Friday, January 26, 2024


Tomorrow, January 27, is the "International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust." It is important to remember. Reviewing a new book, The Holocaust: An Unfinished History:
"Survival was the exception, death the norm.” That is how the British historian Dan Stone describes the fate of the Jews in The Holocaust: An Unfinished History. Reading his incisive analysis of the genocidal endgame that unfolded from Nazi antisemitism in the early 20th century, one would be unsettled at any time. But doing so against the backdrop of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre that killed some 1,200 Israelis, in the largest mass murder of Jews since World War II, will leave the reader numbly groping for answers. ....

At the core of Hitler’s belief system, Mr. Stone writes, was a “genocidal fantasy” of a “world without Jews.” It was a familiar hatred that was neither new nor confined to Germany—Christians had demonized Jews at least since the Middle Ages—and therefore a prejudice easily tapped into and amplified in service to Hitler’s goal of forging an “ethnically pure nation.”

The nationalistic notion of “pure blood” was also not new to nativist political movements and other groups in either Europe or America. For instance, since its introduction in the 1880s, the racist pseudoscience of eugenics had brought increasingly broad acceptance and intellectual currency to the idea that “bad” genes belonging to “inferior” races and “defective” individuals should be eliminated. The Nazi name for this type of program was racial hygiene.

It was the linkage of all these concepts, taken to their extreme and placed in a neo-religious, quasi-mystical framework of redemption and purity, that gave shape to the Nazi worldview. This mindset melded together the grandiose ideals of Aryan superiority and the malignant visions of Jews conspiring to “replace” them into a struggle dictating that only by destroying all Jews could Aryan blood prevail. From this perspective, Mr. Stone observes, World War II was nothing less than “a fight for racial life or death,” a quest to restore a defeated Germany to greatness. ....

The Nazi invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, marked the start of World War II, and the Reich’s commencement of the mass killing of Jews began soon after. Mr. Stone emphasizes that the carnage perpetrated in the first years of the war used a different means of savagery from the “factory-line extermination” of yet-to-be-created death camps like Auschwitz. In this early stage of the Holocaust, mobile killing units made up of police officers and SS commandos would advance, town by town, rounding up local Jews, sometimes thousands in number, whom they typically shot in pits that became their mass graves. Mass-shooting operations like these annihilated approximately two million Jews.

Only after 1940, as each of the major death camps at Chełmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau became fully operational, did poison gas become the chief means of murder. Tens of thousands of other Jews succumbed to starvation, privation and disease in hundreds of ghettos and forced-labor camps.

Mr. Stone makes clear that all these killings, on so vast a scale and in so many locations, could not have been accomplished without the help of collaborators. .... (more)

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