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I agree with the gist of the previous reviews. This is a fine book that should be read by anyone wishing to understand how ordinary Germans willingly helped or by their inaction contributed to the extermination of Jews and other groups.

My only caveat is that the involvement of ordinary Germans in the deliberate genocide of Jews (for genocide it was) has been well documented for decades. The superb books by, for example, Ian Kershaw, Michael Burleigh, Mary Felbrook, Robert Gellately and Max Hastings have graphically detailed the involvement of 'good' Germans.

The attempts after 1945 by many Germans to deny knowing anything about the extermination camps were always going to be revealed as lies. If true, who drove the trains full of victims for the gas chambers, who were the bureaucrats who did the paper work, who took part in reserve police battalions like the notorious 101, some 500 policemen of which slaughtered men, women, children and babies while laughing and drinking? We might also ask who were the doctors that murdered thousands from 1939 as part of the infamous T-4 Euthanasia unit? Who manufactured and transported the gas for the chambers of death? The answer to these and many other questions is ordinary Germans, men and women. Thousands more turned a blind eye to murder. For all too many Germans, Hitler's policies provided the long awaited opportunity to attack Jews, to confiscate their property and expropriate their businesses.

The truth is that German society as a whole did not oppose the Nazi's vicious anti-Jewish policies. At best there was passive complicity, policies were never questioned save by a very few. Many,on the other hand, from 1933 onwards expressed glee in witnessing Jewish degradation.

Hence, the behaviour of Udo Klausa in the Silesian town Bedzin though beautifully analysed in this book is not unique.

It is worth reminding ourselves that when the war ended many of these 'good' doctors, dentists, politicians and industrialists, in addition to known war criminals, were allowed to quietly carry on with their work while pretending they had all hated Hitler and that any involvement in atrocities was a 'communist lie'.

Evil was not the sole preserve of Germans in WW2 but that can never excuse the concentration and extermination camps of Birkenau and Auschwitz. Many of those who worked in these places would have had a conventional upbringing and lived perfectly normal lives prior to 1933. Nevertheless, they, and those who lubricated the ghastly system in so many ways, little by little became complicit in acts so evil as to be almost incomprehensible.

We all need to be sensitive to the presence of evil and identify it, no matter its source, before it takes root as it did in Germany after 1933, and in Russia after 1917.

This book is a timely reminder of how apparently ordinary people participated in extraordinary and horrific acts of evil.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 September 2012
This is a subtle, devastatingly honest and very humane book that takes an oblique look at the Holocaust - not so much the perpetrators of genocide, but the thousands of `facilitators', civilian administrators, who were complicit with Nazi ideology while giving themselves the psychological get-out clause that they were 'decent' people, that they didn't know the full story of what was happening and so were never guilty of mass murder.

Fulbrook focuses on Udo Klausa, the chief administrator of Bedzin, a small town twenty-five miles from Auschwitz, and explores the way in which he strives in his memoirs to distance himself from the Final Solution, even while being responsible for the rounding up, ghettoization, and transportation of all the Jews from his town.

The book is given an added weight since the author knew Klausa who was married to her godmother. Fulbrook isn't so concerned with pointing the finger (though she can't help but make moral judgements) but with understanding the psychological processes, the preconditions which allowed the Holocaust to happen, and it's this which makes the book so important, such a living exploration of things which matter today.

This is, inevitably, a disturbing, distressing book and one which it's impossible to read without getting choked up and emotional. But despite the author's own emotions (which do, rightly, break through into the text), this is essentially a cool and rational exploration of the kind of myths which allowed `ordinary, decent' Germans to separate themselves from the `real Nazis'.

As a professional academic historian, Fulbrook is almost apologetic for allowing her own moral and ethical judgements to have space in this book but that's precisely what makes this so powerful.

So, in summary, this is an important book which reveals the way in which academic Holocaust studies are not just about understanding the past, as important as that is, but also about projecting that knowledge into our present and future. Essential reading and highly recommended.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher).
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How did the Final Solution really operate and function beneath the main characters (Himmler, Heydrich and Eichmann) about whom several books have been written alongside the even greater number of general histories on this WWII tragedy, which rarely dip down to the local levels in great detail?

