Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
on 20 October 2012
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.