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                  Copyright 1989 The New York Times Company   
                               The New York Times

               February 19, 1989, Sunday, Late City Final Edition

SECTION: Section 7; Page 1, Column 1; Book Review Desk

LENGTH: 3083 words


BYLINE: By V. R. BERGHAHN; V. R. Berghahn teaches history at Brown University.
The author of several books, he has written widely on modern German history.

The ''Final Solution'' in History. 
By Arno J. Mayer. 
492 pp. New York: 
Pantheon Books. $27.95.

   Given the enormity of the crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany during
World War II, the title of Arno Mayer's new book raises a question
that many people will have asked themselves as they remember, and try
to comprehend, the Holocaust.  Our task would be less difficult and
agonizing, if the heavens had actually darkened.  Since they did not,
we must search for the roots of the ''final solution'' in man-made
history.  The task is to understand the structures and the dynamics of
a now extinct regime which resorted to genocide; the task is also to
investigate what murderous drives motivated the executioners and their
accomplices.  It is hard to imagine a more taxing research assignment,
not least because reading those sickening files compiled by meticulous
bureaucrats is emotionally so exhausting.  

   Notwithstanding these obstacles, scholars from many countries and
academic backgrounds have greatly advanced our knowledge of the
subject during the past 20 years or so.  Most of them have done so
from a deeply held conviction that the victims of Nazi crimes must
never be forgotten and that there are profound lessons to be learned
from their murder.  Yet, however strong the sense of a common purpose,
there have also been disagreements over the meaning of the evidence.
Perhaps the most significant development was the collapse of the early
postwar consensus that, with anti-Semitism forming the hard core of
Nazism, there was a straight line of continuity between Hitler's
verbal threats in the 1920's and 1930's and the gas chambers of the
early 1940's.  While not denying the importance of Nazi racism and
Judeophobia, by the 1970's many scholars had become skeptical of this
''intentionalist'' interpretation of the Holocaust.

   Their investigations had found that, far from being a monolithic
Fuhrer state, the Nazi dictatorship had been racked by constant
feuding among different governmental and party agencies.  Behind the
goose-stepping columns and the facade of order there reigned
administrative chaos and anarchy.  Instead of being a determined
leader, Hitler was found to be vacillating, often merely reacting to
changing situations, many of which were not of his own making.  The
implications of this ''functionalist'' view of the Third Reich's power
structure should be clear: the factories of death were not envisaged
from the start.  Although Hitler had designated the Jews as Germany's
greatest enemies, the regime's anti-Jewish policies remained disputed
and incoherent even beyond 1939.  The ''final solution'' grew out of
wartime developments in the course of which preferred alternative
routes had become blocked, thus finally leaving the field to the

   Arno J.  Mayer, the Dayton-Stockton Professor of European History
at Princeton and author of several books, does not explicitly locate
his weighty and uncompromising study within this debate.  Though
scholarly and drawing extensively on published sources and the
secondary literature, ''Why Did the Heavens Not Darken'' has no
footnotes and is addressed to a wider readership.  But these readers
may wish to have a few signposts in order to know where Mr.  Mayer
follows earlier interpretations and where he develops his own

   At a most general level, it might be said that this important book
synthesizes recent research without being a conventional synthesis.
Rather, it offers something much more thought-provoking and, at least
to some, also upsetting.  In fact, Mr.  Mayer would probably feel
misunderstood if the gauntlets he is throwing in different directions
were simply overlooked by readers turning directly to the gruesome
story he has to tell.  To begin with, he challenges those
''avant-garde professional historians [who] continue to make a virtue
of the fragmentation of their discipline and all but eliminate
politics from it.''

   For him, ''the mass murder of the Jews, more than any other single
event, points up the importance of returning to the contextual study
of short-term events.  In the wake of Treblinka and Auschwitz it is
difficult not to scorn Fernand Braudel's characterization of
short-term events as mere 'dust.' Braudel went so far as to imply that
short-term events were not worth studying since, unlike long- and
medium-range events, they 'traverse history as flashes of light'
destined instantly to 'turn to darkness, often to oblivion.' Pace
Braudel and his epigones, I have tried not only to contemplate the
circumstances in which millions of Jews - along with millions of
non-Jews - were reduced to 'dust' in seconds of historical time, but
also to recapture the evanescent 'light' of their torment to
illuminate the historical landscape in which it occurred.''