This book tries to answer that by examining a middle level German born and raised civilian administrator posted close to Auschwitz, whom the author knew after the war for many years and whose family she has had close contact with since his death. This resulted in her having access to personal insights and written documents which many such researchers would never have.

What we learn alongside the many other books on the development of the Holocaust post the invasion of Poland is ultimately not very surprising. German local government officials by career training and cognisant of Nazi anti Jewish policies from their own domestic experience, proved malleable and pragmatic in implementing the State's wishes in their new roles in the invaded territories. The pursuit of career and compliance with policies and orders that they rarely questioned or even less felt the need to contradict, delivered a well functioning infrastructure. The importance of this to the extermination of Jewish people by concentrating locally and then delivering them for extermination in the concentration camps is the main value of the book's analysis.

The book is clearly very thoroughly researched (with over 50 of its 420 pages being Footnotes and Index) and in written style reads like an academic thesis, which I must admit made it a heard read for me. The lead character post the war made a successful transition to a senior role in German state government and was never prosecuted for any role in the events in Poland. This makes him pretty comparable with many of his peers whom the Allies quickly realised were needed to keep West Germany functioning for the Cold War and certainly within Germany (as in post Vichy France) little appetite existed locally for extensive prosecutions beyond the key leaders.

Where I additionally struggle with books like this is what I would term their heavy use of retrospective judgement. Other recent books I have read (notably "The weight of a mustard seed" by Wendell Steavenson on an army general living under Saddam Hussein's Iraq) produced the same concern which is would one have behaved any differently in the same circumstances? This is not to absolve these persons of culpability in facilitating certain events and actions but understanding "why" is sometimes as critical as "how".
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VINE VOICEon 6 December 2013
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How much did the average German know about what occurred during the Holocaust as it was happening? How much of what they said after the war was truth and how much a fiction to enable them to live their life or avoid imprisonment? That is the question that the author of this book sets our to answer by exploring the lives of Udo Klausa and his and his wife, Alexandra. The couple lived in a town near the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, a town that had a Jewish population, one of whom they employed as a gardener.

A book like this is important because of what it shows. The author is able to showcase exactly what an ordinary administrator living in the Reich during the war would have known, using original documents and other evidence from the time. It also shows in parallel the experiences of both the oppressor and the victim. This is important because to disregard one half of the equation, the Nazis, gives and incomplete picture.

What Fulbrook has done well is to present a complete general picture of not only how something happened but what the effects of the event were on everyone involved. The book isn't easy reading for Fulbrook doesn't pull any punches, but it is a must read because of the picture that is given. It promotes discussion and adds levels of understanding. Any student of World War II or history should read this book.
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on 29 December 2012
I heard the author talk about this book, and ( surely, as the publishers must hope and plan) bought it. Not the usual subject matter for reading over the Christmas break, but I was wholly absorbed and horrified at the same time, literally could not consider reading anything else until I finished it. This book provides such clear and convincing arguments about how the Holocaust came about. Ordinary German townspeople in a small town and their Polish and their Jewish neighbours being displaced, then so many 'deported' . The tragedy is brought to life by such clear writing about death.
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VINE VOICEon 27 November 2013
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the angle that this book is taken from is an interesting one. the facilitators behind teh scenes to the holocaust are never really focused on in any depth so its intersting to see them in the limelight. how these people reacted before during and after thier involvement in the holocuast is examined by the author in some detail, sometimes tailing off from essential information which I found detratced from teh pace and direction of teh book. Also you notice that teh author allows her own feelings to enter into certain parts of teh books which some will find engaging but other wont it really shouldnt show up in a history book as anything other than analysis. But Im not sure it is entirely meant to be a pure history book.

