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From the JFR Library – August 2022

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From the JFR Library

War & Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust

by Doris L. Bergen

Reviewed in History in Review by Boris Segel – March 9, 2009

War & Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust offers a general survey of the Holocaust, its causes and its consequences. Written by Doris L. Bergen, who is a Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto, this text strives to answer some of the universal questions about the Holocaust such as, how did the world allow it to happen, who was involved in the killings, what motivated their actions, the reaction of the victims, and how this atrocity was seen by the average man and women on the street, both in Germany and in conquered countries.

By the very nature of the Holocaust and the Nazi’s quest to exterminate all Jews in Europe, the bulk of the text deals with Nazi atrocities against the Jews and why Jews, in particular, where the focus of Nazi hatred and murderous rage. In addition, however, Bergen also touches upon the numerous other victims of the Nazi’s murderous rampage – including the imprisonment in concentration camps and/or murder of gypsies, communists, and other’s deemed undesirable including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, captured black soldiers, and Soviet POWs. The Nazi’s quest for racial purification even impacted pure-blooded Aryans via the Nazi’s euthanasia program that resulted in the murder of anyone deemed seriously deformed as well as those labeled as mentally or physically impaired. As Bergen points out in this book, the murders associated with the euthanasia program began years before the wholesale murder of Europe’s Jews.

The information in this text is organized thematically, covering:

  • Preconditions: Antisemitism, Racism, and Common Prejudices in Early-Twentieth-Century Europe
  • Leadership and Will: Adolf Hitler, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, and Nazi Ideology
  • From Revolution to Routine: Nazi Germany, 1933–1938
  • Open Aggression: In Search of War, 1938–1939
  • Experiments in Brutality, 1939–1940: War against Poland and the So-Called Euthanasia Program
  • Expansion and Systematization: Exporting War and Terror, 1940–1941
  • The Peak Years of Killing: 1942 and 1943
  • Death Throes and Killing Frenzies, 1944–1945
  • The Legacies of Atrocity

There have been many books written on the Holocaust, and each has its unique place within the panorama of Holocaust literature and history. The second edition of Doris L. Bergen’s book, War & Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, is a book that will likely be required reading in college-level courses for years to come. Despite its brevity, this book provides a detailed overview of the Holocaust, and also finds the space to fit in personal accounts of both victims and perpetrators. The text is well suited for use as supplemental text in general survey courses on World War II, 20th Century World history, Modern German history, Nazism, or similar courses. It can also be profitably used as a primary textbook in a course dealing specifically with the Holocaust. The text concludes with a list of sources and suggestions for further reading.

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