   The author is gentler with those who argue that ''only survivors
who actually passed through the fiery ordeal of the killing sites,
ghettos, and camps are in a position to speak to it.'' He openly
admits that their reminiscences ''remain an essential source of
information and insight for anyone pondering'' the Jewish catastrophe
and that ''they also help to preserve and pass on its memory for later
generations.'' But wherever ''the reflective and transparent
remembrances of survivors'' have been woven ''in a collective
prescriptive 'memory' unconducive to critical and contextual thinking
about the Jewish calamity,'' Mr.  Mayer wishes to reassert the primacy
of the ''Muse of history'' who ''is sworn to certain ideas and rules
for recording and interpreting'' the past:

   ''Since the Enlightenment, historians have shared certain
commonsense notions of causality and accuracy.  They have also
presumed the past to be accessible by virtue of being profane, not
providential.  In addition, rather than give free rein to their
subjectivity, they are supposed to master it.  .  .  .  Historians
must also develop a lateral and wide-angled vision, for they are
enjoined to probe for linkages between events that were unclear or
unknown to contemporaries.''

   What is more, to Mr.  Mayer ''historical praxis and interpretation
are neither static nor consensual.  .  .  .  Whereas the voice of
memory is univocal and uncontested, that of history is polyphonic and
open to debate.  Memory tends to rigidify over time, while history
calls for revision.''

   Thirdly, he invites his readers to discard ''the residual Cold War
blinders which continue to constrict our view of the Jewish disaster''
because they have caused us to see the Soviet Union as an aggressive
power, and to forget how much the Nazi ideology and regime were
directed aggressively and fanatically against Communism.  Without
reconstructing pre-1945 history this way, ''it is impossible to trace
the nature and dynamics of the interconnection of anticommunism and
anti-Semitism in the Nazi ideology and project.'' In other words, Mr.
Mayer believes that three steps should be taken.  He wants us ''to
abandon the vantage point of the Cold War; to place the Judeocide in
its pertinent historical setting; and to use an overarching
interpretative construct to explain the horrors both of the Jewish
catastrophe and the historical circumstances in which it occurred.''

   The larger historical setting, which this book never loses sight of
and without which the escalation to mass murder on a unique scale
cannot be understood, is what Mr.  Mayer calls ''the second Thirty
Years War,'' following the first one of 1618-48.  The period starting
with the First World War was marked by huge and violent socio-economic
convulsions and ideological deformations, particularly in central and
east central Europe.  What, in the author's view, propelled and
progressively radicalized this European crisis was the frantic
rollback policies the terrified upper and middle classes adopted
against Bolshevism and Lenin's successful revolution in Russia.  In
their hostility toward the left, the centrist leaders were at one with
politicians of the extreme right, like Hitler, who were more effective
at mobilizing popular support in an increasingly brutal European civil

   Hitler's seizure of power in 1933 is therefore seen as resulting
from a compromise between Germany's traditional elites and the radical
Nazis.  It was an alliance to defeat Marxism both at home and abroad -
an objective that proved potent enough to keep the two sides together
until 1944-45.  Within this broader context, Mr.  Mayer continues,
there also occurred a fusion of the religious and social anti-Semitism
rampant among the traditional elites and the biological anti-Semitism
of the Hitler movement, culminating in the hare-brained notion that
the Soviet Union was a Jewish creation and Moscow the citadel of

