Daniel Goldhagen

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Daniel Goldhagen
Daniel Goldhagen Crop.jpg
Goldhagen in 2011
BornDaniel Jonah Goldhagen
(1959-06-30) June 30, 1959 (age 60)
Boston, Massachusetts
Occupation Political scientist, author
Notable works Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996)
Spouse Sarah Williams Goldhagen

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (born June 30, 1959) [1] is an American author, and former associate professor of government and social studies at Harvard University. Goldhagen reached international attention and broad criticism as the author of two controversial books about the Holocaust: Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), and A Moral Reckoning (2002). He is also the author of Worse Than War (2009), which examines the phenomenon of genocide, and The Devil That Never Dies (2013), in which he traces a worldwide rise in virulent antisemitism. [2] [3]



Daniel Goldhagen was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Erich and Norma Goldhagen. He grew up in nearby Newton. [4] His wife Sarah (née Williams) is an architectural historian, and critic for The New Republic magazine. [5]

Daniel Goldhagen's father is Erich Goldhagen, a retired Harvard professor. Erich is a Holocaust survivor who, with his family, was interned in a Jewish ghetto in Czernowitz (present-day Ukraine). [4] Daniel credits his father as a "model of intellectual sobriety and probity". [6] Goldhagen has written that his "understanding of Nazism and of the Holocaust is firmly indebted" to his father's influence. [6] In 1977, Goldhagen entered Harvard, and remained there for some twenty years - first as an undergraduate and graduate student, then as an assistant professor in the Government and Social Studies Department. [7] [8]

During early graduate studies, he attended a lecture by Saul Friedländer, in which he had what he describes as a "lightbulb moment": The functionalism versus intentionalism debate did not address the question, "When Hitler ordered the annihilation of the Jews, why did people execute the order?". Goldhagen wanted to investigate who the German men and women who killed the Jews were, and their reasons for killing. [4]

Academic and literary career

As a graduate student, Goldhagen undertook research in the German archives. [4] [9] The thesis of Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust proposes that, during the Holocaust, many killers were ordinary Germans, who killed for having been raised in a profoundly antisemitic culture, and thus were acculturated — "ready and willing" — to execute the Nazi government's genocidal plans.

Goldhagen's first notable work was a book review titled "False Witness" published by The New Republic magazine on April 17, 1989. It was one in a series of hostile reviews of the 1988 book Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? by an American-Jewish professor of Princeton University born in Luxembourg, Arno J. Mayer. [10] Goldhagen wrote that "Mayer's enormous intellectual error" was in ascribing the cause of the Holocaust to anti-Communism, rather than to antisemitism, [11] and criticized Prof. Mayer's saying that most massacres of Jews in the USSR, during the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941 were committed by local peoples (see the Lviv pogroms for more historical background), with little Wehrmacht participation. [11] Goldhagen accused him also of misrepresenting the facts about the Wannsee Conference (1942), which was meant for plotting the genocide of European Jews, not (as Mayer said) merely the resettlement of the Jews. [11] Goldhagen further accused Mayer of obscurantism, of suppressing historical fact, and of being an apologist for Nazi Germany, like Ernst Nolte, for attempting to "de-demonize" National Socialism. [11] Also in 1989, historian Lucy Dawidowicz reviewed Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? in Commentary magazine, and praised Goldhagen's "False Witness" review, identifying him as a rising Holocaust historian who formally rebutted "Mayer's falsification" of history. [10] [12]

In 2003, Goldhagen resigned from Harvard to focus on writing. His work synthesizes four historical elements, kept distinct for analysis; as presented in the books A Moral Reckoning: the Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2002) and Worse Than War (2009): (i) description (what happens), (ii) explanation (why it happens), (iii) moral evaluation (judgment), and (iv) prescription (what is to be done?). [13] [14] According to Goldhagen, his Holocaust studies address questions about the political, social, and cultural particulars behind other genocides: "Who did the killing?" "What, despite temporal and cultural differences, do mass killings have in common?", which yielded Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity, about the global nature of genocide, and averting such crimes against humanity. [15]


Hitler's Willing Executioners

Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996) posits that the vast majority of ordinary Germans were "willing executioners" in the Holocaust because of a unique and virulent "eliminationist antisemitism" in German identity that had developed in the preceding centuries. Goldhagen argued that this form of antisemitism was widespread in Germany, that it was unique to Germany, and that because of it, ordinary Germans willingly killed Jews. Goldhagen asserted that this mentality grew out of medieval attitudes with a religious basis, but was eventually secularized. [16] Goldhagen's book was meant to be a "thick description" in the manner of Clifford Geertz. [17] As such, to prove his thesis Goldhagen focused on the behavior of ordinary Germans who killed Jews, especially the behavior of the men of Order Police (Orpo) Reserve Battalion 101 in occupied Poland in 1942 to argue ordinary Germans possessed by "eliminationist anti-Semitism" chose to willingly murder Jews in cruel and sadistic ways. [18] In this, Goldhagen was essentially rehashing much of what had been published before, adding his touch of intentionalist prose to already covered ground. Scholars such as Yehuda Bauer, Otto Kulka, Israel Gutman, among others, asserted long before Goldhagen, the primacy of ideology, radical anti-Semitism, and the corollary of an inimitability exclusive to Germany. [19]

