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War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust

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In examining one of the defining events of the 20th century, Doris Bergen situates the Holocaust in its historical, political, social, cultural and military contexts. Unlike many other treatments of the Holocaust, Nazism, World War II and the Holocaust discusses not only the persecution of Jews, but also other segments of society victimized by the Nazis: gypsies, homosexua In examining one of the defining events of the 20th century, Doris Bergen situates the Holocaust in its historical, political, social, cultural and military contexts. Unlike many other treatments of the Holocaust, Nazism, World War II and the Holocaust discusses not only the persecution of Jews, but also other segments of society victimized by the Nazis: gypsies, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet POWs, the handicapped, and other groups deemed undesirable. With clear and eloquent prose, Bergen explores the two interconnected goals that drove the Nazi program of conquest and genocide - purification of the so-called Aryan race and expansion of its living space - and discusses how these goals affected the course of World War II. Including first hand accounts from perpetrators, victims and eyewitnesses, the book is immediate, human and eminently readable.


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In examining one of the defining events of the 20th century, Doris Bergen situates the Holocaust in its historical, political, social, cultural and military contexts. Unlike many other treatments of the Holocaust, Nazism, World War II and the Holocaust discusses not only the persecution of Jews, but also other segments of society victimized by the Nazis: gypsies, homosexua In examining one of the defining events of the 20th century, Doris Bergen situates the Holocaust in its historical, political, social, cultural and military contexts. Unlike many other treatments of the Holocaust, Nazism, World War II and the Holocaust discusses not only the persecution of Jews, but also other segments of society victimized by the Nazis: gypsies, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet POWs, the handicapped, and other groups deemed undesirable. With clear and eloquent prose, Bergen explores the two interconnected goals that drove the Nazi program of conquest and genocide - purification of the so-called Aryan race and expansion of its living space - and discusses how these goals affected the course of World War II. Including first hand accounts from perpetrators, victims and eyewitnesses, the book is immediate, human and eminently readable.

30 review for War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust

  1. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Doris Bergen’s War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust presents a straightforward account of the Holocaust. Rather than starting from a particular chronological point, Bergen begins with a short history of several thematic elements that she believes influenced German society and the beliefs of Adolf Hitler, leading to the rise of Nazism. These include antisemitism, racism, eugenics, imperialism, and the cheapening of human life in World War I. Significantly absent are notions of eco Doris Bergen’s War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust presents a straightforward account of the Holocaust. Rather than starting from a particular chronological point, Bergen begins with a short history of several thematic elements that she believes influenced German society and the beliefs of Adolf Hitler, leading to the rise of Nazism. These include antisemitism, racism, eugenics, imperialism, and the cheapening of human life in World War I. Significantly absent are notions of economic crisis, harsh reparations, and a weak Weimar democracy, all three of which Bergen believes are tropes which carry too much weight in the historiography of the Holocaust. For Bergen, Hitler is the key to the Holocaust. Bergen holds what she calls a “modified intentionalist position.” (30) She argues that the Holocaust was Hitler’s intention from even before his rise to power, arguing against the contention that atrocities of the Holocaust were made up “on the fly” during the context of war. She does not believe, however, that Hitler single-handedly directed the entirety of the Holocaust, largely because he did not have to. Bergen argues that the Nazi power structure was such that there was constant pressure on Nazi leaders to anticipate Hitler’s aims. Thus, Hitler had only to make his desires the slightest bit known for them to be enacted. Bergen also places a heavy burden of blame on the German public. Bergen believes that without the support and silence of the German general public, the Holocaust could not have been enacted. She gives several examples of German public protest hindering the enactment of certain racial initiatives or at least driving them underground, such as in the case of early medical experimentation on the mentally ill. As for why the German public did not generally do this, Bergen provides a variety of reasons, but no monolithic explanation. For her, it merely seems most important that they did not. This is a huge loss as Bergen seems to think that early protest by the German public might have been the only way to prevent the Holocaust. Instead, many profited from and supported Nazi measures, particularly those against Jews. It should also be noted that by giving so much agency to the German public, Bergen dismisses the contention that foreign powers might have been able to prevent the Holocaust. As for what Hitler’s core beliefs were, Bergen uses the phrase “race and space.” (36) She claims that Hitler believed the various ethnic races of the world were locked in a battle of survival with one another, and thus, for a race to win it needed to have more room, or territory. The “race” most vilified in Hitler’s system was the Jews. Thus, while Bergen makes it clear that the Nazis attacked several other groups in the Holocaust, such as Roma, the mentally handicapped, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bergen presents their sufferings as part and part of a system that was ultimately designed for the annihilation of Jews. She is not without sensitivity to the plight of all of those harmed, however. Although the book is largely written in an objective tone, the passages on the atrocities committed are laced with individual anecdotes and photos obviously meant to respect the humanity of those harmed while also reiterating the horrific events of the Holocaust. Bergen also contends that Nazi war aims were fundamentally intertwined with Nazi racial policy due to the close linkage between race and space. This not only explains why so much manpower and resources were devoted to the murder of those persons considered unfit during the war period, but presents the sharp reminder that without Nazi victories in Czechoslavakia, Austria, Poland, France, and other areas, the Nazis would have been simply unable to harm the populations deemed “unfit” within those countries. The book is structured around these links between “race and space,” linking various phases of the German mobilization and war effort to phases of the Holocaust. Although Bergen’s book certainly presents a streamlined account of the Holocaust, her own account seems oversimplified. Often her own evidence could be used against her. For instance, she tells the tale of a gentleman who informed the United States of the concentration camps rather early on during World War II, but Bergen still contends that other countries cannot be held accountable for not acting as they could not possibly have understood the nature of the atrocities. Although Bergen’s stance on multiple historiographic arguments is clear, she could have provided more evidence defending her point of view.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Heather C

