In This Review
The Holocaust: A New History

The Holocaust: A New History

By Laurence Rees

PublicAffairs, 2017, 552 pp.

The Holocaust has become an iconic event in modern history, known to almost everyone across the globe. It is also one of the most widely studied: an interested reader can now choose among a dozen good general histories and tens of thousands of specialized volumes. Rees has compiled a readable, moving, and comprehensive overview of this scholarship, enlivened by vivid first-person reminiscences. He highlights three critical points of historiographic consensus. First, the mass killing was not inevitable. Although Adolf Hitler was a vicious anti-Semite, the extermination of the Jews was not his initial conception of the Final Solution. Nor did the mass murder result from a single, clear decision. Rather, it evolved out of incremental bureaucratic escalation and adaptation during wartime and was pursued unevenly. Second, the Jews were neither the only group nor even the first one that the Nazis targeted for industrial extermination. They pioneered concentration camps
to house political and war prisoners and invented the technique of gassing individuals in showers to liquidate disabled people. Third, neither the Jews nor the Germans were passive. Many, perhaps most, concentration camp guards simply followed orders, but some went to special lengths to be inhumanly cruel, and a few others engaged in acts of humanity. And contrary to common misunderstandings, Jews organized defiance and armed opposition, most notably in the Warsaw ghetto. Readers looking for a single-volume history of the Holocaust will have
trouble finding one better than this.