Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich

By Bill Niven | Go to book overview

5

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Victor Klemperer

'The book is a deliberate provocation-I consider this a neutral judgment.'

(Fritz Stern 1996:128)

'Goldhagen's book is […] an offensive book and this in two senses: it arouses indignation and provokes.'

(Herbert Jäger 1997:85)


Success

In early 1996, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's doctoral thesis was published in the USA under the title Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Goldhagen 1996a). The book, built on the generalizing hypothesis that the vast majority of Germans during the Third Reich shared Hitler's paranoic hatred of Jews, became a bestseller. By spring 1997, sales had topped 350,000 in the United States. The German translation of the book, published in early August 1996, had sold 180,000 copies by March 1997. It soared to the top of the bestseller list, relegating Chancellor Kohl's I wanted German Unity (Ich wollte Deutschlands Einheit) to third place (Spiegel, 16 December 1996). This was an astonishing achievement for a young scholar. What made it even more astonishing was that the book was for the most part dismissed by historians. They protested at the use of what were perceived to be dubious marketing techniques by Goldhagen and his publishers, who had supposedly hoodwinked the public into believing that the book broke radically with traditional holocaust studies. The press, for its part, was blamed for broadcasting this claim to the world at large: the helpless public had fallen victim to sensationalist media hype. Critics of the book in the USA put down its success to its 'implicit political agenda', an agenda which confirmed American anti-German prejudice while glorifying the American democratic and moral tradition. Goldhagen was charged with peddling an emotive, prejudice-driven Zionism. In Germany, there was a considerable degree of helplessness as German historians struggled to explain the positive impact of a 'bad book' on the German public. When Goldhagen toured Germany in September 1996, he was hailed as a star. Was it his handsomeness? The fact that, for some, he looked like Tom Hanks? Was it his engagingly polite, well-educated and discrete manner? His suave, well-dressed appearance? Was his popularity linked to German masochism? A reaction against

-119-

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Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Chronology 1933-2000 x
  • Why Now? - The Inclusive Picture 1
  • 1 - Concentration Camp Memorial Sites 10
  • 2 - The 'Double Past' 41
  • 3 - Resistance 62
  • 4 - 8 May 1945 in Political Discourse 95
  • 5 - Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Victor Klemperer 119
  • 6 - The Crimes of the Wehrmacht 143
  • 7 - The Walser-Bubis Debate 175
  • 8 - The Holocaust Memorial 194
  • 9 - The Past in the Presen 233
  • Abbreviations 245
  • Bibliography 246
  • Index 257
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