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Recent Scholarship on the Shoah

With Yom ha-Shoah beginning tomorrow evening, the Atlantic Monthly has a timely review of some recent scholarship on the Shoah.

Three decades of scholarship (a good deal of it undertaken by Kershaw, as well as by the historian David Bankier, in his innovative study The Germans and the Final Solution) reveal that from the very onset of the war, it was impossible not to know the Jews’ fate. Soldiers and officers wrote home of mass shootings (one letter explicitly details the massacre of 30,000 Jews in a single town), and when they returned on leave, they spoke of the murders in private and in public. Reports of the killing squads, which detailed the number of murders, were routinely routed to midlevel bureaucrats in various departments in Berlin. The “White Rose” student resistance movement in Munich declared in its 1942 manifesto that 300,000 Jews had been killed in Poland, a crime “unparalleled in the whole of history.” News of Auschwitz—the death camp within the borders of the expanded German state, exchange 2258 on the German telephone system—reached the diarist Victor Klemperer in March 1942, and by that October he was describing it as “a swift-working slaughter-house”; another diarist recorded hearing an official of the SS security service on a suburban train brag about the number of victims killed at that camp every week. When the BBC beamed detailed descriptions of the workings of the death camps to Germany in 1942, the Viennese diarist Ludwig Haydn said that “with regard to the mass murder of Jews, the broadcast merely confirms what we know here anyhow.”

2 Responses to “Recent Scholarship on the Shoah”

  1. 1
    Joe in Australia:

    My father was in a Hungarian labor camp in 1944 when rumors of the death camps arrived. He told me that people didn’t believe them – they couldn’t believe that people could do something like that.

  2. 2
    Moshe Rudner:

    What starving Jews in fascist-occupied lands fooled themselves into denying is in no way relevant to what Germans, other Axis and the people of the “free world” were well aware of.

    The fact of the mass murder of Jews was so very public, unhidden and well known that modern attempts to “prove” that this information was available to the general public are almost ludicrous. The 1940s, 50s and 60s saw a myth begin to emerge about “what we found out after the war, when the camps were liberated”. This myth than took on the halo of Fact when educators and authors began inculcating it into the newly born generation as “history” and parents generally chose to remain mum on the subject whenever their kids brought it up.

    The New York Times – and every other paper, including all of the Jewish ones – ran regular mini-stories on ongoing massacres that saw the murder of 500 here, 3000 there and so on. It was public knowledge.

    As for the benighted Germans… yeah. None of the Einsatzgruppen spoke or wrote of it, the thousands who kept the cattle cars running thought they were full of goats, the factory workers producing Zyklon B, lime and special products for use in crematoria were also kept in the dark – and the hair that filled the frauleins’ mattresses was undoubtedly supplies by pixies.

    Again – the papers reported the massacres and there was no ignorance of it anywhere. The myths propounded by a guilty generation ought properly to be put to rest once and for all.

    Moshe Rudner




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