    I found War and Genocide to be an interesting read because it covered some niche areas that were not focused on in other books I was reading at that same time. While Bergen doesn’t spend as much time on the broad concepts of the war (she definitely touches on them), she digs in to smaller issues, for example, other victims of the Nazi actions. She analyzes the effects on the Jews, but also homosexuals, Communists, the disabled, and more. This was what I found new and informative because I had no I found War and Genocide to be an interesting read because it covered some niche areas that were not focused on in other books I was reading at that same time. While Bergen doesn’t spend as much time on the broad concepts of the war (she definitely touches on them), she digs in to smaller issues, for example, other victims of the Nazi actions. She analyzes the effects on the Jews, but also homosexuals, Communists, the disabled, and more. This was what I found new and informative because I had not heard of attacks on other populations during the rise of the Nazi party in other classes or readings which focus primarily on the attack on Jews. Bergen sticks with her thesis of the Nazi race and space rationale throughout the entire book. The structure of this book is one that is easily readable and actually lends itself to bite sized reading; the sections are short and many, so you can certainly read this in between different events in your day. Also included, throughout the text, are many photos that enhance the reading. I always find photos integrated into the text more useful than a section centralized to the center of the text because you are provided with context. Interspersed in the text are anecdotal stories of everyday people who experienced something related to the focus of that section: for example, the stories of children forced into hiding. At the end of the text the author provides an extensive list of sources that you can go to for further reading (broken up by chapters), but it doesn’t have a standard bibliography or footnotes which makes it challenging to fact check, but makes the book more readable. If you are looking for a book that will give you a solid overview and understanding of the Nazi evolution and WWII, this isn’t that book. But if you already have an understanding of the generalities and are looking for a book that will dig in to different aspects this might be the book for yet. This review was previously posted at The Maiden's Court blog.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Extremely well written and insightful. Starts with a look at the "tinders" that made the Holocaust possible, then an overview of Hitler's life from childhood to eventual Führer. There is a close examination of the victims and collaborators of Nazism and the chaotic interplay involved. Highly recommend.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    As with any study dealing with the Holocaust, it is never a pleasure read. Reading this book for a graduate course in WWII was extremely difficult; not because of the level of language but the subject matter itself. Doris Bergen does fulfill the word 'concise' in this work. In 310 pages of reading text, she gives a power-packed overview of how widespread the Holocaust was and the many groups of people marked in the Nazi program of annihilation. A huge plus for this book is the number of photogra As with any study dealing with the Holocaust, it is never a pleasure read. Reading this book for a graduate course in WWII was extremely difficult; not because of the level of language but the subject matter itself. Doris Bergen does fulfill the word 'concise' in this work. In 310 pages of reading text, she gives a power-packed overview of how widespread the Holocaust was and the many groups of people marked in the Nazi program of annihilation. A huge plus for this book is the number of photographs that are included with details about each one. This is a definite "must-have" for any WWII/Holocaust library shelf.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Bardsley

