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Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Hardcover – 1 May 2014


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About the Author

Gotz Aly is the author of "Hitler's Beneficiaries" and" Into the Tunnel," among other books. One of the most respected historians of the Third Reich and the Holocaust, he has received the National Jewish Book Award, Germany's prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize, and numerous other honors. He is currently the Sir Peter Ustinov guest professor at the University of Vienna.

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Amazon.com: 21 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Controversial view of human tragedy 3 July 2014
By Jane Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Trying to answer questions surrounding one of the greatest tragedies of all time, the Holocaust, is not an easy task. Historian Gotz Aly, in his book "Why the Germans? Why the Jews?", attempts to explain the potentially unexplainable. He aims to answer how this could have happened and why Jews were the targets.

Aly uses a variety of sources (memoirs, journal articles, etc.) from the period leading up to the Holocaust to support his arguments because, as he explains, he feels that they have not been tainted by hindsight. The people who authored these articles, etc. didn't know the Holocaust was going to happen, so they have a unique, unbiased viewpoint to be studied. This is similar to analysis technique demonstrated by William Sheridan Allen who focuses on the transformation of individual lives following WWI and leading to WWII in The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945.

So why does Aly think the Holocaust happened? In his opinion is was a matter of jealousy and envy. He says that German Anti-Semitism was not a matter of racist ideology or religious animosity, but was instead driven by the fact that Jews were more successful at navigating the shift toward industrialization and the Germans were having an identity crisis, were afraid of freedom, and wanted someone to blame for not being better off.

"Why the Germans? Why the Jews?" is, if nothing else, a debate sparker. The style is not particularly engaging, but if you are willing to stick it out, you will end up gaining an interesting perspective. You may, however, still have questions when you're finished reading that will require further investigation.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Why anti-semitism among the Germans? 16 May 2014
By N. Ravitch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Professor Aly has specialized in the material reasons for anti-Jewish feeling in Germany before World War II. Ordinary Germans of all social classes and persuasions felt that the Jews had it too good economically and socially. Without any real commitment to elaborate racial theories or conspiratorial views about Jews the Germans easily could see how the removal of Jews from their positions and even from Germany itself could benefit them. And it did benefit them. They were able to increase their social mobility by taking the jobs, apartments, and properties of the targeted enemies of Germany. National Socialism offered a great deal to most Germans: a solution to their very weak sense of Germanness; a bulwark against the threats of modernization and change among a very traditionally minded population; and a pride in Germany after its recent defeats and troubles. Antisemitism was but one kind of appeal but it had very real benefits and rewards.

However, with his selective citation of anti-Jewish opinion, agitation, and feeling from the early 19th Century until 1933 or 1939 Aly pursues his thesis of the rise of extremism from the bottom up. However, the Holocaust itself was not the work of the German masses but the program of the German elites, the bureaucrats, the professionals (lawyers, doctors, and professors), and the military. The masses merely followed orders. Aly pushes his thesis far too far and risks explaining too much with too little.

His book becomes, therefore, a very selective slice of German-Jewish suspicion and strife, something found already in many studies, both monographic and general. The specific emphasis on the socially radical aims of the Nazis in "democratizing" German society is important. The Nazis were not traditionalists and they did change Germany in a modern, more fluid direction. But this cannot explain everything.

In the last analysis one must also specify why the Jews were such good targets. The answer is really very simple -- and not only for Germany but for almost all European states seeking ethnic identity. The Jews were alien. They were not native to Europe, had a religion from the near East, and most importantly did not share with Christians and ex-Christians the spiritual basis of community which was participation in the sacraments of the Church, particularly Holy Communion which created a Christian people. Only the Zionists perhaps understood this and therefore they were neither surprised by Nazi anti-semitism nor especially troubled by it. They hoped to persuade the Jews to leave for Palestine, but the German Jews were the least inclined to do so of any Jewish group in Europe.

Aly deserves a great deal of credit for his efforts but I cannot believe many will really be satisfied with his theories. They are too rational, too economic. During the Nazi rise to power Peter Drucker wrote about THE END OF ECONOMIC MAN, by which he wanted to indicate that those supporting the Nazis did not think rationally but mythically. Aly grants too much to the rationality of mankind and of the Germans. He lacks a sense of sin in human kind.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
followed by the world-wide Great Depression that hit Germany as the nation was finally ... 15 July 2014
By G. Henze - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Aly answers, in his own way, the question, "Why the Germans?" He uses fairly standard explanations for the most part:
--The draconian measures imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, which prevented Germany from recovering economically from WWI, as well as cast Germany as solely responsible for the "Great War."
--The social and economic unrest in Germany that resulted from WWI, followed by the world-wide Great Depression that hit Germany as the nation was finally beginning to recover from WWI.
--The German political parties on both the right and the left who saw solutions in collectivism and strong leadership, rather than in individual rights and initiatives within a democratic republic.

But Aly goes on to offer his own peculiar take on the economic roots of the "Holocaust." He tries to make a case that Germans envied and resented Jews because of their individual successes after WW1. According to Aly, Germans were eager to take over Jewish homes and businesses to create more job opportunities for themselves, get into better housing, and acquire better furniture.

Aly attributes the material and professional successes of Jews in Weimar Germany to their superior intelligence, their emphasis on educating their children, their energy (as opposed to the lethargy and dullness he attributes to non-Jewish Germans), and their flexibility in taking advantage of changing economic conditions. In other words, Aly offers psychological and behavioral economics--not macro-economics or religious and cultural animosities of long-standing or resentment of financial capitalism--as explanatory tools in understanding why non-Jewish Germans targeted Jewish Germans.

