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        German History Writing and the Holocaust
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From Central European History’s founding in 1968, Nazism commanded a great deal of attention in the journal, but it was only after many years that this was also true of the Holocaust. A quick search on JSTOR shows that, of the articles and reviews mentioning the Holocaust, less than 10 percent were published in the journal's first twenty years, and over two-thirds were written between 2000 and 2014 (the last year of the JSTOR search). Of course, there is some semantics involved, as other terms such as Final Solution were sometimes used in earlier decades. But there is no doubt about the underlying trend, both in terms of the growing number of books that have come up for review, and the increasing number of important articles. In the 1970s, only one essay, by Lawrence Stokes, was devoted to the Holocaust. The 1980s saw a review article by Richard Breitman and a seminal piece on the ghettos by Christopher Browning. By contrast, since 2000, CEH has published around ten major contributions to Holocaust scholarship.

From Central European History’s founding in 1968, Nazism commanded a great deal of attention in the journal, but it was only after many years that this was also true of the Holocaust. A quick search on JSTOR shows that, of the articles and reviews mentioning the Holocaust, less than 10 percent were published in the journal's first twenty years, and over two-thirds were written between 2000 and 2014 (the last year of the JSTOR search). Of course, there is some semantics involved, as other terms such as Final Solution were sometimes used in earlier decades. But there is no doubt about the underlying trend, both in terms of the growing number of books that have come up for review, and the increasing number of important articles. In the 1970s, only one essay, by Lawrence Stokes, was devoted to the Holocaust.1 The 1980s saw a review article by Richard Breitman and a seminal piece on the ghettos by Christopher Browning.2 By contrast, since 2000, CEH has published around ten major contributions to Holocaust scholarship.

In 1978, when CEH was celebrating its tenth anniversary, Leonard Krieger published an intriguing review essay, “Nazism: Highway or Byway.”3 From our contemporary perspective, much of its discussion (a central question was whether the Nazi regime should be seen as revolutionary) seems intelligent but deracinated, with the regime's murderous violence almost invisible, though this no doubt accurately reflected the tenor of research at the time. Yet, in a striking concluding passage, after mentioning Lucy Dawidowicz's work on the Holocaust, Krieger writes that everything we write about the Nazis bears explicit as well as implicit marks of the same monstrous provocation.”4 Gordon Craig's seminal history of modern Germany appeared that same year.5 As others have noted, Craig deals with the Final Solution in just two pages. Yet, here too, though the word itself does not appear in the text, the Holocaust's moral centrality is clear, not only as the “most dreadful chapter of German history” but also as the culmination of Nazi policy. In other words, the absence of explicit discussion does not preclude a powerful shadow presence for the Holocaust within CEH's pages and in German historiography more generally. What Craig's textbook shows, rather, is how many unwarranted assumptions the historian makes when the “most dreadful chapter” remains untouched by detailed research.

Since then, historians from Germany and historians of Germany have contributed hugely to our knowledge of the Holocaust. Our picture of the evolution of policy, the role of different institutions, the forms and patterns of participation, as well as the impact on and responses of the victims has expanded and changed dramatically.6 CEH articles in the new millennium have engaged, among other things, with the debate about the precedents of the Holocaust (Matthew Fitzpatrick on colonial prehistories of the Holocaust); the evolution and contradictions of Nazi discourse (Thomas Pegelow on Jewishness in the Nazi press); the Wehrmacht's role in the Holocaust (Waitman Born on the Holocaust and anti-partisan warfare in Belarus); the forms and impact of popular opposition to Jewish persecution (Wolf Gruner and Nathan Stolzfus in debate in various issues between 2003 and 2005); German Jews’ perceptions and responses (Wolf Gruner on the impact of their knowledge of the Armenian genocide); the intersections between the Holocaust, on the one hand, and Nazi policy toward the Arab world and toward Islam, on the other (two pieces by Jeffrey Herf); as well as a 2017 forum on Holocaust scholarship and politics in the public sphere, with an eye to the significance of the Historikerstreit and the debate about Daniel Goldhagen's controversial 1996 study, Hitler's Willing Executioners.7

