Beyond the Conceivable: Studies on Germany, Nazism, and the Holocaust

Beyond the Conceivable: Studies on Germany, Nazism, and the Holocaust

Beyond the Conceivable: Studies on Germany, Nazism, and the Holocaust

Beyond the Conceivable: Studies on Germany, Nazism, and the Holocaust


"The brilliance of Diner's essays stems in good part from the astonishingly wide perspectives in which he sets his inquiries and from the interdisciplinary synthesis he is able to master. Publication in English is of extreme importance in enriching the debates on Nazism and the Holocaust in this country."--Saul Friedlander, author of "Nazi Germany and the Jews"

"One of the most probing and intellectually sophisticated historians of the German Jewish conundrum, Dan Diner has a quality of mind and an intellectual depth and precision that are altogether unique."--Anson Rabinbach, author of "In the Shadow of Catastrophe


The evidence has become notorious. As our chronological distance from Nazism and its phenomenal core—the mass extermination—has increased, the latter's historical weight has grown as well. No introduction can do justice to this paradox's many sources, some of which I explore in the chapters that follow. Let us here simply note that the growing centrality of the Holocaust has altered the entire warp and woof of our sense of the passing century. If, well into the 1970s, wide-ranging portraits of the epoch would grant the Holocaust a modest (if any) mention, it now tends to fill the entire picture. the incriminated event has thus become the epoch's marker, its final and inescapable wellspring.

The Holocaust's gravitational pull extends in many directions, affecting among other things those hermeneutic principles on which the study of society and culture is founded and, in particular, the domain of historical research—specifically, those areas where empirically directed historical reconstruction is bound up with alternate modes of understanding and cognition. Strikingly, within their natural environment of German history, reverberations of Nazism and the Holocaust can be felt at work in topics that would seem to have little to do, thematically or chronologically, with either. We see, for instance, problems related to long-term tendencies of German history—a context in which the rise of National Socialism is understood to be located—inevitably condensed into the familiar model of a German Sonderweg (special path); in turn, the debate over a purported Sonderweg transforms historical objects and questions deeply rooted in the nineteenth century into material for the prehistory of National Socialism.

In the realm of modern history, the opposition between interpretive mod-

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