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Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Christopher R. Browning have two very different interpretations of what caused Germans to participate in the extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany. To extent was Felix Landau The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by its Perpe Essay Example

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    History
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    Assignment
  • Level:
    Undergraduate
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    714

What caused Germans to participate in the extermination of the Jews in Nazi Germany: Goldhagen’s interpretation of “willing executioners”

Goldhagen’s book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, challenges conventional wisdom about the causes of German’s participation in the holocaust. In essence, Goldhagen’s main proposition is that the holocaust was a direct result of the ‘eliminationist’ anti-Semitism which had grown into a common cultural sensibility in the general German population by the twentieth century. Although the author recognises the role of the Nazi leaders in activating and guiding the anti-Semitic propaganda in the local population, it is observed that the Germans were willing and voluntary participants in the massacre. Three major reasons are given to support this thesis as follows:

  1. The character and nature of anti-Semitism in the German society,

  2. The readiness and willingness of the perpetrators to participate in the holocaust, and

  3. The nature of the German society during the holocaust.

There is a direct relationship between Goldhagen’s argument and Felix Landau’s diary. This relationship is evident in all the three reasons that are cited by Goldhagen. For instance, it is observed that anti-Semitism had its roots in the pre-Nazi era in Germany (Goldhagen 378). According to Goldhagen, anti-Semitism in Germany was characterised by four main features: its growing popularity among the local population in Germany, an obsessive preoccupation with the Jews, associating the Jews with all the social ills in the Germany and lastly, the supposed powerful and wicked role of the Jewish population in the German society (388).

In examining the nature and character of anti-Semitism in the German society prior to and during the course of the holocaust, Goldhagen examines several questions. These range from the extent of anti-Semitism, its nature, how and when it developed and lastly, the connection between anti-Semitism and action. It is observed that apart from being a common, enormous and ingrained in the social psyche, the anti-Semitism ideology was presented as the ideal solution to the problem of exterminating the Jews from the German society (Goldhagen 395). This connection is evident in the accounts of Landau, where extermination of the Jews is viewed as a final solution to the issue (Landau 103).

Another important issue that arises from this argument concerns the apparent willingness of ordinary Germans to participate in the holocaust. It is observed that the local population, motivated by the general anti-Semitism sentiments that were ingrained in individuals, willingly took the initiative to kill the Jewish population and undertook this practice with much zeal and devotion. This observation correlates with the testimony of Landau which documents how ordinary members of the society wilfully joined any of the four institutions of killing: the concentration camps, police battalions, work camps and death marches; and wilfully undertook the massacre without coercion from their superiors (Landau 99). It can be seen that many of the individuals who participated in the holocaust were not only composed of individuals drawn at random and in large numbers but also, their participation was a wilful decision that was not influenced by the authorities whatsoever. This underscores the second argument that the perpetrators were driven by anti-Semitism propaganda to wilfully participate in the holocaust. It is this ideology that informed their thinking about the Jews, the justification of their extermination and the necessity of their actions.

Lastly, there is a close relationship between Goldhagen’s argument about the nature of the German society during the holocaust and the testimony as portrayed in Landau’s diary. For instance, the anti-Semitism sentiments developed as a fundamental cultural tenet of the German society long before the holocaust. Individuals who participated had been raised in this cultural setup that sought to find a solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’ (Goldhagen 403). This explains the willingness and sense of personal pride exhibited by the perpetrators in the holocaust (Landau 102). Activated by the state, this cultural indoctrination exploded into a situation where all willing and available members of the society became complicit in the holocaust.

Works Cited

Goldhagen, Daniel J. Hitler’s Willing Executioners. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1983.

Landau, Felix. ‘Once again I have got to play general to the Jews’, in Klee, Ernest, Dressen, Willie and Riess, Volker, eds. The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by its Perpetrators and Bystanders, pp. 88 — 106. New York: S. Fischer Verlag, 1998.