ABSTRACT

Recent developments in the new Germany reveal serious, unresolved conflicts over the legacy of the Holocaust. The Historikerstreit, the heated debate among German historians initiated in 1986 over the meaning of Hitler and the Third Reich, continues unabated and has spread beyond academic circles. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas of the Frankfurt School sparked one of the great flashpoints in this controversy with his insistence that the viability of German democracy demanded a continuing and open confrontation with the Nazi past. He attacked the revisionism of neoconservative historians, including Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, Joachim Fest, and David Irving, and their attempts to relativize the Holocaust with the claim that Auschwitz did not stand alone butassumed a position in history as merely one of a long line of similar atrocities and mass murders ranging from Stalinist purges to the crimes of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Moreover, Habermas questioned the revisionist assertion that the Third Reich did not deliberately establish a genocidal dictatorship but carried on the war for the singular purpose of preventing the Communist domination of Europe. I

More recently, the debate over the legacy of the Holocaust entered another contentious phase with the publication of Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holo226

caust (1996). Goldhagen, a young professor of government and social studies at Harvard University, sparked controversy among historians when he c1aimed that anti-Semitic hatred, nurtured in the soil of Christianity, was the central cause for the Holocaust and that such hatred was imbedded in German culture. Goldhagen attacked the cherished assumption that most Germans were guilty only of obedience to authority. The German persecution and murder of Jews, he firmly insisted, was first and foremost a matter of choice, not simply a question of obedience to the regime. Like many other institutions under the fascist process of Gleichschaltung (coordination of all aspects of institutionallife under the state), he argued, the churches participated in an already deeply rooted German tendency toward "eliminationist anti-Semitism."2