The murder of European Jewry: Nazi genocide in continental perspective

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The Holocaust provides either one of the strongest arguments for Nazi Germany as a radically different state bent on racial utopia or an argument for continuity, given Europe's deep and recent history of violent intolerance of Jews. With alternating Nazi perceptions of Jews as a race, a non-race, and an anti-race, it is certainly plausible to understand their depiction of the ultimate “other” as an updated version of occidental Jew-hatred for an Enlightened age in which many Jews had secularized and assimilated. There is no need to make the dichotomy so sharp; besides, as the editors of this volume recognize, it would be wrong to react too strongly against a racial state paradigm, not least because that itself emerged in reaction to a historiography paying insufficient attention to the peculiarities and centrality within Nazi ideology of Nazi doctrines of inclusion and exclusion. If this volume is seeking to move the dialectic along, thinking of continuums and interrelationships in the policies of different states will help. Ongoing scholarship has rightly suggested the extent to which the murder of the Jews was related to other Nazi population policies, even while of course having its own specific character and dynamics. I want to argue here for a still wider context, extending conceptually beyond the crimes of the “totalitarian” states, chronologically beyond the era of World War II and even the “European civil war” of c.1914–1945, and geographically beyond the rather narrow definition that tends to be given to “Europe” in the continent's historiography. The Holocaust was a European crime as well as a Nazi German crime, and the “Final Solution” occurred in an age of wider European genocide and ethnic cleansing in which related patterns can be discerned across very different states. Consider correlates at the ideological level. As Gerhard Wolf's contribution to this volume shows, in areas of Nazi policy, such as Germanization, where biological-racial considerations should have been at their purest (that is, free of the sometimes quasi-theological rhetoric about the “Jewish threat”), there were pronounced frayed edges in policy. This suggests that racism is not categorically different from ethnonationalism, with its contested cultural boundaries, but further along a continuum of spurious essentialisms whose proponents cannot quite create reality as they wish it, nor identify a consistent idiom to divide up the world of human variety as they see it. © Cambridge University Press 2017.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond the Racial State
Subtitle of host publicationRethinking Nazi Germany
EditorsDevin Pendas, Mark Roseman, Richard Wetzell
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages37
ISBN (Electronic)9781316691700
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


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