“The Holocaust: A New History”— History’s Greatest Crime

Rees, Laurence. “The Holocaust: A New History”, Public Affairs, 2016.

History’s Greatest Crime

Amos Lassen

Laurence Rees has spent twenty-five years meeting the survivors and perpetrators of the Third Reich and the Holocaust and has written this sweeping history that combines this testimony with the latest academic research to investigate how history’s greatest crime was possible. Rees maintains that while hatred of the Jews was at the epicenter of Nazi thinking, it is impossible to fully understand the Holocaust without considering Nazi plans to kill millions of non-Jews as well. He shows that there was no single overarching blueprint for the Holocaust but that rather a series of escalations compounded into the horror. “Though Hitler was most responsible for what happened, the blame is widespread, Rees reminds us, and the effects are enduring”.

Presented chronologically this is an authoritative account of that while being extremely readable. This was history’s darkest moment.

The Nazis ultimately wanted every Jew to die and they were a racist regime that believed that some human beings simply did not deserve to live–not because of what they had done, but because of who they were. I can hear some of you saying that what do we need another history of the Holocaust and I join you in that question. Rees show us why in his presentation that is built on new scholarship and interviews giving us a compelling, highly readable explanation of how and why the Holocaust happened, drawing on recent scholarship and impressively incorporating moving and harrowing interviews with victims as well as chilling accounts by the perpetrators. Rees wonderfully explains the origins and grotesque mentality of the Holocaust as how it developed.

Perhaps the most important achievement of Rees is his “relentless juxtaposing of the ostensibly civilized, educated, and self-avowed ethical men deciding what they deem best for their country with the ineffable suffering they inflict on those they perceive as their ideological and racial enemies”. I quickly discovered that this is not just another book about the Holocaust since it literally raises the dead historically. It the interviews of those who survived, we also hear the voices of those who did not and it is to them that the book is addressed. What we really see is the thin line between a civilized world and a genocidal one. In only five years, the Nazis went from some 3% percent electoral support to becoming Germany’s largest party. Rees shows that the logistics of murdering millions of innocent people were worked out by highly educated party officials in calm and amiable atmosphere over lunch and cognac. To me that makes it all the more horrible.

If we think about a Holocaust today and combine what was with destructive power nuclear weapons, “recrudescence of nativism, and proliferation of ‘alternative facts’ we [will] realize why “The Holocaust: A New History” is such an important and timely book”.

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