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April 24 1998 3:30 AM

The Goldhagen wars.

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Hitler's Willing Historiographers

In "Goldhagen's Willing Executioners," his review of my A Nation on Trial [hereafter ANOT], Adam Shatz suggests that I am a mirror image of Daniel Goldhagen. My essay is "equally biased and inflammatory," he writes, and whereas Goldhagen delivered a fierce attack on the Germans, my own essay is effectively an "apologia" for them.

Before turning to Shatz's specific criticisms, I want to remind readers of the approach I adopted in my analysis of Goldhagen's book. Throughout, I simply juxtapose Goldhagen's claims against the sources he cites or compare his claims to the standard, mainstream scholarly findings. Until Shatz's review, no one disputed my account of the scholarly record. Indeed, his vehement criticisms of my essay notwithstanding, Goldhagen himself does not accuse me of misrepresenting current scholarly wisdom. Thus Shatz's altogether novel critique merits close scrutiny.

Shatz reports that "Finkelstein acknowledges the Nazi state was a brutal dictatorship, but he glosses over its disturbingly popular character."


What can Shatz possibly mean? Goldhagen claims that the Nazi regime "was, on the whole consensual," and that Germans generally "accepted the system and Hitler's authority as desirable and legitimate." I report that, according to Goldhagen's own main authority, Robert Gellately, fear was "prevalent among the German people," and that to pretend otherwise is "foolish" (ANOT: 37). Clearly the principal question, however, is how central was anti-Semitism to what Shatz calls the "disturbingly popular character" of the Nazi state? I quote this typical passage from Goldhagen's main source, Ian Kershaw:

Anti-Semitism, despite its pivotal place in Hitler's "world view," was of only secondary importance in cementing the bonds between Fuhrer and people which provided the Third Reich with its popular legitimation and basis of plebiscitary acclamation. At the same time, the principle of excluding the Jews from German society was itself widely and increasingly popular, and Hitler's hatred of the Jews--baleful in its threats but linked to the condoning of lawful, "rational" action, not the unpopular crude violence and brutality of the Party's "gutter" elements--was certainly an acceptable component of his popular image, even if it was an element "taken on board" rather than forming a centrally motivating factor for most Germans.

I add that, according to Kershaw, "during the 1930s ... when his popularity was soaring to dizzy heights," Hitler "was extremely careful to avoid public association with the generally unpopular pogrom-type anti-Semitic outrages" (ANOT: 31).

Shatz is surely within his right to question these findings. But he ought to have directed his ire not at me but at the leading authorities on the subject: Gellately, who was just appointed to the Holocaust chair at Clark University, and Kershaw, author of the forthcoming two-volume biography of Hitler.


Shatz alleges that "anti-Semitism permeated Nazi ideology, and Finkelstein is deaf to its nuances." Thus he proposes that anti-Semitism was crucial to Hitler's rise to power. Citing a raft of scholarly studies, I report the consensus that anti-Semitism did not figure centrally in Hitler's electoral successes in 1930 and thereafter (ANOT: 31-2). I also note the scholarly consensus that, beginning in the 1930s--to quote Saul Friedlander in his authoritative study, Nazi Germany and the Jews--"the Jewish theme did become less frequent in [Hitler's] rhetoric." Finally, I report that a careful review of Max Domarus' standard collection of Hitler's public pronouncements and speeches shows that, during these years, the main negative theme was anti-Marxism and anti-Social Democracy (ANOT: 29, 32). Shatz seems to believe that he has "scooped" all the experts in the field with his clever insight that "the Nazis perceived Social Democracy as a Jewish party and Marxism as a Jewish creed." The scholarly question, however, is why did Hitler tone down the explicitly "Jewish theme," if not because it didn't resonate well with the German public? Shatz doesn't answer this question; indeed, he can't even comprehend it. To Goldhagen's credit, he never gainsays this commonplace of the scholarly literature. Unlike Shatz, he is familiar enough with the discipline to know that it would be preposterous to do so.

