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Ordinary Germans

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To the Editor:

I think Robert S. Wistrich’s article, “Helping Hitler” [July], suffers from the same faults as the book he discusses, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Though both the article and the book make some valid points, I found them both simplistic, overdrawn, and unconvincing.

The burden of Goldhagen’s book is that Hitler, in recruiting German labor for the project of destroying Europe’s Jews, had at his disposal an entire population so depraved by years of inbred anti-Semitism as to constitute a giant gang of natural-born killers. According to this thesis, under Hitler even “ordinary” Germans (meaning Germans not connected with the SS or with other major Nazi institutions) were everywhere available as willing instruments of genocide. Those who got the opportunity to murder Jews, by being drafted into Ordnungspolizei battalions, for example, went about their work with gleeful and relentless savagery until the very day of Germany’s surrender. After that, Goldhagen explained in an interview in the New York Times, the Germans made it illegal to express anti-Semitic sentiments in public and embraced the principle of liberal democracy. . . .

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