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Book Notes: The Racial State. Germany 1933-1945, Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman; Children with a Star. Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe, Deborah Dwork; Holocaust Testimonies: the Ruins of Memory, Lawrence L. Langer

David Cesarani

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Racial State. Germany 1933-1945, Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipp erman (Cambridge University Press, 1991) ?12.95 (paperback). Children with a Star. Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe, Deborah Dwork (Yale University Press, 1991) ?16.95 (hardback); ?10.95 (paperback). 284</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes Holocaust Testimonies: the Ruins of Memory, Lawrence L. Langer (Yale University Press, 1991) ?16.50 (hardback); ?9.95 (paperback). The Road to Katyn, Solomon Slowes (Blackwell, Oxford 1992) ?20. Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman, both prolific and highly respected authors, hail from widely different backgrounds. One is a British academic and the other a German freelance writer. They share a belief that the debate on the origins and nature of the Nazi state has become sterile and even misleading. For years historians argued whether the Third Reich was a modernizing regime or a reactionary one. The most pronounced advocates of the former view claimed that the conditions which brought forth Nazism were latent in all modernizing, capital? ist regimes. Their opponents insisted on the specificity of the German case, veering towards the line that there was something in German social development or the 'national psyche' that made Nazism inevitable. Burleigh and Wipperman argue that all such reductive theories lead to relativization or trivialization. Instead, they build a new conceptual structure for understanding Nazi Germany, based on patient and accurate attention to often-neglected detail. Burleigh and Wipperman show how racial ideology informed and ultimately determined every aspect of Nazi state policy. They demonstrate that not only the self-evidently racist laws against Jews, gypsies and negroes, but also the draconian regulations on the unemployed, vagrants and beggars, and the legislation on health issues, marriage and taxation were all racial in origin and intention. 'The main object of social policy remained the creation of a hierarchical racial new order. Everything else was subordinated to this goal, including the regime's conduct of foreign affairs and the war... All of these points draw attention to the specific and singular character of the Third Reich.' This could combine modernizing technologies and social engineering, with reactionary attitudes to, for example, the role of women. The authors insist on giving a voice to the victims of Nazi policy, so avoiding the impersonal language of many writers who unintentionally duplicate Nazi double-speak. The result is often heart-rending and horrifying. The chapter on policy towards the hereditarily ill, the 'asocial' and homosexuals should be com? pulsory reading for the Chief Rabbi's cabinet and Mr Major's. One Nazi doctor, convinced that homosexuals were suffering from a reversible malady, implanted male hormones into gay men held in concentration camps. The consequences were excruciating and degrading. Youths who refused to conform to conservative social norms, which included joining the Hitlerjugend, were criminalized and forced underground where they listened to proscribed jazz, and (horror of horrors) jitterbugged. One chapter is devoted to Hitler's anti-Semitism and Nazi Jewish policy. Concise, comprehensive and lucid, it is one of the best introductions to Nazi anti-Semitism. Placed in the wider context of Nazi racial policy it also makes more sense of the Jewish tragedy than whole volumes on the Holocaust alone. The Racial State is an 285</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes outstanding work, now available in an affordable paperback, that should be essential reading for teachers and students from sixth-form level upwards. In the skilful and sensitive hands of Deborah Dwork the treatment of Jewish children and their experience of persecution under the Nazis reveals with appal? ling clarity the essence of Nazi policy. Jewish children were helpless and innocent, their only 'crime' being their birth. There are consequendy no excuses for the perpetrators of the i.i million juvenile deaths or the attitude of the bystanders. Theoretical debate pales before this brute fact. Dwork's highly readable and critically acclaimed study, recendy issued in paperback, boldly crosses disciplinary boundaries from child studies into history, and ingeniously confronts the problem of sources. The Nazis rarely bothered to codify their policy on Jewish minors or to record their fate. However, traces exist in the interstices of Nazi documents, ghetto diaries and contemporary letters. The experience of children is transmitted most fully in the testimony of survivors, yet many Jewish children and babies evaded death only because their identity was so carefully stripped from them that they were 'lost' as Jews. The study begins with the initial impact of Nazi policy on German Jewish youth. It moves on to the experience of Jews in hiding, paying close attention to the role of protectors. Some of these were less than heroic and abused their charges. In order to survive children had to learn to forget who they really were, although dissimulation could only ever be partial for males. Boys and girls alike suffered the trauma of identity loss and the nightmare that they would be forgotten or forget who they originally were. Ironically life in the transit camps and ghettos offered some normality for children, and opportunities for the enterprising young and nimble. Few options remained for those in the death camps, and even those who survived recall an emotional dying. This experience is examined in Lawrence Langer's penetrating, sometimes intrusive, analysis of oral testimony by Holocaust survivors. Langer is concerned with how to listen to survivors in order to understand what he believes they are really saying. Often, however, his reconstruction of the events under recall determines his interpretation of the language in which it is recollected. Eschewing accounts which speak of courage, heroism, self-sacrifice and nobility, Langer operates with an utterly bleak view of the human condition in extremis: 'violence, passivity, and indifference are natural and unsurprising expressions of the human will under certain circumstances'. Consequendy, he treats metaphors or narratives of salvation and redemption as ex post facto interpolations. Langer argues that the senselessness of Jewish suffering undermines values and language alike. Our words cannot have the same meaning as those uttered by survivors about their experiences. There is much force in Langer's assertion that testimony is 'beyond judgement and evaluation', but his warning not to confer false dignity on survivors can lapse into a repetitive commentary that smothers the victim's voice under layers of sophisticated reasoning. 286</page><page sequence="4">Book Notes Solomon Slowes's narrative could offer comfort to Langer or his critics. It is the spare account of a Jewish medical officer in the Polish Army who was caught by the Russians during the Nazi-Soviet partition of Poland and deported into the Soviet interior. By chance he was spared the fate of most Polish officers who were murdered at Katyn and other execution sites, of whom iooo were Jewish. The unbroken spirit of resistance helped the randomly selected remnant to survive atrocious conditions. Slowes was plucked from captivity to join Anders' Army and by that route ended up in Palestine where, over the years, he reconstructed the tragedy of his brother Jewish officers who were the half-forgotten victims of a genocide within a genocide. David Cesarani</page></plain_text>

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