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Why?: Explaining the Holocaust

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  541 ratings  ·  79 reviews
Despite the outpouring of books, movies, museums, memorials, and courses devoted to the Holocaust, a coherent explanation of why such ghastly carnage erupted from the heart of civilized Europe in the twentieth century still seems elusive even seventy years later. Numerous theories have sprouted in an attempt to console ourselves and to point the blame in emotionally satisf ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published January 17th 2017 by W. W. Norton Company
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Clif Hostetler
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Why? is often a difficult question when asked about simple things. It is many more times difficult when applied to a historical incident as complex and multifaceted as the Holocaust. This book provides a review of history focusing on those facets which enabled the Holocaust.

The following is a compact summary of reasons for the Holocaust as broken down into replies to four why questions.
1. Why the Jews? Because their emancipation in the nineteenth century from centuries of residential and occupa
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Despite being a very avid reader of historical non-fiction books about the Holocaust and World War 2, I have never read a book that really focused in on why the Holocaust happened. Why the Nazis did the things they did and why they specifically targeted the Jewish population. In this book, the author answers many questions that I imagine a lot of people have about this time period and also goes over a variety of different theories that have been presented over the years.

The book is broken down
Bill Silverman
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Historian Peter Hayes offers a comprehensive stocktaking directed squarely at answering the most central and enduring questions about why and how the massacre of European Jewry unfolded. In this well written and persuasive book, he attempts to set the record straight regarding:
1. Targets: Why the Jews?
2. Attackers: Why the Germans?
3. Escalation: Why Murder?
4. Annihilation: Why This Swift and Sweeping?
5. Victims: Why Didn't More Jews Fight Back More Often?
6. Homelands: Why Did Survival Rates Dive
Scott Martin
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
The title of this book reminds me of a story I heard from college, that one final exam question was simply "Explain the Holocaust". This book was an embodiment of that exam, only a lot longer than an exam booklet, and with more citations. This work does attempt to offer some concise points about the Holocaust. Hayes covers the definition and origins of antisemitism, the origins of German antisemitic feelings and beliefs, how the Nazis leveraged that hatred to come to power, how they initially de ...more
Jon Harris
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The very idea of the word “Holocaust” conjures up feelings of the most despicable kind of evil imaginable. It is normal for those who have detailed knowledge of the horrific mistreatment of Jews in Nazi Germany to wonder what could have motivated such barbarous actions in a civilized country. This is the very question history professor Peter Hayes seeks to answer in Why? Explaining the Holocaust. While Hayes admits his task is not an easy undertaking, he comes as close as perhaps one can to arri ...more
Julie Gray
Nov 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: holocaust
The first third of this book was the best, most compelling, interesting information I have ever read about antisemitism and German/European politics leading up to WWII. I couldn't put it down. So much was illuminating for me in ways that were both educational and, of course, upsetting. Unfortunately, the other two-thirds of the book while also valuable is much more academic and scholarly, and try as I might, I got bogged down entirely. I definitely recommend the book, overall, but wish that the ...more
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Peter Hayes brings a lucid and thoughtful voice to the discussion of Holocaust history and the events surrounding it. He writes his book with an eye at explaining the complicated and difficult parts with simplicity and nuance, and he does so with astonishing grace. His writing is beautiful, thoughtful and concise.

The book is designed to answer some of the biggest questions that people have about the Holocaust. Each chapter is a major question, and the rest of the chapter is the answer. The answe
Cathi Davis
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A superbly written book that tries to answer its title question through eight sub-questions ..why the Jews, why the Germans, why murder, why so swift and sweeping, why didn’t Jews fight back, why different survival rates, Why was outside help so limited, and what are the lessons to be learned ?
We have each probably asked at least one of these questions, and the author uses unrelenting statistics and gripping anecdotal stories to answer each of them.

This was a very slow read and after each chapt
Tiffany Brookshire
May 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beware the beginnings.

