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About this book

The Holocaust is a subject of enormous historical importance. The murder of approximately 6 million Jews stands apart as a perhaps the most horrendous episode in world history. In this fresh introduction, McDonough examines the racial war-within-a-war, outlining controversies and examining how it has been popularised and institutionalised.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
The term ‘Holocaust’ is now commonly used to describe the attempt by the Nazi regime to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews between 1933 and 1945.1 Under Adolf Hitler’s rule, approximately six million Jews were murdered. Although there are whole libraries full of detailed studies and articles examining just about every conceivable aspect of the Holocaust, we still do not know the exact date when the German government decided to murder the Jews, how that decision was made or who made it. Some historians have recently suggested that the Soviet labour camps of Stalin’s communist regime are on a par with or even worse than Nazi genocide during the Second World War. But it is emphasised in this study that the government-directed and bureaucratically organised attempt by the Nazi regime to annihilate all Jews in Europe still makes the Holocaust the most far-reaching act of genocide so far attempted.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane

The Road to the Final Solution

Frontmatter

1. Hitler and ‘the Jewish Question’ before the Second World War

Abstract
Few historians can agree about any aspect of the Holocaust. But what every historian can agree on is that Adolf Hitler held a dominant position within the Nazi Party and the governance of Nazi Germany. Any full and meaning ful understanding of the Holocaust must begin with an assessment of Hitler’s views and policies on the Jewish Question before the Second World War. This approach may seem to corroborate the intentionalist view that Hitler’s views on the Jews displayed a remarkable consistency, and to reduce the ‘Final Solution’ to just another aspect of Hitler’s ‘master plan’ to dominate Europe and destroy the Jewish race. In reality the alternative functionalist position, which suggests that Hitler never planned the destruction of the Jews in advance, can be equally invigorated by examining evidence culled from his early life and political career. Indeed, when Hitler’s views on the Jewish Question are examined in detail it can be seen that there was no ‘straight road’ to Auschwitz. It was a much more complicated long and winding route. The socalled ‘essential continuity’ of Hitler’s views on the Jewish Question so beloved of intentionalist historians is immediately compromised by an examination of his early life.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane

2. War, Resettlement and Ghettoisation in Poland, 1939–41

Abstract
On 1 September 1939, the German armed forces launched an unprovoked military attack against Poland. Two days later, Hitler’s regime was at war with Britain and France. Hitler had always wanted Britain as an ally in any future war. But the full economic and diplomatic resources of the British Empire were now ranged against his ambitious plan for European hegemony. The Soviet Union, his most hated ideological enemy, was now his diplomatic partner as a result of the last-ditch signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact on 24 August 1939. Japan, his Axis ally in the Far East, was already embroiled in a bloody war against China. The Italian government led by Mussolini decided to remain neutral.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane

3. From Operation Barbarossa to the Wannsee Conference, 1941–2

Abstract
In the months leading up to the German invasion of the Soviet Union (code-named ‘Operation Barbarossa’), which began on 22 June 1941, detailed preparations were being put in place by Adolf Hitler’s regime to destroy the first major communist state in Europe. In March 1941 Hitler appointed the anti-Semitic fanatic Alfred Rosenberg to lead the Political Bureau on Eastern Affairs. Rosenberg spelled out the key aims of Nazi policy towards the Soviet Union. The central objective was the ‘complete destruction’ of the ‘Judeo-Bolshevik’ administration. A major subsidiary aim was a ‘comprehensive settlement’ of the Jewish Question. Jews in the Soviet Union would be ruthlessly exploited as forced labour and confined to ghettos in preparation for their later deportation to a designated ‘Jewish zone’ further ‘east’.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane

4. Life and Death in the Extermination Camps

Abstract
All Nazi camps were death camps and millions of people of every race, colour and creed were starved, tortured and murdered in them. The mass murder of the Jews that was already in full swing in the Soviet Union from June 1941 was extended from 1942 onwards to constitute a clear attempt to kill all Jews in Europe under German occupation or influence. The six exter mination camps which played the most important role in carrying out the policy of physical extermination of the Jews, outside the Soviet Union, were Chełmno, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibór, Treblinka and the most infamous camp of all: Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were all located in the Generalgouvernement area of Poland. The murder of Jews in these extermination camps was accomplished through the authority of a group of German bureaucrats operating within a clear administrative structure. The vast majority of the leading figures who carried out the Holocaust in the extermination camps were middle-class, university educated academics, lawyers and doctors who were supported by high-ranking police and security personnel and a plethora of administrators who carried out the process at each level with cold and detached efficiency. The major focus of this chapter is to go in search of the insular world of the extermination camps that implemented ‘the Final Solution of the Jewish Question’.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane

The Impact of the Holocaust since 1945

Frontmatter

5. The Holocaust and Popular Culture

Abstract
In 1945 newsreels showed harrowing images of starving prisoners in Nazi concentration camps to shocked cinema audiences. Hitler and Nazism were forever associated with brutality of a kind that seemed more extreme and unique than anything else in human history. But the presentation of mass murder enacted by the Nazi regime was not at first singularly focused on the Jews who had perished. It covered the many countless millions of victims scattered across the length and breadth of the European continent. As the years went by, the Jewish Holocaust began to overshadow the broader dimensions of Nazi genocide. Nowadays the Holocaust is viewed not merely as an important event in history, but as a global phenomenon encompassing novels, films and many museums. It seems, as the Jewish historian Yaffa Erlich put it: ‘There is no business like Shoah business.’1 No serious history of the murder of the Jews can simply concentrate on the events of the Holocaust; it must also consider the impact of the Holocaust — especially on modern global and largely westernised popular culture since 1945.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane

6. The Historical Debate on the Holocaust

Abstract
Historians, psychologists, sociologists, post-modernists, literary critics and philosophers have all attempted to explain the most irrational act of modern Western civilisation. The cherished Western concepts of progress and civilisation were called into question by what one historian called ‘the German catastrophe’. Wilhelm Reich blamed the Holocaust on the obedience of the German people to the ‘Mass psychology of Fascism’, while Hannah Arendt blamed Nazi genocide on a ‘totalitarian system in which Adolf Hitler could say “the individual must perish anyway, all that matters is the state”’. Some writers have suggested that the de-humanising effects of European imperialism against so-called ‘primitive’ people in Africa and Asia during the late nineteenth century made racial-superiority, biological and eugenic theories popular, and these ‘master race’ views became embedded within Nazi ideology. Enzo Traverso has described Auschwitz as an ‘authentic product of Western civilisation’. The end product of Nazi genocide was not a product for sale in the marketplace but death. This would seem to suggest it was modern technology which made death possible on an industrial scale.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane

Conclusion

Abstract
There has been so much written about the Holocaust that it is extraordinarily difficult to make sense of it. Historians have tended to investigate separate aspects of the Holocaust as distinct micro-research areas. This explains why finding a satisfactory overall synthesis becomes ever more difficult. The scale of the Holocaust is certainly without precedent. There were nine million Jews in Europe in 1939 and only three million were left alive by the time the Third Reich collapsed in the ruins of Berlin. The killing was not just limited to Jews in the Soviet Union or Germany, but encompassed Jews from all over Europe. Every single Jew was sentenced to death by the Nazi regime simply for exist ing. No differentiation was made in terms of gender, class, occupation or geographical location. Jews were not defined by the Nazis according to culture, religion or nationality. They were a separate and ‘parasitic race’ that had to be eliminated. Other potential victims of Nazi genocide might survive by changing political or national allegiance, but for the Jews there was no escape. All Jews were to be first identified then isolated and finally erased.
Frank McDonough, John Cochrane
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