Menachem Mendel

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Yom ha-Shoah

As people around the world mark Yom ha-Shoah (see this post by Balashon regarding the name itself), I wanted to say a few things about scholarly research of the Shoah. Many of us are familiar with the classic work by Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945. In recent years there have been a number of other books which people should be aware of. First there are two books by the recent Pulitzer Prize winner, Saul Friedländer. They are Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 and The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. In addition there is Christopher Browning’s The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. Another author whose work I have found challenging and informative is that of Omer Bartov. Bartov’s work isn’t limited to examining the events of 1933-1945, rather he also writes about the historiography of the Shoah, its memory, and the role that its commemoration and history has played in numerous countries. I am currently reading his book Germany’s War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories and I wanted to bring a few excerpts from the book which discuss numerous aspects of the Shoah.

The first selection describes the two main schools of historical research of the Shoah.

The two most influential schools of interpretation of Nazism and the Holocaust have been labeled “intentionalism” and “functionalism.” The former stresses the centrality of Hitler and views the destruction of the Jews as a long-term project planned well in advance; the latter dwells on the structural characteristics of the Third Reich and presents the Holocaust as the outcome of intra-governmental rivalries and self-imposed logistical constraints. Intentionalists insist on ideological imperatives and the realization of a genocidal program; functionalists dismiss Hitler’s role and emphasize the logic of modern bureaucratic norms and procedures, while relegating abstract tenets to the level of empty rhetoric. (80)

While recognizing the millions of non-Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis, Bartov stresses that the genocidal campaign against the Jews was unique.

It was only in the case of the Jews that there was a determination to seek out every baby hidden in a haystack, every family living in a bunker in the forest, every woman trying to pass herself off as a Gentile. It was only in the case of the Jews that vast factories were constructed and managed with the sole purpose of killing trainload after trainload of people. It was only in the case of the Jews that huge, open-air, public massacres of tens of thousands of people were conducted on a daily basis throughout Eastern Europe. (107)

Lastly, with regard to German society and how it acquired for itself a genocidal mission,
Never before, or after, has a state decided to devote so many of its technological, organizational, and intellectual resources to the sole purpose of murdering every single member of a certain category of people in a process that combined the knowledge acquired in mass industrial production with the experience of waging total war. This was a novel phenomenon: striving to produce corpses with the same methods employed to produce goods. In this case, however, destruction was the goal of production, not its opposite.

In circumstances of mass murder, sadism flourishes; but sadism is not unique to the Holocaust. Antisemitism is a pernicious phenomenon with long historical roots, but the question remains as to how was it employed in creating and legitimating death camps rather than expressed in savage pogroms. We need to probe much deeper into the culture that produced genocide in the heart of European civilization. (135-6)

For online material both the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem have much to offer. ×”×™”ד.

5 Responses to “Yom ha-Shoah”

  1. 1
    Lion of Zion:

    intentionalism or functionalism? who cares.

    normally i don’t mind academic mumbo jumbo, but when it comes to the holocaust the only academic role i think is important is documenting. i’m not interested in commentary.

    (shavuah tov)

  2. 2
    Menachem Butler:

    For several sources on the establishment of Yom Hashoah ve-Ha-Gevurah, see James E. Young, “When A Day Remembers: A Performative History of Yom Hashoah,” The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), 263-281 (chapter ten); and, quite recently, Roni Stauber, “Heroism or Uprising? The Debate in the Late 1950s on Determining the Name of the Memorial Day,” in The Holocaust in Israeli Public Debate in the 1950s: Ideology and Memory (London and Portland, Or.: Vallentine Mitchell, 2007), 97-115 (chapter six); and Dina Porat, “Attitude of the Young State of Israel Toward the Holocaust and its Survivors: A Debate over Identity and Values,” in Israeli Society, the Holocaust and its Survivors (London and Portland, Or.: Vallentine Mitchell, 2008), 345, 347, passim; among many many other sources.

  3. 3
    Menachem Mendel:

    L of Z,

    I am not sure that you can go much beyond “X number of Jews were killed here on such and such a day” without trying to interpret historical events and processes.

  4. 4
    Harry P:

    You have a very good list. The holocaust lierature is vast-some would even say to vast. I would add Daniel Goldhagen- despite the controversy surrounding his books -I find him compelling. Also, Lawrence Langer and his commentary on holocaust lierature. I would add the Israeli author Yehuda Bauer. Eva Hoffman on second genertation survivors, and the novelist Thane Rosenbaum. My biggest complaint is that there is not very much written on the Jews who survived the Shoah, especially the Displaced Persond Camps. Jewish survivors created a rich Jewish life in these Camps. It is a fascinating story that is yet to be told fully. Harry

  5. 5
    Menachem Mendel:


    In the above cited book by Bartov, he has two chapters on Goldhagen. He thinks that Goldhagen’s research is important and that people have to admit the importance of it, but that it is seriously flawed. Bartov feels that many other scholars have discussed the same issues already, but Goldhagen claims that he is the first. Also, there is a big controversy between Christopher Browning and Goldhagen. Browning’s book on a certain police battalion is called “Ordinary Men”, specifically not “Ordinary Germans,” because a large number of them weren’t even German. Browning’s claims that under certain conditions many people, not necessarily someone who was German, could commit such horrendous atrocities.




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