   Mr.  Mayer consequently lays much stress on the proliferation of an
irrational ideology-driven fundamentalism of the right, of which
anti-Semitism was the most vicious expression, and thus far his
analysis follows the ''intentionalists.'' Where he finds himself in
disagreement with them is in their tendency to center on a few
individuals and to see the ''final solution'' as the predetermined end
product of an obsessive hatred of the Jews.  For him the era of the
''second Thirty Years War'' was also characterized by a peculiar
bureaucratic rationality.  It was embodied by the technicians of
power, many of them with noble titles or doctorates, with whose help
Hitler ''forged a project in which technological and bureaucratic
modernity was interwoven with a regressive purpose.'' The interplay
between the ideological fanaticism and the bureaucratic
''rationality'' in Nazi Germany shaped anti-Jewish policies prior to
1939.  The early aim was not liquidation, but forced emigration, and
to this extent the author would side with the ''functionalists'' who
would argue against a predetermined policy of extermination.

   He finds himself at odds with these functionalists, though, about
the anarchic character of the Third Reich.  In Mr.  Mayer's study,
Hitler's role is not completely diminished and whatever bureaucratic
conflicts there may have been are deemed to have been overridden by
the collaborative effort between the Nazi elite and the technocrats in
the armed forces, in industry and the civil service.  Their
collaboration secured the destruction of the left at home and
Germany's preparations for war; it facilitated Hitler's conquest of
''living space'' in the East, his crusade against Bolshevism and,
finally, the mass murder of innocent civilians.

   It is against this background that Mr.  Mayer proceeds to a
detailed examination of the genesis of the ''final solution.'' The
controversial point here is that he dates the crucial decisions as
late as winter 1941-42, in the context of the infamous Wannsee
conference, where the ''final solution'' was bureaucratically
coordinated.  No less important, he firmly puts these decisions into
the framework of the faltering campaign against Russia and a
deteriorating situation in the ghettos and camps in Poland; these, he
believes, had been established in the previous two years as centers of
highly exploitative war industries and assembly points for an eventual
resettlement of their inmates on the island of Madagascar or beyond
the Urals once the war had been won.

   However, this book is everything but an apology for the Nazis who
slithered down the ''twisted road to Auschwitz'' and who, finding
their resettlement plans blocked by the turn of the military tide,
opted for Zyklon B in an act of raging revenge.  Mr.  Mayer's
judgments are clear and unambiguous, and it would be a grave error to
link him to the revisionism of the West German historian Ernst Nolte,
who in 1986 created a major international uproar that is still
rumbling on.

   Certainly Mr.  Mayer has no truck with the untenable hypotheses of
Mr.  Nolte, who has argued that the origins of the Nazi genocide are
to be found in a defensive response by Hitler to a perceived threat of
extermination by Stalin, and who weighs Auschwitz against the Gulag
Archipelago.  If Mr.  Mayer proposes to reappraise and historicize, he
insists on doing so with a sense of moral and professional
responsibility.  If he makes comparisons, it is not in order to
relativize the ''final solution,'' but rather to highlight its
qualitative difference.  Nor should we allow ourselves to be confused
by the fact that Mr.  Nolte operates with the notion of a ''European
Civil War'' spanning the same period as Mr.  Mayer's ''second Thirty
Years War'' and that he too is interested in the interaction of
Bolshevism and fascism.  For in contrast to Mr.  Nolte's schema, in
Mr.  Mayer's analysis the Third Reich and not the Soviet Union appears
as the highly dynamic and aggressive party, ultimately confronting
Stalin with the need to repel an outright military invasion propelled
by a crusading ideology.  Nor are the sources of Nazi aggressiveness
viewed as originating from outside the Third Reich, but as an
outgrowth of intense internal disorders that had made Germany ''the
most critical flashpoint of Europe's seething general crisis.'' It is
the failure to see this particular pattern that, in Mr.  Mayer's view,
leads more generally to what he calls the cold-war vision of
20th-century history.  Putting that vision right side up again is
supposed to enable us also to place the ''final solution'' in its
proper historical framework.  This means, with reference to the course
of the Second World War, that the larger setting of German collective
aggressiveness continues to be all-important to him.

