The Holocaust: History and Memory

The Holocaust: History and Memory

by Jeremy Black


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Brilliant and wrenching, The Holocaust: History and Memory tells the story of the brutal mass slaughter of Jews during World War II and how that genocide has been remembered and misremembered ever since. Taking issue with generations of scholars who separate the Holocaust from Germany’s military ambitions, historian Jeremy M. Black demonstrates persuasively that Germany’s war on the Allies was entwined with Hitler’s war on Jews. As more and more territory came under Hitler’s control, the extermination of Jews became a major war aim, particularly in the east, where many died and whole Jewish communities were exterminated in mass shootings carried out by the German army and collaborators long before the extermination camps were built. Rommel’s attack on Egypt was a stepping stone to a larger goal—the annihilation of 400,000 Jews living in Palestine. After Pearl Harbor, Hitler saw America’s initial focus on war with Germany rather than Japan as evidence of influential Jewish interests in American policy, thus justifying and escalating his war with Jewry through the Final Solution. And the German public knew. In chilling detail, Black unveils compelling evidence that many everyday Germans must have been aware of the genocide around them. In the final chapter, he incisively explains the various ways that the Holocaust has been remembered, downplayed, and even dismissed as it slips from horrific experience into collective consciousness and memory. Essential, concise, and highly readable, The Holocaust: History and Memory bears witness to those forever silenced and ensures that we will never forget their horrifying fate.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253022141
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 08/14/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 966,033
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jeremy Black is Professor of History at the University of Exeter. He is author of many books, including Geopolitics and the Quest for Dominance (IUP, 2015); Other Pasts, Different Presents, Alternative Futures (IUP, 2015); Clio’s Battles: Historiography in Practice (IUP, 2015); The Power of Knowledge: How Information and Technology Made the Modern World; War and Technology (IUP, 2013); and Fighting for America: The Struggle for Mastery in North America, 1519-1871 (IUP, 2011).

Read an Excerpt

The Holocaust

History and Memory

By Jeremy Black

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 Jeremy Black
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02218-9


Until Barbarossa


In a horrific form, the Holocaust, particularly the extermination and concentration camps, testified to a persistent and widespread use of concepts of race in order to rank peoples and to develop and express national cohesion. This was more common in the political thought and practice of the twentieth century than is generally appreciated and was particularly important in state-building and also in the creation of new political allegiances.

In Europe, toward the close of the nineteenth century, the proponents of increasingly insistent organic notions of the nation became readier to draw on, if not create, an often-mystical sense of identity between people and place or, as it more generally was expressed, between race and country. Organic notions of the nation drew on, and sustained, a range of potent political and cultural notions and ideas, including Romanticism and Social Darwinism and, in turn, they fed into early Fascism. The corresponding claim that peoples' thoughts and actions did not follow universal and timeless patterns but, instead, were shaped by time and place, lent itself to the idea of distinctive cultures. This stress on distinctive cultures could be part of an antihumanistic ideology, although the latter was to stem, in the Nazi case, more from the claim that racial characteristics were timeless; or potentially timeless as they were subject to change that might most obviously threaten "purity of blood."

The stress on distinctive cultures potentially undermined universalism and, thus, the idea of tolerance and rights for others; and this undermining was certainly apparent in the Nazi case. The organizing narrative, instead, became the nation. Although, in particular cultures, that approach could encompass a strong commitment to tolerance, the function of history as a process and subject often became that of providing the vision of a single people with a national destiny, a destiny that linked past, present, and future and that demanded sacrifices. The emphasis on nations was linked to the belief in the nation, the latter being frequently, though not always, presented as necessarily different from, and superior to, other nations. This emphasis affected attitudes to those who could be seen and defined as weakening the nation: the "enemy within" made it harder to deal with the rival abroad. International rivalry encouraged this analysis.

Concern about the "enemy within" was linked to a politics of paranoia. The conspiracy theories that had been pushed to the fore in Europe at the time of the French Revolutionary Wars in the 1790s, a period in which there was a widespread belief in secret societies, some allegedly long-lasting, influenced the subsequent account of both present politics and the recent past. Earlier concerns about secret movements, notably the Freemasons and the Illuminati, both supposedly responsible for the French Revolution, were played through a new context from the 1790s, and these concerns were made more open and "democratic," in large part through the culture of print and rising literacy.

These beliefs proved the easiest way to address anxieties stemming from the unexpected extent and unwelcome character of political, economic, social, and cultural change, change that was readily apparent from the late nineteenth century. A sense of racial tension became more pronounced. In part, this reflected the increased rate of migration and, in part, the ideas of inherent racial competition. As well as concern about immigration into states, there was the issue of migration within them. The volatility of societies in which large-scale urbanization was accompanied by the breakdown of previous patterns of social linkage and, by the disruptive impact of economic cycles, contributed greatly to racism. On the one hand, there was a wish to understand and fix social patterns and, on the other, racism served to express, focus, and formulate society's fears, anxieties, and hatreds.

