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February 20, 2007

In Memoriam: The Holocaust - Jeremy Black on the Holocaust

Posted by Jeremy Black

Jeremy Black - Professor of History, University of Exeter - considers the continuing impact of the crimes of the Nazis and presents a concise history of the Holocaust and its origins.

The German extermination policies that led to the holocaust that consumed much of European Jewry were the culmination of powerful currents in nineteenth-century thought as refracted through the prism of Nazi ideology, and the messianic fantasies of Adolf Hitler. The opportunity was provided by the extensive German conquests in the early stages of World War Two, and therefore the history of the Holocaust in part properly belongs to World War Two. Hitler's war strategy and the war against the Jews cannot be detached from one another, and the mass murder of the Jews should be part of the analysis of the German conduct of the war.

The Holocaust is also of separate significance, not only as the most brutal episode of anti-Semitism, and a warning of whither that most stupid of attitudes can lead, as well as a formative background to the creation and ethos of the state of Israel, but also as an indication of where ethnic and organic notions of the state can lead. It is both appropriate to be emotive when writing about the Holocaust - how else to treat genocide, an abstraction that means smashing living babies' skulls against walls - and yet that also is both less and more than the story.

German nationalism led in the nineteenth century to a powerful state, but the idea that this should be based on the supposed community of the Deutsches Volk (German people) was abhorrent to Otto von Bismarck, who created the state and effectively ran it for twenty years. Instead, it was the idea of the pan-German opposition, which emerged in the 1890s, became increasingly influential among the educated middle class and, by 1914, were beginning to impose their values on some conservatives.

The subsequent collapse of the Second Reich (created after victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1) as a result of its total failure in World War One (1914-18) led, thereafter, to a largely grim emphasis on the history of the Volk, and the hardship and dispossession it suffered as a consequence of this defeat. The defeat was presented by right-wing populists as undeserved and as due to betrayal from within, particularly by Jews and Communists.

In many respects, indeed, Hitler's views represented the refraction of pre-1914 right-wing nationalist and racist views through the prism of German defeat and, also, the disintegration of Habsburg (Austrian) hegemony over part of Slavic Europe. Hitler aspired to reverse the earlier defeat, and to recreate an acceptable (ie. German-dominated) Europe, specifically by controlling Eastern Europe, where Lebensraum (living space) was to be pursued.

The quest for an Aryan geography had some surprising aspects. In Die Entdeckung des Paradieses (The Discovery of Paradise) (Brunswick, 1924), Franz von Wendrin argued that the Garden of Eden had been in Germany, but that the Jews had falsely claimed it for Asia. His cartographic claims were accompanied by statements on the need to liberate Germany from the inferior races.

The Nazis who gained power in Germany in 1933, and in Austria (which they joined to Germany) in 1938, presented German nationalism very much in terms of the Volk, and a concentration on ethnic rivalry with non-Aryans, especially Jews, who were treated as a threat to the organic, ethnic concept of Germanness. An emphasis on race led to the criticism, indeed dehumanization of the racial outsider, with Aryans and non-Aryans ('the blood enemy') treated as clear-cut and antagonistic categories, indeed as superhumans and subhumans. The association of the Jews with modernity as well was treated as a challenge, although, conversely, some Nazis regarded them as a primitive constraint on Nazi modernity.

In focusing on an Aryan Volk, the Nazis downplayed the earlier tradition of studying Classical (ie. non-German) influences in German history, while a stress on the Volk challenged individualism and notions of progress and liberty in terms of the celebration and protection of the self. The focus on the Aryans ensured that serious regional, political, religious, social and economic differences and divisions within Germany were downplayed.

Furthermore, there was a pronounced cult of personality that was linked to a sense of historical mission. History to Hitler was a lived process that he encapsulated, so that his personal drama became an aspect of the historic, and thus, at once, historical and timeless, mission of the German people.

To Hitler, racial purity was a key aspect of this mission, at once both means and goal. He was not interested in the light that scientific advances threw, and subsequently were to throw, on the complexities of racial identity, namely that no race possesses a discrete package of characteristics, that there are more genetic variations within, than between, races, and that the genes responsible for morphological features, such as skin colour, are atypical. Races were constructed as much as described, and this was the case with the Nazi construction of both Aryans and Jews. With his organic concept of the people, Hitler was opposed to the bi-racial marriages and unions that help to underline the very fluidity of ethnic identity and that challenges classification in terms of race. Anti-Semitism was integral, indeed necessary, to Hitler's thought.

