Few events in history are as difficult to understand as the Holocaust. Debates over how and why it happened continue to rage in academic circles, to say nothing of the vast amount of fiction the topic has produced in film and literature. Robert Wistrich’s Hitler and the Holocaust is an admirable attempt at writing a concise and accessible introduction to this immensely challenging subject.
Wistrich’s approach is straightforward and chronological. It covers Hitler’s rise to power, early anti-Semitic legislation, the beginnings of World War II, Nazi collaborators, Jewish resistance, and the camps themselves. Wistrich focuses much of the book on the role of anti-Semitism in producing the Holocaust, reminding us that regardless of how historians choose to interpret the Holocaust or its meaning, it could not have happened without anti-Semitism, the war, and the personality of Hitler himself. Wistrich also neatly summarizes and adds to other historical topics, like the role of bureaucracy and modernity in the Holocaust.
Few books are as concise and as informative as Hitler and the Holocaust. Historical scholarship, in an attempt to explain an extremely complicated subject, has gotten increasingly specialized, so a good overview that attempts to be comprehensive and interesting to non-historians is important. At providing such an overview, Wistrich succeeds brilliantly.