Review: Why? Explaining The Holocaust – Peter Hayes

Explaining the Holocaust

My version: Paperback
Genre: Non Fiction, The Holocaust
W.W. Norton Company
First published: 2017
ISBN: 9780393254365
Pages: 432

From the cover:
Despite the outpouring of books, movies, museums, memorials, and courses devoted to the Holocaust, a coherent explanation of why such ghastly carnage erupted from the heart of civilised Europe in the twentieth century still seems elusive even seventy years later. Numerous theories have sprouted in an attempt to console ourselves and to point the blame in emotionally satisfying directions—yet none of them are fully convincing. As witnesses to the Holocaust near the ends of their lives, it becomes that much more important to unravel what happened and to educate a new generation about the horrors inflicted by the Nazi regime on Jews and non-Jews alike.
Why? dispels many misconceptions and answers some of the most basic—yet vexing—questions that remain: why the Jews and not another ethnic group? Why the Germans? Why such a swift and sweeping extermination? Why didn’t more Jews fight back more often? Why didn’t they receive more help? While responding to the questions he has been most frequently asked by students over the decades, world-renowned Holocaust historian and professor Peter Hayes brings a wealth of scholarly research and experience to bear on conventional, popular views of the history, challenging some of the most prominent recent interpretations. He argues that there is no single theory that “explains” the Holocaust; the convergence of multiple forces at a particular moment in time led to catastrophe.
In clear prose informed by an encyclopaedic knowledge of Holocaust literature in English and German, Hayes weaves together stories and statistics to heart-stopping effect. Why? is an authoritative, groundbreaking exploration of the origins of one of the most tragic events in human history.

A very thorough and thought-provoking read. Very well researched (as far as I can tell) and leaves no stone unturned in trying to answer the question – why the Jews, why the Nazis.

Then comes the ‘however.’

However…I felt a little let down at by the end of the book, as I actually didn’t feel he actually came out with a ‘Why?’ It was never going to be easy, never really going to be so simple and something someone could answer in a sentence. Not one that wouldn’t then lead to more questions. All the same, apart from a short-ish passage, I really didn’t feel he came up with an answer to ‘Why?’ There was a lot of whats and lots of detailed explanations of who did what and when, but why the Jews? No, I don’t think he answered it. Though, I should add ‘to my satisfaction’ which would then allow you to differ from me and that’s absolutely ok.

So, ‘Why?’

You have to do a whole series of “yeah, but before that don’t you? It has to go back to the start. The ‘pagan’ religions weren’t that bothered with the Jews and may not have been if they existed through history to today. Pagan Vikings were ok with adding Jesus to their pantheon of gods and leaving it at that. Christianity, on the other hand, wasn’t ok with being one of many gods. So, the problems start when Christianity starts. I’m absolutely not saying Jesus started it, as if he were to return and see the religion that bears his name, he’d say what the fuck is that? Even if he’d returned, as they thought/hoped he would, inside ten years from his death, he’d have said similar. Don’t deny it.

After the early Christians who didn’t fancy upholding the strict Jewish laws that Jesus and James did, they had to market it as something else. To others, non-Jews. They had to create a difference, a unique selling point.

According to the Gospels and tradition, Jesus was tried, sentenced and crucified by a Roman court. However, this didn’t play well with those who had been converted to the new Christian faith, nor to those writing the gospels for them. The Romans were on top and not looking like going away any tome soon, so they were the prime market for the new faith. And so, the Gospels and the messages of Paul, were altered accordingly

They had to take the blame from Pilate and put it on to someone else.

The history was reworked and made Roman-friendly. However, in my opinion (and I have read some places “without thinking of the consequences” but that really doesn’t stand up), the gospel writers made the Jewish Sanhedrin and Caiaphas morally culpable of his death. “In changing history as they did, the gospel writers became single-handedly responsible for the most depraved anti-Semitic crimes against humanity that have occurred since the second century until the present.”

“His blood be on us and on our children (Matthew 27:25).”

That line and words from Paul, meant that anti-Semitism found a biblical and therefore justifying legitimisation in the eyes of many Christians. Remember, these words were seen, and many still do see them, as the literal word of God. If he doesn’t like the Jews, why should we?

Christians have justified their hostility thus, and killed millions of Jewish people ever since. As I say, not Jesus. He was a Jew after all. Not the early church, as they wanted to retain the Jewish law, they just saw Jesus as someone to modernise the Jewish faith, maybe the Messiah, maybe not. Anti-Semitism has become a way of proving how devote a Christian you were/are. They killed Jesus, they killed God.

“Keeping this untruth in the gospel will continue to justify future dictators of the Christian persuasion to do as Hitler and Germany did in the first half of the twentieth century. Anti-Semitism continues to exist in the world in our time and while such propaganda exists in Christian literature this verse remains the grist in their mill, and the world lingers on notice of what can happen.”

So, that passage, is why. The how, was 20th century technology.

You can buy Why? Explaining The Holocaust from The Book Depository

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