Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942

Article excerpt

The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942, by Christopher R. Browning. Nebraska, March 2004. $39.95

The first fruits of an enormously ambitious "Comprehensive History of the Holocaust" and the harvest of the labor of decades, this book studies the first two and a half years of the war with an eye to asking one fundamental question: How precisely was the mass genocide policy of the "Final Solution" enacted? Answering this question helps to answer another, superficially far more controversial question: Did the Nazis intend the total annihilation of the Jewish people from the beginning? Browning, a highly respected historian of the Holocaust, argues that they did not: the decision to enact the Final Solution was taken after a series of baby steps, from identification through concentration to a hypothetical mass expulsion of European Jewry (to Madagascar, of all places). The decision to murder millions of men, women, and children seems something the Nazis partially "backed into," rather than deliberately intended from the beginning. (The contingency and accidental nature of the decision process may seem to weaken culpability or guilt; but such appearance is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of responsibility, as thinkers from Hannah Arendt forward have made clear.) What was crucial, it turns out, was the total war begun on June 22, 1941, against the Soviet Union-a war far more absolute and merciless (on both sides) than any other in human history. …

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