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The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a…

The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian

by Raul Hilberg, Raul Hilberg (Author)

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Hilberg is the author of the famous work on the Holocaust: [b:The Destruction of the European Jews|818991|The Destruction of the European Jews|Raul Hilberg|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1178664477s/818991.jpg|1799209] His book recognized the vast coordinated enterprise that was needed to accomplish the Final Solution. Tens of thousands of bureaucrats were essential parts to this great machine, and if any of these parts had failed “to do their duty”, the machinery would have ground to a halt.

Hilberg and his family fled Austria in 1939 following Hitler’s annexation of that country. They traveled to the United States via Cuba, and Raul remembers traveling by bus to New York and seeing all the “For Whites Only” benches in the south that reminded him of the “For Aryans Only” signs in Germany and Austria. He served in the army during World War II, and after the war returned to college where he decided to specialize in political science. It was there that he read Franz Neumann’s [b:Behemoth The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944|491063|Behemoth The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944|Franz L. Neumann|http://www.goodreads.com/images/nocover-60x80.jpg|479278] who’s theme was that Nazi Germany had no political theory; it sought no converts. The result was four independent groups: the civil service, the army, industry, and the party. They interacted with each other through “social contracts”. The result was an anarchical, organized chaos with “complete freedom to march into uncharted areas of action”.

There was, Hilberg observed, a logical progression that evolved into an effective machinery of death: definition, concentration, and annihilation. Outbursts of uncontrolled violence like :Crystal Night” could never be effective. But by defining first what a Jew was, they could then be concentrated, segregated, isolated physically and economically, and then eliminated. Hilberg’s original book explored the role Jews played in their own destruction. Without their active assistance he argued the Holocaust could never have occurred. The Germans relied on “the Jews to follow directives”. This books is about the academic storm that followed the publication of his work.

Hilberg had managed to get a job working at the War Documents Center on Long Island. The Allies had collected every scrap of German paper -- and the Germans were nothing if not efficient document processors -- and stored and organized these papers into 28,000 linear feet of files. Hilberg realized he had a treasure trove of historical evidence, records of actions, what people had done. These could reveal German processes and he realized after reading thousands of the documents how the German decision-making process had changed under Hitler: laws gave way to decrees, decrees to announcements, to written orders, oral orders and then to no orders at all. “The functionary who sensed the purpose of the operation had come into his own.”
Hilberg makes some interesting observations. He notes that there was little interest in the Holocaust in the United States until the late sixties, and not until the late eighties in Germany. He suspects that the Vietnam War was the catalyst in the United States “when a new generation of Americans was searching for moral certainties and ... The Holocaust became a marker of an absolute evil against which all other transgressions in the conduct of nations could be measured and assessed.”

Following years of negotiation and searching for a publisher -- most university presses at this time insisted on subsidies so as not to lose money in what they considered to be a limited market -- his book was published in 1961. His thesis that the Holocaust was a German national act because of the bureaucratic nature of its enforcement machinery, was not particularly controversial, at least among reviewers, but his observation that Jewish institutions were a part of the German community and bureaucracy and that Germans relied on their cooperation was not welcomed by Jewish readers.
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  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Raul Hilbergprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hilberg, RaulAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Holl, Hans GünterTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The author of landmark study of the Holocaust recounts the difficulties he had getting it published and the controveries it raised over the role of some prisoners in collaborating with the Nazis.

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