Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

While I haven't read Goldhagen or scholars with a similar viewpoint directly, I frequently encounter the following argument that seems very Goldhagenite to me: "The Germans tried to murder Jews up until the end of the war, the trains went to the death camps even when the war was already being lost and more resources were needed for the war effort, this clearly shows the German eliminationist antisemitism."

Eliminationist Antisemitism was defined by Goldhagen in Hitler's Willing Executioners. One key feature would be that the germans were "of one mind with Hitler" in terms of antisemitism. This would explain the continuation of the murders late into the war. Now, among other criticisms, Browning pointed out that the same willing executioners were as willing to kill handicapped or Russian POW before the mass murder of the European Jews began; also he got the diverse ways in which German society was antisemitic wrong.

So to me, eliminationist antisemitism is not plausible - but what other explanations are there? Since Goldhagen's views are not widely shared, I assume other historians tried to answer this question - why continue the killings until the brink of defeat. Those would be the answers I'm looking for.

p.s. In no way do I want to deny that ordinary Germans were willing executioners, or that there's antisemitism entrenched in German society. But I think the actual history is more complicated than made out in the model of eliminationist antisemitism.

EDIT by F.G.: For background on functionalist/intetionalist see here.

share|improve this question
3  
I really don't understand the question. Are you looking for an alternative explanation for the fact that the Holocaust-machine was running till the very end of the war? Or are you asking what Browning has to say on this matter? Or something else entirely? –  Felix Goldberg Jan 23 '13 at 14:26
3  
Could you link to definitions of "functionalists" and "eliminatorical antisemitism". I share @FelixGoldberg's confusion concerning what you are asking. If you could make the question more precise, it might elicit more answers. From my confusion it seems like you're asking, "Without reference to the notion that the Nazi's wanted to eliminate the Jews, why did the Nazi's try to eliminate the Jews?" –  Mark C. Wallace Jan 23 '13 at 15:08
    
I do hope my question is now clearer (and also thx for the edit to the title). –  mart Jan 23 '13 at 15:24
2  
I added a link to the definition as @MarkC.Wallace has asked. –  Felix Goldberg Jan 23 '13 at 15:26
    
I think Goldhagen understandably but still has too much of an agenda (and needed to build an distinct academic career when he wrote the said book), so I don't really trust him as an author. Can you perhaps cite some alternative authors (without just copying the names from the Wikipedia pages you cited) to put this in better perspective. And why not go for the intetionalist interpretation: Hitler was clearly a lunatic, perhaps drawn to a Nibelungen-like outsized tragedy for a very early stage. (I make a distinction between intetionalism and what may be called Goldhagen's "eliminationism" here.) –  Drux Jan 23 '13 at 16:36
show 2 more comments

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

My understanding is that both schools are "broad" interpretive frameworks. The obvious deficiencies of "intentionalism" are clear—we can clearly demonstrate the plurality of emergent genocidal conducts, and these cross German and NSDAP racial categories. The POW origins of systematic camp based killing should be sufficient indication.

Goldhagen posits three majors mechanisms for killing: the pogrom, the camp and the death march. In Goldhagen's account, the late war system of death focuses on the use of the death march to eliminate already fatigued prisoners. I suppose that Goldhagen is arguing that the imaginary Jew still required punishment and discipline by the German people. This system of marching people to death is the focus of his attention in the majority of the end of the book. The camps operated until they were in the domain of operational warfare, and then instead of just abandoning prisoners, the camp authorities marched them out to die. Obviously the aims of the policy of massacring, imprisoning, executing and neglecting prisoners were widely shared institutionally and popularly. While Goldhagen is functionalist, his functionalism relates to a cultural history assertion that's pretty unique to Goldhagen about the nature of the German People. (I agree Goldhagen is deeply unsatisfying).

If we accept Goldhagen's broad schema of methods of execution, but start looking more broadly, we can see that pogroms continued into 1944/1945 in Yugoslavia and other areas of partisan activity. Similarly the idea of the "camp" as an idee fixe of the "Particularly Jewish Holocaust" breaks down when we consider the death rates of Slavic slave labourers in the late war.