    I don't give this five stars because i enjoyed reading it. Rather, because I struggled reading it. Saying that, this is a book I truly believe everyone should read this. It's haunting, but important. The most thorough account of Holocaust I've ever encountered.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Great update to the Holocaust literature. This book incorporates the most recent history of the Holocaust. Jewish and non-Jewish victims are featured, though the emphasis is on the former since their destruction was the initial aim of the Nazi genocide. Bergen documents the Nazi persecution of the Jews from inception to Holocaust. Victims' perspective is included throughout, and Bergen makes good use of photographs to add insight into the role of participants, victims and bystanders. Useful as a Great update to the Holocaust literature. This book incorporates the most recent history of the Holocaust. Jewish and non-Jewish victims are featured, though the emphasis is on the former since their destruction was the initial aim of the Nazi genocide. Bergen documents the Nazi persecution of the Jews from inception to Holocaust. Victims' perspective is included throughout, and Bergen makes good use of photographs to add insight into the role of participants, victims and bystanders. Useful as a textbook to classes on the Holocaust or genocide.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ilene

    This is the best synopsis of the Holocaust I have ever read. It is very concise, yet challenges some common historical inaccuracies such as the over-stated significance of the Treaty of Versailles in causing the Germans to become so hateful. These different perspectives are well researched, documented, and supported. I think this is a book that anyone who loves history would enjoy. Nevertheless, if you aren't a history buff you may find it a bit dry. I however, really enjoyed it and learned a gr This is the best synopsis of the Holocaust I have ever read. It is very concise, yet challenges some common historical inaccuracies such as the over-stated significance of the Treaty of Versailles in causing the Germans to become so hateful. These different perspectives are well researched, documented, and supported. I think this is a book that anyone who loves history would enjoy. Nevertheless, if you aren't a history buff you may find it a bit dry. I however, really enjoyed it and learned a great deal from it. It had me consider the Holocaust from a different perspective. Considerable time is dedicated in the book to understanding the atrocities of Stalin and the Soviet Union upon the Jews during this same time period. I found it fascinating. It was so good that I will probably try to read every book in the series of "Critical Issues in History".

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    This book calls itself a concise history of the Holocaust, but it felt like it was a lot more about the war in Europe than about the genocide. Still, the title reflects the dual nature of this work, and the author makes the argument that, to really understand the holocaust, you have to contextualize it with the war that brought it about. Overall, it was good, if disturbing because of the nature of the subject. I don't think she should have taken out any of the parts about the war, but I feel lik This book calls itself a concise history of the Holocaust, but it felt like it was a lot more about the war in Europe than about the genocide. Still, the title reflects the dual nature of this work, and the author makes the argument that, to really understand the holocaust, you have to contextualize it with the war that brought it about. Overall, it was good, if disturbing because of the nature of the subject. I don't think she should have taken out any of the parts about the war, but I feel like she could have told me more about the Holocaust. Still, it is a good primer for anyone wanting an introduction into the subject. She also does a good job of detailing the groups that got caught up in the Holocaust, the Jews, but also the Gypsies, Homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the handicapped, etc.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Certainly the best introduction to the topic I've come across, not to mention a book that is incredibly, incredibly well-written. "In order for a house to burn down, three things are required. the timber must be dry and combustible, there needs to be a spark that ignites it, and external conditions have to be favorable--not too damp, perhaps some wind."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A book read for a class. A well written, concise oversight of the main issues of the holocaust. I enjoyed reading it, not because of the subject matter, but because it was presented in an easily understandable manner.

