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Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars There was no one to help, 24 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Hitler and the Holocaust: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles) (Hardcover)
In the introduction, Wistrich provides an overview asking the big Why. He disagrees with Daniel Goldhagen, pointing out that prior to 1933 antisemitism had been worse in countries like Russia, Romania, Poland and Austria and that the rule of law applied in Germany until that year. The Holocaust was a pan-European event in which millions of people participated. The times were evil; even Britain and the USA experienced a rising tide of antisemitism. Unimaginable horror results when a society does not distinguish between good & evil. The lessons of this abyss are that evil must be resisted in its early stage and that individuals are responsible for their actions.

The first chapter briefly reviews Jewish history from the Hasmoneans to the Roman yoke in which era a new religion was born. Its foundational documents contain calumnies and demonizations of the Jewish People. The "Church Fathers" perpetuated this hostility in their writings; the victory of Constantine Christianity ensured ever increasing oppression. Martin Luther amplified the hatred in his writings. This chapter also covers Europe in the 1930s as night was coming on. Wistrich also considers various atrocities and genocides like that of the Armenians, the Gulags of Stalinist Russia and the suffering of the Roma.

Disillusionment in Europe after the First World War was profound. The pointless death & destruction spurred the growth of revolutionary movements like fascism and communism. The history of Austria and Germany in the 1920s & 1930s, Mein Kampf, the political parties & the reaction to Jewish refugees arriving from Eastern Europe are discussed. The depression hit Germany in 1930; that year the Nazi vote increased dramatically. In 1933 Hitler took power and German Jews started leaving.

The destruction of Crystal Night followed, the most violent attack on Jews since the crusades; 100 people were murdered. The international conference held at Evian in France encouraged Hitler since he noticed it was all talk; no country was prepared to welcome Jewish refugees. The discriminatory racial laws did not encounter resistance from any sector of German society. The German annexation of half of Poland in 1939 and the later invasion of Russia placed millions more Jews under Nazi rule. Terrible massacres occurred on the front.

Hitler's apocalypticism was a blend of Christian and anti-Christian Judeophobia, a secular salvationist ideology. He referred to New Testament passages during his speeches in Catholic Bavaria, saw himself as a messianic figure and claimed that Christ had pioneered the struggle against the Jews. Thus in the early years the Nazis mined the ancient vein of Christian Antisemitism. Only the Confessional Church openly defied the Nazis and in the 1937 Encyclical "Mit Brennende Sorge" Pope Pius XI objected to Nazi supremacism and paganism. Nazism co-existed with the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches but its bestial heart harbored contempt for Judeo-Christian values and ethics. Leading Nazis were fanatically anti-Christian. As the evidence of atrocities accumulated, including reports from Croatia & Slovakia, the Vatican's reaction was muted. It still viewed Jews as representing its modernist enemies like liberalism, freemasonry, secularism, etc.

Chapter 6 was almost unbearable, were it not for the exceptions where the Angel of the Lord must have drawn his sword or the Spirit moved the hearts of the people. Collaboration - particularly cruel in countries like Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia - occurred throughout Europe. Jews were safe in Hungary until March 1944 when the Germans invaded. Despite the efforts of especially Calvinists, more than 80% of Holland's Jews were deported to Poland. Belgium fared better - people deliberately undermined the German efforts but 44% was lost. In the areas controlled by the collaborationist Vichy Regime, French Jews were protected to an extent but not recent arrivals. In 1942 the Germans occupied all of France. I'm not sure if Wistrich mentions it, but General Franco of Spain accepted refugees.

In this demonic darkness of indifference, hostility & complicity with the Nazis, there were three areas where the divine light was not extinguished. Protection was provided in the north, east & south of Europe. Bulgaria was a German ally but the people, never antisemitic, stood firm: King, government, civil society and church! Orthodox Metropolitan Stephan of Sofia declared that men had no right to persecute Jews, whilst the King supplied many reasons why its citizens could not leave. Denmark saved almost its entire Jewish community by ferrying them across to Sweden. Of course the proximity & willingness of Sweden made it possible. In their absence, Danes tended their homes & gardens and cared for their pets. Finland flatly refused German demands. Italians openly sabotaged the Holocaust; the Italian army shielded and protected Jews in places like France, Croatia, Albania and Greece. Later when the Germans invaded, Italians hid and protected Jews to a degree unseen anywhere else but in the aforementioned countries.

One recognizes the sacrifice of Britain & Americans whose soldiers fought and died, but these countries do not have clean hands. First, they instituted restrictive immigration policies. At that time, the American Jewish community was weak, divided and afraid of antagonizing its fellow citizens. The worst action of Roosevelt was turning away the ocean liner St Louis with its Jewish refugees. Back in Germany they were all murdered. Perhaps even worse from the quantity angle, the UK established quotas for Jewish immigration to the Levant. Not only that, but the British navy intercepted refugee ships en route to the homeland, and that under Churchill! It is incomprehensible. Moron me who thought the Prime Minister had more authority than the State Department. So in the Atlantic Anglo-Saxon sphere political hypocrisy and heartless bureaucracy triumphed over mercy.

Sensitive people beware! The final chapter, on modernity and genocide, evaluates various theories and provides examples of sadism and torture in the death camps. One can skip it, just reading the last two pages which are safe. Wistrich concludes that the Holocaust was inspired by a millenarian apocalyptic ideology of annihilation that cannot be separated from the dominant religious tradition of Western Europe. But unlike Christianity, Nazism was a death cult that saw human sacrifice as the road to redemption. The book contains maps, notes arranged by chapter, 3 timeline charts covering 1933 - 1945, and an index.
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Reviewer

Peter Uys
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Location: Sandton

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