I would suggest a few things: 1) That the motivations that drew the majority of the German People and the institutions of German society into systematic murder and death by maltreatment of central and eastern Europeans continued into the late war. 2) That killing Jews and Slavs were broadly shared policy aims throughout German society, and that this policy was still viewed as good and essential into the late war. 3) That the imaginary Jew in the culture of Germany in the 1940s required a particular "punishment" as distinct from the imaginary Slav (see pointless makework). That the imaginary Jew's elimination was a high priority policy across bureaucratic apparatus, and in popular German life (soldier's voluntary "Jew hunts" in rear areas, as opposed to actual anti-partisan operations).

So the continuation of the policy for a contemporary functionalist is bound up with the policy continuing to fulfil popular and institutional German policies. It doesn't require Goldhagen's thesis on the German people being fundamentally bad.

Finally, I'd suggest that genocide studies in general has retreated from "broadscale" analysis in the past 15 years, and has begun to focus more and more on the individual massacre as the unit of analysis. This seems to be indicating a general breakdown of theoretical categories and an attempt to reconstitute the field from the bottom up.

I hope this helps.

share|improve this answer
    
What exactly do you mean by putting the "Particularly Jewish Holocaust" in quotes? –  Felix Goldberg Jan 23 '13 at 20:48
    
I'm a bit confused now: You say Daniel Goldhagen is a functionalist, the Wikipedia article seems to group him under extreme intentionalism? Not even he proposed that the regime was innocent as opposed to their people, so why not the second? Perhaps the synthetic interpretation: IMO e.g. Ian Kershaw is a much more reliable scholar than Goldhagen ever was. –  Drux Jan 23 '13 at 22:13
    
Removing the particularity of the German extermination programme targeting Jews from the general context of German extermination programmes. So, the concealment of the general features of the camp systems, including the Soviet POW camps and Slavic labour camps, beneath the particularity of—for example—Auschwitz. Similarly avoiding "anti-partisan" warfare (the general massacre of civilians), particularly in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, when discussing pogroms. –  Samuel Russell Jan 23 '13 at 22:14
    
When I read Goldhagen last, his claims about a deep failure in German character was mediated by his evidence about the development of the genocide apparatus as an institution over time (particularly the incompetence of the action-based programme in 1941). That reads as "functionalism" to me. If the "intention" is universal, then isn't the State truly and genuinely representing The Folk's interest? In what sense is it meaningful to talk about an NSDAP or German Government ideology intending the holocaust if the intention is universal throughout German society? –  Samuel Russell Jan 23 '13 at 22:17
    
@SamuelRussell Well, if that is so, I must say that this further diminishes my respect for Daniel Goldhagen, because I don't buy into functionalism (see my other comment). Mind you, I grew up with relatives whom fate had put on the German side. There was no significant antisemitism in the family: e.g. for some reason we have lots of Jewish-sounding first names and that's perfectly fine, of course. IMO the recent developments in genocide studies that you mention in the last paragraph make good sense. –  Drux Jan 23 '13 at 22:25
show 5 more comments

As the end of the war was approaching, we see more and more effort on the part of at least the people in the field towards eliminating evidence of their actions. This led to prisoners (both Jews, other concentration camp inmates, and prisoners of war) being transported (often on foot for lack of trains and trucks, as well as to kill them through exhaustion) towards camps ever nearer the German heartland. At the same time documents were trucked there as well, or sometimes hidden or destroyed (rare) on site, and where possible facilities destroyed as well.
The "deathcamps" no longer existed at the time (meaning, the special facilities set up for no other purpose than to gas people, as far as I know those were all shut down by mid-late 1944 at the latest, as it was decided to work Jews to death instead, using them as slave labour in the production of e.g. the V2 and Me262).

share|improve this answer
2  
Nice answer, but a couple of references (to give an idea of your sources) would be beneficial :) –  astabada Jan 24 '13 at 9:57
1  
loads of old book knowledge (including Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and original German sources, my father's an avid collector of German books from the period), and there's a comprehensive list of camps and their operational periods on wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nazi-German_concentration_camps –  jwenting Jan 24 '13 at 11:37
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.