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The enactment of the German extermination policies that resulted in the murder of six million European Jews depended upon many factors, including the cooperation of local authorities and police departments, and the passivity of the populations, primarily of their political and spiritual elites. Necessary also was the victims’ willingness to submit, often with the hope of surviving long enough to escape the German vise. The Years of Extermination, the completion of Saul Friedländer’s major historical opus on Nazi Germany and the Jews, explores the convergence of the various aspects of this most systematic and sustained of modern genocides. In this unparalleled work—based on a vast array of documents and an overwhelming choir of voices from diaries, letters, and memoirs—the history of the Holocaust has found its definitive representation.
A great historian crowns a lifetime of thought and research by answering a question that has haunted us for more than 50 years: How did one of the most industrially and culturally advanced nations in the world embark on and continue along the path leading to one of the most enormous criminal enterprises in history, the extermination of Europe’s Jews?
Giving considerable emphasis to a wealth of new archival findings, Saul Friedlander restores the voices of Jews who, after the 1933 Nazi accession to power, were engulfed in an increasingly horrifying reality. We hear from the persecutors themselves: the leaders of the Nazi party, the members of the Protestant and Catholic hierarchies, the university elites, and the heads of the business community. Most telling of all, perhaps, are the testimonies of ordinary German citizens, who in the main acquiesced to increasing waves of dismissals, segregation, humiliation, impoverishment, expulsion, and violence.