Hitler alone, nevertheless, is not the issue. Of late, there has been a focus on widespread support for extermination among those termed 'racial warriors'. Alongside Hitler's frequent interventions comes an emphasis on the large cohort of enthusiastic followers. The basis of support for genocidal policies, however, was varied as, indeed, was the genesis of the latter. Much recent work focuses on how aspects of self-consciously modernizing beliefs, such as demographics and eugenics, led, or were used, to these ends. For example, ideas about how best to deal with epidemics and to destroy parasites that played a role in medical thinking, were focused on the Jews.

Hitler's long-term views about the fate of the Jews interacted with the short-term opportunities, problems and anxieties presented by developments. The latter, specifically the numbers of Jews brought under German control by successive advances in 1939-41, were to be important to the chronology and contours of the Holocaust. Opportunities, problems and anxieties, however, do not exist in the abstract, but are sensed and created, and Hitler's views largely conditioned the process.

As a long-term goal, Hitler felt it his mission to extirpate what he (inaccurately) regarded as the Jewish-dominated Communist Soviet Union, which he felt would secure his notions of racial superiority and living space. This was to be accompanied by the annihilation of the Jews, the two acts creating a Europe that would be dominated by the Germans, who were to be a master race over the Slavs and others. The Slavs were seen as Aryans by the Nazis, albeit low-grade ones.

Pre-war discrimination against, and brutality towards, German Jews led many to flee, giving effect to the policy of expulsion. The policy of deportation was then followed when Austria was occupied in 1938, and subsequently was the policy envisaged for Bohemia and Moravia (modern Czech Republic), occupied in the spring of 1939, and then for much of Poland. That policy, however, proved unrealistic for the vast majority of Jews in areas that the Germans conquered from 1939. The murderous, but not yet genocidal, intent of German policy became readily apparent that year. Having overrun Poland in 1939, the Germans and the Soviets at once began to kill Poland's leaders and intelligentsia in order to further their ends of creating a ductile slave population. In addition, several thousand Jews were killed by the Germans during, or soon after, the conquest; a key episode in eroding inhibitions and encouraging slaughter as a means of policy and therefore a wider option.

The remaining Jews were obliged to live in ghettos where they were subject to harsh conditions, especially limited food. Those who tried to leave were killed. In addition, German Jews were deported to Polish ghettos. Adolf Eichmann, the official in charge of emigration and deportation in the Reich Security Main Office, planned to deport the Czech and Polish Jews, but, in Eastern Europe, this fell foul of other plans to settle occupied territories with German settlers, particularly those who were refugees from Soviet rule. These plans drew on a longstanding agrarian romanticism that had been directed by right-wingers, and then the Nazis, to focus on strengthening Germany's borders and the German race. Farming was seen as a healthier way to build-up the German master race. Himmler, who was in charge of German settlement outside Germany, sought an SS-based population of farmers and warriors. The option of expelling Europe's Jews to the Vichy French-run colony of Madagascar discussed in 1940 was rendered impossible by British naval power. European-wide deportation, the policy pressed by Hitler at the close of 1940, was not feasible.

The German advance into the Soviet Union in 1941 brought far more people judged unsuitable by Hitler, both Jews and Slavs, under his control, providing both a problem and opportunities for the implementation of Nazi plans. The war against the Soviet Union was conceived as a genocidal war, and the Wehrmacht, in conjunction with the Ost-ministry, planned for thirty million Soviet deaths.

At the same time that plans were entertained for detaining and deporting Jews to Siberia, which the Germans did not intend to occupy, Action Groups (Einsatzgruppen), advancing close behind the troops from the opening day of the invasion, killed Jews, political commissars, and others deemed 'undesirable', in general with the co-operation of the army. The harsh content and tone of orders for the day by many army commanders to their units scarcely encouraged a reasonable treatment of Jews, Communists and prisoners. Instead, many called on their troops to annihilate Hitler's targets. Close to one million Jews were killed within six months in the territories conquered in Operation Barbarossa. Most were killed by the Germans, although the Romanians did their malign part in the area they overran, while in Lithuania and Ukraine the Germans had some local support. They were able to draw on widespread anti-Semitism.

In Lithuania, mass killings of all Jews by the Germans began in August 1941, as food and security issues interacted with racist assumptions. The killings were in open country, not in concentration camps. At Babi Yar, outside Kiev, the major city in Ukraine, the Germans recorded slaughtering 33,771 Jews in three days.

