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In this path-breaking work of intellectual and cultural history, James M. Glass provides a provocative new answer to the questions about the Holocaust that bedevil us to this day: How and why did so many ordinary Germans participate in the Final Solution? And how did they come to regard Jews as less than human and “deserving” of extermination? Glass argues that the answers lie in the rise of a particular ethos of public health and sanitation that emerged from the German medical establishment and filtered down to the common people. Building his argument on a trove of documentary evidence, including the records of the German medical community and of other professional groups, he traces the development in the years following World War I of theories of racial hygiene that singled out the Jews as an infectious disease, and that determined them as “life unworthy of life” in the words of Nazi propogandists and German scientists.Looked at from a broader perspective, Glass writes, the actions and beliefs of the German people show what today would be regarded as insane, became, for World War II German society, normal politics. Murdering millions of innocent people was not seen as a vicious criminal conspiracy, but as a therapy essential to the culture’s well-being.
Like Daniel Goldhagen in his controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), Glass (Government/Univ. of Maryland) eschews the conventional wisdom that the majority of Germans under Hitler were merely indifferent to the fate of the Jews. Rather, he argues fairly convincingly, Nazi Germany, including the world of medicine, was permeated by "a culture-wide phobia against touching Jewish flesh . . . [and] a firm belief in the absolute necessity of maintaining racial purity." Within German medical science, there was a shift from a paradigm based on objective use of evidence to one in which the paramount value was a desire to preserve this racial purity. This underlay a pseudoscientific discourse in which the Jews were depicted as disease carriers and, along with the Gypsies, as "life unworthy of life." Glass outlines in considerable detail the ways in which the pre-Nazi German medical profession was implicated in eugenic theories that contained a considerable body of anti-Semitic propaganda, and the post-1933 medical and scientific establishment's close and enthusiastic support of the Nazis. Glass draws effectively on previous researchers' work on the infamous T-4 euthanasia program, which extended racial purity to the extermination even of German children, and later adults, who were handicapped, and the writings of such previous students of Nazi medical "science" as Robert Jay Lifton and Gotz Aly. For much of the book, he is engaged in a spirited polemic against other theorizers of the Holocaust (particularly Lifton, Zygmunt Bauman, Hans Mommsen, and Hannah Arendt) that may leave nonspecialists feeling they have wandered into a private argument.
Despite that shortcoming and an occasional loss of focus, Glass makes a compelling case, a bit more understated than Goldhagen's and more effective as a result.
|Prologue: The Ground of Killing|
|1||The Enthusiasts of Death||3|
|2||The Indifference Thesis and Science as Power||23|
|3||Scientific Practice and the Assault on the Jewish Body||47|
|4||Psychotic Preconditions to Mass Murder||67|
|5||Documentary Evidence Against Indifference||85|
|6||The Phobic Group and the Constructed Enemy||109|
|7||The Uniqueness of the Holocaust||123|
|8||Taboo, Blood, and Purification Ritual||137|
|9||Murderous Groups as Normal Groups||147|
|10||Psychosis and the Moral Position of Enthusiasm||161|
|11||The Politics and Process of Hate||171|
|Epilogue: The Site of Killing||189|