The enactment of the German extermination policies that resulted in the murder of six million European Jews depended upon many factors, including the cooperation of local authorities and police departments, and the passivity of the populations, primarily of their political and spiritual elites. Necessary also was the victims' willingness to submit, often with the hope of surviving long enough to escape the German vise. The Years of Extermination, the completion of Saul Friedländer's major historical opus on Nazi Germany and the Jews, explores the convergence of the various aspects of this most systematic and sustained of modern genocides. In this unparalleled work—based on a vast array of documents and an overwhelming choir of voices from diaries, letters, and memoirs—the history of the Holocaust has found its definitive representation.
In the second volume of his essential history of Nazi Germany and the Jews, one of the great historians of the Holocaust provides a rich, vivid depiction of Jewish life from France to Ukraine, Greece to Norway, in its most tragic period, drawing especially on hundreds of diaries written by Jews during their ordeal, depicting a world collapsing on its inhabitants, along with the thousands of humiliating persecutions that Jews suffered on their way to extermination. Friedl nder also provides insightful discussions of the many interpretive controversies that still surround the history of Nazi Germany. He has been party to many of the debates, and he remains attuned to the most recent historical research. Friedl nder knows the bureaucratic workings of the Third Reich as well as anyone, but refuses to see in that alone the explanation for the Holocaust. Instead, he focuses largely on cultural and ideological factors. He considers other factors, such as "the crisis of liberalism," but these were not the essential motives for the Holocaust, which, Friedl nder says, was driven by sheer hatred of Jews, by "a redemptive anti-Semitism" espoused by Hitler, a belief that Germans could thrive only through the utter destruction of Jews. This is a masterful synthesis that draws on a lifetime of learning and research.