Terrible as this was, a still more drastic 'Final Solution' was being planned from late 1941. This was the detention of Jews throughout Europe, their deportation to distant camps, mostly in Poland, and their gassing. This policy led to experiments in how best to kill people. At the concentration camp at Auschwitz near Cracow in Poland, from August 1941, Zyklon B (prussic acid) poison-gas crystals were used on Soviet prisoners, instead of the lice for which it was intended. From at least 8 December 1941, Jews were killed in gas vans en route between the concentration camp at Chelmno and nearby woods where the corpses were buried. Eventually over 150,000 Jews were killed there. Other camps swiftly followed.

The killing of those deemed unwanted was central to German plans for the future of Europe. The Nazi leadership planned a 'New Order', with Germany central to a European system, and the Germans at the top of a racial hierarchy. The economy of Europe was to be made subservient to German interests, with the rest of Europe providing Germany with labour, raw materials and food, and taking German industrial products. Jewish assets were to be seized. Indeed the despoliation of the Jews in Germany, first, and then throughout Europe, was a vital component of the Nazi war economy. This was the case in both the narrow sense of funding the production of armaments as well as providing forced labour , and in the wider sense of injecting cash or goods into the economies of allied and occupied countries in order to stave off the worst effects of shortages and to cement the Axis system.

Hitler was committed to a demographic revolution of slaughter and widespread resettlement, and this led to a geography of killing. Much of the former Soviet Union was designated for occupation, its population classified for Germanisation, extermination, or forcible transfer to Siberia. Like Madagascar, the last, however, was not in the event an option, and was not the direction of the war on the Jews.

Instead, the Wannsee meeting of 20 January 1942 determined to give force to what was intended as a Final Solution, in which all European Jews, including those not hitherto under German control, were to be deported to death camps and slaughtered. This meeting has been seen as definitive in policy-making by some scholars, but as more transitional by others, for example Longerich. Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich appear to have been moving the previous autumn to the decision to kill all Jews, but in early November 1941 Himmler had reprimanded Jaecklen for the mass murder of two trainloads of German Jews deported to Kovno. For this reason, Gerlach and Longerich argue that the first invitation to Wannsee, for 8 December, was to discuss only deportations to the East, forced labour, and selective mass murder.

The eventual Wannsee Protocol, however, indicated agreement on genocide. In the event, as Kershaw indicates with his study of part of Poland annexed by Germany in 1939, there was a complex relationship between central direction and local initiatives. He argues that Hitler was content to allow others to turn the ideological imperatives he expressed into practical policy objectives. The role of the extension of the war to include the USA may also have influenced Hitler's attitudes, encouraging him to push forward European mass-murder.

In the event, a series of camps were opened, including Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec in Poland, Maly Trostinets near Minsk, and Jungfernhof near Riga, while the camp at Auschwitz was extended and was to be the site where the largest number of Jews were killed. Aside from Jews, large numbers of gypsies were also killed in the death camps. Homosexuals were not targeted for extermination and were not killed in death camps. However, they were sent to concentration camps where they suffered particularly brutal treatment from which some died. The same was true of Jehovah's Witnesses, who were actively persecuted because of their opposition to military service and to the Nazi system. Physically and mentally disabled people who were unable to work were not killed in the death camps, but rather in specially designated mental hospitals beginning in 1939-40. Some in the East were shot or gassed in gas vans. The centrally-directed killing of the disabled ended in 1941 because the personnel were transferred to slaughtering Jews, but the killing of the disabled continued.

Scholars are divided as to when the Germans made the crucial transition to genocide, with differences in particular between late 1941 and the late spring of 1942. In 1942, the cruel treatment of the Jews was increasingly focused on their deportation, from the ghettos that had been created by the Germans, as well as from Western Europe, to camps, which were run by the SS. These included not only the death camps where gas was used, but also slave labour camps, most of whose harshly-treated inmates died as a result of serious malnutrition, physical violence and disease, or were killed. The distinction between those judged able to work and those chosen for immediate killing was an aspect of the degree to which what were seen as rational considerations, especially attitudes towards age and gender, played a role in slaughter.

Another such aspect was seen with the calculation of food availability, which led to a conviction that killing Jews, as well as other Soviet civilians and, indeed, prisoners, would free foodstuffs for the German army and later settlers. These and other ideas were subordinated to the logic of anti-Semitic murder. This war against the Jews took precedence over utilitarian considerations, such as the provision of labour, as this war helped further radicalize Hitler’s anti-Semitism.

