Cesarani, who passed away last year, was a leading historian of Jewish life and a prominent public advocate for proper commemoration of the Holocaust. This massive work demonstrates that those two vocations often conflict with each other. Cesarani criticizes the tendency of people and groups with political agendas, as well as purveyors of popular culture and designers of classroom materials, to portray the Holocaust as a deliberately managed project that followed necessarily from Nazi ideology. He claims that this view is, in large part, simply inconsistent with current scholarly research. The Nazis, he argues, had no master plan to exterminate the Jews on an industrial scale. Hitler initially intended to send them to Mozambique or Siberia. The war, however, limited his options, and the genocidal Final Solution was the result. Nazi bureaucracy was chaotic, with competing imperatives, such as exploiting the Jews as laborers but also exterminating them. The result was administrative conflict and confusion, and the genocide was hardly conducted in a consistent manner. Although not all of Cesarani’s evidence supports this interpretation, his book is a useful and compelling reminder that reality is far more complex than popular memory.
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