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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