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War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust (Critical Issues in World and International History) byDoris L. Bergen;Good Introduction to WWII Genocides. No De-Germanization of the Nazis; Limited Holocaust Supremacism; German Genocide of Poles

jan peczkis|Friday, December 22, 2017

Author Doris L. Bergen is Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto. This book is excellent in terms of its relative de-emphasis of Holocaust supremacism. That is, it avoids Holocaustspeak and the mystification of the Holocaust, and it gives nontrivial coverage to the long-neglected non-Jewish victims of the Nazis, notably the Poles. I focus on a few salient subjects in this comprehensive introductory book.


Bergen writes, “Should we say ‘Nazis’ or ‘Germans’ when referring to the people of Hitler’s Germany? On the one hand, using the term ‘Nazis' in this general way is misleading. [No kidding]. It implies that Hitler’s supporters were not themselves Germans or that the ‘real Germans’ were somehow untouched by Nazism. On the other hand, simply saying ‘Germans’ suggests that all Germans marched in step behind Hitler. That was not the case either.” (p. 5). [There is no escaping the fact that Nazism was a German movement, that Nazism had the support of the vast majority of Germans, and that WWII and the Holocaust were German initiatives and German acts. In addition, Nazism was preceded by centuries of German supremacist thinking. See the third-posted comment under this review.]


The author (pp. 39-40) realizes that the Germans had engaged in centuries of racist thinking about the “inferior” Slavic peoples. Given the confines of WWII, the Germans murdered 3 million Poles along with 3 million Polish Jews. (p. 155). However, the death toll of the Polonocaust may, instead of lower, be actually substantially greater. Moreover, Germans were prevented from killing Poles on a vastly larger scale--tens of millions--owing to practical wartime impediments. (See second comment under this review.)

Plans for LEBENSRAUM called for the removal of Slavic peoples. In fact, GENERALPLAN OST called for the eventual murder of most ethnic Poles. Bergen comments, “Tens of millions of Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, and others were to be forced into less desirable areas, allowed to die of starvation or disease, of killed. A small percentage would be kept as slaves for the German empire”. (p. 213).


The Nazis were ambivalent about homosexuality, that is, about whether homosexuality was biological or acquired, and whether homosexuals were racial enemies or merely in need of re-education. (p. 222). In any case, only a vanishing fraction of gays were persecuted by the Nazis. Five- to seven-thousand homosexuals perished at the hands of the Germans. But this is a drop in the ocean. Bergen quips, “In 1933 Himmler had estimated there were between one and four million homosexually inclined men in Germany [Reviewer’s note: 1.25%--5% of the population, which is in line with modern estimates of homosexual inclination], but even the homophobic Himmler never mounted a systematic effort to wipe out homosexuality as such. Instead, police made arrests on the basis of denunciations and raids.” (p. 222).
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