CODOH informs media of revisionist subtext in new anti-German polemic

On Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners." A Review.
Published: 1996-05-01

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The latest Holocaust fad of the month is Harvard Professor Daniel J. Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. The book was published last month by Alfred A. Knopf (at about the same time David Irving's Goebbels was canceled by St. Martin's) to a torrent of media hosannas unmatched since the apotheosis of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.

While Spielberg's movie made the case for there being at least one good German, that appears to be one too many for this Harvard professor. Goldhagen claims that hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million, Germans were active accomplices in the alleged extermination, and that tens of millions more not only knew all about it but welcomed it.

Herein lies, surely, the reason for the frenzied joy with which reviewers and pundits such as Abe Rosenthal, Eric Breindel, Richard Cohen and the like have received Hitler's Willing Executioners: to wit, its subtitle. Goldhagen's book makes it licit, once again, for such pundits and their like to go beyond hating Hitler and the Nazis; and allows them openly to follow Elie Wiesel's prescription that "Every Jew, somewhere in his being, should set apart a zone of hate – healthy, virile hate – for what the German personifies and for what persists in the German."

As to the substance of Goldhagen's scholarship, here's the opinion piece CODOH is e-mailing to some 550 university and metropolitan newspaper editors, media figures and independent intellectuals:

"The last place one might imagine to find a sympathetic reading of Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners is among Holocaust revisionists. Yet despite the book's extravagant claims as to a virtually all-encompassing German guilt for what happened to the European Jews between 1939-1945, the Harvard professor's monograph contains more than one revisionist subtext.

"Goldhagen's thesis of a 'Greater German'" Holocaust implicitly challenges a key element of the orthodox case for the historicity of the Holocaust: the great secrecy with which Hitler and his followers carried out their extermination of Europe's Jews. According to Raul Hilberg, author of the classic, The Destruction of The European Jews, the small Nazi elite that allegedly organized the Holocaust did so orally, in the utmost secrecy, trusting almost nothing to writing. Hilberg has stated that this extermination without written orders, without a central planning agency, without a budget, without blueprints or records for its central mechanism, the gas chambers, was the result of 'an incredible meeting of minds, a consensus mind-reading by a far-flung bureaucracy.'

"Unawed by Hilberg's hocus-pocus, revisionist scholars have argued that the vaunted secrecy in which the Holocaust was supposedly carried out was a necessary invention of Hilberg and other scholars to explain and justify the bizarre absence of documentary evidence: evidence of an order to kill the Jews of Europe, evidence of a plan to kill the Jews of Europe, evidence of the engines of death devised to carry out the plan.

"If Goldhagen is right about the widespread knowledge of the Holocaust in Germany, and since he seems to have discovered none of the key extermination documents that other exterminationist scholars have missed, a revisionist – or any critical-minded person, for that matter – may rightly wonder: if the Holocaust was so public an event that tens of millions of what Goldhagen calls "eliminationist" antisemitic Germans were applauding, why were the most trusted and security-conscious functionaries of the extermination – the men who were allegedly planning and carrying it out – keeping it a secret?

"While Goldhagen does not explicitly 'deny' the gas chambers, he mentions them on only four pages of over six hundred in a book devoted to a study of the Holocaust. In a footnote, he remarks that the gassings were 'really epiphenomenal' to the extermination – that is to say, not central, not at the core, if anything rather less important than the pistol and the rifle in the conduct of the Holocaust. The echoes of another professor's book, Arno Mayer's Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?, in which the scholar and survivor writes: 'Sources for the study of the gas chambers are at once rare and unreliable' – couldn't be louder.

"Implicitly trashing the silly claim that the records of the extermination program are missing because the program was 'secret,' consigning the once-formidable gas chamber ensembles of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and the rest to the wan status of epiphenomena, Professor Goldhagen's book begins to look rather like another book dealing with the Holocaust that went unpublished at the same time as Goldhagen's appeared. That book is David Irving's Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich.

"In Goebbels, Irving, who had unprecedented access to the unpublished diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propagandist and a top Nazi policy-maker in other areas, makes a case for a program of partial extermination, carried out in mass shootings in the occupied lands to Germany's east.

"Naturally the two books differ greatly in tendency and emphasis. While Irving arguably 'relativizes' Hitler's guilt by laying the extermination program he alleges to Goebbels, Professor Goldhagen could be held to have 'relativized' Himmler's guilt by his claim that 'ordinary Germans' continued the killings for months after the head of the SS supposedly ordered them stopped. Irving's Holocaust is a fairly localized enterprise of a fairly small number of sinister men; Goldhagen's is more on the order of a German national pogrom.

"What is important, however, is what unites these two books – Goldhagen's, greeted with media-wide acclaim, and Irving's, its publication sabotaged by a media outcry: a version of what happened to the Jews of German-occupied Europe that bypasses or denies the gas chambers, that displaces Hitler and Himmler from their central role, and that moves the key area of investigation to German policy and practice against Jewish civilians in Germany's 'eastern territories.'

"Reading Professor Goldhagen's book makes clear that he's been learning from the revisionists. In the light of the de facto censorship of books like David Irving's, isn't it about time the rest of us were allowed to learn from revisionists too?"

WFTL Radio (Ft. Lauderdale / Miami), called to ask me to appear on the Al Rantel Show with Professor Goldhagen on 10 April. I had not yet read Goldhagen’s book and I thought it prudent — and proper — to decline.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: CODOH informs media of revisionist subtext in new anti-German polemic, On Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners." A Review.
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 32, May 1996, pp. 1, 3
Published: 1996-05-01
First posted on CODOH: July 8, 2012, 7 p.m.
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