Has the pendulum reached the end of its swing? In the last few years, both German History and German Studies Review have hosted discussions about whether enough, or even too much, attention has been devoted to Nazism and the Holocaust.8 Donald Trump's election has undoubtedly had an impact on such discussions, a point to which we will briefly return.9 Elsewhere Tim Snyder, a participant in the CEH forum on the Historikerstreit, eloquently decried what he sees as the Germano-centricism of Holocaust research.10 Snyder's claim seems significantly outdated, however, referring to a period in the 1970s and 1980s when the “intentionalist-functionalist” debate revolved around a narrow set of decision-makers in Berlin.11 German academic historians were blithely unaware at the time of the extensive research by Jews on the experience of victimhood, on local collaborators, and on other topics that had already begun during the war itself. Such research was pursued intensively in the immediate postwar period in Poland, the DP camps, and elsewhere, and it continued both in and outside Israel.12 Nicolas Berg has since carefully documented the way in which historians such as Josef Wulf were pushed out of German academic discourse.13

Since the 1990s, however, a central characteristic of Holocaust research within German history has been not just its growth and diversification, but also the increasingly close conversation between “Jewish,” German, and Eastern European scholarship—indeed, the labels are increasingly meaningless.14 A number of institutions, most notably the Center for Advanced Research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), have played an important role here, as have historians such as Omer Bartov, Christopher Browning, Jürgen Matthäus, and others who have worked prominently on both perpetrators and on victim and survivor experiences.15 To that extent, a narrowly Germanic view of the Holocaust, or a narrow focus on German institutions, no longer exists.

While some of the most exciting developments in Holocaust research have undoubtedly taken place outside the boundaries of German institutions and German actors, it is not the case that the range of important Holocaust-related topics within German history has been exhausted. It is true that our knowledge of victim experience was long dominated by German-speaking Jews, which led to calls from Snyder and others to turn to the lives of other groups of victims. But, while memoirs abound, historians have been relatively slow to recover the lived experience of German Jews using contemporary records, even though it is now twenty years since Marion Kaplan deployed diaries to such great effect in Between Dignity and Despair, her pathbreaking account of German Jews under Nazism.16 As the first volume of the USHMM's Jewish Responses to Persecution series, which dealt with German and Austrian Jewish contemporary reactions to Nazi persecution, revealed, the power of hindsight in memoir literature has often blinded us to German Jewish responses at the time, even though a wealth of contemporary materials exists to correct the picture.17 Innovative and striking approaches to Jewish experiences in greater Germany, including in Theresienstadt, can be found in the recent volume edited by Andrea Löw, Doris Bergen, and Anna Hajková; the last scholar, in particular, has transformed our perception of societal dynamics in the Theresienstadt ghetto.18 One result has been to refine our understanding of the shifting and shrinking possibilities for individual agency. The same is true of recent scholarship on help and rescue (the remarkable memoir by Marie Simon has been as important as the historiographical work with contemporary sources): this has profoundly challenged older, unhistorical scholarship about an allegedly altruistic personality.19

Along similar lines, there have been attempts at innovative reconstructions of the mental world of the non-Jewish German population and its relationship to Nazi racial policy and Jewish persecution. A number of major analyses by Otto Duv Kulka, Peter Longerich, Bernward Dörner, and others sought to make sense of the accounts of popular attitudes, as recorded by official Nazi reports.20 But the most revealing studies have worked with letters and diaries on home fronts and battlefronts, notably the still innovative work of Susanne zur Nieden, as well as newer studies by Peter Fritzsche, Nicholas Stargardt, and Janosch Steuwer.21 Through their work, we see recognizable and sympathetic figures who accepted many of the terms of regime policy without regarding themselves as convinced Nazis—or perceiving that they had lost their moral compass.

