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Perpetrators Victims Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 Paperback – 30 Sep 1993

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial; 1ST edition (30 Sept. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060995076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060995072
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 262,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Raul Hilberg is regarded as one of the foremost experts on the Holocaust.
His writing is clear, there is no baggage or ideology, just a simple desire to tell the story of the 20th century's worst atrocity.

The book is systematic, dealing first with the ideology of Hitler and the senior Nazis who planned the Holocaust and moving on to look at the victims and the perpetrators. Hilberg also describes how so many people, within and outside Germany, who were aware of the process of attempted mass murder of all European Jews, did little to stop it.

The Russian writer and journalist Vassily Grossman, who was among the first to enter the death camp at Treblinka after liberation, was shocked to learn that just a few dozen SS and a slightly larger group of local armed helpers could gas and bury several thousand victims each day. Hilberg goes further than Grossman to explain how many of the victims were tricked into thinking they were going to resettlement in the East. He also explains how even those who knew their fate were 'broken' long before they were rounded-up for the transports.
The erosion of health and self-worth was not sudden; for German Jews the process began in 1933 with Hitler's rise to power and the removal of Jews from the civil service. But Hilberg points out that even by 1936, most German Jews still felt 'German', especially those who had fought with honour in the First World War. For many the turning point, the moment of awful awareness, was in 1938, by which time refuge or escape from the growing violence was harder to achieve.

Some Jews made temporary conversion to Catholicism in the hope of being spared. Sometimes this was successful more often the attempt was exposed.
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Raoul Hilberg is perhaps best known for his huge, scholarly history of the murder of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their slavic helpers. This book delves less deep, but is just as horrifying. Unlike many products of the "holocaust industry", Hilberg's book gives space to both the killers and their victims, stressing the banal murderousness of the former and the cruel self-delusion and bravery of the latter. Where this book really shocks its readers is in the section on the "bystanders": the individuals, organisations and nations - from German neighbours of the oppressed Jews to the US and Britain - who did absolutely nothing to help. THAT is something that we are rarely told: that the Allies couls have done much to save the Jews, and without necessarily slowing down the march to military victory over the "third reich".
This is therefore an extremely useful introduction to the topic; readers who have already read serious works on the subject might find it slightly "superficial", though it is not to be ignored for that.
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Received in good condition. Excellent standard work.
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the lucifer effect should be mentioned. there is no clear difference between perpetrators and bystanders and victims ?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars 12 reviews
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Insignificant Extent of Polish-German Collaboration 25 Sept. 2006
By Jan Peczkis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Raul Hilberg has written a generally balanced and thoughtful account. The only obvious shortcoming of this book is his over-reliance on tendentious sources of information (e. g., Claude Lanzmann's SHOAH, and Shmuel Krakowski).

Hilberg discusses several collaborationist governments under Nazi Germany. He also points out that, by July 1, 1942, eighteen Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft battalions alone were in existence (p. 95). The Baltic nations provided a comparable number of collaborationist police battalions and many more officers (p. 97).

The recent over-attention to the Jedwabne massacre has generated a greatly exaggerated notion of Polish-German collaboration, and the Polish Blue Police (the Policja Granatowa) has often been falsely conflated with the Ukrainian and Baltic collaborationist forces. Hilberg corrects this: "Of all the native police forces in occupied Eastern Europe, those of Poland were least involved in anti-Jewish actions...The Germans could not view them as collaborators, for in German eyes they were not even worthy of that role. They in turn could not join the Germans in major operations against Jews or Polish resisters, lest they be considered traitors by virtually every Polish onlooker. Their task in the destruction of Jews was therefore limited." (pp. 92-93). Hilberg's notion of "worthiness" is puzzling because, in spite of Hitler's objections (p. 93), the Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft battalions were nevertheless formed. The Ukrainians were regarded as Slavic untermenschen (subhumans) no less so than the Poles! The acceptance of Jewish collaboration (e. g., the infamous ghetto police), in spite of any trace of "worthiness" attributed to Jews by the Germans, needs no comment.

