Hitler and World War II
To the Editor:
Joseph Shattan’s review of my book, The Last European War [Books in Review, August], consists of fifty-five sentences, of which approximately thirty-seven are wrong. COMMENTARY has not the space, I have not the time, and I believe that neither of us has the inclination, to publish a correction of all of these. But I must take issue with his principal attribution: that my attitudes on anti-Semitism are “disappointing” and “tendentious.” During World War II in my native country I witnessed the humiliation, the mistreatment, and, on occasion, the murder of Jewish relatives and friends. I was briefly put in prison by Nazis and Communists within a period of two years. My credentials in this respect were impeccable, which was one of the reasons why I received preferential treatment as a refugee entering the United States soon after the war. In my study of history, however, I reached conclusions somewhat different from those held by my liberal and radical colleagues. Some of my conclusions are stated in The Last European War: for example, that Hitler was not mad (which is precisely why he was such a frightening and dangerous phenomenon); that, whatever the dark psychic motives from which his obsession had sprung, there was, in his mind, a cold and cruel logic about the need to eliminate Jews from Europe (this, far more than racism or anti-Bolshevism or Lebensraum, was Hitler’s basic conviction); that especially among many of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe there was much potential and actual anti-Semitism (a relatively modern and populist tendency that in some ways, though not in all, differed from the more ancient religious prejudice of Judeophobia); and that the result of Hitler’s determination, assisted by some of these inclinations, was the greatest crime in modern history.
Mr. Shattan writes that these “attitudes” of mine “are disturbing, to say the least.” He is not content with saying the least. He goes on to argue: “Lukacs feels that, apart from the ‘Jewish issue,’ Stalin was far worse than Hitler.” I wrote (on page 325, and also elsewhere): “The criminal cruelties of the National Socialist Third Reich were worse than those perpetrated by the Soviet Union.” Why doesn’t he say what I wrote, instead of speculating on what I “feel”? The attribution of motives is a pestilential habit of the modern intellect. It may be sustained by the fabrication of evidence, of which the superficially most convincing version is the attribution of statements to one’s subject, often through false quotation. Mr. Shattan quotes me as writing that “thoughtful people might have become amenable to the argument that, after all was said, Hitler and Nazism were less evil and much less cruel than Stalin and Communism.” But he leaves out my next sentence: “There are millions in Europe, and not only in Germany, who believe this even now. For those who don’t”—and I make it abundantly clear that I don’t—“the decisive argument is the mass murder of the Jews.” He says that I “quote extensively from the really appalling theories of a Jewish convert to Christianity, ‘the extraordinary young Jewish genius,’ Otto Weininger.” My Weininger quote consists of three sentences, both before and after which I state that Weininger was wrong.
In concluding his review Mr. Shattan claims to regret “the sort of rhetorical trick one [does not] expect to find in a work of serious historical scholarship.” His review is full of tricks that are not so much rhetorical as they are Shattanic.
To the Editor:
Joseph Shattan’s . . . review seems . . . to leave the impression that John Lukacs is anti-Semitic and that his anti-Semitism has infected his historical judgment.
In The Last European War Mr. Lukacs argues that Hitler probably did not finally make up his mind to kill the Jews, rather than merely to drive them out of Europe, until after Pearl Harbor. According to Mr. Shattan, however, Mr. Lukacs ignores the “fact,” which is “abundantly documented,” that there was “no causal connection whatever between Pearl Harbor and Auschwitz,” although “it is impossible to believe” that he is ignorant of this “fact.” In other words, according to Mr. Shattan, Mr. Lukacs deliberately hides from the reader a fact of which he is personally aware. . . .
Mr. Shattan also notes that Mr. Lukacs makes some uncomplimentary remarks about particular Jews. Indeed he does. But the individuals mentioned richly deserve his judgment, nor does he reserve his uncomplimentary remarks for Jews alone.
Mr. Shattan criticizes Mr. Lukacs’s conclusion that but for the Holocaust many people (including himself) would have rated the Nazi regime less horrible than the Communist regime in Russia under Stalin. But if this conclusion has any bearing on anti- or pro-Semitism at all, it has to be pro-Semitic. Mr. Lukacs is saying that the Holocaust was so horrible that it alone tipped the scales of judgment against Nazism in favor of Communism under Stalin.
It seems to us that Mr. Lukacs is being accused of the unpardonable sin of writing anything remotely negative about anyone who was a Jew and anything remotely positive about Hitler, even if such things are true. Mr. Lukacs often voices unpopular or unvoguish views, but this should not detract from his clear moral outrage at and total condemnation of Hitler’s actions. We found nothing anti-Semitic in Mr. Lukacs’s book, even though we are sensitive to such undertones. . .
The Last European War is, in our opinion, excellent and entertaining history and we hope others will read it and decide on its merits for themselves.
W. David Slawson
Stephen J. Morse
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
In his review . . . Joseph Shattan quarrels with John Lukacs over whether the Right or Left first resisted Hitler. This approaches the ultimate in futility. In the wretched decade preceding World War II all political groups vied with each other in stupidity. The Nazi regime was genuinely popular in Germany in the 30′s and there was no serious plotting against Hitler until the summer of 1944. Germans of all political persuasions were still fighting doggedly for the regime in the streets of Berlin in the spring of 1945. Did the Italians fight thus for Mussolini or the French for the Third Republic?
