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Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17.2 (2003) 378-380
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Essays on Hitler's Europe, István Deák (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 222 pp., cloth $55.00, pbk. $24.95.
Perhaps I should begin this review with a mild complaint about the title of the book. This work is not really about all of Hitler's Europe, but about the Holocaust in Hitler's Europe. No one would deny the overwhelming significance of the Holocaust, but even so there was more to Nazi rule in Europe than the Holocaust. Moreover, the pieces contained in this work are for the most part not essays, but reprints of reviews that appeared earlier, primarily in the New York Review of Books and the New Republic. Some of the articles were edited specifically for this collection; the piece on Romania, for example (pp. 129ff), originally included a discussion of developments in communist Romania.
For the present-day reader the primary interest in Essays on Hitler's Europe is historiographic. The articles, which originally appeared in the years 1983-2000, allow the reader not only a glimpse into Deák's evolving views on the literature of the Holocaust, but they also provide a window on the changing priorities and emphases in the field. As would be expected from a historian of Deák's stature, the reviews are erudite and judicious. (This is especially true of the piece on Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners [pp. 96, 100ff].) Remarkably, it seems that Deák does not review books he dislikes; virtually all of the pieces are favorable to the individual authors. Two major exceptions are the essays on Victor Klemperer's World-War-II-era diaries I Will Bear Witness (1998, 2000) and Arno Mayer's Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? (1988).
Many commentators are uneasy with the role of the historian as moral judge. Not so Deák. His reviews are peppered with clear moral verdicts; for him, the assignment of guilt and blame is a crucial and legitimate function of the historian's craft. Understandably, in discussing the Holocaust it is the Germans to whom responsibility is primarily [End Page 378] attached, and Deák is not above using anthropomorphic images (German "beasts" and "furies") to convey his verdict on Germany's historic guilt. The author is also quite critical of the postwar punishment of the Germans; in his review of Jeffrey Herf's Divided Memory (1997) he fully agrees with Herf's condemnation of West German denazification efforts. At the same time, he rejects Martin Broszat's attempts to historicize Nazism and the Holocaust. For Deák, the murder of Europe's Jews was "demonic" and "incomprehensible."
Insofar as he belongs to a historiographic "school," Deák is an unabashed "intentionalist" who eloquently rejects "structuralist" arguments (pp. 19, 21). Hitler was a sorcerer and the German people his apprentice, he argues. Not surprisingly, Deák identifies some clear heroes and villains. Among the latter, Hitler and the Germans take first place. The author rejects the view of recent "revisionists" who assign East European peoples a larger role in the perpetration of the Holocaust. He also judges harshly the role of the Catholic clergy and the pope. The list of heroes reflects Deák's own background and, perhaps, his generation. Foremost among them are Europe's aristocracy and particularly the Hungarian nobility. Deák seems nostalgic for the days of the Habsburg Empire; the emperors Franz Joseph and Karl epitomize the "good guys" destroyed by the Revolution of 1918-19. Regarding sabotage of the Holocaust, the author presents a favorable view of the Italian army.
It is inevitable that a volume of this sort shows signs of age. Some of the books under review as well as some of the larger conclusions seem dated; I would argue that Saul Friedländer's Nazi Germany and the Jews (1997) supersedes all previous literature on the subject. From the perspective of 2003 a phrase such as "Japan's outstanding success" seems ironic, and to describe both the West German Baader-Meinhof gang...