The draconian German occupation had caused near-starvation conditions in the countryside, putting local Poles and fugitive Jews in conflict. Hilberg realizes that Polish killings of Jews were at least sometimes motivated by this: "Food, and everything else they needed, had to be acquired or taken somewhere. One German account noted that Polish peasants, about to be attacked by Jewish `bandits", had beaten thirteen of them to death." (p. 208).

Hilberg is unafraid of provocative issues. He is candid about the Zydokomuna (Jewish Communism): "Jews, alongside a number of other non-Russians, had taken a leading part in the Communist revolution." (p. 250). He tackles the issue of overall Jewish passivity in the face of Nazi slaughter as follows: "In the Jewish councils, no pamphlets were composed and no arguments were made to show that any German action was hurtful and morally wrong. No ill will was expressed to the Germans. No threats were made to the life of any German. No rumors were started that the Allied powers would retaliate for the destruction of the Jews." (p. 178).

Hilberg has a good grasp of the actual reasons for the under-representation of Jews in the mainstream Polish Underground Army (the AK): "Many members of the Armia Krajowa were civilians during the workday and underground soldiers only on weekends and at night. The Jews, on the other hand, did not and could not have regular jobs or occupations as fugitives. For the Armia Krajowa it was important to wait for a decisive moment of German weakness to seize portions of Poland, or at least Warsaw, and to secure such a foothold before Soviet forces could arrive. In the meantime, it hoarded its weapons with the thought that it had fewer arms than men. All too often the Jews presented themselves instead as additional men without rifles, pistols, or military training. If, in addition, they were poor speakers of Polish or recognizably Jewish, their handicaps made them a self-evident liability" (p. 207).

Interestingly, and despite the imminent destruction of their Jewish communities, some Jewish leaders agreed with the overall Polish underground combat strategy: "The Socialist Bund leader Maurycy Orzech strongly believed that Jews should not fight a battle separate from the Poles; the time had not yet come." (p. 184).

The acquisition of post-Jewish properties by Poles has recently gotten a great deal of one-sided media attention through the publication of FEAR by Jan Thomas Gross, and this has been misrepresented as an outcome of Polish greed. In actuality, there was a desperate housing shortage in Poland during (and after) the war. Hilberg touches on this: "Despite gains of space as a result of ghetto formation, the Poles were still crowded. Polish Warsaw (population 1 million) was lacking 70,000 apartments...In the city of Radom, the norm was a room density of six for Jews, and three for Poles." (p. 312).

Hilberg has a realistic understanding of the impotence of the Christian church in saving its own, let alone of saving the Jews, from German actions: "The churches, once a powerful presence on the European continent, had reached a nadir of their influence during the Second World War...Even in the democratic west, churches were subordinate structures, regulating the lives of citizens mainly on Sundays, and then only in a ceremonial manner...If the protection of baptized people was problematical, any attempt to help professing Jews was to be even less promising." (p. 260, 262).

