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Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  4,243 ratings  ·  224 reviews
This groundbreaking international bestseller lays to rest many myths about the Holocaust: that Germans were ignorant of the mass destruction of Jews, that the killers were all SS men, and that those who slaughtered Jews did so reluctantly. Hitler's Willing Executioners provides conclusive evidence that the extermination of European Jewry engaged the energies and enthusiasm ...more
Paperback, 634 pages
Published January 28th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  4,243 ratings  ·  224 reviews

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Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Everyone knows its hard to get published. There are a lot of authors and a lot of books, and its difficult to stand out among the sea of words. Its a bit easier for memoirists, who can rely on shabby childhoods and drug addictions. For a historian, its 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 ...more
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 11, 2016 marked it as not-to-read
I try to be critical in my choice of books about the Holocaust, because there are so many to choose from. I also find it important that I think I can respect the author before I add his or her book on my must read shelf. I ask myself if I would like to have a conversation in person with that author. In this case, I don't think I would. I probably would get irritated by his generalizations.

My view is based on these reviews in particular :

Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
I didn't manage to finish this. I found it very repetitive and overly haranguing. Essentially, this book has one central premise. That Germany as a nation was murderously antisemtic long before the Nazis came to power, dating back in fact to Martin Luther's hate-spewing speeches and beyond and that it's erroneous to single out the Nazis instead of making culpable the entire German population as being responsible for the Holocaust. That its erroneous to believe the Nazis were capable of ...more
Jan 20, 2008 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't feel qualified to review this book about the horrors of the Holocaust.....not because I haven't read much about that unbelievable event but because the author puts forward a very controversial approach to the "why" of the slaughter of the Jews that is at odds with most history. The book has stirred violent debates among historians and readers alike and who is to say whether Mr. Goldhagen is correct. His research is impeccable and the arguments that he puts forth are convincing.

What he
Oct 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Richard Fulgham
Nov 18, 2008 rated it did not like it
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.
Nov 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Ive read a lot of books about WWII looking for the answer to one question why did the German people ever allow the Nazis to attempt to exterminate Jews? This book finally gave me the answer. This is a very in-depth look at the German culture before and during the war. I learned that since the 1800s Germans had been blaming the Jewish people for the problems of their country and that this blame became even stronger after World War I. Most Germans considered Jews to be parasites and not even ...more
Tom Holme
Jul 26, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Terrible, terrible, terrible.

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

Apr 19, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  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
Jan 10, 2017 rated it did not like it
Those of you who know me, know that I've never handed out a 1-star review before today. I was replying to my friend Mark when I remembered this embarrassment. Seriously, I blush when I recall that the author and I are of the same SPECIES.

He took relationships that were either nonexistent, or at best, spurious, and stretched them out into this "book." It's awful. To suggest that there was something about the German people that somehow perfectly primed them for accepting with open arms Hitler,
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: non-fiction
My rating is a split verdict: the author has an interesting yet poorly written argument; neither element should be decisive in convincing potential readers to take up the book or ignore it. Goldhagen steps into a niche not normally espoused.

Its 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
Mar 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Some church leaders have wondered aloud why there has been no nationwide, popular outrage over the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug personalities (addicts, pushers, drug lords) in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called "War on Drugs.". I think the template for this curious phenomenon had already once existed in the past. It is not at all new.

First, is the identification of these drug personalities as an evil, powerful enemy of the State. Something that threatens the very
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Theres been so much written about this controversial book that Im sure I dont have too many details to add that havent been covered before so instead Ill 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 - shouldnt be blithely discounted with the standard it happened because of the economic climate of the time. As the mother
Erik Graff
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Westerners
Recommended to Erik by: Erin Stelter
Shelves: history
The author makes a strong case for the proposition that the mass of gentile Germans (and Austrians) held very strongly hostile attitudes towards their Jewish fellow citizens and Jews in general. Drawing evidence from a wide array of sources, but especially from Police Battalions primarily made up from German males raised before the Nazi seizure of power, he demonstrates how gratuitously cruel and vicious ordinary people were towards what amounted to only a tiny minority of their population and ...more
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Hitlers Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is a richly detailed and provocative history of the Holocaust. The book strives to explain why this genocide happened where and when it did. I remember that the book was controversial when it came out in 1996, and when I finally read it, I can see why.
Goldhagens book tries to rebut popular misconceptions about the mass extermination of Jews in Nazi-held territory: that the killing of Jews was done only
Jul 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
In this book we learn that not only did the average German know the full details of the Holocaust and General Plan OST (despite both being highly classified), but supported these measures with glee. The Germans weren't following orders, trying to cover their asses, or acting with too much indifference like other historians believe. They all actively hated Jews, Slavs, Roma, blacks, and others with extreme passion and happily participated in their murder. We also learn that only the Germans could ...more
Sep 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
[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 ...more
Well, there is a lot to say about this book, but I won't go in too deep-- I think you can find similar thoughts to mine on plenty of other reviews of this book. Essentially, Goldhagen argues that the Holocaust was not a result of silly things like "psychology" or "human nature." Instead, perpetrators of the Holocaust were not necessarily "ordinary men" but "ordinary Germans," who were evidently different than most of the human race during the Third Reich. This difference is rooted in the ...more
Jul 20, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Joseph Burke
Dec 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Aug 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 06, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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,
Nov 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.

Apr 07, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was a rather cumbersome read, not only for its subject matter, but also for the way it was written.
I found it to be repetitive unnecessarily when the point was already proven - I am assuming it is because this was a PhD thesis. I am not academically equipped to have an opinion on his premise on eliminationist antisemitism, but as a reader I think he over-pushed that point in order to make his own.
An interesting read at parts, but overall uneven.
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Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is a controversial 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 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 ...more

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