In July-September 1942, 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw alone, mostly to the nearby death camp at Treblinka. After armed resistance by the Warsaw Jews in January 1943, the Germans, on 19 April, launched a campaign to destroy the ghetto. Although in a hopeless situation, outnumbered and with few arms, the Jews, fighting from bunkers and underground positions, resisted until 16 May. They received scant support from the Polish underground.

The killing went on to the close of the war. It was not until the summer of 1944 that the Hungarian Jews were killed: 435,000 Jews were deported by the Germans to Auschwitz. Some were used for labour there, but about three-quarters were killed at once. The deportations occurred after Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944 in order to prevent its defection to the Allies.

The treatment of the Hungarian Jews reflected the continuing synergy between Hitler's war strategy and the war against the Jews. Hitherto, despite serious anti-Semitic acts, the Hungarians, who were allied to Germany, had refused to carry out a variant of the Final Solution, but, once occupied, Hungarian officials co-operated eagerly, motivated, as in part the Germans were, by the benefits sought from the seizure of Jewish assets. The post-war Communist regime refused to return seized assets.

Elsewhere also, the seizure of assets played a role in encouraging active co-operation with the Holocaust. This was the case, for example, with the bounty hunters responsible for the capture of nearly 40,000 Dutch Jews, most of whom were killed in Auschwitz or Sobibor.

The European assault on Jewry included a deliberate destruction of Jewish knowledge, culture and locations, for example prayer books and synagogues, which were destroyed. Having demonized Jews, the Germans were in the dangerous position of feeling both strength and weakness towards them. They were able to plan and execute a barbarous rolling massacre that reflected the one-sided nature of a power relationship in which the perpetrators of slaughter were in no physical danger.

At the same time, the Germans were driven on not only by their vicious ideology, but also by a sense of the challenge posed by the large numbers they now controlled. Thus, paradoxically, the weakness of Nazism played a major role in the Holocaust. Slaughter was intended to both effectuate and overcome a racist paranoia that ensured that the Germans lacked the willingness and ability to elicit consent from others than the few groups in occupied Eastern Europe designated for collaboration.

At the same time, not all German commanders, troops and officials responded in a brutal fashion, and most who did not comply were not punished. This variety in response highlights the issue of individual responsibility, and removes from the guilty the argument that they were in some way passive victims of an all-powerful system and ideology. The range of response seen in Germany was also witnessed in occupied Europe. In Poland, for example, alongside active or complicit hostility to the Jews, including a massacre at Jedwabne, hostility that preceded the war and that continued after it, there was much help on the personal level, particularly sheltering Jews.

The Allies were aware of the killing of the Jews, in part, through the interception and deciphering of German radio traffic that revealed from July 1941 that Jews were being killed by German forces operating in the Soviet Union. The Allies, however, were wary of Zionist proposals for deals or rescue ideas, seeing them as possibly Nazi ploys.

The scale of the killing did not become public knowledge until the liberation of the concentration camps thrust the Holocaust to the attention of the outside world in 1945, and led to trials of camp commandants. The Holocaust, however, then receded from attention, as the Cold War and the desire to 'normalize' West Germany ensured that other issues were stressed, and relatively little attention was paid to the Holocaust in the 1950s. The West German government paid compensation, with the first Federal Compensation Law being passed in 1953, but there was considerable reluctance, and American pressure was important.

The situation, however, subsequently changed, both in Germany and in other states that had played a role in the Holocaust, either as sites for murder, sources of collaboration, or, allegedly, as overly disengaged observers. In Germany, the pressures on the collective myth of general social and cultural changes were important, specifically the rise of a generation that did not feel responsibility for Nazism, and also the decline of deference towards the former generations.

In part, the shift was due to a growing awareness of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime which was matched by an increased focus on the Holocaust from outside Germany, and by the widespread determination to treat it as the defining moment in public responsibility. The attempt to contain the effects on Germany's image by blaming the atrocities specifically on the Nazis was challenged, especially in a debate about the complicity of the military, which was indeed pronounced. In Serbia the mass-killing of Jews was pushed by the army from 1941. Thus, in place of the notion of the Germans as in some ways victims of the Nazis, an idea pushed especially hard in Austria, came the view that they had collaborated.

