Courtesy Reuters

Germans vs. the Critics

Any good-faith account of the "controversy" surrounding my book, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, would include a discussion of the many demonstrable untruths and misrepresentations written about both it and me personally. Fritz Stern's article ("The Goldhagen Controversy," November/December 1996), supposedly devoted to the debate surrounding the book, fails to do this, which is not surprising because it consists largely of the by now familiar tactics of raising false issues instead of focusing on the book's themes, findings, and arguments, of misrepresenting the book's contents, of asserting against it strident positions that have already been shown to be false, and of substituting denunciation for argument. Since I have already dealt with such general tactics, as well as Stern's principal substantive attacks, in my reply to my critics in the December 23 New Republic, I will confine my remarks here to two of Stern's charges, which reveal the heart of his project and the quality of his entire critique.ffi

Stern repeats an accusation that was leveled without substantiation at me in Der Spiegel, namely that, in Stern's words, the German translation "modifies or mutes some of his more sweeping allegations." The editor who wrote this piece had earlier revealed his true defamatory stripes by writing a cover story on the fiction that my book is about collective guilt -- a charge that one German scholar, Ulrich Herbert, labeled "a discourse of avoidance." As I have written and said many times, my book owes nothing to the indefensible notion of collective guilt. And, of course, those who make the charge provide no textual evidence to substantiate it, as Stern does not for his unscholarly accusation that my book is held together "by a single intent: the indictment of a people." What actually upsets many is that the book, against so much of the existing literature and the heretofore dominant view in Germany, champions the notion of Germans' individual responsibility for their actions and shows that many more ordinary Germans willingly

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