Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust – Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

From what I can glean, this is a very controversial book. I am not a historian of the Holocaust, of Germany, or even of World War II, so it’s hard for me to debate the book on the merit of its factual analysis and the representativeness of its case studies and sources. I can comment on methods though. I find Goldhagen’s thesis about the monocausal nature of antisemitism to be a major weakness in his argument, even though he claims that he is not making a monocausal argument. Though he argues often for the agency of the Germans (treated here as a monolithic block), he does not seem to realize that by making Germans slaves to their supposedly deep-seated antisemitism, he robs them of agency. Moreover, it is never entirely clear where this antisemitism comes from. But apparently it’s powerful enough that all Hitler has to do is flip a switch to not only turn it on but elevate it almost instantly to its most brutal and inhumane of forms. Goldhagen is also constantly making arguments from counterfactuals, which I think its a good example of a weak thesis. And his self-congratulatory Afterword makes the argument that his thesis is sound because the German people, at least the ones he interacted with, found it to be so, not because he has been a diligent scholar. It was certainly an interesting read, but I walked away from the book unsatisfied by the author’s intellectual rigor and remain unconvinced of his argument.

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