The emergence of the Holocaust as a central issue in Germany, France and the USA from the 1970s, and more particularly in the 1990s (as well as a legitimate academic subject, and not simply an aspect of the Second World War), rested on complex social, cultural and political reasons. These included a reaction against Holocaust denial by the resurgent extreme right. Growing interest in, and reference to, the Holocaust marked not only an important change in how people saw the 1940s, but also the development of a wider frame of reference, seen, for example, in the USA with the Nazi War Disclosure Act of 1998 and the opening of the large United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The capacity of historical works to ignite public interest in this field was shown by the response to Daniel Goldhagen's depiction of a large number of Germans as Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), and also with the 2000 libel trial arising from David Irving's work. The former episode juxtaposed an often critical scholarly response with a more engaged populist reception accepting Goldhagen's somewhat simplistic case, especially in the USA. A valuable case study makes it clear that the people of the German city of Osnabrück knew what was happening, even if only a minority took part in anti-Semitic acts. Widespread public acceptance of a policy of social exclusion also affected those with at least one Jewish grandparent. The Irving libel trial indicated that historical evidence could be deployed effectively within the constraints of legal cases, as the trial served as an opportunity to assert and demonstrate historical truths, in this case the horrors of the Holocaust.

In German historiography, there was a controversy about the relationship between the Nazis and the longer-term trends in German history, and this had a direct relevance to debates over the legitimacy of the West German political system, and was linked with challenges to the dominant conservative (and gerontocratic character) of post-war West German historical scholarship.

The Historikerstreit (controversy among historians) of 1986-7, which linked discussion of the Holocaust to the question of how best to present national history, was played out in a very public fashion, with many articles appearing in prominent newspapers. In part, this was a product of the attempt by historians close to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Party, which gained power in 1982, to 'normalize' German history, which was taken to mean make it more acceptable in order to ground national identity. Kohl saw this as a necessary basis for patriotism, national pride and spiritual renewal, a theme taken up more generally on the German right.

In the controversy, the degree to which the Holocaust arose from specific German characteristics was debated, as was the extent to which the German state had a historical mission, specifically to resist advances from the east, ie. the Soviet Union, an approach pushed by conservatives such as Andreas Hillgruber. This led to the claim that German iniquities had to be considered against this background. The argument that the Germans had to fight on to resist the Soviet advance was also that of German generals in the final stage of the war. This self-serving argument did not stop them also mounting a fierce resistance to Anglo-American forces, while fighting on of course provided more time for the Holocaust, not that this was the main purpose of the generals.

Separately from, but related to, debates among historians, the controversial nature of the recent German past has a direct impact on German domestic and, possibly, foreign policy. This was seen in October-November 2003 when a controversy arose over a speech by Martin Hohmann, a backbencher from the then opposition Christian Democratic Party, declaring that Germans should not, as a result of their support for Hitler, be treated as a 'guilty people'. Hohmann's comparison indeed was designed to deflect criticism onto those whose brutal treatment under Hitler formed the prime charge, the Jews, because he claimed that they were themselves guilty of a prominent role in Communist atrocities, a claim also made on behalf of anti-Semitic nationalists in Eastern Europe. After a fortnight's controversy, Hohmann was expelled from the Party.

The official federal government memorialization in Germany was reflected powerfully in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, finally finished in 2005 after long controversy. A large work, the size of two football fields, built close to the site of Hitler's bunker in Berlin, its design, however, was a source of dispute, as was the extent to which it represented a break with the past. The need to coat the stones (designed to represent a Jewish cemetery) with anti-graffiti spray reflected anxiety that they could be defaced by neo-Nazis.

Furthermore, as another cause of controversy, this spray was manufactured by Degussa, a subsidiary of which had produced the Zyklon B gas used in the death camps. The memorial was presented not simply as a response to the past, but also as a warning. In July 2004, Wolfgang Thierse, the Speaker of the German parliament, praised it not just as a memorial to mark the Holocaust but also for being

about the future: a reminder that we should resist anti-Semitism at its roots.

Memorials and cemeteries are important sites for contestation as well as commemoration. Thus, President Ronald Reagan of the USA caused a stir on a state visit to West Germany in 1985 when, joining the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he visited the military cemetery at Bitburg because it contained the graves of SS guards. Reagan indeed described the soldiers as as much victims of the Nazis as those who had suffered in concentration camps, a bizarre equivalence.

Germany's wartime allies also came to grips with the Holocaust, although only with some difficulty. This was most contentious in France where the Vichy legacy proved difficult. In Alain Resnais's documentary about the Holocaust, Nuit et brouillard (1955), a film commissioned by the Comité d'histoire de la 2e Guerre mondiale with the support of the Ministry of Veterans, the French licensing authorities censored a shot briefly showing the kepi of a French policeman among those guarding deportees.