The role of conspiracy was a consequence of a sense of flux and ideological polarization and, in turn, contributed to this polarization. For example, in France, Théodore Garnier, a priest, founded the Union Nationale in 1892. This populist corporatist party (falsely) claimed that Jews, Freemasons, and Protestants were running the French Third Republic (1870–1940) and needed to be overthrown. Moreover, Garnier frequently referred to a (nonexistent) secret plot devised in 1846 by Henry, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, the British foreign secretary and, according to Garnier, a Jew (he was not) — a plot supposedly seeking to use Jews and Freemasons to destroy France and Catholicism. Garnier also spread the inaccurate idea, advanced in France in 1881 in the Catholic journal Le Contemporain, that a Jewish conclave the previous year had decided to take vengeance for their historic oppression. The emancipation of France's Jews by the Revolutionaries in 1791 was presented by Garnier as a deliberately anti-Catholic step, and one that condemned both Jews and Revolutionaries. Other prominent Social Catholics, such as the Abbé Léon Dehon, were also strident anti-Semites. This Catholic assault on the Third Republic and Jews looked directly forward to Vichy cooperation with Nazi Germany during World War II and was a potent instance of the manner in which Catholic anti-Semitism prepared the context for abetting genocide.

Those who could be excluded from the national narrative sometimes faced persecution, if not violence, in the nineteenth century. Irrespective of legal emancipation, which occurred in Germany in 1871, and the opportunities it brought, Jews, who were frequently presented as different, were a major category for exclusion. In the late nineteenth century, some nationalist bodies, such as the Union of the Russian People, provided the context for pogroms: large-scale anti-Semitic violence which notably occurred in 1881–84 and 1903–6. The context for the Union of the Russian People and the pogroms was the ethnic policies of Tsar Alexander III (r. 1881–94) directed against non-Russians, policies continued by his son, Tsar Nicholas II (r. 1894–1917), as an aspect of consolidating the state around a Russian nationalism. Indeed, Russian developments demonstrate the linkage between political policy and violent social consequences. In Germany, however, where Jews were comparatively well-integrated, there could be anti-Semitic riots, but there were no pogroms on a Russian scale in the late nineteenth century or the first decade of the twentieth century.

Racism drew on essentialist notions of identity. As an aspect of a widespread struggle over its character and presentation, nationalism frequently changed in the second half of the nineteenth century from being regarded as progressive and liberal to being presented in a "blood and soil" character, and increasingly so in the last decades of the century. Other states and nations were the prime target, but there was also a process of discrimination against groups who might offer contrasting values, as well as against citizens who could be presented as different. Thus, there was opposition to international movements with national and local representations, such as trade unions and the Catholic Church, an opposition that looked toward later hostility to Communism.

The increase of anti-Semitism in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was partly the result of conditions specific to that time. In this age of nationalism, there was the rise of an anti-Semitism that, alongside traditional themes, presented Jews as a foreign people and was concerned about Jewish immigration as well as Jewish cultural movements. In itself, the concept of community was inclusive and a possible agent for progress, and not the inherently racial or racist idea that was to be conceptualized by the Nazis as a basis for their implementation of the idea as the rationale for removing outsiders. Nevertheless, the concept was frequently employed to suggest an inherent value for a coherence that verged on homogeneity and, accordingly, a critique of a modern life that supposedly led, at the service of a worthless cosmopolitanism, to an atomizing divisiveness of individual communities. Anti-Semitism was more potent across Europe from the 1880s, as it became central to a language of social commentary and criticism that increasingly was an automatic reflex for many of those unhappy with social, economic, and cultural change. Jews were decried as cosmopolitan and plutocrats. This was a critique very different from that of Jews as backward traditionalists, but anti-Semitism readily proved able to encompass and exacerbate very different, and frequently contradictory, attitudes and tendencies. This situation abetted the Holocaust and affected subsequent attitudes to it. Racism also seemed to be endorsed by science, including the concept of natural selection and the development of ethnography, and thus appeared to be progressive, while also appealing to the antiscientific antimodernism that was a powerful feature of the period.

