A young American scholar who has Germany in an uproar over his assertion that ordinary Germans fully and enthusiastically backed Hitler's war against the Jews says he drew his conclusions from the words of ordinary Germans themselves.
And therein lies Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's chief defense against charges leveled against him by German newspapers and magazines that he is a racist and a revenge-seeker. His new book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," has stirred one of the most heated debates in the agonizing postwar examination of how the Holocaust happened.From the moment the death camps were liberated, when seeing became believing, a debate has raged over how the Holocaust happened - was there something terribly wrong in the German psyche or had the nation of Beethoven and Goethe been captured by lunatic criminals using the immense powers of the state to do the unthinkable?
Goldhagen, a 36-year-old Harvard professor, charges that, far from being manipulated, ordinary Germans willingly and almost gleefully took part in the slaughter because centuries of anti-Semitic ideology had conditioned them to believe that Jews were not human. The Germans, he says, had developed "as profound a hatred as one people has likely ever harbored for another."
Goldhagen understands why his searing 603-page book has caused controversy but he bristles at the personal attacks to which he has been subjected from many who have not read the work. He plans to go to Germany and participate in a series of debates when the book is issued there later in the summer.
So sharp have been the personal attacks that one German journalist said Goldhagen's thesis "must have hit a very raw nerve . . . Uncle Sigmund (Freud) would have a field day here."
Goldhagen, the son of a Holocaust survivor, says his background has nothing to do with his conclusion that ordinary Germans hunted down Jews, brutalized, tortured and finally killed them in their millions. "They were animated by a set of beliefs that led them to believe that the killing of Jews was necessary and just. Let's say you are told to kill, you don't have to mock, degrade and beat the victims first. They did that out of hatred for the victims," he told Reuters.
"Anyone who discusses my background is not being serious. My work stands on its own," he said.