In This Review

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
640 pp, Knopf, 1996

Holocaust literature abounds, as survivors seek to bear witness and historians try to understand. So far the very magnitude of the satanic murder has inspired a kind of awed reticence about pronouncing overarching explanations. Now a 37-year-old political scientist from Harvard claims: "Explaining why the Holocaust occurred requires a radical revision of what has until now been written. This book is that revision." Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, published in this country in April and in Germany in early August, has become an international sensation, a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic.

The book is a deliberate provocation -- I consider this a neutral judgment. Provocations can shock people out of their settled, comfortable views; they can also be self-promoting attacks on earlier work and professional standards. Goldhagen's title is provocative and delivers his thesis: the executioners of Jews were willing murderers, who willingly chose to torment and kill their victims; they were ordinary Germans, not Nazi monsters, not specially trained or indoctrinated by party membership or ideology, but simply acting out of what Goldhagen calls the common German "eliminationist mind-set." And being "ordinary" Germans responding to a common "cognitive model" about Jews, their places could

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