Citing German documents, Hilberg notes that Poles believed that they would be "next" (pp. 204-205) when they saw the Jews being taken to their deaths. He also writes: "In Poland, the local German administrators would order the Polish population to stay indoors and keep the windows closed with blinds drawn during roundups of Jews..." (p. 215). In various contexts, Hilberg (p. 136, 147, 160) repeatedly refers to the fact that Jews about to be deported to their deaths were told that they were being "resettled". However, Hilberg fails to make this connection with the Germans' stated eventual aim of "resettling" the Poles and other Slavs. Nevertheless, Hilberg does move beyond the genocide of Jews to the planned long-term genocide of Slavs: "There was some hope that Slavic populations in German-occupied Europe could be brought to extinction by mass sterilizations." (p. 67).
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't fault a book for sticking to its scope 9 Mar. 2006
By Alex Bueno-Edwards - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I agree that most studies of atrocities in WW2 may focus excessively on the Jewish Holocaust to the detriment of other groups. However, the title of this book specifically designates it as a study of the "JEWISH" catastrophe. Hilberg aptly addresses the topic. Don't fault a book for being precise and sticking to its designated scope.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but definitely professorial 6 Jun. 2012
By Catholic Mom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is not really the type of book I would normally buy. It is very dry, and I struggled to follow. I guess I do better with a narrative format, one that has stories and anecdotes that bring the history to life. Hilberg is obviously an historian of the highest level, but there is a reason I love history, but never much enjoyed college history classes. The book is well researched, and I must say that it offered me many great insights. I guess i just need to be more selective with the format I choose. Still, I have to give this a good recommendation, based on the thoroughness and documentary evidence provided.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Holocaust Aficionados Only 5 April 2012
By Kevin J. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a great book, chock full of information that helps one form a multi-dimensional impression of the wide array of people and groups who helped make the Holocaust possible. Hilberg is, however, an historian, and his writing can be quite dry for those not accustomed to this sort of material. This is not a Holocaust primer, but rather an advanced read for those who want to probe more deeply.

In response to another reviewer, I understand that Lanzmann was somewhat skewed, especially considering that he included a very limited TYPE of Pole. To cal him tendentious, however, seems itself to be biased.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most illuminating writer on the darkest period in history. 5 May 2014
By R. J. Farrer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Raul Hilberg is regarded as one of the foremost experts on the Holocaust.
His writing is clear, there is no baggage or ideology, just a simple desire to tell the story of the 20th century's worst atrocity.

The book is systematic, dealing first with the ideology of Hitler and the senior Nazis who planned the Holocaust and moving on to look at the victims and the perpetrators. Hilberg also describes how many people who were aware of the process of attempted mass murder of all Jews but did little to stop it.

The Russian writer and journalist Vassily Grossman, who was among the first to enter the death camp at Treblinka after liberation, was shocked to learn that just a few dozen SS and a slightly larger group of local armed helpers could gas and bury several thousand victims each day. Hilberg goes further than Grossman to explain how many of the victims were tricked into thinking they were going to resettlement in the East. He also explains how even those who knew their fate were broken long before they were rounded-up for the transports. The erosion of health and self-worth was not sudden; for German Jews the process began in 1933 with Hitler's rise to power and the removal of Jews from the civil service. But Hilberg points out that even by 1936, most German Jews still felt 'German', especially those who had fought with honour in the First World War. For many the turning point, the moment of awful awareness, was in 1938 by which time refuge or escape from the growing violence was harder to achieve.

Some Jews made temporary conversion to Catholicism in the hope of being spared. Sometimes this was successful more often the attempt was exposed. Hilberg describes the revulsion of one atheist Jew, fully aware of his fate, for those who sought protection through false conversion.

Personally I found the most disturbing passage was Hilberg's description of how so many non-Jewish Croats, Latvians, Estonians, Poles and Ukrainians were eager to help the Nazis to clear ghettos, drive gassing vans, shoot women and children in forest clearings and 'finish-off' the Jewish, Gypsy and Russian wounded. Some were motivated by bitterness and hate, especially those who had experienced Russian domination and cruelty before 1941. Many of these people had been victims of Russian excess in their turn and they held Jews responsible for Soviet 'bolshevism'.

Some of the perpetrators were reluctantly drawn into killing and tired of it, making feeble attempts to disengage themselves from the murder machine. But a similar number had a sadistic thirst for it, setting-up gladiatorial contests between inmates, in which both would die. Sometimes the work-camp controllers made prisoners lift huge rocks from one place to another until the strain of this useless work exhausted them. (In his own memoir of being a prisoner in Buchenwald, Bruno Bettleheim points out that this 'hopeless work' was also used by the SS in their own physical training. The difference being that the SS recruit was fit, strong and well fed, the camp inmate starving, weak and louse-ridden).
I found the book too grim to read straight-off. It requires concentration then reflection. It is a dire warning to us that the most mundane of people can be drawn into serving a pathological and vicious regime.
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