In examining one of the defining events of the twentieth century, Doris L. Bergen situates the Holocaust in its historical, political, social, cultural, and military contexts. Unlike many other treatments of the Holocaust, this revised, third edition discusses not only the persecution of the Jews, but also other segments of society victimized by the Nazis: Roma, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet POWs, the disabled, and other groups deemed undesirable. In clear and eloquent prose, Bergen explores the two interconnected goals that drove the Nazi German program of conquest and genocide - purification of the so-called Aryan race and expansion of its living space - and discusses how these goals affected the course of World War II. Including firsthand accounts from perpetrators, victims, and eyewitnesses, her book is immediate and human.
"A book that will likely be required reading in college-level courses for years to come.... A detailed overview of the Holocaust." (History in Review)
"This succinct book is remarkably comprehensive, making it unusually accessible to nonexperts. Highly recommended." (CHOICE)
"This is a book that will find its place on the bookshelves of most Holocaust scholars and should be included in any Holocaust library." (Jewish Book World)
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Agency - the capacity or state of exerting power
I was looking for a comprehensive history of The Holocaust, and Goodreads pointed me toward Timothy Snyder. I read Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.... Still, I needed something more. Doris Bergen's book was exactly what I didn't know I needed.
Her history is concise, as titularly promised, but also complete. In the first chapter, she addresses not just the question of why did World War II happen but also the often forgotten question of "Why the Jews?" as the author puts it. She lay to rest many of my preconceived notions and mythology that I'd embraced as "cultural literacy."
Bergen also resists laying the entire Holocaust at the feet of one man, nor does she hold entire nations responsible. Specifically and deliberately, the author indicts those who actively and passively created and perpetuated mass murder.
Jarring and brutal, Bergen's language consistently used the voice of agency in describing the events of the Holocaust. Nobody "died" in the concentration camps described in War and Genocide; they were murdered by starvation, work, disease, gas, torture, suffocation (buried alive), gunshot, hanging, beating, or some other depravity that had a specific perpetrator and victim.
And Bergen does not allow either to be a faceless entity in the shadows of history. Through well-developed anecdotes, she brings the murderer and the murdered out of the darkness and names them. Her scorn or respect has an individuality that, for me, echoed the voice of God that each will surely hear on judgement day. The author never descends into collective nouns that tend to lull the reader into a complacency; instead you get the names and descriptions. You understand the person, the people, the Humanity—not the Six Million, the Jews, the Gypsies, the Gays, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Poles, the dead.
Likewise, the author notes that everyone who survived the Holocaust was saved by someone. I’m thankful to the author that the saved and the saviors, not just the murderers, are remembered here in War and Genocide.
A note about the narration of the audio book. Collene Curran’s prosody and expression were engaging; her delivery “professorial”, but in the best way possible. Occasionally, her tone was disconnected from the content. Specifically I remember picturing a smiling newscaster reporting “waves of refugees.” The narration did not often distract from the text itself though.
An informative review of the subject.