At one end of the scale, then, it has been finely calibrated microscopes used by empathetic interpreters of chronicles, diaries, and letters that have made us look anew at the historical landscape. But, at the other, it has been the orbiting satellite telescopes of Donald Bloxham, Mark Levene, and others that have provided the most revealing images.22 Neither Bloxham nor Levene is a historian of Germany, per se, but each offers entangled histories of the Holocaust, linking Nazi thinking to prewar and interwar geopolitical contexts—while, at the same time, showing the ways in which self-interest and diplomatic pressures established antisemitism as the cultural code between Germany and its partners and satellites. Levene's work on the functioning of antisemitism during and after World War I, and on the ways in which genocidal victims were often targeted as perceived agents of international power, offers a striking analytical context for further thinking about the Holocaust.23 When we also bear in mind recent studies on the interwar economic system, on new understandings about rights and sovereignty, and on the entanglements between radical left- and right-wing politics between the wars, it is clear that there is scope for a great deal of new work to locate Nazi thinking and policy in the international context of the interwar period.24

Research is never conducted in a vacuum. German history survives in the United States as a vibrant subject, above all because of student and popular interest in Nazism and the Holocaust. To that extent, the institutional context for continued scholarship is given. But personal experience in the classroom suggests that the nature of that interest is shifting. Until the last few years, it was the unbelievable history of a modern society applying its energy and expertize to genocide that commanded student interest. Increasingly, at a time of Trump and reviving authoritarianism across the world, it is as much the warning signs and lessons of democratic fragility and authoritarian abuse of institutions that are compelling. The Holocaust demanded inquiry as inexplicable extreme. Now the vanishing point of 1933 is regaining its position on the canvas—not as the focal point for a portrait of German exceptionalism, but rather for the lessons it holds for everyone. It may well be that, in future years, the center of gravity in work on the Nazi period will move away from the Holocaust narrowly defined. When we reflect on the most pathbreaking and persuasive scholarship of recent years, it has often, in any case, been work that crosses boundaries—be it entangled histories traversing national borders of the kind alluded to earlier; policy analyses juxtaposing Nazi treatment of Jews with that of other groups; scholarship by Atina Grossmann and others on the entangled histories of Jews and Germans in the immediate aftermath of the war; the close-up studies of ordinary Germans also mentioned earlier, which analyze attitudes on race and antisemitism in the broader context of popular responses to the regime and war; or creative juxtapositions like Alon Confino's 2012 tour de force, Foundational Pasts, which places Holocaust historiography in relationship to that of the French Revolution.25

However it may be framed, the search for lessons will continue, with any luck. In 1978, Krieger, as a historian of Nazi Germany, alluded in the pages of CEH to the disquiet that the Holocaust engendered—a disquiet that was not directly addressed by the scholarship he was reviewing, but that, he felt, provided an essential part of its context. Scholars of the Holocaust are familiar with that disquiet: it constitutes the essential motivation for their work. But these days, the speed with which authoritarian populists are dismantling democratic safeguards; the tens of thousands of young Poles taking to the streets under antisemitic banners, as the Polish government renders illegal references to “Polish extermination camps”; the resurgence of radical nationalist and antisemitic slogans in the United States; the proposal by the new Austrian government (one of the most nationalistic and anti-immigrant since the end of the war) to create a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust at Maly Trostenets while simultaneously proposing massive restrictions on the rights of asylum seekers—all of this joins to it a new worry: that the world is not listening, and what knowledge it does retain seems to offer no meaningful moral or political compass. But it is at least reassuring to know that Central European History, with its range and its depth, and its responsiveness to developments in the field, is still going strong and continuing to shed light on these difficult issues and questions.

1 Stokes, Lawrence D., “The German People and the Destruction of the European Jews,” Central European History (CEH) 6, no. 2 (1973): 167–91.

2 Breitman, Richard, “Auschwitz and the Archives,” CEH 18, no. 3/4 (1985): 365–83; Browning, Christopher R., “Nazi Ghettoization Policy in Poland: 1939–41,” CEH 19, no. 4 (1986): 343–68.

3 Krieger, Leonard, “Nazism: Highway or Byway?,” CEH 11, no. 1 (1978): 322.

4 Ibid., 21; Dawidowicz, Lucy S., The War against the Jews, 1933–1945 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1975).

