What more can there possibly be to say about the Holocaust? Plenty, as Dan Stone demonstrates in The Holocaust: An Unfinished History, his sobering and meticulous exploration of aspects of the Shoah that have remained, until now, under-analyzed. And these aspects of the Holocaust are especially salient today, as the Nazis’ carefully orchestrated murderous program has been adopted and adapted by Hamas and other jihadist groups and abetted by their fellow travelers in the West.

“There are still major parts of the history of the Holocaust that have not been understood in the prevailing narrative,” writes Stone, a historian at the University of London and the director of the Holocaust Research Institute. These include a comprehensive genocidal ideology originating with and propagated by, but transcending, the Nazis themselves; the “ubiquity” of collaboration throughout Europe and North Africa; and the extraordinary nature of the trauma suffered by the survivors and the slaughtered alike.

The conspiracy that fed the genocidal instincts of the Nazis and their collaborators began and ended with Nazi race “science.” Stone writes, “To understand the drive for Lebensraum, the creation of a German empire in Europe in which the racial community could thrive, one has to grasp the overriding significance of race for the Nazis.” Invoking the historian Eric Voegelin, Stone contends that the fuzzy, mystical notion of race unified German philosophy, politics, and culture.

Specious as this racial theory was—even “pseudoscience” doesn’t do it justice—it galvanized both Nazi elites and everyday Germans young and old. “It is plain to all who are willing to see,” said Nazi culture minister Karl Weber in the mid-1930s, “that this philosophy involves a call to the younger generation to heroic living, for this reality of race is something which claims them, gives them a standard and orientates their whole life.” Jews became, simultaneously, subhumans who were unworthy of polluting the German gene pool and a collective global superpower that threatened German geopolitical interests.

This nascent worldview reached its first apotheosis on November 9, 1938, when the Kristallnacht pogrom erupted across greater Germany. Some 177 synagogues were burned down, 8,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed, 100 Jews were murdered, and 30,000 others were hauled off to proto-concentration camps in Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen. The attack, Stone reckons, evinced “an alarming degree of consensus and cooperation among local inhabitants” and signified a key turning point for what the Nazi race ideology endorsed—and what it could get away with.

The entire Nazi war machine, police and Wehrmacht included, began to dedicate itself to the mission of eradicating global Jewry. Stone’s research gives the lie to historical analyses that blamed only the SS and exonerated the regular German army. Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau, in his “Orders for Conduct in the East,” instructed the Wehrmacht in no uncertain terms to “liberate the German people once and for all from the Asiatic-Jewish danger.” That the SS’s focus on killing Jews was more single-minded than that of other military organs does little to excuse the latter.

Yet the Nazi extermination effort expanded far beyond the lands and armed forces controlled exclusively by Germany. The Holocaust, Stone contends, “looks more like a series of interlocking local genocides carried out under the auspices of a grand project.” Certain countries that held “nationalist aspirations to create ethnically homogeneous nation-states,” such as Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Croatia, and the Baltic states, eagerly participated in the killing, partly because of long-standing anti-Semitism and partly out of a pragmatic need to ally with Germany. Others, such as Norway and the Netherlands, succumbed to political groups that seized power with explicitly Nazi ideologies and even more avidly herded their Jews to the camps.

To be sure, the type of collaboration varied across—and even within—such jurisdictions. For instance, the then-Romanian region of Bessarabia (essentially, modern-day Moldova) targeted its Jewish population far more vigorously than did neighboring Transnistria, where temporary Soviet rule had conferred at least nominal civil rights on local Jews. Vichy France enthusiastically imposed Nuremberg-law-style restrictions on its Jews but would later resist, at least partially, its Nazi patrons’ exhortations to deport them eastward; some Italian and Hungarian officials acted similarly (at least until the Germans occupied their countries explicitly). Hitler tolerated such hesitation from his Fascist allies, assuming that once he had conquered the entire continent, he could come back for any straggling Jews.

But any such resistance was only partial, and, with very few exceptions, every country in Europe participated in rounding up its Jewish population in one manner or another. “Genocide is a societal endeavor,” Stone argues. “Local hatreds become enmeshed in geopolitical, even metaphysical, aspirations and fantasies, with horrific consequences.” Leading Croatian newspapers trumpeted the need “to protect our blood from Jewish, Gypsy, and non-Aryan manifestations”; a Slovak official proclaimed that “we want to rid ourselves of the Jews with the help of Germans”; Romania’s prime minister urged his countrymen to “take advantage of the current national and European situation to purify the Romanian people.”

There were exceptions, of course. Portugal and Spain, while sympathetic to the Fascist cause, harbored some Jews, and Sweden and Denmark sheltered many at tremendous risk. Yet the vast majority of Europeans and even North Africans all too keenly partook of the genocidal feast laid by the Nazis. The reasons they did so were plentiful: hatred, greed, obedience, corruption, even sheer pleasure. As the famed resistance fighter Abba Kovner wrote, “Only a handful of sadistic S.S. men were needed to hit a Jew, or cut off his beard, but millions had to participate in the slaughter of millions.”

Stone also examines, with great sensitivity, the deep trauma that survivors carried with them their entire lives. “We whispered even after the war,” one survivor recalled decades later. “After I was liberated, I could not get back to normal. I kept on whispering for two months after the war.” While early Holocaust analysis focused solely on the perpetrators, the suffering of the Nazis’ prey has increasingly gained purchase in the literature. “Now historians recognized,” Stone is gratified to convey, “that documents produced by the victims, from letters to diaries to petitions to applications for assistance, are equally important for understanding the Holocaust.”

Late last year, with a heavy heart, I visited Kibbutz Be’eri to bear witness to the small-scale holocaust carried out with grotesque brutality by savage monsters every bit as vicious and motivated by genocidal hatred as the Nazis. In their wake came a rabble of ordinary men, women, and children who gleefully participated in the pillage and butchery. And even before Israel had begun mobilizing its response, a well-organized international movement of ideological sympathizers ardently backed the marauders, including by chanting “Gas the Jews!” Months after these pitiless ghouls’ assault, a deep trauma persists within the Jewish people. Stone’s disturbing findings, tragically, resonate all too clearly.

Photo: AP Photo/Stanislaw Mucha, File

We want to hear your thoughts about this article. Click here to send a letter to the editor.

+ A A -
You may also like
60 Shares
Share via
Copy link