   His aim is to show how the military, administrative and economic
elites first helped to conquer the operational space and later
knowingly provided the shield behind which the murder of millions
could be carried out.  He demonstrates how, in applying their openly
terroristic concept of warfare, the officer corps, and not just the
SS, promoted mentalities and practices that prepared the ground for
the mass liquidations.

   Yet this is precisely where the problems emerge in Mr.  Mayer's
argument: true, the incredible brutalities in the rear areas or in the
factories relying on concentration-camp labor were not yet the ''final
solution'' in the strict sense; but they surely amounted to an
extermination program in the wider sense that was well in place before
those nightmarish death camps were built.  Whatever other debates this
book may unleash, it appears that its sharply argued case is most
vulnerable at this point; for when we try to deal with the intentions
and decision-making processes of the year 1941, we continue to move in
murky waters.

   As far as the larger interpretive framework is concerned, there may
be a lot of mileage in the author's concept of a ''Thirty Years War,''
which furthermore holds out some comfort for all of us.  It was -
wasn't it?  - an extraordinary period of crisis, which, before it
ended in 1945, produced a unique policy of genocide.  But there is a
hitch: his analysis of the Nazi invasion of Russia (code-named
''Barbarossa,'' after the medieval German emperor) leads Mr.  Mayer
into an elaborate comparison with the crusades of the Middle Ages,
which were also accompanied by anti-Jewish outrages.  And suddenly his
image of man seems more immutable and hence more disturbing.  Are the
fanatical crusaders not always, and therefore still, around?  And
might they not form, in another period of major upheaval, their unholy
alliance with what C.  Wright Mills called the ''technological
crackpots'' who sit in their offices drafting tidy ''solutions''?

   This relentless study represents a major effort to make the violent
course of the first half of our century, with its staggering 70
million victims, more comprehensible and to give us a few yardsticks
for identifying future dangers.  But tucked away at the end of his
acknowledgments there is a short sentence that would appear to
undermine this laudable objective.  ''At bottom,'' the author -
himself a refugee from Nazi anti-Semitism - writes, ''The Judeocide
remains as incomprehensible to me today as five years ago, when I set
out to study and rethink it.'' Who does not share this feeling and the
sense of despair it engenders?  For the heavens did not even cry. 


    As a professor of European history, Arno J.  Mayer believes in
taking the long view of a subject.  So his book about the Holocaust
begins not in the time of Hitler's ascent to power but on the eve of
the First Crusade, nearly 900 years ago.  On the way to Jerusalem, the
vanguard of Christian zealots first massacred thousands of Jews in
Germany.  The author said that he derives his title from a chronicle
written in 1096 by Solomon bar Simson, who noted that ''no one was
found to stand in the breach'' and lamented: ''Why did the heavens not
darken and the stars not withhold their radiance, why did not the sun
and moon turn dark?''

   Speaking from his apartment in Paris, where he is on a sabbatical
from Princeton University, Mr.  Mayer pointed out that his subtitle -
''The 'Final Solution' in History'' - was important to his theme.
After pondering his ability to grasp the significance of the subject -
''I still find it difficult to visit Germany'' - he finally decided to
write the book for personal and historical reasons.  In 1940, when he
was 14, his family left Luxembourg just as the Nazis invaded the Low
Countries and France.  His grandfather perished in Theresienstadt; his
grandmother survived and lived to tell him tales of life and death in
the concentration camp.

   On campus, he found his students incredulous about the Holocaust.
He said that some believed the views of revisionist historians in
France and Germany who denied the very existence of concentration
camps; others held that the Holocaust was merely a part of the
campaign to defend Europe against Bolshevism.

   ''As the Holocaust recedes in memory, we must take another look,''
he said.  ''My aim was to fit Judeocide within the context of history.

   ''I am asking a biblical question in my title to show the
commonality of the Holocaust.  That is why I reach back into
historical events to reveal that the 'final solution' was not
something providential but profane.  I call the reactionary historians
- who excuse the Holocaust as a part of the cold war -

   ''What I've tried to do in this book is to provide the background
and reasoning to how the Holocaust went from expulsion of the Jews to


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