According to Shatz, "Finkelstein deduces from some Germans' disgust at the destruction of Jewish lives and property during Nazi-sponsored pogroms such as Kristallnacht that 'Germans overwhelmingly condemned the Nazi anti-Semitic atrocities.' If they did, they gave new meaning to the term 'silent majority.' "

Of all Shatz's distortions, this is the most outrageous. Where does he get his reading of Kristallnacht? Here's where mine comes from. In assessing the popular German reaction to Nazi violence generally and Kristallnacht in particular, I quoted Goldhagen's authoritative scholarly source, Israeli historian David Bankier, as well as Kershaw:

During the first years of Nazi anti-Semitic incitement [says Bankier], most Germans ("large sectors," "the bulk," "sizable parts") found "the form of persecution abhorrent," expressed "misgivings about the brutal methods employed," "remained on the sidelines," "severely condemned the persecution," etc. With the revival of Nazi anti-Semitic terror in 1935, "large sections of the population were repelled by the Sturmer methods and refused to comply with demands to take action against the Jews." Indeed, the "vast majority of the population approved the Nuremberg laws" not only because they "identified with the racialist policy" but "especially" because "a permanent framework of discrimination had been created that would end the reign of terror and set precise limits to antisemitic activities." "Sturmer methods and the violence" in the years 1936-37 "met with the same disapproval as in the past." "The overwhelming majority approved social segregation and economic destruction of the Jews" on the eve of Kristallnacht in 1938 "but not the outbursts of brute force. ... [I]t was not Jew-hatred in the Nazi sense." "All sections of the population," Bankier further reports, "reacted with shock" to Kristallnacht. "There were few occasions, if any, in the Third Reich," Kershaw similarly recalls, "which produced such a widespread wave of revulsion," reaching "deep into the ranks" of the Nazi party itself. The motives behind these outpourings of popular disgust, to be sure, were not unalloyed. Some Germans evinced moral outrage. Some recoiled from the sheer brutality of the violence (which also defaced Germany's image). Some opposed the destruction only because it squandered material resources (ANOT: 44).


The opinions Shatz ascribes to me are simply the scholarly consensus. Significantly, he adduces not a jot of counterevidence for his novel claim that only "some Germans" opposed Kristallnacht. Alas, there is none. Shatz also violently dissents from the scholarly consensus on civilian German attitudes toward Jews during World War II. Yet again, however, he cites precisely zero evidence to support his objections.

To sustain his claim that my essay is effectively an "apologia," Shatz substitutes appeals to popular prejudice for scholarship. Shatz calls me Goldhagen's "doppelganger." It would seem that this honorific more properly belongs to him.

--Norman G. FinkelsteinBrooklyn, N.Y.

Adam Shatz replies:


In his reply, Norman Finkelstein's modus operandi is to cite authority, and where he cannot hide behind authority, he distorts the points I made in my review. He insinuates that I'm a friend of Daniel Goldhagen, even though I made my hostility to Goldhagen's views amply clear elsewhere in the review. But Finkelstein's attempt to tar me with the brush of Goldhagenism is telling. To Finkelstein, anyone who views German anti-Semitism as in any way significant to the history of National Socialism is an accomplice of Goldhagen.

1) Nowhere in my review do I argue that anti-Semitism was "crucial to Hitler's rise to power." Rather, I argue that it cannot be blithely discounted, as is Finkelstein's wont. In wooing German voters, the Nazis did tone down their anti-Semitism, emphasizing instead their nationalist and anti-Bolshevik credentials. But unlike Finkelstein, I see a change in degree, not in kind. Anti-Semitism remained a constant theme of Nazi ideology, which associated Jews with the ills of modern capitalism, internationalism, socialism, and the Versailles Treaty. While it's true that Germans were often alienated by violent expressions of anti-Semitism, enough of them were willing to look past Nazi rhetoric about the Jewish problem to make the Nazis Germany's most significant mass party. As Ian Kershaw writes in the passage cited by Finkelstein, anti-Semitism was "an acceptable component of [Hitler's] popular image." In recent years, a similar development has occurred in France, where Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front has softened his anti-Arab racism in order to attract more votes. Employing Finkelstein's logic, one would have to argue racism hasn't really figured in Le Pen's surge in popularity. But it's a distinction without a difference--more and more voters are backing a party known for its racist program. It's a wonder that Finkelstein doesn't see how damning this is. But then, Finkelstein finds reassurance in Goldhagen's observation that 19 of 51 anti-Semitic ideologues advocated the annihilation of the Jews. "One would perhaps also want to note that an overwhelming majority did not," Finkelstein writes.