Growing interest in Vichy's complicity in the Holocaust, and the less deferential character of French society, especially after the unrest of May 1968, combined to provide a more conducive atmosphere for the pursuit of the truth by journalists, scholars and others. Politics also played a major role, as scores were settled with those who could be tainted for their role under Vichy, most prominently François Mitterand, president from 1981 until 1995, and the friend of René Bousquet, chief of police under Vichy. The latter was assassinated in Paris in 1993, just before he could be tried for his role in rounding up Jewish children for deportation to slaughter in Germany. Judicial proceedings further helped encourage interest and controversy, especially the trials in 1994 of Paul Touvier, head of the collaborationist milie in Lyons, and, in 1997-8, of Maurice Papon, a former secretary-general at the Préfecture of the Gironde, who had played a major role in the deportation of Bordeaux's Jews and later became a government minister.

The Holocaust helped focus a more complex refashioning of the recent French past, creating a demand for the recognition of events and memories that had been ignored in the public account. Pressure for a new public memory was grasped in 1995 when Mitterand's opponent and successor, Jacques Chirac, accepted national responsibility for the wartime treatment of the Jews, a major condemnation of the Vichy regime, and a step that Mitterand had refused to take in 1992. In 2004, the French education ministry distributed to schools DVDs with excerpts of Shoah (1985), a film about the Holocaust, as part of its attempt to combat anti-Semitism.

Similarly, in Italy, the treatment of the Jews, particularly after the anti-Semitic legislation of 1938, was an issue in the contest over the reputation of Mussolini, not least over the popularity of the Fascist Salò republic in northern Italy in 1943-5. This issue also relates to that of the Italian position in the Balkans, part of which was occupied by Italian forces in 1941-3.

In Eastern Europe, Communist criticism of the Nazi regime and its collaborators was replaced after the fall of the Iron Curtain by an emphasis on Communist and Soviet oppression. For example, in Belarus, the mass graves at Kuropatny, where the Soviet NKVD (secret police) had slaughtered at least 100,000 people between 1937 and 1941, were exhumed from 1988, reviving and popularizing Belarussian nationalism in the crucible of anger. As Eastern Europeans came to see themselves as victims of Communist rule, who had played no role in the regime (a largely misleading view), while Communism was presented as a foreign ideology, so the sufferings of others, such as Jews, was neglected. Furthermore, there was a long-held tendency to emphasize Christian victims of Nazi persecution as much as their far more numerous Jewish counterparts. This was seen, for example, in the contest between Catholic and Jewish interpretations of Auschwitz.

Throughout Eastern Europe, there was also a reluctance or failure to acknowledge the degree of local complicity in the Holocaust. Furthermore, in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, wartime regimes that had collaborated with Hitler received far more sympathetic attention than had been the case under the Communists.

Ion Antonescu, dictator of Romania from 1940 until 1944, had persecuted Jews and collaborated with Hitler, being executed for war crimes in 1946, but in the 1990s he was proclaimed as an anti-Soviet nationalist and cities rushed to name streets after him. Although not seen as anti-Semitic acts, this process was an aspect of the expression of traditional themes that included anti-Semitism, and it was not until 2004 that the Romanian President, Ion Iliescu, made the first official acknowledgement of the country's role in the Holocaust. The previous year, he had established an international panel to report on the subject. Iliescu was an ex-Communist, and it is unclear whether a right-wing leader would have made the same decision. In Lithuania, the process of exonerating anti-Communists extended to include celebrations of 'heroes' who fought with the SS. The Germans had also won support among those who had been ruled by the Soviet Union since the Russian Civil War, particularly from non-Russians.

The contested memories of the Holocaust are not an inconsequential adjunct of the academic scholarship, but, instead, also part of its weighty impact on Western culture. The Holocaust is now a central aspect of twentieth-century European history, and can be seen as a key element in Germany's war on Europe. It also has a wider significance, particularly if the emphasis is placed on 'indifference, disinterest, and a striking lack of moral values', which suggest not only that the genocide emerged from a historically unique situation, but also that it was/is more generally latent.

I have benefited from the comments of David Cesarani, Peter Hoffenberg and Jeremy Noakes on an earlier draft of this essay.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author, amongst much else, of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006), The Dotted Red Line: Britain's Defence Policy in the Modern World (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and The Slave Trade (Social Affairs Unit, 2007).


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