  11. 5 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    A brief, yet comprehensive, and accessible overview of the Holocaust, tracing from the prewar Nazi ascent to power through the end of World War II. Written by one of the best academics currently working on the subject. Includes a good amount of analysis of postwar Holocaust scholarship, too.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    excellent concise history of the Holocaust

  13. 5 out of 5

    Igor

    Very superficial, even for its length. There are small but still irritating factual errors. DNF.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Angela Kay Manion

    This was one of the hardest history books to read that I have ever encountered. It was not because of the subject matter. The title is mis-leading and does not describe this book at all. I had to force myself through the poorly edited and often disorganized chapters of this book. I get that Ms. Bergen was trying to offer a concise book on the Holocaust and what led up to it, but what I did not get was the way in which she organized her book. There was an attempt at chronology which quickly fell This was one of the hardest history books to read that I have ever encountered. It was not because of the subject matter. The title is mis-leading and does not describe this book at all. I had to force myself through the poorly edited and often disorganized chapters of this book. I get that Ms. Bergen was trying to offer a concise book on the Holocaust and what led up to it, but what I did not get was the way in which she organized her book. There was an attempt at chronology which quickly fell by the wayside as she described the various people groups that were targeted by the Nazi regime. I found that her sub chapters often were confusing as she would begin by telling a story and quickly fall off track. She repeatedly presented the same argument or evidence throughout the book, reiterating something that had previously been said before. Do not keep telling me your argument or stating facts that have already been covered, defend your thoughts! There was very little discussion of hard facts, but more often she used simplified explanations for her arguments and choose to remind the reader of information that had already been presented multiple times. He writing format was written in a form that most high school students would find irritating. For a PHD college professor I expected a college level critically written account of Holocaust. I could say more, but I am trying to be nice. As a PHD History candidate myself, this was a HUGE disappointment. I am just glad that I do not have to read it again or ever!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Randell

    This is an excellent textbook on the Holocaust that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to embark on studying this topic. The Holocaust is immensely broad and covers so much that it is impossible to include it all into one, cohesive book. Bergen focuses mainly on the Jews in the Holocaust, but does forget the other groups who were targeted as well. But taking that thought with you as you read will help. For example, if you're interested in studying any of the other groups in the Holocaus This is an excellent textbook on the Holocaust that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to embark on studying this topic. The Holocaust is immensely broad and covers so much that it is impossible to include it all into one, cohesive book. Bergen focuses mainly on the Jews in the Holocaust, but does forget the other groups who were targeted as well. But taking that thought with you as you read will help. For example, if you're interested in studying any of the other groups in the Holocaust, this is not the best source for that. But this is an excellent source for obtaining basic background information to the events in and ideas around the Holocaust.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stasia Higgins

    This is a wonderfully compassionate history of the Holocaust. Bergen takes the time to explain why she uses the terms she does and consciously rejects terms that make genocide sound less awful - eg instead of using the Nazi terms "euthanasia program" and "Final Solution" she always refers to the murder of Jews and others as just that - murder. She focuses on groups that are often forgotten in discussions of the Holocaust. This book is difficult to read because it conveys the immense horror of th This is a wonderfully compassionate history of the Holocaust. Bergen takes the time to explain why she uses the terms she does and consciously rejects terms that make genocide sound less awful - eg instead of using the Nazi terms "euthanasia program" and "Final Solution" she always refers to the murder of Jews and others as just that - murder. She focuses on groups that are often forgotten in discussions of the Holocaust. This book is difficult to read because it conveys the immense horror of the Holocaust in a very human, emotional way.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lauretta Farrell

