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116 SHOFAR Morality After Auschwitz: The Radical Challenge of the Nazi Ethic, by Peter J. Haas. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. 256 pp. $21.95. How could such an educationally and culturally advanced society like 20th-century Germany conceive of and implement something as morally repugnant as the Holocaust? This is certainly not a new question, but Peter Haas-a professor of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University-seeks to approach it from an original angle. Morality After Auschwitz is not so much a book dealing with how people live with themselves after taking part in such a tragedy, but rather it explores, and seeks to comprehend, the motives for German atrocities. The central question for Haas is what kind of morality or ethics were the Germans following that enabled them to commit such heinous acts. Did they not know that what they were doing was morally wrong? The perpetrators knew what was going on, found it ethically tolerable, and consciously acted according, Haas contends. He challenges the philosopher Hannah Arendt's famous description of the Holocaust as the "banality of eviL" The Nazis were anything but banal, argues Haas, as they forthrightly approved of Nazi ideology and carried their task out with enthusiasm. Germans were completely persuaded by the Nazi Weltanschauung because it provided them with an internally consistent ethic-a complete and coherent system of convictions, values, and ideas-that did not change the manichaean notion of good and evil. Rather, Nazism redefined them so that exterminating the Jews was defined as good, and the Jews themselves were defined as evil. This accounts for the lack of support given to Jews during the Holocaust . Haas correctly points out that the Nazis did not enter into a vacuum in this regard, as previous antisemitism had laid a good deal of the groundwork. After presenting a well-thought-out introduction laying out his thesis, Haas weaves his way through the well trodden paths of historical antisemitism, the various conquests by Hitler where the Nazi ethic solidifies and spreads, and how the ethic is internalized by disparate institutions ranging from the SS to the controversial Jewish Councils (Judenriite); and finally he probes how such a catastrophe has shaped the attitudes of those on the inside, the powers at Nuremberg, and prominent Jewish thinkers. Haas mentions that this book grew out of experience teaching the Holocaust to predominantly non-Jewish students. His book is set up like a Holocaust course, and because it is so clearly written it would work well as a text. The scope of the book, however, may be a bit too ambitious in that Haas touches on many important areas, from the ancient roots of antisemitism to Volume 9, No. 1 Fall1990 117 new approaches to Jewish theology; and thus he cannot devote the necessary time that each requires. Haas's provocative thesis, which would work well in challenging students to view the Holocaust in an alternative manner, does leave some unanswered questions. When discussing the notorious Einsatzgrnppen Haas writes, "... these commanders acted like good German soldiers. They may not have wanted the job and they may not have liked what they were doing, but they carried on all the same" (p. 86). And when discussing a Nazi camp doctor and the infamous Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess, he writes, "both denied that what they saw was ultimately wrong, Kremer [the doctor] by pretending it was normal, Hoess by suppressing his real feelings. Each found a way of accommodating his everyday life to the utter evil he was perpetrating" (p. 89). To me, this sounds like the banality of evil. If they had to suppress evil, or did not like what they were doing, is it possible that they knew the Nazi ethic was wrong but had to talk themselves into believing it was right? Was the Nazi ethic that strong or appealing that Germans really thought genocide was right, or did they carry out the killings as means of selfpreservation ? Haas also might have elaborated on the other victims of the Holocaust (Gypsies, homosexuals, intellectuals). These were people not usually at the center of Nazi though, so how did the ethic operate here? Haas is correct in pointing to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 116-117
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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