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Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  3,000 ratings  ·  134 reviews
A work of the utmost originality and importance--as authoritative as it is explosive--that radically transforms our understanding of the Holocaust and of Germany in the Nazi period.

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has revisited a question that history has come to treat as settled, and his researches have led him to the inescapable conclusion that none of the established answers hol
Hardcover, 623 pages
Published March 29th 1996 by Knopf (first published 1996)
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Everyone knows it’s hard to get published. There are a lot of authors and a lot of books, and it’s difficult to stand out among the sea of words. It’s a bit easier for memoirists, who can rely on shabby childhoods and drug addictions. For a historian, it’s a bit trickier. One tactic is the micro-history: find yourself a historical footnote, and then elevate it to the turning point of mankind. For example, an ambitious historian could write about the hula-hoop, and how it brought about détente be ...more
May 23, 2013 Jonathan rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one

This should, for many reasons, get only one star. It gets two for the occasional flashes of actual, legitimate historical scholarship and for some of the evidence he has dug up.

Nonetheless, it is a truly terrible work, made even more so by its persuasive and populist tone, and the large numbers of copies sold. It is an almost textbook example of the dangers of creating a thesis, and then selecting and interpreting evidence to fit that thesis. His conclusions are simply wrong, and not backed up
This book makes a powerful argument. It's main thesis is that the vast majority of Germans during and before WWII had antisemetic beliefs that were of such power and scope, that they led many ordinary Germans to perpetrate and support the destruction of the Jewish people.

He refutes competing claims such as that the Nazis forced them into killing. He provides many detailed accounts of police squads killing without orders, and sometimes against orders. He demonstrates that men in Police batallion
It's not that some of Goldhagen's ideas are wrong. He makes a valuable contribution by recognizing the history of anti-Semitism in Germany history prior to WWII and the Holocaust. However, this ideological goal blinds him to any other rational to the causes of the Holocaust. In his effort to prove the exceptional nature of German hatred and bigotry, he ignores the wealth of evidence from a variety of social scientists pointing out the general cruelty and inhumanity of humanity in general. In doi ...more
This book really has pissed people off. Goldhagen takes a very different view of Germans, Nazi or not, who actively helped in brutalizing and murdering Jews. He claims they weren't forced to do it, but chose to. They were not automatons blindly following orders, rather their particular brand of Jew hatred made them willing exterminators of people who had no power.

He does acknowledge other victims of Nazism, but this book is about German anti-semitism and Jews. That is a long enough story. Many
There’s been so much written about this controversial book that I’m sure I don’t have too many details to add that haven’t been covered before … so instead I’ll gather some thoughts that have been mulling around in my mind in the week since I finished reading it.

First, I find this an important book in that it reminds us that this period in history – and the actions of the Germans - shouldn’t be blithely discounted with the standard “it happened because of the economic climate of the time.” As t
Richard Fulgham
Unreliable sources and much speculation in this obviously vengeful and hateful book. This author simply hates all Germans and claims they were all just like Hitler. Avoid this book, in my opinion.
Dec 21, 2011 Tyler rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: non-fiction
My rating is a split verdict: the author has a good yet poorly written argument, but neither element should be decisive in convincing potential readers to take up the book or ignore it. Goldhagen steps into a niche no one dares touch.

It’s a shame such a provocative theme got taken up by so limited a talent. The text is really just 483 pages, including three appendices, plus 130 pages of often important notes that readers will want to consult. Most of these notes should have been folded into the
Mar 27, 2008 +Chaz rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who is interested in human behavior
Recommended to +Chaz by: History Teacher
It always amazes me that people, who have constructed their own paradigms, and have worked vigorously at maintaining it, can ignore the mountain of evidence to the contrary. At most Goldhagen provides an explanation as to why people do the things they do regardless of their social or economic background. At worse Goldhagen brings to light one possibility in explaining how one, if not the most learned and advanced country in the world could fall from grace in a matter of a few years of Financial ...more
Dec 16, 2014 Kristina rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: not a damn person
I suppose I take this book personally, given that my grandparents were German and in Germany during the Holocaust - they weren't Nazis (my very existence is proof of that), they were simply trying to survive, and I think there's a difference between that, and actively aiding genocide. I don't think that Goldhagen even allows for this. On the other hand, given what is going on in Iraq today, or in Darfur today, in Rwanda a few years ago, or Bosnia a decade ago, I think we are living proof ...more
Tom Holme
Jul 26, 2007 Tom Holme rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Terrible, terrible, terrible.

