Auschwitz: The Nazis & The 'Final Solution' Hardcover – 6 Jan 2005
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"Thank God that occasionally books of the stature of Laurence Rees's superb Auschwitz: The Nazis and the "Final Solution" are published... Fascinating" (Andrew Roberts Evening Standard)
"Excellent" (Boyd Tonkin The Independent)
"Scholarly yet accessible and objective, the author rightly feeling that the facts speak for themselves." (Waterstones Books Quarterly)
"Devastating. Rees's research is impeccable and intrepid. Ultimately he does at the gut level what Hannah Arendt achieved some 40 years ago at the level of philosophy: he forces the reader to shift the Holocaust out of the realm of nightmare or Gothic horror and acknowledge it as something all too human. Scrupulous and honest, this book is utterly without illusions." (David Von Drehle Washington Post, USA)
"Well-written with striking testimonies from bystanders, perpetrators and victims. The interviews with SS men, and sundry European Fascists, are genuinely revealing, and must have been exceptionally difficult to negotiate." (Michael Burleigh Daily Telegraph)
The definitive history of Auschwitz --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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I have nothing to add to all the five star reviewers, Rees writes in a creditably stripped down style which allows the story to tell itself – as such a story always will. What struck me most forcibly about this book however was an idea that arose out of a passage on page two of the introduction. It is apparent that one of Rees’s hobbies is to try to bounce former Nazi’s into unguarded confessions. In conversation with one such in 1990 he got a reply that he would not have expected in a thousand such interviews. When pushed to sum up the experience of the Third Reich in one word Wilfred von Oven (a man with perhaps the most darkly ironic name in human history) answers ‘Paradise.’
Of course! That’s it. In a single word all the confused anguish, all the heart-aching despair over how this all could have happened becomes clear. For a dozen years or so from the early nineteen thirties to May 1945 a population lived in paradise and in such a state of ecstasy anything goes.
So what kind of paradise was this? Not, regrettably the pre-lapsarian version of the book of Genesis. The Nazi paradise was most assuredly post-lapsarian; a perfect world in which denial may have its role, but in which innocence plays no part. The quasi-religious SS rituals invoking Woden and Thor, Dionysian ceremonies in which naked Ayran beauties rode in procession on horseback, the cult of the Medieval Ottonian Heinrich the Fowler the most Germanic of all German kings, invoked by Himmler in séances in Quedlinburg cathedral.
The ranks of steel helmeted, dark uniformed Hitler youth lining the streets and in serried ranks at Nuremburg. The flags, the trumpets, the brotherhood, the secure sense of invincible power. Who would not be beguiled by such things? A heady mixture of myth and rhetoric creating a bond; a force that would right wrongs and redeem a nation from post-Versailles humiliation and shame and – crucially – rid them of the hated Jews authors of all the ills of the world.
With this under my belt, as I read, I understood Rudolf Höss, Adolf Eichmann, Oskar Groening, Josef Mengele and even Himmler himself. It’s just this paradise of ideology that Rees refers to when he seeks to explain why so many former Nazis find confession, or indeed often any sense of wrong-doing, impossible. Unlike in Russia under Stalin and Japan under Hirohito where, although the outcomes were much the same (if not worse in terms of numbers) the Nazis believed in what they were doing. The Russians and the Japanese by contrast acted out of fear of reprisal should they not carry out orders for torture and butchery. In such circumstances future confession is much easier because shifting the blame is easier.
This may be so, but, in the end, are we not just comparing like with like here? The final chapter of the book describes how, as Red Army advanced through Germany its soldiers raped German women with impunity in unimaginable numbers. For a moment we recoil in horror at this unharnessed bestiality. A temptation to somehow side with the Nazis against the Russians because the order and structure of their killing, in contrast with the lustful nature of the Russian, was somehow civilised. This is a thread which runs through the book. So many victims clung to the hope that the Germans were, au fond, decent civilised people – surely they won’t sling us into a gas oven? They may have been, but they did.
So we ask ourselves, is there a difference here? Is violence driven by ideology any less evil than that driven by lust? The answer is, of course, no. It’s even possible to argue that the reasoned pre-meditation of the death camps is even more egregious; Murder One in American parlance.
For those seeking any redemptive sense of the ultimate goodness in human-nature in this book had better look away. This is not Schindler’s List, there’s no happy ending. There are, inevitably heart-warming stories, but the broad sweep is profoundly depressing. Liberated Jews returning home found not a welcome, but an anti-Semitism that had not existed before; their old school friends were now their enemies, their appropriated homes and businesses were not returned, they were beaten and harried out of town and bustled on to boats bound for ….. well, just about anywhere that wasn’t home. The example of Denmark that Rees cites is some kind of freaky blip; the exception that proves the existence of the rule that it doesn’t take much for human beings to behave in a way that questions that we ever knew the meaning of goodness.
The horrors of what they did at Auschwitz and other camps are hard to comprehend. It beggars belief how so called human beings could do that to fellow human beings.
What the Nazis/ SS did was truly barbaric and inhuman, and Josef Mengeles conducted his medical experiments?? on people basically for his own pleasure.
This book should be read by everyone so that they can all understand the horrors that were the HOLOCAUST.
We can only hope that it will never happen again??
For me personally i had to skip a few pages especially when it came to details of how young children were selected, however, this is only due to me being a parent of a young daughter myself, i just found it too upsetting to read the brutal details.
I found it generally very interesting and unearthed several bits of information that i previously had little knowledge of.
A great book - just keep your wits about you!
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