- Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution
A well-balanced summary of a career so distinguished as that of Kershaw is always a pleasure to review. Spanning roughly three decades of scholarship from the early 1980s to the present, this satisfying collection will help those in Holocaust Studies retrace the trajectory of the last few decades of debate, which has seen monumental shifts in interpretation and an explosion of new evidence due to the availability of Eastern archives after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kershaw has always been extraordinarily adept at distilling this historiography while making his own important contributions, from his early work on popular opinion in Nazi Germany to his well-known two-volume biography of Hitler—Hitler: A Biography (New York, 2008). In addition, Kershaw’s ability to appeal to both specialists and non-specialists is a sign of the originality of his research, his analytical clarity, and the deftness of his prose, making his work foundational in the study of the history of National Socialist Germany.
The editors at Yad Vashem have chosen to organize the essays thematically around four clusters: the role of Hitler, analyzing popular opinion, historiographical debates concerning the Holocaust, and the question of the uniqueness of Nazism. As Kershaw makes clear in the introduction written for this volume, however, he thinks that the essays would make more sense arranged chronologically, to show his biographical and intellectual development, as well as that of the field. There is logic to this soft criticism, but the editors preferred to read the trajectory of his thought through the lens of his Hitler biography. Although this work is important in balancing the functionalist-administrative development of the Nazi state with the decision-making role of Hitler, by placing the analysis of Hitler first in the anthology’s arrangement, the editors downplay Kershaw’s exceptional earlier analysis of popular opinion. This editorial choice emphasizes the role of the political leadership, with its specific ideological goals, at the expense of Kershaw’s social history of the generation coming of scholarly age at the time when Broszat was writing.1 This social history, which is evident in key essays throughout the volume, assumes a slightly different cast, given the thematic opening on Hitler. [End Page 454]
Although Kershaw has not integrated certain of the newer theoretical elements within the recent study of Nazi Germany (such as an analysis of gender or culture), his work is still of central importance to our current and future debates. In the last two essays, he speaks to the bigger picture of the Holocaust in relation to the violent trajectory of modern history since the twentieth century. His mastery of the literature and his range of archival sources are matched by few in the field. The strength of this work and the prospect for future production are well on display in this important new collection.
1. See, for example, his classic text, Martin Broszat, The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich (London, 1981).