The Origins of the Final Solution

In This Review

The Origins of the Final Solution

By Christopher R. Browning with Jurgen Matthaus
University of Nebraska Press, 2004
616 pp. $39.95
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This enormous volume explores in exhaustive detail the evolution of a policy aimed at expelling German and Eastern European Jews or locking them up in ghettoes into a policy of extermination that quickly became "the wholesale destruction of Jewish life." The signal seems to have been given by Hitler as early as July 1941: "by the end of October 1941 the conception of the Final Solution had taken shape," with "full-scale implementation" beginning, and gas ovens replacing mass shootings, in March 1942. Browning shows both the complexities of Nazi decision-making, a product of overlapping bureaucracies, and the determining role of the Fuhrer. He also points out that the public reaction in Germany turned from negative to positive once Germany was at war-there, as elsewhere, war meant "the suspension of critical stance." Browning does not say just how much antisemitism shaped Germans' commitment to building a racial empire under German control-an issue Daniel Goldhagen has handled with vigor-but his massive account is utterly convincing in its historical detail, even if interpretation is not what he and most other historians do best.