5 Craig, Gordon Alexander, Germany, 1866–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

6 The best recent surveys of Holocaust research include Friedländer, Saul, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997); idem, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume 2: The Years of Extermination, 1939–1945 (New York: HarperCollins, 2007); Cesarani, David, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews, 1933–1949 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2016); Bergen, Doris L., War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, 3rd ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

7 Fitzpatrick, Matthew P., “The Pre-History of the Holocaust? The Sonderweg and Historikerstreit Debates and the Abject Colonial Past,” CEH 41, no. 3 (2008): 477503; Pegelow, Thomas, “‘German Jews,’ ‘National Jews,’ ‘Jewish Volk,’ or ‘Racial Jews’? The Constitution and Contestation of ‘Jewishness’ in Newspapers of Nazi Germany, 1933–1938,” CEH 35, no. 2 (2002): 195221; Beorn, Waitman W., “A Calculus of Complicity: The Wehrmacht, the Anti-Partisan War, and the Final Solution in White Russia, 1941–42,” CEH 44, no. 2 (2011): 308–37; Gruner, Wolf and Marcum, Ursula, “The Factory Action and the Events at the Rosenstrasse in Berlin: Facts and Fictions about 27 February 1943: Sixty Years Later,” CEH 36, no. 2 (2003): 179–208; Stoltzfus, Nathan, “Historical Evidence and Plausible History: Interpreting the Berlin Gestapo's Attempted ‘Final Roundup’ of Jews (Also Known as the ‘Factory Action’),” CEH 38, no. 3 (2005): 450–59; Gruner, Wolf, “A Historikerstreit? A Reply to Nathan Stoltzfus's Response,” CEH 38, no. 3 (2005): 460–64; idem, ‘Peregrinations into the Void?’ German Jews and Their Knowledge about the Armenian Genocide during the Third Reich,” CEH 45, no. 1 (2012): 126; Herf, Jeffrey, “Nazi Germany's Propaganda Aimed at Arabs and Muslims during World War II and the Holocaust: Old Themes, New Archival Findings,” CEH 42, no. 4 (2009): 709–36; idem, Nazi Germany and Islam in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East,” CEH 49, no. 2 (2016): 261–69; Port, Andrew I., ed., “Holocaust Scholarship and Politics in the Public Sphere: Reexamining the Causes, Consequences, and Controversy of the Historikerstreit and the Goldhagen Debate: A Forum with Gerrit Dworok, Richard J. Evans, Mary Fulbrook, Wendy Lower, A. Dirk Moses, Jeffrey K. Olick, and Timothy D. Snyder,” CEH 50, no. 3 (2017): 375403.

8 Forum: German History Beyond National Socialism,” German History 29, no. 3 (2011): 470–84; Wiesen, S. Jonathan and Eley, Geoff, “Beyond National Socialism?,” German Studies Review 35, no. 3 (2012): 475–79.

9 See, e.g., the outstanding online contributions to the “New Fascism Syllabus” (http://www.thehistoryinquestion.com/).

10 Timothy Snyder, “Commemorative Causality,” Eurozine, June 6, 2013 (http://www.eurozine.com/commemorative-causality/).

11 On that debate, see Kershaw, Ian, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, 4th ed. (London: Arnold, 2000); Roseman, Mark, “Beyond Conviction? Perpetrators, Ideas, and Action in the Holocaust in Historiographical Perspective,” in Conflict, Catastrophe, and Continuity: Essays on Modern German History, ed. Biess, Frank, Roseman, Mark, and Schissler, Hanna (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007).

12 Cohen, Boaz, “The Children's Voice: Postwar Collection of Testimonies from Child Survivors of the Holocaust,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 21, no. 1 (2007): 7395; idem, Israeli Holocaust Research: Birth and Evolution (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013); Jockusch, Laura, Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

13 Berg, Nicolas, Der Holocaust und die westdeutschen Historiker: Erforschung und Erinnerung (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2003).

14 For one example among many, see the extraordinary range of sources and voices in Dieckmann, Christoph, Deutsche Besatzungspolitik in Litauen 1941–1944, 2 vols. (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2011).

15 Browning, Christopher R., The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978); idem, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: HarperCollins, 1992); idem, Collected Memories: Holocaust History and Postwar Testimony (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003); idem, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010); Browning, Christopher R. and Matthäus, Jürgen, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004); Bartov, Omer, The Eastern Front, 1941–45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985); idem, Germany's War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003); idem, Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-day Ukraine (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); idem, Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018); Matthäus, Jürgen, Ausbildungsziel Judenmord? “Weltanschauliche Erziehung” von SS, Polizei und Waffen-SS im Rahmen der “Endlösung” (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 2003); idem, Approaching an Auschwitz Survivor: Holocaust Testimony and its Transformations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); idem, Jewish Responses to Persecution, 5 vols. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2010); Matthäus, Jürgen, Böhler, Jochen, and Mallmann, Klaus-Michael, War, Pacification, and Mass Murder, 1939: The Einsatzgruppen in Poland (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014); Matthäus, Jürgen and Bajohr, Frank, The Political Diary of Alfred Rosenberg and the Onset of the Holocaust (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).