    This is a good primer on the events that lead to Hitler's rise, WWII, and the Holocaust. It is factual, with the occasional personal account of people who lived and died during this time. While focusing on the Jews murdered during the Holocaust, Bergen includes accounts of other groups targeted by Hitler's regime, while also tackling the issue of the German bystanders, who did nothing in the face of mass atrocity. It is an accessible read, appropriate for high school and young college students, This is a good primer on the events that lead to Hitler's rise, WWII, and the Holocaust. It is factual, with the occasional personal account of people who lived and died during this time. While focusing on the Jews murdered during the Holocaust, Bergen includes accounts of other groups targeted by Hitler's regime, while also tackling the issue of the German bystanders, who did nothing in the face of mass atrocity. It is an accessible read, appropriate for high school and young college students, or anyone who want to gain a basic understanding of this time..

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I'm not a fan of nonfiction, and this book was an assignment for class, but I actually found it pretty interesting. It is a brief overview of the Holocaust, placing it in the context of WWII and discussing how the genocide cannot be separated from the war and vice versa. The author has a distinct voice in the book, and presents new perspectives and information that differ from what we normally learn in school. Many issues and controversies surrounding the Holocaust were discussed. Bergen incorpo I'm not a fan of nonfiction, and this book was an assignment for class, but I actually found it pretty interesting. It is a brief overview of the Holocaust, placing it in the context of WWII and discussing how the genocide cannot be separated from the war and vice versa. The author has a distinct voice in the book, and presents new perspectives and information that differ from what we normally learn in school. Many issues and controversies surrounding the Holocaust were discussed. Bergen incorporates specific anecdotes as well as photographs to support her writing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Brislin

    An in-depth look into the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, the steps taken to create the Holocaust, and the horrors of the Holocaust. A difficult book to read due to the subject matter but an important book for everyone to read so that we never forget.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Soleil

    I haven't read many books like this. Though it's suppose to be a textbook, it felt far from that. It was easy to read and filled with so many details and facts I never knew. A great resource for those wanting to learn more about the times.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dom Perry

    I was supposed to have this read by Week 2 of the semester. It's currently been a month and a half since I've graduated. Great read though with sooooooooooo much detail. I'm a huge WWII buff and I always think I know a lot about it, but this book proved there is still so much more to learn.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marissa Mustache

    Heavy heavy stuff in this book, and gut wrenching to read at times, but so very informative. Bergen's style of writing keeps you wanting to read more. If I had to reccommend a book that is very in-depth about the Holocaust, it would be this one!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian Callender

    A difficult, but important read to understand the many people who were impacted by the Holocaust and WWII. It's gut-wrenching to think about what so many had to endure and how at the same time, there were countless willing participants in mass-murder of other human beings.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    clear, easy to read and very informative. fact driven and very thoughtful and thought provoking

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Nguyen

    Provides a historical and social context of the Holocaust. Research based, insightful.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachael Baumdicker

    This was a very heartbreaking but necessary read, especially when taking a class on the Holocaust. You don't fully understand the full extent of what happened until you read this.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emmie

    This was fine for a background on the Holocaust. I am so burnt out on this class I'm just glad it's done.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Comprehensive and readable. I will be assigning extracts from this book as required reading for a class this summer.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sandy Brusin

    One of the best books on this topic that I have ever read. It was concise but comprehensive. I especially liked the way the author taught me how to "read" archival photographs of the holocaust.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ayesha Madan

    An exceptional book. Writing was consistently to the point, yet provided well researched explanations for all the pestering questions I have ever had about this dark period. The content in this book is not just for students enrolled in courses related to history, politics or Holocaust studies - but for anyone trying to make sense of the irrational human behaviours behind war and genocide.

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