His arguments carry a peculiar cache because he is a German with "Christian and "aryan" ancestry. He frequently bolsters his arguments with documents and stories drawn from family archives. He offers these documents as evidence to support his arguments, rather than as insight into his own interest in and struggle with the questions he poses--Why the Germans? Why the Jews?

This book may be novel in some respects, but I didn't find it convincing.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Good book - logical arguments 2 Jun 2014
By L. White - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Going back to 1800, this case lays out the basis for the hatred of Jews in Germany that led to the Holocaust. The premise is that the Jewish people were much more flexible than the Germans in taking advantage of opportunities and shows how the Germans twisted this Jewish passion for hard work as taking a "shortcut" as opposed to the "honest work" done by the Germans.

Professor Aly also shows the Weimar Republic in a much more favorable light than I have seen before, arguing that in fact it would have been successful but for some mistakes made -- that it was not in fact fundamentally flawed.

The book is very readable even though it is a translation -- a very good translation; I found only two minor disagreements with the translations made.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Impeccable Scholarship 21 Jun 2014
By Elizabeth Dudley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is probably one of the MOST IMPORTANT books to be written on the REAL reasons that propelled Germany
to murder its own citizens. In all of the historical accounts and scholarship that I have studied, no other author
has dared to call the psychological impetus for murder and complicity to murder for what it was: JEALOUSY,
jealousy of fruits of labor and intelligence and hard work, beginning with a pronounced emphasis on education
in Jewish culture and the absence thereof in German culture. With the shift from agrarian, monarchist society to modern capitalism, the Germans simply could not compete at the university or in the marketplace with their savvier and more energetic compatriots, the Jews.

I am not Jewish and I am not German. I was an American scholarship student at the University of Freiburg in the
Black Forest for one year. My German is impeccable. I was of course well received due to my near-native fluency and my inquiring mind and my status as an American abroad. I have searched and pondered and discussed the reasons why the cold blooded killings could take place without a peep from the population, with some exceptions like Sophie Scholl and her brothers, young and crazy enough and some others like Bonhoeffer who was a true Christian. Until picking this book up at the Harvard Coop earlier this week where I found it sitting next to the latest publication of my old professor in Freiburg Juergen Osterhammel, I have never read a more convincing account as this one of the concrete, real-world sensibilities, thoughts and mentalities of the Germans for the several hundred years prior to the mass murder, exposing for all to see the ugly and long-growing roots of the eventual explosion of rage. The Aryan ideology was really a cover for an inferiority complex, as a belated nation-state and as a people without much experience with culture, knowledge and scholarship. Obviously, there are many exceptions and Germany history is replete with master composers and literary artists. This book takes us into the mind of the average person and it is the average person's sensibilities which drove the higher ups into action, since they shared those sensibilities, being one generation and one degree from the social status of the mass horde of uncouth and uneducated minds that prevailed. It was not only the elites who were responsible, that is factually incorrect. Hitler was not elite and many of his cohorts were not either. The Germans were of one mind for the most part about the Jews and a class distinction about who was responsible between them does not carry. The masses provided ripe raw material that the elites shaped and organized to achieve their unGodly aims. The Germans always need a leader. They long ago rejected the individualist, self referencing internal guide (liberalism) and preferred an external authority to guide their thoughts and behavior (collectivism).

In my mind, the anti-Americanism that I found in Germany last summer is really just another substitute for Jew-hatred.

And to underscore how true it is that it was lack of self esteem, a sense of inferiority and their own shortcomings that permitted the atrocities to happen, to this day, the Jews or half-Jews that did survive will NOT own up to their ethnic heritage publicly, but only in private among their closest friends, and that is because they are afraid of the hostility, the fear and the ostracism that would ensue. I went back to Germany last year, 20 years after my original year as a young girl of 21 years old, and I saw and perceived as an American attuned to ethnicities, that my best friend's father is Jewish, my old friend Ute is probably 100%Jewish and my old housemate Michael is half Jewish or more and they will own up to that fact to me when I let them know the unmistakable nature of my perception, but they will NOT disclose it to their neighbors and friends to this day.

And that is because to this day, the German have never held an internal accounting for their actions, they are still seeking an outside target for their own shame and sense of inferiority. To my mind, this is evidenced by the grotesque distortions regarding the US that I encountered (18 year old Charlotte and her highly educated parents said they "understood New York and Boston were growing into each other") including an unhealthy emphasis on capital punishment in America for certified criminals as a focus away from their own murder of MILLIONS of INNOCENTS. They are teaching young Germans every detail of American capital punishment and how wrong it is WITHOUT EVER introducing a discussion of their OWN recent past. The projection is unmistakable and it is very unhealthy. There are more examples which are alarming for the evidence they indicate of another round of blame, responsibility, shame and inferiority being projected onto another people, the Americans now, instead of the Jews of the past.

In fact, it is amazing how many people one will encounter in Germany with very strong opinions of America, her cities, her culture and her people without EVER having stepped a foot in the country!!!

Finally, this book is the BEST, the most HONEST and the most COMPELLING account of the REAL reasons for the inexplicable acts of a civilized people. Germans, with all of their talents and promise, would do well to heed the causes that this author exposes to the healthy light of the 21st century with the hope that the tendency to blame others, to calcify opinions without any experience will dissolve slowly over time in the minds of a habit forming people. If it does not, and Germany does not do that painful internal accounting that is long overdue, it is inevitable that they will cause trouble again in the world, and right now, I would say America is the enemy in their mind, America makes them feel inferior again, America was the victor, America is watching with its spies, America has all the inventions, America is dominant. They take no greater glee than putting America down and that is a result of their own internal unease, their own jealousy, hidden as it is under cover of (different) political opinions.
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