16 Kaplan, Marion A., Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

17 Matthäus, Jürgen and Roseman, Mark, Jewish Responses to Persecution, vol 1., 1933–1938 (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2010).

18 Löw, Andrea, Bergen, Doris L., and Hájková, Anna, Alltag im Holocaust: Jüdisches Leben im Grossdeutschen Reich, 1941–1945 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2013). Among other essays, see Hájková, Anna, “Sexual Barter in Times of Genocide: Negotiating the Sexual Economy of the Theresienstadt Ghetto,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 38, no. 3 (2013): 503–33; idem, To Terezín and Back: Czech Jews and their Bonds of Belonging between Theresienstadt and Postwar Czechoslovakia,” Dapim 28, no. 1 (2014): 38–55.

19 Simon, Marie Jalowicz, Stratenwerth, Irene, and Simon, Hermann, Untergetaucht: Eine junge Frau überlebt in Berlin 1940–1945 (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2014); Schrafstetter, Susanna, Flucht und Versteck: Untergetauchte Juden in München. Verfolgungserfahrung und Nachkriegsalltag (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2015). Not on Germany per se, but excellent on the challenges that recent historiography is now posing to older understandings of rescue, see Moore, Bob, Survivors: Jewish Self-Help and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied Western Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

20 Kulka, Otto Dov and Jäckel, Eberhard, Die Juden in den geheimen NS-Stimmungsberichten, 1933–1945 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 2004); Longerich, Peter, “Davon haben wir nichts gewusst!Die Deutschen und die Judenverfolgung 1933–1945 (Munich: Siedler, 2006); Dörner, Bernward, Die Deutschen und der Holocaust: Was niemand wissen wollte, aber jeder wissen konnte (Berlin: Propyläen, 2007).

21 Nieden, Susanne Zur, Alltag im Ausnahmezustand: Frauentagebücher im zerstörten Deutschland, 1943 bis 1945 (Berlin: Orlanda Frauenverlag, 1993); Fritzsche, Peter, Life and Death in the Third Reich (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008); idem, The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011); Stargardt, Nicholas, “The Troubled Patriot: German Innerlichkeit in World War Two,” German History 28, no. 3 (2010): 326–42; idem, The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939–1945: Citizens and Soldiers (New York: Basic Books, 2015); Steuwer, Janosch, “Ein Drittes Reich, wie ich es auffasse.Politik, Gesellschaft und privates Leben in Tagebüchern, 1933–1939 (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2017).

22 Bloxham, Donald, The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); idem, Genocide, the World Wars, and the Unweaving of Europe (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2008); idem, The Final Solution: A Genocide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Levene, Mark, Genocide in the Age of the Nation State (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005); idem, The Crisis of Genocide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). Other insightful comparative and/or entangled histories include Gerlach, Christian, Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Snyder, Timothy, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

23 See Levene, Mark, War, Jews, and the New Europe: The Diplomacy of Lucien Wolf, 1914–1919 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); idem, The Crisis of Genocide Devastation: The European Rimlands, 1912–1938 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

24 Some recent titles offering essential framing include Tooze, Adam, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Allen Lane, 2006); idem, The Deluge: The Great War, America, and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916–1931 (New York: Viking, 2014); Clavin, Patricia, Securing the World Economy: The Reinvention of the League of Nations, 1920–1946 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Fink, Carole, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878–1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Manela, Erez, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Pedersen, Susan, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Sluga, Glenda and Clavin, Patricia, Internationalisms: A Twentieth-Century History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Snyder, Bloodlands..

25 Pendas, Devin O., Roseman, Mark, and Wetzell, Richard F., eds., Beyond the Racial State: Rethinking Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Grossmann, Atina, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); Confino, Alon, Foundational Pasts: The Holocaust as Historical Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).