Racism, moreover, with its stress on immutable characteristics, offered a vehicle for older identities and prejudices, not least a religious aversion on the part of many Christians that was important to longstanding anti-Semitism. Ridiculous accounts of supposed Eucharistic host desecration and of ritual murders by Jews had led to show trials and slaughter and were incorporated into public myths centuries later. Thus, in central Brussels, the Shrine of the Sacrament of the Holy Miracle in the Church of St. Michael and St. Gudula (now Brussels Cathedral) commemorated the Eucharistic hosts allegedly desecrated by Jews in 1370, hosts that supposedly had bled miraculously when stabbed.

In 1871, the charge of ritual murder was revived by August Rohling, a professor of Catholic theology at the German University of Prague, with the publication of his Der Talmudjude (The Talmudic Jew). In such literature, fictions published in the guise of historical fact overlapped with crude sensationalism, as in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery of 1902–3 that reported Jewish plans for world domination. Scare literature served to affirm identity through strife. This element contributed, for example, to the frequent pogroms in Russia during Easter Week.

Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was divided over attitudes to Jews. In 1926, a clerical association, Friends of Israel, was founded to forward the conversion of Jews by taking anti-Semitism out of the Church. However, in 1928, the year in which the association petitioned Pope Pius XI to drop the prayer for "the perfidious Jews" from the Good Friday liturgy, it was dissolved as a result of pressure from the Vatican's Congregation of the Holy Office, whose head emphasized the "facts" of Jewish history, including collective guilt for the murder of Christ as well as for alleged commercial exploitation of Christians to that time.

During the interwar years (1918-39), many Catholics blamed Jews for the harsh treatment of the Church in Russia, Spain, and elsewhere, an analysis that brought together traditional anti-Semitism with a presentation of Communism as dominated by Jews. Such attitudes help to explain why it was possible for so many, first, to accept existential and violent anti-Semitic rhetoric and then to turn with such violence against Jews. The concept of national community and culture as Christian served to exclude Jews and drew on a long anti- or non-Semitic practice. This concept took different forms across Europe and led to a Christian nationalism in, for example, Hungary, Portugal, and Spain. In the case of converts to Christianity, there was a clash with those who put the emphasis on racial criteria as the reason for, and form of, anti-Semitism. In effect, however, the emphasis on converts excluded most Jews from Church concern.

In the scholarship on the Holocaust, the major emphasis is on racism, which is correct as far as the Nazis were concerned, as the harsh fate of Jewish converts to Christianity indicated. However, a strand of Christian anti-Semitism was also important to the Holocaust. This was the case not only in helping explain the background of the Holocaust, both in terms of the isolation of Jews and of the antipathy of some elements in Germany and Austria, but also in terms of the response to the Holocaust within Occupied and pro-Axis Europe. Thus, in 1941, in the face of the Ustasha terror by the Croat Fascist movement, Jews in Croatia who converted to Catholicism were not killed, but this was not an option offered to Jews by the Germans. Drawing attention to Croatia underlines the attempt in this book to weld together the exterminations by the Germans and those by certain of their allies, thus presenting a pan-scopic view of the events feeding into the Holocaust and the interconnectivities of collaborationist and occupational regimes from France to the Eastern Baltic and the Balkans. For example, in June 1941, Romania, a country noted for decades for its anti-Semitism, joined in the attack on the Soviet Union, declaring a "holy war" to free Bessarabia, which the Soviet Union had annexed the previous year. In this war, Jews were brutalized by the Romanians and large numbers died.

Christian anti-Semitism was downplayed after World War II due to the focus on Nazi perpetrators and, also, as an aspect of the postwar attempt to "normalize" Western Europe and thus create a new historical narrative to match the new prospectus. It seemed more necessary, and proved easier, to concentrate on the Nazi origins and direction of the slaughter. If the focus is, however, on "bystanders" — those whose acceptance/compliance/consent helped make the Holocaust possible — and also on the killing by Germany's allies, then the situation appears different. Although a range of factors, including expediency, played a role in individual responses, religious anti-Semitism was, for many, very important in creating a sense of Jews as different, alien, and a threat.

Alongside the powerful religious theme were other strands of anti-Semitism. These included both hostility to Jewish efforts to assimilate, and the biological-racist competitiveness associated with social Darwinism. Based in large part on a revival of anti-Semitism that was founded on biological-racial views, the rise of anti-Semitism in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was readily apparent. Nationalist hostility to the cosmopolitanism — and, thus, alien — influences that critics associated with Judaism was important, as was a sense that Jews were central to an unwelcome, indeed threatening, modernism. Thus, the Holocaust has been seen as part of Hitler's revolt against the modern world; although, in both rhetoric and practice, he was only in revolt against certain aspects of the modern world.

