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                     Copyright 1989 The Washington Post   
                              The Washington Post

                    February 19, 1989, Sunday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 998 words

HEADLINE: The Terrible Whys of German History

BYLINE: Allan J. Lichtman

   WHY DID THE HEAVENS NOT DARKEN? The "Final Solution" in History

   By Arno J. Mayer Pantheon. 492 pp. $ 27.95

   A SEASON FOR HEALING Reflections on the Holocaust

   By Anne Roiphe Summit. 220 pp. $ 17.95

   IN HIS challenging but flawed work, Arno Mayer reduces the Nazis'
destruction of European Jewry to an unintended consequence of
Germany's failed struggle against Soviet Russia.  In turn, he views
the Third Reich's anticommunist crusade as part of a larger effort by
Europe's landowning elites to restore their hegemony in the aftermath
of world war and radical revolution.  The result is a book that
illumines neither the "final solution" of the 1940s nor the moral
dilemmas of mass murder in our own time.  

   Mayer argues that the rise of anti-Semitic fascism in Germany and
elsewhere was part of Europe's "Thirty Years War of the Twentieth
Century" (1914-1945).  No stable world order emerged after World War
I, as Europe's old "ruling and governing elites" sought to bolster
their power in the wake of the crumbling German and Austrian empires
and the rise of a Bolshevik menace.  The elites first sponsored and
later tolerated fascist rulers as the most potent means of combating a
radicalism that was conveniently associated with Jewish influence.

   Accordingly, the Nazis turned to a policy of genocide only in the
wake of their inability to conquer the Soviet Union and erase
communism from the face of Europe.  The critical episode, according to
Mayer, was the failed assault on Moscow in the winter of 1941, which
convinced the Nazi high command that the campaign against Russia had
miscarried.  In anger and frustration, Hitler and his accomplices
vented their wrath on the Jews: "the desperate but unsuccessful race
to Moscow in November-December 1941 precipitated the rush to the
'Final Solution.' "

   Mayer challenges the interpretations of most other studies,
including Raoul Hilberg's highly regarded three-volume work, The
Destruction of the European Jews.  Citing captured German documents
and testimony from the war-crimes trials, Hilberg and other scholars
maintain (conclusively in my view) that the actual destruction of
Soviet Jewry and the planned extermination of all Europe's Jews were
underway well before the end of 1941.  With cold calculation, Nazi
leaders were for the first time in history marshalling the full
resources of government to annihilate an entire people.

   From the start of the Russian campaign in June of 1941, special
mechanized "killing units" followed the advance of the German army,
hunting down and murdering Jews.  In contrast to Mayer's assertion
that mass killings began only "after the military campaign began to
falter," the documents indicate that by November 1941, these units had
already butchered some 500,000 Jews and that the Reich had dispatched
additional police forces to dispose of the remaining 2 million Russian
Jews under German control.  Hardly the spontaneous response of a
regime to unexpected military setbacks!  BY THE SUMMER and early fall
of 1941, top Nazi officials were issuing orders that ominously
referred to the "final solution" of European Jewry.  Mayer asserts
that -- until the failure of the Russian campaign -- such orders
implied nothing more than the deportation of Western and Central
European Jews to the East.  This is a most dubious construction in
light of the slaughter already underway; what fate could possibly
await these people in a region turned into a vast killing ground?

   Mayer's book will disappoint scholars as he fails to engage the
work of other historians, cite any source material, or even provide an
annotated bibliography.  This lack of scholarly apparatus does not,
however, make the work attractive to general readers, who will find it
difficult to wade through his lengthy, repetitive and often loosely
reasoned arguments.

   Mayer also compares the 20th century's Holocaust to the killing of
Jews during the First Crusade of the 11th century.  In both cases, he
contends, the elites of Europe fomented a self-serving "holy-war" that
was not primarily targeted against the Jews, but unleashed passions
that turned murderously anti-Semitic.  The Holocaust thus becomes the
latest calamity in a centuries-old struggle by the landowning classes
to stay astride the people of Europe.

   Lost in this narrow vision of reactionary apocalypse is what
novelist Anne Roiphe, in her reflection on the Holocaust, calls "the
Jewish essence of the Holocaust tragedy," its linkage to "the
anti-Semitism of Christian society." But also lost is Roiphe's
simultaneous emphasis on the universality of mass murder -- an
atrocity that can occur whenever devotion to a cause or leader
overrides the dignity of individual human beings.  In 20th-century
examples that Mayer fails to examine -- Russia under Stalin and
Cambodia under Pol Pot -- it is left-wing revolutionary regimes that
initiated the destruction of civilian populations.

   Mayer's reductionism obscures both the unique horror of the Nazis'
premeditated attempt to exterminate the Jews as well as commonalities
between the Holocaust and other episodes of human slaughter by modern
regimes.  During the past generation the battlecry of "Never Again!"
has become the lamentation of "Yet Again!" as governments have
massacred millions of innocent people in places such as East Timor,
Uganda and Cambodia.

   What massacres of the 20th century do have in common is that at the
time their victims were largely invisible to the people and leaders of
Western democracies.  Reflections on the Holocaust should serve as a
reminder that carnage may soon be inflicted on the people of Cambodia
as the murderous Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge could return to power in
the wake of Vietnam's withdrawal.  Should not the individuals and
organizations dedicated to studying and memorializing the Holocaust
take the lead in assuring that the West will not again turn a blind
eye on the slaughter of innocents??  

Allan J. Lichtman teaches history at The American University.

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