Thursday, October 20, 2005

Last night I finished reading this book ( the 1991 Alfred A. Knopf edition ), about Heinrich Himmler and his role in the murder of millions of Jews and others during World War II. It is well researched, easy to read even though the story that Richard Breitman tries to tell is sometimes a bit confusing - e.g. it is not always entirely clear what happened on which date since Breitman jumps between different months and dates - and highly informative. I expected to read more about Himmler 'the man', his personal background etc. Also the fact that the book deals only almost exclusively with Himmler's work until right after the Wannsee Conference ( January 2oth 1942 ) left me a bit 'disappointed', if that is the right word. His role in the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews in the spring of 1944, his orders to stop the gassings in Auschwitz in November1944, his efforts to conduct negotiations with the Allies, all these are subjects that a book such as this should have covered.
The book is very interesting - but not always entirely convincing - for everybody who is interested in the timetable and the planning stages of the Holocaust. In the ongoing discussion between 'intentionalists' and 'functionalists' Breitman assumes - rightly, in my view - a place somewhere in between: as soon as the wholesale murder of Jews became logistically possible, the opportunity - for which men like Himmler only had been waiting - was seized with all available hands. While Nazi policies towards and murder of the Jews was not always logical and consistent, one can discern a certain line leading from Hitler's first political activities to the attrocities committed in the extermination camps and other murder sites in Eastern Europe. What is striking - though not new for those who are familiar with the history of the perpetrators' side of this part of history - is how opposition to the work of Himmler and his henchmen was almost exclusively a result of economic, military-practical and/or personal considerations. Few if any of the senior military and civil functionaries in Germany, the Generalgouvernement and the countries under German control raised objections to what was done to and with the Jews out of sympathy or compassion with the victims.

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