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The Holocaust in History (The Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry);A Relatively Objective Portrayal of Holocaust-Related Events,

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One feature of this book is its Jewish author's obvious attempt to be impartial in controversies, and to present both sides. He also mentions the Nazi genocides of millions of non-Jews, including that of 3 million gentile Poles. (p. 24, 53).


Marrus supports a Holocaust uniqueness position in the sense of the universality of the Nazis' attempted destruction of the Jews. (pp. 24-25). [Actually, the latter is not quite correct. See the Peczkis Listmania: HOLOCAUST (SHOAH) MISCONCEPTIONS CORRECTED.]. The author undercuts his own position when he mentions the Armenians, and the fact that they were not all exterminated owing to the limited capabilities of the Turks. (p. 22). As for the (alleged) absence of an all-consuming ideological Turkish drive to destroy ALL of the Armenians, this, among other things, begs the question about the generation of ideological drives in the absence of the capability of fulfilling them. Also, Marrus mentions Yehuda Bauer as an example of a Holocaust scholar who takes seriously the various post-1941 Nazi proposals for bartering Jews in exchange for money or goods. (p. 187). If correct, this shows that the Nazis were not invariably determined to kill all possible Jews within their reach.

However, the issue raised by Michael R. Marrus is more basic. Who decides the grounds by which one genocide should be declared supreme over all others' genocides? Even more fundamentally, who decides that ANY genocide should be supreme over others' genocides for ANY purported reason?


The author recognizes the essential difference between traditional religious-based Christian anti-Semitism and the much more virulent newer anti-Christian anti-Semitism. (p. 11). Moreover, he rejects the premise that ANY sort of past European, and even past German, anti-Semitism, were sufficient explanations for the Holocaust. Furthermore, as it turns out, most of the eventual Nazi leaders, in their early careers, were not particularly anti-Semitic in either their personal or professional lives. Thus, Marrus takes a "No Hitler, No Holocaust" position (p. 18), and notes Hitler's fears of his Jewish ancestry--an ancestry that could be neither verified nor discounted. (p. 16).


This work includes seldom-mentioned bits of information. For instance, some Dutch anti-Semites had supposedly scrawled this message on a wall: "Hitler, keep your dirty hands off our dirty Jews!" (p. 103).


When it comes to Polish-Jewish relations, the author is atypically even-handed. He gives a serious hearing to historians Norman Davies and Richard C. Lukas, as well as Israel Shahak, the Polonophile Holocaust-survivor and eventual Israeli human-rights activist. (pp. 94-99, 221-222). For instance, he quotes Davies relative to complaints about the Polish Underground: "[It] failed to oppose not only the actions against the Jews but equally, until 1943, all the executions and mass deportations of Polish civilians." (p. 222). [It should be noted that the Polish guerrilla Armia Krajowa (A.K.) was not deployed to an appreciable extent until the latter part of 1943, by which time the vast majority of Polish Jews had already been murdered.]


Marrus presents both sides of the "Jewish passivity" debate. He notes that, for a long time, Jewish leaders and councils had strongly opposed violent resistance against the Nazis. (p. 145). [The reader can better understand why the Poles, who had been fighting against the Germans since Day One, did not at first take Jewish claims of wanting to fight, and requests for weaponry, too seriously.] Otherwise, however, his analysis of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (p. 96, 99) is disappointingly superficial. To correct this, see the Peczkis review of Two Flags: Return to the Warsaw Ghetto.


As for comparisons of the attitudes and conduct of different peoples towards the Jewish tragedy, Marrus cites the French Jew, Walter Laqueur, who considered some Danes and Italians more sympathetic to Jews than Poles, but Poles more sympathetic to Jews than other Eastern Europeans, and comparable in this regard to the French. (p. 235). Laqueur also rejected accusations of the Polish Underground holding back the information that it had about the Nazi extermination of Jews in German-occupied Poland. (p. 159).


What about the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII? Again, the author presents both sides. He notes that a more overt Church stance against the Nazis would only have intensified the Nazi persecution of Catholics. Second, and this is rarely mentioned, Marrus points out that the theology of the Catholic Church at the time stressed the salvation of souls, not the saving of lives. (p. 183).


I appreciate the even-handedness and fairness of author Michael R. Marrus. I wish that there were more like him.
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