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Sources of the Holocaust

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Sources of the Holocaust

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Sources of the Holocaust
Edited by Steve Hochstadt
Palgrave Macmillan: (2004)
ISBN: 0-333-96345-8

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - April 21, 2004

Studying the Holocaust can be a daunting task, both emotionally and academically. There is so much information available on the event that it can be hard figuring out where to start, and it can be difficult for non-academics to judge whether or not a given book, or document, is factual in content. For those interested in the learning about the Holocaust, on a general level, and for students studying the Holocaust, Steve Hochstadt's new book Sources of the Holocaust provides access to essential source documents, in English.

The documents in this collection are organized both chronologically and thematically into nine categories: Hochstadt, who is the editor of this volume, has compiled an outstanding collection of documents related to the Holocaust. The documents are grouped thematically, and they serve as a means of learning about, and understanding the caused and the consequences of the Holocaust. They also enable readers to understand, at least on a superficial level, the mind set of those that sought to annihilate the Jews and the men and women who participated in the slaughter and degradation of the Jews and others that they saw as undesirable. This collection of documents also provides the reader with representative accounts of the suffering that the genocide entailed - both in the terms of the dry statistical facts (i.e., the number of dead and deported) and in terms of the emotional and physical impact that this horrific event had on the survivors.

The documents in this collection include both the complete text of shorter works, such as a letter urging that Jews be fired from Austrian industry (pg. 61), and excerpts from longer documents, such as a Summary of evidence from defense witnesses at Nuremberg Trial (pgs. 261-265). In all cases, Hochstadt has included a brief commentary on each document. He also wrote the introduction and the conclusion to the book. At the end of the book is a detailed source list for each of the eighty-four documents in the book, as well as a bibliography that can be used as a starting point for further study on the Holocaust.

Documents included in this collection are derived from a variety of sources, including excerpts from children's books, governmental documents and forms, letters, memoirs, eyewitness accounts, military reports, and the minutes from meetings. In addition to chronicling the Nazi's crimes against the Jews, these documents also touch upon the Nazi discrimination and murder of other 'undesirables' such as Gypsies, Homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, and the handicapped. These documents provide insights into the political and social factors that gave rise to the Holocaust. They provide insights into the workings of institutionalization of genocide under the Nazi regime, and what life was like for the victims - in the cities, in the ghettos, on the transports, in the slave labor camps, and in death camps. These documents also provide a peek at Allies political response to the Holocaust, which occurred after the Nazi defeat.

Reading the documents contained in Sources of the Holocaust is an emotionally draining experience. However, the Holocaust was a pivotal moment in Jewish and World history, and it is important that we try to understand the factors that gave rise to the Nazi movement and their barbaric actions, and why so many disparate peoples supported their actions. By understanding why the Holocaust happened, we are one-step closer to ensuring that it never happens again. These documents also help us to understand the factors that determined which Jews lived and which died. In many instances, survival was simply a matter of luck. In others it was a person's stubborn determination to live, or the fact that they were protected by a gentile who risked their own life to save another.

This is not a traditional history book. While the documents and Hochstadt's commentaries do provide a general overview of the history of the Holocaust, it is not a comprehensive history. Rather, this book is intended to supplement more detailed works, such as: Additionally, this text enables readers to gain access to primary source documents that they might not otherwise be able to read, either because the original document was written in a language they do not read, or because a particular document is not widely available in print. These documents, when read in conjunction with a comprehensive text on the Holocaust, will give you a broader understanding of the causes, effects, and consequences of the Nazi's actions. They will also help you put to put the events of the past in context to modern events - such as the present-day rise of Antisemitism in Europe.

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