IIn many ways, writes historian Dan Stone, “we have relentlessly failed to confront the terrible reality of the Holocaust.” His remarkable book provides a narrative overview and analysis of events, challenging many common assumptions and often returning to how “incomplete” this terrible history remains.
Stone argues that some recent scholarly studies on the Holocaust have emphasized “the interactive nature of Germany’s decision-making process, driven primarily by military circumstances”. He does not argue the importance of incidental factors, such as rivalry between different Nazi factions, or how the leadership escalated the level of persecution after the public had largely failed to object to Crystal Night The November 1938 massacre and then the T-4 euthanasia program. But it also places a heavy emphasis on “ideology, understood as a kind of delusional conspiracy theory, as the nucleus of Nazi thinking and action”.
Another issue Stone addresses directly is the sheer variety of Nazi brutality. The Holocaust is sometimes seen as having “the modern efficiency of factory line killing”. In fact, as the book explains, this “industrial genocide” was accompanied by “huge numbers of Jews [who] They were shot in head-on killings resembling colonial massacres, albeit on a massive scale” or “in ghettos, where they were starved to death”. Even Auschwitz was “low-tech, built partly on slack stuff”.
A poignant chapter explores what happened when the war ended. Liberation, Stone claims, “is to be understood in inverted commas: many of the survivors died soon afterwards, too sick to be helped, many were astonished to have lived beyond the Nazi regime, and shocked to discover that they were kept captive, unable to go where they wanted” – the last DP camp was not closed until 1957. Jews who managed to return to their homes in Western Europe found their hardships and stories “incorporated into the official narratives of resistance, national sacrifice and national solidarity.” For most Eastern European Jews, “home no longer exists”. Although Jewish politics before the war were “remarkably diverse,” notes Stone, it is not surprising that “Zionism triumphed” in the displaced persons camps, where “the inmates felt rejected by Europe, which they in turn rejected.”
Although the Holocaust was clearly initiated by the Germans, it was very much a “continent-wide crime” and found willing and often enthusiastic collaborators across Europe. According to Stone, these people were motivated by “greed, nationalist aspirations, and an ideological affinity for Nazism,” but he also points out the “inconvenient truth … that many of the perpetrators seem to have engaged because they enjoyed doing so.”
This may not be news to historians, but many countries, particularly in post-communist Eastern Europe, have been slow to acknowledge their level of complicity. Recent National Commissions of Inquiry have shed precious light on this troubling history, but they have also created what Stone calls ” ressentiment” This is “one of the roots of the revival of fascism in Europe today.”
The 2018 law made itIt is a criminal offense to accuse Poles complicity in the Nazi killing of Jews.” According to a scholar named Jan Grabowski, he and his colleagues “independent historians of the Holocaust still confront today, in Poland, the full force and wrath of the state.”
Nationalists in post-communist Eastern Europe understandably emphasized the horrific atrocities of the Soviet Union. But Stone Flags in the way that is sometimes associated with the idea that communism was a “Jewish ‘ideology’ brought to the region from outside means that the Holocaust in this light can be seen as a ‘justified response’.”
As this might suggest, Stone is skeptical of the oft-stated benefits of Holocaust education and remembrance. In the 1990s, he believes, awareness of the Holocaust was not only widespread, but “oriented in favor of human rights, universalism and progressive ideas”. But since the millennium, “this confident narrative has been derailed. Using the memory of the Holocaust to advance nationalist agendas, to facilitate geopolitical alliances on the far right or to ‘expose’ progressive thinkers for supposed antisemitism or anti-Israel bias is now a familiar part of the landscape.”
The implications of all this could not be more real. As Stone suggests that “Nazism was the extreme manifestation of sentiment that was so common, and that Hitler acted as a kind of rainmaker or shaman”, the defeat of his regime left us with a “dark legacy, a deep psychology” of fascist fascination and the genocidal fantasy to which he appeals. People are instinctively in moments of crisis—we see it most clearly in the alt-right and the online world, pervading the conspiracy theory mainstream.” Past.