Essay on The Origins of the Holocaust

Essay on The Origins of the Holocaust

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The question of the origins of the Holocaust has been studied by scholars using several differing approaches. These interpretations are outlined by Donald Niewyk in The Holocaust as the long history of European anti-Semitism, the charismatic personality of Adolf Hitler and the influence of modern “scientific” racism or eugenics. These interpretations are illustrated in the works of John Weiss, Ian Kershaw, and Henry Friedlander. Niewyk uses Weiss to identify the interpretation of ancient anti-Semitism located throughout Europe as the origin of the Holocaust. He uses Ian Kershaw’s argument that Adolf Hitler’s unique leadership was the ultimate catalyst for the Holocaust and employs Henry Friedlander’s biological racist ideology to illustrate the main interpretations surrounding the origins of the Holocaust.
Although Niewyk presented these interpretations in depth, his criticisms of Weiss's long history approach and Friedlander’s scientific interpretations are flawed. In reaction to Weiss’s argument, he proposes the question, “If Germans harbored such intense loathing for the Jews, why were no substantial steps taken against them before Hitler came to power in 1933?” Friedlander’s argument is met with the supposition that “only the Jews were singled out by the Nazis for total annihilation and warn against anything that might detract from the particular dimensions and characteristics of the Jewish tragedy.”
The problems with these critiques are that Niewyk ignores Germany's previous attempts at sterilization legislation in 1923 and the influence of foreign eugenic legislation and restrictions on the Nazi government. He also pays little attention to the evidence that shows the Nazi regime also strategically targeted individuals...


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...eiss, “Anti-Semitism Through the Ages” Ed. By Donald Niewyk, The Holocaust: Problems in European Civilization (Boston, Massachusetts:Wadsworth, 2011), 12.
“Police decree on identification of Jews, 1 September 1941” Ed. By Stackelberg and Winkle. The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: an anthology of texts. (New York: Rutledge, 2002), 154
Harry Friedlander, “The Opening Act of Nazi Germany” Ed. By Donald Niewyk, The Holocaust: Problems in European Civilization (Boston, Massachusetts:Wadsworth, 2011), 45.
“Minutes of the Wannsee Conference, 20 January 1942” Ed. By Stackelberg and Winkle. The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: an anthology of texts. (New York: Rutledge, 2002), 345.
“Minutes of the Wannsee Conference, 20 January 1942” Ed. By Stackelberg and Winkle. The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: an anthology of texts. (New York: Rutledge, 2002), 348.
Niewyk, The Holocaust, 10.

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