to historian Saul Friedlander, Holocaust survivors tend to handle
their pasts in one of two ways: "Some try to block it out. Others
come to struggle with it by dealing with it."
who holds UCLA's 1939 Club Chair in Holocaust Studies, knows what
he's talking about. He chose the latter, inspired by his experiences
as a 9-year-old boy sheltered in a Catholic monastery in Nazi-occupied
France while his parents tried unsuccessfully to flee to Switzerland,
only to perish at Auschwitz. That struggle to come to grips with
his own history has led Friedlander on a lifelong quest to understand
the nature of the madness that engulfed Germany in the Nazi era.
His latest work, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I: The Years
of Persecution, 1933-1939 (HarperCollins), is a definitive history
of Nazi policies prior to the Holocaust. In June, it landed him
the prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant for work that
"transformed our understanding of this period by weaving into a
coherent whole the perspectives of the participants: ordinary Germans,
party activists, military and political figures and, most importantly,
victims and survivors."
drew from newly available documents - such as local German police
reports, films, personal recollections and his own experiences -
drawing an intimate picture of a prewar Germany as "grotesque and
chilling under the veneer of an even more chilling normality." Most
strikingly, Friedlander concluded that the largely middle-class,
educated population of one of the world's most advanced nations
"looked the other way" during the systematic removal of Jews from
Germany's government, business and cultural life in the pre-Holocaust
years, viewing Hitler's anti-Jewish actions during a time of economic
prosperity and growing international power as a "peripheral issue."
notes: "The chronology of persecution, segregation, emigration and
expulsion, the sequence of humiliations and violence, of loss and
bereavement that molded the memories of the Jews of Germany from
1933 to 1939, was not what impressed itself on the consciousness
and memory of German society as a whole."
systematically documented one anti-Jewish measure after another.
In April 1933 alone, the Nazis declared a boycott of Jewish businesses,
passed a law requiring non-Aryan civil servants to retire and limited
the number of Jewish students eligible to attend German universities,
compelling some 2 million state employees and tens of thousands
of lawyers, doctors, students and others to search for proof of
Aryan ancestry and transforming tens of thousands of priests, pastors,
town clerks and archivists into investigators to vouch for blood
Hitler early on did not hint at any "final solution." According
to Friedlander, his main goal in the late-'30s was to force Jewish
emigration by confiscating their wealth, forcing them by law to
sell their businesses, land, stocks, jewels and artworks, thereby
entirely destroying "any remaining possibility for Jewish life in
Germany." Friedlander found no evidence of any plan for extermination
prior to Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.
historians have had most difficulty analyzing why exactly the Jews
seemed so passive and why others watched in silence as Jewish neighbors
were stripped of everything. In fact, few of the 525,000 Jews living
in Germany felt "any apparent sense of panic or urgency," explains
Friedlander. Even by the end of 1933, when tens of millions of people
inside and outside Germany had become aware of the Nazis' "systematic
policy of segregation and persecution," most Jews felt no need to
leave the country. During this time, no powerful voice within Germany
was raised against the Nazi regime. With few exceptions, the Protestant
and Catholic churches were silent, as were the German universities
and the intellectual class.
But Friedlander believes that having lived through the Holocaust
affords him a unique personal insight into the atmosphere of the
times, having "witnessed the paralysis of my own parents."
He plans to use the $375,000 prize from the MacArthur award to help
answer such questions and complete his second volume, covering the
we know, we know," he says. "But I hope I can contribute by bringing
it in from a new perspective." - D.G.
try to block it out. Others come to struggle with it by dealing