Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No-One Listens to Scholars

Yesterday I kvetched about how journalists who often know very little about their subject matter natter on as if they do, and the rest of us take it is as if they do, too. Today I came across the opposite phenomenon. Haaretz carried a story about how a new, 900-page report commissioned by ex-German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has documented that during the Nazi era the ministry contributed to the Holocaust: "German foreign ministry more involved in Holocaust than previously thought".

Previously thought by whom, pray tell? The reason I'm asking is that there's an excellent book by Christopher Browning about this precise subject, Final Solution and the German Foreign Office: A Study of Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland 1940-1943. The book is widely quoted by anyone who has published anything on the matter since its publication, it was as influential as such a book can be, and it launched Browning's illustrious career; if you ask me he's the most important scholar of the Holocaust in America.

Ah, and it was published... in 1978. I sent Chris a congratulatory e-mail this morning, about how someone has now uncovered the story he told 32 years ago; he says that a German publisher quickly had it translated just recently, to coincide with the publishing of the report that Haaretz refers to.

Sadly, I don't think this is an unusual case. Last week the Economist had a glowing review of a troubling book by Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Now I haven't read it yet, mind you, though I hope I will, but the excitement of the reviewer seems odd to me. The thesis of the book, about how Stalin and Hitler both engaged in mass murder on enormous scales in Eastern Europe, surely that can't be news to anyone, can it?

Did I ever mention that lots of people died in the Black Death? Just saying.


Anonymous said...

here is Timothy Snyder in an interview with the Economist http://itunes.apple.com/de/podcast/bloody-lands/id151230264?i=88187706
and here is Anne Applebaum's review of the book

whetehr it was in Applebaum's review or somewhere else it said that Snyder describes the killing methods - maybe a younger generation needs to read in detail how it was done - I suspect more often than not what I call horror porn

But that is not the only thing that makes me feel uneasy about the book. I wish I could nail it down, right now I have only a gut feeling that there is something wrong with his argument.


Anonymous said...

as to the foreign ministry I think I have read that it was discovered that they were far from lily-white as big great surprising news already 2 or 3 times in my lifetime. So now they got a report - the only part I'd be interested in would be whether Shirer or Weizsäcker is right about Weizsäcker senior.


Anonymous said...

Stalin killed people?!? I guess Robert Conquest will have to rewrite “The Great Terror”.

Btw, that fight against unnecessary sarcasm didn’t last long did it? Although I admit, that’s quite a bit of provocation. That Economist reviewer sure sounds like he had a “Comprehensive education’, either that or the British public (that’s ‘private’ to everyone else) school system is in more trouble than I thought. We know the American system is hopeless, Barry Rubin was complaining recently that US students didn’t know the USSR had been replace by Russia et al.

For those seeking the slightly more esoteric, I would recommend Snyder’s book “The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke”. It discusses the mutability of national identity through the life a Habsburg prince who in rebelling against his ‘Polish’ father became an ardent Ukrainian nationalist, briefly collaborated with the Nazis and was finally killed by the Soviets. Snyder does, in fact, write well.


NormanF said...

The Nazis were destroyed in the end because of their arrogance and greed. If they had restrained themselves, they would still be around today.

We can thank history that it was Hitler's recklessness that finished off his regime.

Y. Ben-David said...

I strongly urge you to read the very impressive book "Wages of Destruction" by Adam Tooze. It discusses the economic policy and situation of Nazi Germany. He disagrees with the notion that the Nazis could have "restrained themselves" after the defeat of France. Tooze points out Hitler had put himself in an impossible position at that point because he had no way to defeat Britain who was backed all the way by the US (I am talking about the period before Pearl Harbor) added to the fact that he was just as dependent on the USSR as Britain was on the US. The Atlantic Charter signed in summer 1941 before the US entered the war, added to Lend-Lease which came earlier committed the US to doing whatever was necessary to help defeat Nazi Germany.
Tooze also points out (and this is important to note regarding a book about economic policy) that Hitler was 100% committed to his racial fantasies and he was sure the US, being "controlled by the Jews" as he saw it, would eventually come in to the war on an active basis, which answers the famous question as to why he declared war on the US first, before the US could do so.
A perfect example of Hitler's absolute committment to his genocidal policies was the fact that his regime murdered 7 MILLION potential laborers (mostly Jews and Soviet POW's, but also including Italians and others) at the same time there was a desperate labor shortage in the Reich!
Thus, once Nazi Germany went to war, they had to go all the way and end up destroying themselves.

Anonymous said...


if Hitler had the ability to restrain himself, he wouldn't have been a homocidal lunatic. Thus he wouldn't have started the War at all.

The unsuspected (and lucky!) victory over France convinced him of his "superiority".

That was most fatal in every sense of the word. Now he believed he was invincible.

Whatever "restrains" he might have had, were gone.

Regards, André

Yaacov said...

T34 -

I never said I'd stop being sardonic. A man's gotta live, you know. I said I'd try to lay off being nasty to lefties as a group. And I will (try).

Victor said...

Silke, do you have umlauts on your keyboard or do you type Alt-XXX codes?

Anonymous said...

I have a German bought piece and thus a keyboard that shows not only Umlauts but also ß as "normals". Since switching to Apple in retirement I haven't even bothered to find out in which menu my Sonderzeichen=special letters are hidden ;-)


Anonymous said...

I came across Tooze's name first during the (German) debate that erupted after Götz Aly's book on Hitler's beneficiaries, where he claimed that Aly got his figures wrong and Hitler Germany didn't get as much out of its looting spree as Aly claimed.

Recently I have read something by Tooze on something which made me loose interest in him -
I wish I could remember what it was - usually that happens when they are comparing in ways that make me feel uncomfortable. http://www.yale.edu/history/faculty/tooze_a.html

Recently I came across a piece where it was claimed that one's chances to die on the Eastern Front were hugely "superior" to those of the Allies i.e. that the Allies spared their soldiers in "favour" of the Soviet ones.

As Snyder mentions in the interview that Russian Russians suffered comparatively little, could it be that there is a new battle on the Meinungshoheit (opinion sovereignty) going on as to whose contribution was more worthy, the west's or the east's?
If yes, I don't like it, discussions like that tend to marginalize (verbally) the ones who did the actual dying and suffering.


Barry Meislin said...

That argument has been raging for years. Standard Soviet (and post-Soviet) boilerplate.

Frankly, it makes a lot of sense....if one can ignore:
1. The Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement
2. D-Day
3. etc.