Jonathan Steinberg

No end to the Final Solution

Avoiding German-language sources doesn't help when you're arguing about the Holocaust

David Cesarani, Research Professor of History at Royal Holloway University of London, died at the age of 58 on 25 October 2015. The book now appears without its author, a kind of huge mausoleum for an astonishing enterprise. Cesarani wants to change our view of the Holocaust and to close the

yawning gap between popular understanding of this history and current scholarship on the subject… to challenge the traditional concepts and periodisations … the term itself.

He substitutes the ‘Final Solution’ for the Holocaust, but that Nazi term has become an alternative name for the Holocaust, which remains after 900 pages entirely unchallenged.

The first 235 pages take the persecution of Jews from the German defeat in the first world war to 1 September 1939, when Hitler’s war began. The other chapters cover the history of the war and the extermination of the Jews of Europe to 1945, and then unusually into an epilogue and conclusion. These follow the history to 1949, as the horrors of war continue for Jews, who face pogroms in Poland and expropriation in most European countries. There is also frustration for those seeking to escape the camps — now under the Allies — to Israel or the USA.

The main thrust of the argument, and its claim to novelty, rests on the attempt to deny that Nazi anti-Jewish policy was ‘systematic, consistent or even premeditated’. Nobody who has worked on German archives would deny that the Nazi state ran by a kind of ‘Hobbesian war of all against all’, as General Georg Thomas of the Wehrmacht economic section called it. There were more than a dozen competing Nazi agencies in occupied France alone, and only the Führer could adjudicate among them. Yet on the Final Solution there was no chaos.

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