Provocative theory, but one which falls apart throughout his making the argument.

Joseph Burke
There are problems with the book, for those who know a lot about the Holocaust. These are relatively few, though, and are dealt with nicely in Brownings scholarly work, "Ordinary Men." Overall, this book is a scholarly work. Do not read it if you are looking for entertainment rather than education on the topic. Brownings book is much easier to read for the lay person of Holocaust studies. It strikes me, though, looking through the various reviews left by other readers, that those who rated Goldh ...more
A book that won't leave you. Goldhagen's theory has created a firestorm when it came out, but he's extremely convincing and his view of Nazi Germany is as sad as it's terrifying. It will make you think, it will make you cringe, it will make you wonder - not only about history, but also about yourself, about what you'd have done, about you'd do if similar circumstances were to happen again. It's one of those books.
Ken Burruss
[Deep breath] This is a difficult book to review as the subject matter is so contentious and horrific. The thesis under question is nothing less than examining why Nazi and SS troops and officials carried out the Holocaust. Goldhagen wants to make the question simply whether the Germans were willing participants or not, and he argues they were. I'd agree -- but then point out that the phrase "willing participants" is misleading and wrong. Of course they were willing participants in the sense tha ...more
It's been nearly ten years since I read this book but I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about Holocaust history. It was controversial at the time of publication but the author argues, convincingly in my opinion, that ordinary Germans were willing participants in the persecution and murder of Jews, based on the premise that European culture was imbued with anti-semitic sentiment for hundreds of years before Hitler came along .Learning the details of just how bad the Nazi years were ...more
THIS is Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil." These are the folks who brought you the Holocaust in all its "glories." These are the average German citizens of the early 20th century. It SHOULD be a "must read" for all people, especially those in school, but the author is dry and academic and the book could be cut by at least 1/3.

Goldhagen begins with a study of the development of the German identity. Unlike the rest of Europe, Germany kept its anti-Semitism strong throughout its early history (rem
A creepy moment of this book is a snapshot, a pocket photo, of the young wife of an SS officer, decked out in the latest fashion. It could have been a candidate print for a vogue spread. Creepy because it removes part of the veneer of 'it can't happen here, it can't happen now.'

No one should really be surprised by the premise, concent, and conclusion of this well written history: genocide requires a broad-based complicity.

Michael Dorosh
Important and worth talking about; also disturbing and sometimes takes a strong force of will to get through the material.

The language is scholarly but easy to read, and the tone is matter of fact. The book is very well focussed, and does much to prove the central thesis - that the German people as a whole were responsible for the Holocaust, and that the perpetrators were not villains or evil incarnate, but "ordinary Germans". Does much to explain how such a monumental crime could have occurred
I recommend this book to anyone who thinks the attrocities committed by Nazi Germany were the acts of a few deranged individuals who forced an unwilling population/military to obey.
I read this book more than ten years ago, and it made a lasting impression. What I specifically remember is a letter from a member of the Einzatsgruppen to his family back home. In it, the perfectly ordinary young man talks about the unpleasantness of his job, but also about his responsability to perform it well, bec
This is a deep, academic work which states that the Holocaust engaged the energy and enthusiasm of thousands of ordinary Germans – not just Nazi party members / SS men. Goldhagen states that ordinary Germans killed Jews not because they were forced to but because they wanted to. And he devotes over 600 pages to prove his point. The book was path-breaking at the time of its release because it was the first serious work to propose this line of thinking. Since then many works have tried to demonstr ...more
Almost as good as Arendt's 'Eichmann in Jerusalem' as to how ordinary people can be brought to serve evil while believing in a common good. The say "they didn't know". But how true was that? While it was no secret that the SS were killing Jews- or at least, "putting them someplace we can't see them"- the actual machinery of death was something the Reich could not bear making general public knowledge- individual German Army members who protested participation were generally persecuted for "reveal ...more
Kerrie Taber
This book examines how the people of Germany could have taken part in the Holocaust. It starts by giving the history of antisemetism in Germany, which lays a good foundation for the evidence of how people could have done what they did so willingly. The book shows how generations of hate can lead a society to the extremes seen in Germany. The only thing negative about the book is that some points are made over and over, which makes it repetitive.

