For American Jews, the problem of the “ordinary German” is especially troubling, because it brings us directly to the darkest and most unassuageable suspicions about Jewish vulnerability. The most controversial books about the Holocaust, from Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners, have been the ones that try to explain how the Germans—citizens of an advanced society, famous for its culture and education—could be led in the space of a few years to commit a genocide of the Jews. For if this people could do it, the strong implication is that under the right (or, better, the wrong) circumstances, any people could do it. And the history of the world since 1945 seems to bear out this implication. Cambodians, Serbs, and Rwandans have all shown that people do not have to be Nazis, or anti-Semites, in order to slaughter their neighbors.
Get the Longreads Weekly Email
Success! You're on the list.
Whoops! There was an error and we couldn't process your subscription. Please reload the page and try again.