In Britain, Chamberlain and his supporters were notoriously bemused by Hitler, while the Labour party virtuously denounced the Nazis and then voted against arms appropriations. In France, elements on the Right proclaimed their preference for Hitler over Léon Blum, while the Left staged sitdown strikes that interfered with rearmament. The general public in both countries remembered only the frightful casualty lists of World War I and simply refused to contemplate the possibility of another war.
In the United States, neutrality legislation was enacted by huge bipartisan congressional majorities. . . . Both Republicans and Democrats were prominent in the America First movement. Congress retained conscription by a single vote, only four months before Pearl Harbor.
All over the Western world Communists fulminated against fascism until the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 23, 1939. Then they abruptly became the world’s foremost appeasers of Hitler until the Germans invaded Russia on June 22, 1941. Immediately they turned 180 degrees again and became uncompromising champions of “democracy.”
Save for a few prescient individuals like Winston Churchill, nobody, Right, Left, or Center, can look back on the 30′s with pride.
Comparisons with 1976 are obvious and are, for that reason, unwelcome among all who sympathize with the new predatory state, hate their own societies, or merely dislike being disturbed.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
Joseph Shattan writes:
In my review, I made two points. First of all, I explained that, according to John Lukacs, Hitler’s decision to exterminate European Jewry was a reaction to what he regarded as an intolerable provocation on the part of American Jews, a way of punishing them for their warmongering. This reading, I argued, was tendentious, and I backed up my argument with a number of well-known facts, some of which Mr. Lukacs himself had cited. For reasons unknown, Mr. Lukacs has not deigned even to respond to my criticism.
My second point concerned Mr. Lukacs’s attitudes toward Jews, attitudes, which, I wrote, “are disturbing, to say the least.”
Once again Mr. Lukacs has not seen fit to respond to my criticism. All he says is that he pointed out that Otto Weininger’s views were wrong. But what he actually wrote was that while Weininger was “probably right” in foreseeing the rise of a tremendous movement of anti-Semitism in reaction to “a new and godless breed among the Jews of Europe,” he was “wrong” in attributing this expected outbreak of anti-Semitism to a new, rising Christianity. And although he quoted a lengthy passage from Weininger’s “extraordinary book,” Sex and Character (the Nazis also found the book extraordinary), nowhere did Mr. Lukacs indicate that Weininger’s appalling diagnosis of Jewish depravity was in any way inaccurate. At best, Mr. Lukacs disagreed with Weininger’s prognosis.
Mr. Lukacs informs us that his study of the last European war has led him to conclusions not generally accepted by his liberal and radical colleagues, and he lists some of them. He goes on to say that I find these conclusions objectionable. I do not. On the contrary, the points he makes in his letter are well-established, and if his liberal or radical colleagues object, so much the worse for them. What I object to are: his dubious “discovery” that American Jews, by their incessant anti-Hitler agitation, provoked the Holocaust; his assertion that “unscrupulous scum of the type of a Stavisky or Ilya Ehrenburg” floated on the surface of Jewish society; his implication that Europe’s best Jews were powerfully attracted to Christianity. These are conclusions which Mr. Lukacs’s liberal, radical, and conservative colleagues might well object to, and with good reason, since they are wrong. Moreover, they are defamatory.
Apparently, W. David Slawson and Stephen J. Morse do not understand the difference between self-contradiction and deliberate dissimulation. The former does not imply the latter. Far from insinuating that Mr. Lukacs was deliberately withholding facts from the reader, I argued that the very facts he cited contradicted his case.
Messrs. Slawson and Morse claim that Mr. Lukacs’s disparaging remarks about “particular Jews” were “richly deserved,” and suggest that there was no wider purpose to his remarks than excoriating the wicked. I am not at all sure whether either Stavisky or Ehrenburg richly deserves being called “scum,” but that is not the point. Rather, Mr. Lukacs uses Stavisky and Ehrenburg as illustrations of standard Jewish “types”—the unscrupulous financier and the Bolshevik intellectual—to make a wider point about Jewish society and Jewish-Christian relations, namely, that these notorious Jewish “types” were prevalent enough to induce the best Jews to convert to Christianity. I find this view most disturbing, and given their professed “sensitivity” to anti-Semitic undertones, I am surprised Messrs. Slawson and Morse do not.
Their summary of Mr. Lukacs’s views on the Hitler versus Stalin question, however, is accurate: it was only the Holocaust which convinced Mr. Lukacs that Hitler was more evil than Stalin. (Curiously enough, in his letter, Mr. Lukacs denies ever saying this.) But, as I pointed out in my review, this involves Mr. Lukacs in a serious inconsistency. If Hitler became the greater evil only after embarking on the Final Solution—but not before—then Chamberlain’s appeasement policy, far from being contemptible, was actually praiseworthy. By trying to convert Hitler to a respectable variety of anti-Communism, he was, according to this reading, simply choosing the lesser evil. Yet even as he makes the case for appeasement, Mr. Lukacs also makes it clear that his sympathies are with Churchill rather than Chamberlain. It was this contradiction that I drew attention to in my review—though, once again, Messrs. Slawson and Morse appear not to have noticed it.
So far as I can tell, Bernard Norling and I are in agreement. Neither the Right nor the Left had a monopoly on stupidity in the 30′s, and it was not my intention to apportion blame for the debacle. Since Mr. Lukacs made the argument that the earliest opponents of the Hitler regime came solely from the aristocratic and conservative Right, I felt called upon to point out that in 1933 the German Social Democrats made a solitary stand against Hitler, and that some of them paid with their lives for their courage. Of course, this certainly does not prove that the Left, in general, was any more perceptive than the Right in reacting to the Nazi menace.