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The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees
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The Holocaust has been “the subject of countless books by celebrated academics”, said Saul David in The Daily Telegraph. But in this “brilliant” work, Laurence Rees, a former BBC head of history, has achieved something “unique”, which is to synthesise the latest scholarly research with first-hand testimony from both survivors and perpetrators. The result, though not for the fainthearted, is “shocking and heart-rending”. On the question of how the Shoah happened, Rees belongs to the “functionalist” rather than “intentionalist” school. Although Hitler was always a rabid anti-Semite, it wasn’t originally his plan to murder the Jews; instead, he hoped that they could be “forced to emigrate”. Only when circumstances made this impossible did he move to more extreme positions, and even then the “Final Solution” was more a last-ditch improvisation than a carefully thought-through strategy. These are not novel conclusions, said Nikolaus Wachsmann in The Guardian. The historical consensus now leans towards “functionalism”. What distinguishes Rees’ book is his ability to “tell a complex story with compassion and clarity, without sacrificing all nuances”.

Rees has been “badly served” by his publishers, who describe this as “the first authoritative and accessible account of the Holocaust in more than three decades”, said Oliver Kamm in The Times. The claim is “so erroneous as to be in poor taste”. That aside, this is a “worthy addition to the literature”. Why so many ordinary people in Germany and throughout occupied Europe turned a blind eye to what was happening will always be a “harrowing enigma”. But Rees provides an “exemplary account of how the greatest crime in modern history came about”.