Ironically, there was also a habit of viewing Jews as opposed to progress. This did not begin in the nineteenth century. Thus, Emperor Joseph II, ruler in the 1780s of the Habsburg lands (including what became Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, northwestern Romania, southern Poland, and part of northern Italy), and a model of "enlightened despotism" who saw himself as a supporter of religious toleration, left little scope for those Jews whose wish to maintain a separate identity led them to seek more than freedom to worship. Jewish emancipation, then, was believed to entail not only the cessation of legal restrictions on Jews on the part of government, but also the end of Jewish customary practices, such as the wearing of traditional clothes, as well as the end to autonomous Jewish institutions, which were seen as barriers to integration. Indeed, liberal German commentators were affected by a sense that Jews were opposed to the commentators' concept of progress, especially from the 1870s — particularly when they looked at Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, which, indeed, tended to be more conservative and less assimilated than Jews in Germany and Austria. In this perspective, Eastern European Jews were seen as an obstacle to development and assimilation through cooperation in progress, and their communities a proof that they were not occurring. This was an acute instance of a more general prejudice, notably in Protestant Anglo-German views, against Eastern and Southern Europeans.

German nationalism led in the nineteenth century to a powerful state, the German Empire, proclaimed in 1871 on the back of the defeat of France. Germany controlled the strongest economy in Continental Europe. However, the idea that this state should be based on the supposed community of Das deutsche Volk (the German people) was abhorrent to Otto von Bismarck, who played a key role in the creation of the empire and effectively ran it for 20 years, resigning the chancellorship in 1890. Instead, this kind of ethnic nationalism was advanced by the Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband), which emerged in the 1890s and drew on bold assertions of a racial nationalism that were to be seen in schoolbooks and maps. Such views were increasingly influential among the educated middle class and, by 1914, they were becoming more important among conservatives. Moreover, there was an increasing "Christian-centric sense of German nationhood," one that excluded Jewish citizens. AntiSemitism was also popular in Austria, notably in Vienna.

The German Empire, or Second Reich (the first was the medieval Holy Roman Empire that ended in 1806 at the hands of Napoleon, fueling German nationalism), collapsed, however, as a result of its defeat in World War I (1914–18). This collapse was accompanied by the fall of ruling families, such as the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria, and ensured that loyalty and identity shifted from the dynasties, particularly the Hohenzollerns of Prussia, who had ruled the empire. Germany's major ally, Austria, was also defeated, and the Habsburg Empire collapsed as a result.


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Table of Contents

1. Until Barbarossa
2. Towards Genocide
3. Genocide
4. Germany's Allies
5. Memorialization
6. The Holocaust and Today
7. Conclusions

What People are Saying About This

President of the London Center for Policy Research - Herb London

For most Americans, including Jews, the Holocaust is a distant memory. The moralization of American foreign policy to which you refer has been replaced by demoralization, including a pact with the leading sponsor of state terrorism. The victimization of blacks in American history trumps the victimization of Jews. Most significantly, Israel, in the public imagination, has been converted from David to Goliath after the Six Day War. Holocaust museums are as likely to put an emphasis on the Sudan as events in Europe before and during World War II. The Holocaust itself has been so internationalized that the specific conditions associated with the slaughter of Jews has been transmogrified into any atrocity on the world stage, of which there are many. As a consequence, Holocaust studies exist in a fog of international affairs which obscure the specific conditions faced by the Jewish people.

Rhode Island College - Peter B. Brown

The Holocaust: History and Memory will stand in the ranks of Raul Hilberg’s, Felix Gilbert’s, and Theodor Adorno’s works. A gripping sense of urgency infuses Jeremy Black’s narrative as he warns us of the perils of historical inattentiveness and fallacies and the horrendous civilizational costs they can inflict.

coauthor of A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict - Ian J. Bickerton

This is a valuable addition to the literature on the Holocaust. Its value is twofold. First, this excellent brief study places the Holocaust in the context of Germany’s military strategy in World War II. It is a timely reminder that Hitler’s genocidal determination to rid Europe of its Jewish population was a key element in Germany’s conduct of the war. Black also emphasises the extent to which all of Europe was complicit in the destruction of European Jewry. Secondly, in detailing the history of the memorialization of the Holocaust in Europe and beyond, Black insightfully explores important and still unresolved questions concerning the nature and presence of evil in the world, and alerts readers to the ever-present dangers of divisiveness and prejudice in today’s political and theological climate.

author of Hitler's Panzers - Dennis Showalter

Jeremy Black has a remarkable ability to present complex subjects conciselyand perceptively.This work convincingly establishes the Holocaust in three contexts: the development of anti-Semitism in modern Europe, the large-scale cooperation of non-Germans in the processes of genocide, and above all the combination of vicious ideology and institutional dissonance that directly shaped the Third Reich’s implementation of the Final Solution.

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