in short a very interesting book on a rare aspect of a wide subject
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on 11 September 2014
Mary Fulbrook is an established historian of Germany who specializes in the two dictatorships - the Nazis and East German Communists. This book is a scholarly and detailed study of the 'Germanization' of a small Polish town, Bedzin and destruction of the Jewish community that had lived there since the 13th century. Bedzin is about 45km from Auschwitz and most of the community were murdered there while others perished in pogroms and forced labour. A few days after the Germans entered the town they burned the Great Synagogue in the Old City. About 50 houses surrounding the synagogue, which were inhabited exclusively by Jews, went up in flames and 60 Jews were burned to death. Drawing extensively on archives and the records left by both perpetrators and victims Fulbrook chronicles the familiar escalation of the genocide through 1942-45. Her objective is not just to re-tell this history of the Holocaust though but to ask how it was that 'ordinary Nazis', who were basically 'decent people', rather than 'fanatics', crossed thresholds of complicity in mass murder and how they 'knew' but refused to allow themselves to 'know' what was happening. This again is a question that has been asked many times and it is a pity that Fullbrook seems unaware of Stan Cohen's "States of Denial" and many similar studies. She does, however, offer a novel twist to her study. She had a close family connection to the Nazi administrator or Landrat of Bedzin - Udo Klausa. Her mother and Klausa's wife Alexandra had been childhood friends. Although her mother, an anti-Nazi, escaped Nazi Germany the two renewed their friendship after the war and Alexandra became Fullbrook's godmother. This personal connection gave Fullbrook access to both personal recollections and records such as Klausa's memoir that a historian would not otherwise have and an earlier draft of the text has been commented on by Klausa's son. This posed all kinds of issues about interpretation, closeness and distance in writing history that she discusses. In the end though I found her account of Klausa disappointing in that despite her 'intimate' access to data, he does not feature a great deal in the narrative which is largely based on public archives. One gets very little sense of him as a person other than his 'growing disquiet' and requests to be transferred to military service, that were sometimes granted. I was not persuaded that Klausa was a 'basically decent' person who was a 'product of the times' and found the evidence for his alleged disdain and ambivalence for the processes he was involved in rather weak. Like many Nazi functionaries he and his wife realized the war was going badly for Germany and began to construct their post-war escapes and justifications along the lines of 'not knowing' about the gas chambers (though on some days they could smell the Auschwitz crematoria) and never personally killing anyone (Eichmann used the latter defense too, by the way). Klausa could even claim to have tried to save his 'favorite Jew' as did many Nazi perpetrators, again including Eichmann. In this ex post facto rationalization he was very successful - he escaped justice in post-war West Germany and went on to have a career in the civil service, as did thousands of former Nazis. While to be fair Fullbrook discusses the complexities of what it is to 'know' and the ways in which many perpetrators denied to themselves, as well as others, their complicity in the Holocaust, she is too generous to both Klausas and mutes the anger her story evokes at their ability to return to 'normal lives' after 1945. While she acknowledges the dilemma of writing objective history and personal involvement, I'm not sure she resolves it sufficiently here.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2013
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How did a small town in Poland contribute to the Holocaust? The history of Bedzin and its inhabitants between 1939 and 1945, and long afterwards is a fascinating study on self delusion and history as people would like us to remember it, and them. Much like Gerald Reitlinger's "SS the Excuse for a Nation", it points out that not everyone was ignorant of what happened. It also shows once again that the Nazi state was not as all pervasive as Hollywood and the revised history as promulgated by some German and Polish historians is not strictly true. The sections dealing with the post war West Germany, and how people reconciled their own failings, and indeed crimes, to soothe their own and their families conscince is the truly frightening part. Essential and disturbing reading. Only the somewhat haphazrd layout disappoints.
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VINE VOICEon 24 November 2013
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There has long been the belief in The Good Germans, who knew nothing of the atrocities on their doorsteps, and this fascinating book, whilst not putting that myth to rest, shows that many more knew, and did nothing, than have admitted the truth. I agree with other reviewers about the author putting her moral judgements on the subjects, but this is more than outweighed by the facts included. All in all, this book does give a different perspective on events in the holocaust, and much to think about.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2013
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How could ordinary Germans like Udo Klausa, a happily married family man and Bedzin administrator,get drawn into the horrors of the Nazi holocaust? This meticulous and scholarly book explains how it happened that complicity in the persecution of the Jews spread so wide and how people justified what they did. Highly recommended if you already know a lot about this terrible era in European history and want to deepen and extend your knowledge and understanding.
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