In This Review

A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth
A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth
By Norman G. Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn
Henry Holt, 1998, 148 pp

Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) was bound to provoke strong reactions. But the degree of hostility and the amount of vituperation it has elicited from other scholars of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany has been surprising. The most shocking recent example is this book, which consists of two essays that try to show that the "Goldhagen thesis" about the German political culture of anti-Semitism that made it possible for so many "ordinary Germans" to carry out the extermination of the Jews is worthless. Three things are remarkable about this volume. First, both essays, in their hyperbolic overkill, repeatedly distort what Goldhagen has written and overlook and deny the quantity and quality of his sources. Finkelstein, who accuses Goldhagen quite misleadingly of providing a "monocausal explanation" and of diminishing the moral significance of the Holocaust, minimizes the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany and concludes that Holocaust studies are an expression of Zionist ideology after the Six Day War, when American Jews were "basking . . . in Israel's reflected glory"! Second, this slim volume does not include Goldhagen's careful, detailed rebuttals of the authors' charges; the publisher thus chose to provide the public with a prosecutor's brief instead of presenting both sides of the argument. Third, this brief comes with endorsements by seven distinguished scholars, whose comments (for instance, about Goldhagen's alleged belief in "national characteristics") allow one to conclude that their dislike for his book affected their understanding of his arguments.