The Definitive Holocaust History

Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews 
Peter Longerich 

Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz

September 2010 Atlantic


Hailed as the definitive single-volume history of the development and implementation of the Final Solution when published in Germany in 1998, this book is finally available in English. But this is far more than a translation; Longerich—a historian at the University of London, who writes in both English and German—has revised the text throughout. He has reconstructed and imposed as much narrative order as possible on a tangle of political, military, and administrative processes. As possibleis a key qualification, for Longerich and his fellow scholars confront gap after gap in the historical record: the perpetrators largely succeeded in destroying the most important documents relating to the Final Solution, and in any event few of the crucial decisions were committed to paper. The records that do survive are widely scattered and were written in a manner intended to obscure the processes and policies they document. This fragmentary if abundant evidence means that much of the story Longerich tells is a matter of informed speculation. Nevertheless, with rigor (if too much Teutonic density) he places events and decisions in precise historical context, heeding strict chronology as well as such considerations as the Reich’s shifting military fortunes and swings in the German public’s and Nazi hierarchy’s outlook. In this largely bureaucratic history, Longerich convincingly establishes that the Nazi regime’s policy of systematically murdering all the Jews within Germany’s grasp evolved erratically but in an ever more radical direction—and the very contingent, decentralized, adaptive nature of that policy made it all the more horribly effective.

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