Some of the reviews I read about the book make it s
The anti-Christ of history - a truly shocking effort by a misleading author.

I once had to write a 5000 word piece for my history degree and this utter tosh was mentioned several times. The topic I was researching was West German memory in the post-war period, looking at how the German public aligned itself with its Nazi past. As part of this I looked at different historians views on how involved "ordinary" Germans actually were.

Goldhagen's problem is he does not understand the German society of
This is an intense book and the breadth of information it covers is sweeping. It was written as an academic analysis in three sections that each tried to prove a different part of the author's thesis, so involved quite a bit of social science and creation of analytic frameworks that would not have been present in a more narrative book. Most strikingly, the author presented the horrific happenings of the Holocaust as the more or less natural culmination of Germany's experience and developed cultu ...more
Lane Willson
How do you know you wouldn’t have been a Nazi?

The largest portion of my family has lived in East Tennessee since 1759. It is a fact I view with gratitude and great pride. America’s birth in 1776, was followed by Tennessee joining the union in 1796, and McMinn County, Tennessee, my family’s home for the majority of the last three generations, was chartered in 1819. Slavery, the Trail of Tears, Jim Crow laws and the universal discrimination that followed the Civil War, all took place on my family
I'm giving this 3 stars because it's obvious a great deal of work went into writing it. That said, I think this could have been shortened by quite a few pages. It's repetitious, and not in the way where you read something multiple times and then you always remember it, this is more like the kind of repetitious that causes you to start tuning out and having to read a page over because your brain is numb.
I thought this book shed an interesting light on a previously little-studied aspect of the Holocaust - the average, every day people who carried it out. His reasoning and evidence was sound and I feel like I learned a lot about the context of German society and the history of antisemitism. (Most of the first chunk of the book is devoted to this.) In all the talk in history classes about the Holocaust, few I've been in every really seriously attempted to explain how it could happen and why the Ge ...more
Ted Moisan
As has been said by others (smarter than me), Goldhagen has ruined a perfectly good piece of research with the need to put forth a particular thesis. In this case, the facts speak for themselves. The body of Holocaust literature and research is sufficiently rich and broad that HWE can be avoided.
Mark Keogh
Firstly I should point out that the authors fundamental assertion is correct: Nazism and the expansion of its policies of anti-Semitism towards industrial-scale genocide were the logical culmination of many, many decades of escalation in the persecution of Jews and that this combination of factors was unique to Germany. It is hard to imagine the industrialisation of genocide anywhere else but in. the captured Eastern territories of the Reich.

The first chapters dealing with early anti-Semitism i
Andrew Robins
The most unremittingly grim book I have ever read. This makes Anthony Beevor's Stalingrad book look like Harry Potter, so dark and depressing is it.
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Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is an American author and former associate professor of political science and social studies at Harvard University. Goldhagen reached international attention and broad criticism as the author of two controversial books about the Holocaust: Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996) and A Moral Reckoning (2002). He is also the author of Worse Than War(2009), which examines the phen ...more
More about Daniel Jonah Goldhagen...
Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism Briefe an Goldhagen David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

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