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Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  3,727 Ratings  ·  175 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
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Hardcover, 623 pages
Published March 29th 1996 by Knopf (first published 1996)
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Kurt I was lucky that as the book was coming out I heard an interview with the author that spurred a heated interest to read the book and managed to read…moreI was lucky that as the book was coming out I heard an interview with the author that spurred a heated interest to read the book and managed to read it while the interest was still hot. Coming at it cooler, I would suggest thinking that the people in the book could be your friends and neighbors--what would make them complicit in such events. People are always fascinating--up to the point they kill you. (less)
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Community Reviews

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Matt
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
Jonathan
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  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
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Justin
Jan 20, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mike
Oct 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Elaine
Nov 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Jill Hutchinson
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 p
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Richard Fulgham
Nov 18, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Tyler
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.

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 in
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Kristina
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 of...so ...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.

Lauren
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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+Chaz
Mar 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Stewart
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Hitler’s 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.
Goldhagen’s book tries to rebut popular misconceptions about the mass extermination of Jews in Nazi-held territory: that the killing of Jews was done on
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Ken Burruss
Sep 07, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
[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
Basia
Jan 10, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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, Na
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Joseph Burke
Dec 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan
Aug 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Denis
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Linda
Apr 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Toon
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Nick
Nov 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Arhondi
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.
Jammies
Apr 28, 2010 rated it liked it
It's very easy to see the scholarly bones of this book, the old "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you've told them." It's meticulously documented, and seems to be thoroughly researched. Clearly, from the GR reviews alone, the content is a great deal more controversial than the style.

As painstakingly researched and scholarly as this book is, I am disinclined to believe the author's assertions about the German people as a whole. As a former English major (h
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Guy
Jul 20, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Michael Dorosh
Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Apoorva
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kerrie Taber
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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GONZA
Jun 16, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebk
This book is written to support the thesis that the Germans are bad and mean, all of them, and to support this hypothesis we have a framed version of the holocaust. Every psychology can explain you better than me why framing whatever is important and the behavior of Germans before and during the WWII can be explained in many different ways, but choosing this way is misleading people to sell more copies of this book. I have been living in Berlin in the last 7 years and I don't love my fellow citi ...more
Ian Zimmerman
Jul 24, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, holocaust
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
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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 pheno ...more
More about Daniel Jonah Goldhagen...

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