2) Finkelstein's interpretation of Kristallnacht is not "simply the scholarly consensus." While evoking German outrage at such state-sponsored pogroms, the historians David Bankier and Kershaw do not conclude that the "Germans overwhelmingly condemned the Nazi anti-Semitic atrocities." Where does Finkelstein find evidence of such condemnation? Were there such protests as later surrounded the euthanasia programs for the retarded? Were Germans moved to speak out against the popular legal restrictions on Jewish rights? In a study much cited by Finkelstein, Hitler, Germans and the "Jewish Question," historian Sarah Gordon writes that "Most Germans were apathetic to the persecution of the Jews and no study, past or future, can ever change that fact." One does not have to accept Goldhagen's views to see that the Germans' disgust at Kristallnacht seldom resulted in action on behalf of their Jewish neighbors.

3) Finally, does Finkelstein suppose that a brutal dictatorship cannot also be a popular one? As most historians have recognized, Hitler's triumphs in foreign policy and the economy earned him the admiration of many, if not most Germans. If the Nazi state had rested only on coercion, it's doubtful that Hitler could have persuaded millions of Germans to remain loyal to him, and to fight heroically to the end of the war. As Kershaw writes in the passage quoted by Finkelstein, the Nazi state enjoyed a certain "popular legitimation and basis of plebiscitary acclamation." Although anti-Semitism was less significant than nationalism and anti-Bolshevism to the Nazis' mass appeal, Hitler and his peers were able to execute the Final Solution because they could count on the allegiance, and sometimes even the love, of the German people. To be sure, Goldhagen's vision of a "consensual dictatorship" glosses over the repression of the labor movement, the killing and imprisonment of Hitler's opponents. But Finkelstein's view of a Nazi terror state forcing its programs on a helpless people is equally one-sided. The Nazis were homegrown populists, even if their wish to murder Jews was not widely shared by Germans, and the Germans must, in turn, bear some of the responsibility for the horrors the Nazis inflicted.

Editor's note: "Goldhagen's Willing Executioners" incorrectly stated that the Canadian Jewish Congress is trying to have Ruth Bettina Birn, co-author of A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth, removed from her job at the war crimes division at the Canadian Department of Justice. The Canadian Jewish Congress did contact the department with its concerns about Birn's involvement in the book. But the CJC has lodged no formal complaint against Birn.

Gross Monica Product

In "Monica and Me," Herbert Stein wrote:

I wonder if the work of these photographers [watching for Monica Lewinsky] is in the GDP. Of course, it wouldn't be. They are an input. The output will be a shot on television of Monica, and the value of that will be in the GDP.

No, Mr. Stein. The shot on television of Monica Lewinsky will not be in the GDP--at least, it will not be in the GDP if the shot is on network television. You see, no one pays for network television: No one spends money to see Lewinsky coming out of the Watergate.

Instead, businesses spend money to show commercials on network television: The picture of Lewinsky is just an input into the provision of advertising services that corporations are willing to pay for.

But wait! Advertising services are not an output, but an input. Businesses pay for advertising services as a way of moving their products. Advertising services are an input to the cost of production of whatever is being advertised.

The photographer's work will make it into the GDP only when someone buys a bottle of Tylenol, or a Buick, or whatever is advertised on the news show in which the picture of Lewinsky is shown.

--Brad DeLong

Herbert Stein replies: Professor DeLong is right and I thank him for the correction. I also thank him for leaving me a tiny out in those cases where Monica is seen on cable.

Not Hip to Skip

Thanks for your article on Henry Louis Gates Jr. ("Assessment," by Franklin Foer). It was appreciated, although Gates' brazen efforts at self-promotion on the basis of increasingly poor scholarship have been the talk among African-American intellectuals for some time. My only regret is that the article wasn't even more hard-hitting.

--Monroe H. Little Jr.

Completely Dead, Partially White Men

The list (footnoted to the piece on Henry Louis Gates Jr.) of dead white men excluded from The Dictionary of Global Culture includes one Alexandre Dumas, who was, in fact, one-quarter African, which makes this snub of one of the most productive and popular novelists of all time all the stranger. (Did that other mixed-race Alexander, Pushkin, make the cut?) Dumas received the same sort of accusation that Foer makes of Gates, of overusing the services of uncredited collaborators and thus diluting the value of his name. His work appears to have survived, despite his exclusion from the Dictionary.

--Charles R.L. PowerColumbia, Md.

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