If you take away anything from this book, it's to beware the beginnings. This is remarkably well-written, analytical and detached from sensationalism that often pervades other books on the Holocaust. Thoroughly written and clearly researched, the author poses the most common questions about the Holocaust, such as why the Germans? Why the Jews? Debunking common and dangerous myths and misconceptions with historical evidence and proof, Hayes has covered all of the bases for
Pam Irwin
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was not a fun read but very informative. The upsetting topic took much longer to read to fully digest. The book provided important information to better understand the events leading up to the Holocaust and the progression. I can only hope we learn from our past to act better in the future as humans. We have to stay vigilant to recognize these terrible trends are still happening in our world today including areas like Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Nigeria, ...more
Robert Lovenheim
Very readable history, enormous detail and interpretation

Corrects mountains of misinformation and offers a very clear timeline thesis on how and why Germany started on a path to disaster. Above all Hayes is a good storyteller able to relate events and keep his narrative going until the last page. At 432 pages that says a lot--I read it cover to cover.
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I had gotten this book from the library. I keep going back to sections and reading parts of it. I think that I want to own a copy and intend to buy the book.
Matt Hooper
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"To enter into the [study of the] Holocaust is to risk enormous disillusionment with human beings and to awaken deep anxiety about how badly things can go wrong in this world." -- Peter Hayes, "Why?: Explaining the Holocaust" (page 324)

At the end of this year -- 2018 -- my wife and I are visiting Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic to celebrate the holidays. We'll be spending at least one of those vacation days at what remains of a World War II concentration camp (Dachau, for sure -- and may
Nathan Albright
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge-2019
It is said, to the point of being a cliche, that there is no business like Shoah business, and this book is certainly part of that to such an extent that it expressly seeks to answer the question as to why it exists as a book.  Now, this book has very straightforward aims, and that is to answer a series of questions about why the Holocaust happened and why it happened the way it did.  The author is very direct about answering these questions, whether it is in exploring the necessary context of t ...more
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a great exploration of the causes, events and effects of the Holocaust. The clear connections drawn between causes and effects, as well as the great structure of the chapters made it easy to follow and remember. I have read various books on this topic over the years, but I have never read one that is so to the point and so well structured that I am left with answers instead of more questions and some confusion. You can tell that the author has spent decades not only researching this ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-books
Professor Peter Hayes provides the most cogent and thorough explanation for the eruption and impact of the Holocaust that I've read. Hayes approaches the topic from the viewpoint of an objective historian (as much as possible, considering the subject matter). He organizes the book by targeting the specific questions most often raised about how this tragic carnage could possibly have happened in "civilized" Europe during the 20th century, why more wasn't done to stop it both within and outside of ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very elucidating book which has taught me a lot. The goal, to answer the main questions and debunk the main myths is reached and for that I feel like it has been very successful in what it set out to do.

However, I feel like some chapters where a bit too dense with names and numbers to a point of detail which made reading sometimes difficult, which allied to some unclarity in the text led me to being puzzled and feeling like there were a lot of contradictions where probably there was none. I f
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Peter Hayes has studied and lectured on the Holocaust for more than thirty years, and that is evident in this book. He is able to present arguments from many other researchers as he answers the title question, "Why?" Each chapter addresses a different "Why" question - why the Jews, why the Germans, why this particular time and place, why didn't other nations step in sooner, why didn't more Jews resist aming them.

It is a phenomenal handling of a highly emotional subject without straying from fac
Tamara Jaffe
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hayes' socratic method of looking at the facts of the extermination of civilians as practiced by the Nazis before and during WWII is fascinating. Why Germany? Why Jews? It seems like other countries have a longer, more virulent history of antisemitism than Germany. Hayes is very careful with details, and explains statistics in the context of broad social and religious history. A tradition of Catholic anti-semitism was part of Rome's response to fascism in Germany and Italy, plus a fear of "somet ...more
Divya Balakrishna
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well researched book. Explains every aspect of Holocaust in detail, giving an in-depth description of events and people responsible.
The book is structured well into chapters answering key questions with respect to Holocaust. It addresses questions like Why Jews? Why Germans? Why murder and with these means? It also answers questions like how the Nazis were so successful in eradicating majority of jews from not just Germany, but Europe as a whole. It also addresses the key take-aways o
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book...if you are looking for something to explain everything about the Holocaust this is it.
Why the Jews? Why the Germans? Why wasn't there more retaliation.

