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The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945

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The Years of Extermination

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The Years of Extermination
Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945
By Saul Friedlšnder
Harper Perennial, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-093048-6

Reviewed by Zev Harris - November 28, 2008

The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 is the second volume in Saul Friedlšnder's monumental study on the Holocaust. Beginning where Nazi Germany and the Jews Volume I: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 left off, Friedlšnder picks up his narrative in September of 1939 with the Nazi invasion of Poland. Within the pages of this book, Friedlšnder presents an ideological / cultural based interpretation of the events and policies related to the Nazis and their attempt to exterminate all Jews and other 'undesirables' who were unfortunate enough to fall within their sphere of influence. In pursuing this tact, Friedlšnder not only chronicles the Nazi's use of institutionalized antisemitism to facilitate their endeavors to exterminate the Jews, but also how Germany's greater political goals where evinced in the Nazi's anti-Jewish ideology. He also delves into the role that antisemitic beliefs held in causing the bulk of Germany's citizens and allies to provide either tacit or outright approval and support for the ghettoization and mass murder of Europe's Jews.

Friedlšnder's writing is dynamic and he has interlaced his historical narrative with first person accounts drawn from interviews, court documents, memoirs, and diaries. These accounts document many of the atrocities and events that the writers witnessed, carried out, or endured. These accounts were drawn from victims, perpetrators, and 'bystanders' touched by the Nazi's Final Solution. The interactions between victims and persecutors are explored, as are how governmental agencies, Christian religious leaders and groups, and Jewish communal organizations reacted to Nazi dictates and actions. Also covered are the numerous attempts, both individual and group actions, which were made to thwart the Nazi's goal of annihilating European Jewry.

Using a chronological methodology, Friedlšnder presents a solid overview of the Holocaust from 1939-1945, including details about the war in general and how the Nazi's extermination actions were planned and carried out. Friedlšnder also discusses who knew what, when, and what steps, if any, the Allied powers could have taken to help prevent the mass murder of Jews or to impede the Nazi's efforts. While the historical 'facts' serve as the skeleton of this narrative, the diary excerpts constitute the flesh of this account. Friedlšnder's extensive use of words drawn directly from diarists accounts, makes this book particularly poignant. This will make the account resonate with readers of all ages, as it enables the reader to internalize the events that they are reading about. This helps readers to better understand just how horrific, devastating, and long lasting the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies where - not only in terms of the resulting mass murders and use of slave labor, but also in the disruption in family and community life, the utter destruction of so much of European Jewish social institutions and material culture, and the long-lasting physical and emotional scars carried by the survivors.

The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 is an emotionally powerful book, which makes it a difficult book to read. Nonetheless, it is a book that everyone should read. This book should be read for a number of reasons. For example it will help you to better understand the history of the Holocaust. It will also help you to understand the Nazi mind-set, and how their anti-Jewish policies impacted the course and outcome of World War II. This book also provides a snapshot of what life was like for European Jewry during World War II, and how, despite the horrors that soaked into every aspect of daily life, Jews still managed to eke out a vibrant communal existence, finding solace and even joy in community activities, in cultural pursuits, and in simply trying to make the best out of an untenable situation.

Friedlšnder was born in Prague and grew up in Nazi-occupied France. He is a noted authority on Nazi Germany and World War II, and he is a professor of history at UCLA. In writing this book, he has brought to the table a lifetime of scholarship, a gift for crafting compelling and readable narratives, and the authority to write honestly and forthrightly about a tenacious and often controversial subject. Within the course of this volume, he discusses not only the various methodologies used to study the Holocaust, but also the varied scholarly controversies that surround the questions about how and why the Nazi's choose Jews as their idealized scapegoat and the role that antisemitism played in turning the average man or women on the street into active players in the mass murder of millions of Jews.

Friedlšnder's two volume account on Nazi Germany and the Jews is a significant entry into the body of histories on the Holocaust, its causes, consequences, and how it has been interpreted. Up-to-date, filled with new information, and enhanced by more than 100 pages of notes (in the paperback edition), and an extensive bibliography, this book is essential reading for scholars, as well as high school and university students of the Holocaust, World War II, and Nazi Germany. In addition, Friedlšnder's flowing narrative style makes this book accessible to general readers and academics alike.


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