of command that enabled them to do what they did.

The book centres on two contentions. The first, somewhat uncontroversially, is the suggestion that anti-Semitism – far from being a peripheral concern, or a byproduct of circumstances – was absolutely central to the Nazi project, serving as a guiding principle in politics, and finding its echoes in every facet of life in the Third Reich.

The second, more intriguing, suggestion is the one noted above, that the search for a ‘smoking gun’ in the Holocaust has skewed the study of the subject. Longerich contends, convincingly, that the Holocaust developed not from a single top-down command, but rather had a multitude of drivers and as such developed an almost organic dynamism of its own, where orders from the top would be mediated and interpreted by local commanders and adapted to conditions on the ground.

Longerich’s account is sober, sometimes a little arid, eschewing the use of any emotive language or eyewitness accounts in favour of a resolute objectivity and detachment. As such it will not appeal to all among a general, non-specialist readership, but it
is nonetheless an impressive and comprehensive study of the Holocaust, tying together much of the modern scholarship on the subject into a single, accessible and well-written volume.
 
Roger Moorhouse, author of Berlin at War (Vintage, 2011)
 

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