It went over every detail...that we all ask ourselves. It went into very vivid detail.
Then it discusses how all of the perpetrators were penalized and then how reparations were made to victims of the Holocaust.
The last chapter discussed how things that happened with the Holocaust relate to recent issues....also how some
Dianne Miller
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a hard book to read, (1) because of the subject, and (2) because it exposed the failings of the human spirit. Not only does the author explain "why the Jews" and "why the Germans" in the early chapters, but how things swiftly turned to murder, why the Jews didn't "fight back", why outside help was so limited, and why survival rates diverged. A final chapter addresses legacies and lessons learned...and how history can -- and should -- be applied to today's world.

It should be required rea
Feb 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, english
Peter Hayes tries to find an answer to the Holocaust. Thousands of books talking about this topic and usually all of them, including this one, reach the same conclusion: because of a storm of economic, political, cultural and social upheavals, indifference, hate and self-interest.

Peter Hayes tries to refute also opinions from other authors writing about the Holocaust, what I’ve found interesting because there are always different points of view.

Almost all writers try to avoid the fact that Adolf
The author covers a lot of ground in this scholarly book, trying to answer basic questions such as why the Germans, why murder, why did it happen so quickly, why didn't Jews fight back, where were other countries and how much did they know, etc. There is so much research in this book, no reader will be able to doubt the Holocaust and the incredible amount of people that looked away.

Very thorough, horrifying and frightening, he leaves us with the German proverb: "Beware the beginnings." Which is
Lisa Konet
It is so important that a subject this delicate is spoken about gently, intelligently and with empathy and compassion. Why? This actually happened and so many suffered and died, but some also survived. I like how this was book was broken down and each section was thoroughly explained and discussed with reasons and several accounts. I think the interest in this was sparked from reading the Tattooist of Auschwitz, and also wanting to learn more from both sides.

Well written and gut wrenchingly toug
Michael Dennis
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Content was good but I'm not sure it was ideal for audiobook. The author as an economist uses a lot of raw number, statistics, and percentages -- often very precise numbers -- which are more difficult to draw conclusions from when you're listening and can't refer to a number described a few minutes before. The preciseness is great in that one is more confident in the facts, but for audio it'd be easier to comprehend "about 30,000 people were attacked in the streets that day of which 10% were kil ...more
Daniel Liu
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Hayes' writing is clear, direct, and thorough. He identifies the core questions at the heart of why the Holocaust happened, explains how institutional failures and societal fractures allowed the Nazi regime to thrive, and dispels a number of myths that have sprung up in recent decades regarding the historical record.

I worry that many people have this idea in their minds that the horrors of the Holocaust are something that can be locked away in a Pandora's box, confined merely to the history boo
Brandon James
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredible. Hayes absolutely succeeds in his quest to answer some of the most notable questions about the Holocaust, most notably: Why? He offers a sweeping, yet detailed history of the Holocaust and presents it in a fresh and highly readable way. Some sections on the death camps, concentration camps, death marches and the like are hard to read, but it is important for us to remember what the Jewish people went through. May we all learn something from this book and others like it, t ...more
Rashid Saif
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a work of 30 years and it shows it, with 24 pages of just selected bibliography. But the book is not only limited to copious citation and corroboration, Hayes provides a meticulous historically evidenced narrative of the Holocaust and uses sociological methodology to prove his points. This book will surprise many of the great amount of myths surrounding the Holocaust, myths from all sides of the horror. An unrelenting historical analysis.
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this book 5 stars only because it dealt more with facts and figures than other Holocaust books I've read. At the end, I felt it missed the rise of Trumpism and the new empowerment of neo Nazis in America however idiotic they may seem. He does mention, Beware the beginnings, which is exactly the fear we need to resist today. ...more
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