The book, which began as a doctoral dissertation, was written largely as a response to Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (1992). [20] Much of Goldhagen's book was concerned with the same Order Police battalion, but with very different conclusions. [21] On April 8, 1996, Browning and Goldhagen discussed their differences during a symposium hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. [22] Browning's book recognizes the impact of the unending campaign of antisemitic propaganda, but it takes other factors into account, such as fear of breaking ranks, desire for career advancement, a concern not to be viewed as weak, the effect of state bureaucracy, [23] battlefield conditions and peer-bonding. [21] [24] Goldhagen does not acknowledge the influence of these variables. Goldhagen's book went on to win the American Political Science Association's 1994 Gabriel A. Almond Award in comparative politics and the Democracy Prize of the Journal for German and International Politics. [25] Time magazine reported that it was one of the two most important books of 1996, [26] and The New York Times called it "one of those rare, new works that merit the appellation 'landmark'". [27]

The book sparked controversy in the press and academic circles. Several historians characterized its reception as an extension of the Historikerstreit , the German historiographical debate of the 1980s that sought to explain Nazi history. [28] The book was a "publishing phenomenon", [29] achieving fame in both the United States and Germany despite being criticized by some historians, [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] who called it ahistorical and, [35] according to Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, "totally wrong about everything" and "worthless". [36] [37] Due to its alleged "generalizing hypothesis" about Germans, it has been characterized as anti-German. [38] [39] [40] The Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer claims that "Goldhagen stumbles badly", "Goldhagen's thesis does not work", [41] and charges "... that the anti-German bias of his book, almost a racist bias (however much he may deny it), leads nowhere". [42] The American historian Fritz Stern denounced the book as unscholarly and full of racist Germanophobia. [43] Hilberg summarised the debates, "by the end of 1996, it was clear that in sharp distinction from lay readers, much of the academic world had wiped Goldhagen off the map". [44]

A Moral Reckoning

In 2002, Goldhagen published A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair , an account of the role of the Catholic Church before, during and after World War II. In the book, Goldhagen acknowledges that individual bishops and priests hid and saved a large number of Jews, [45] but also asserts that others promoted or accepted antisemitism before [46] and during the war, [47] and some played a direct role in the persecution of Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. [48]

David Dalin and Joseph Bottum of The Weekly Standard criticized the book, calling it a "misuse of the Holocaust to advance [an] anti-Catholic agenda", and poor scholarship. [49] Goldhagen noted in an interview with The Atlantic, as well as in the book's introduction, that the title and the first page of the book reveal its purpose as a moral, rather than historical analysis, asserting that he has invited European Church representatives to present their own historical account in discussing morality and reparation. [50]

Worse Than War

In Worse than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (2009), Goldhagen described Nazism and the Holocaust as "eliminationist assaults". He worked on the book intermittently for a decade, interviewing atrocity perpetrators and victims in Rwanda, Guatemala, Cambodia, Kenya, and the USSR, and politicians, government officers, and private humanitarian organization officers. Goldhagen states that his aim is to help "craft institutions and politics that will save countless lives and also lift the lethal threat under which so many people live". He concludes that eliminationist assaults are preventable because "the world's non-mass-murdering countries are wealthy and powerful, having prodigious military capabilities (and they can band together)", whereas the perpetrator countries "are overwhelmingly poor and weak". [51] [52]

The book was cinematically adapted, and the documentary film of Worse Than War was first presented in the U.S. in Aspen, Colorado, on August 6, 2009 – the sixty-fourth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. [53] In Germany, the documentary was first broadcast by the ARD television network October 18, 2009, [54] and was to be nationally broadcast by the PBS in 2010. [55]

David Rieff, characterizing Goldhagen as a "pro-Israel polemicist and amateur historian", writes that the subtext of what Goldhagen deems "eliminationism" may be his own view of contemporary Islam. Rieff writes that Goldhagen's website states that the author "speaks nationally ... about Political Islam's Offensive, the threat to Israel, Hitler's Willing Executioners, the Globalization of Anti-Semitism, and more". [52] Rieff questions Goldhagen's equating the "culture of death" of Nazism with that of "political Islam", as well as Goldhagen's conclusion that, in order to prevent "eliminationism", the United Nations should be remade into an interventionist entity focusing on "a devoted international push for democratizing more countries". [52] Adam Jones, who praised this book for its fluid style and commendable passion, concludes however, that the book is undermined by a casual approach to basic research, and by the author's tendency to overreach and overstate his case. [56] The British historian David Elstein accused Goldhagen of manipulating his sources to make a false accusation of genocide against the British during the Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s in Kenya. [57] Elstein wrote in his view that the chapter on Kenya left Goldhagen open "...to the charge that he is the kind of scholar who is either unaware of the facts or prefers to exclude those which do not fit his thesis". [57]

Personal life

Goldhagen has a son and a daughter.[ citation needed ] He has been a vegetarian since the age of 10. [58]

Awards and recognition

Selected works

Related Research Articles

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Further reading