Archive/File: holocaust/reviews mayer.002 Last-Modified: 1994/11/05 Copyright 1989 The Washington Post The Washington Post February 19, 1989, Sunday, Final Edition SECTION: BOOK WORLD; PAGE X11 LENGTH: 998 words HEADLINE: The Terrible Whys of German History BYLINE: Allan J. Lichtman BODY: 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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