This excellent volume is a classic in the fields of Holocaust/Shoah studies and Christian and Catholic/Jewish relations. After defining the terms, such as antisemitism, and how they followed and modified the ancient Christian teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism, Dawidowicz in Part One describes, in detail, the history of “The Final Solution,” the attempted genocide of all European Jews. She begins with an in-depth analysis of the development of Adolf Hitler's antisemitic world view in the context of “modern” 19th and 20th century Europe. Shortly after Hitler took power anti-Jewish legislation was passed, prohibiting Jews from many professions, requiring them to wear distinguishing markings such as a yellow star of David. The SS, which became the instrument of the work of rounding up Jews and placing them in confinement, concentration and ultimately death camps, was developed and
trained for their murderous work.
The book sets the internal development of Hitlerism in the broader context of German/Austrian foreign policy, the spread of antisemitic racial propaganda (effectively using the press and radio) and the looming World War. Dawidowicz describes in detail how the concentration camps evolved into annihilation camps, which she accurately calls “the Kingdom of Death.”
Part Two describes the Holocaust from both the Jewish and German/Austrian perspectives. She shows the forcing of Jews into guarded ghettos in Germany from 1933 to 1938. She then describes, again in excruciating detail the situations of death and life in the ghettos of Eastern European countries such as Poland, from “kehilla to Judenrat.” Describing a ray of light in the darkness, the book narrates the activities of the underground fighters who sought to harm the occupying German forces wherever and however they could. These are stories of heroism, of the “righteous among the nations,” European Catholics and Protestants who tried to help their Jewish neighbors (cf. Leviticus 19:18, quoted by Jesus as one of the two central commandments).
Finally, she describes what Jews, in a situation of crisis and extremity, tried to do to save themselves and others. The book thus ends on a hopeful note of human beings in a situation of near-absolute helplessness and risking death, tried to rise as best as they could to what was, in point of historical fact, an unprecedented situation. Jews had faced persecution, looting, rape, second-class citizenship, and much worse over two millennia. But throughout those centuries they could hold on to hope and often live to face another day. Being expelled from much of Western Europe, they established new lives in Eastern Europe. The could, if their lives were at stake, convert to Christianity or, often enough, pretend to convert, and so be accepted into society as fellow Catholics and Protestants,
secretly handing on their faith and traditions to their children.
But the ideology of Nazism, which did not care what Jews did or did not do, assigned all Jews, based solely on the false notion that they constituted a “race,” to death, was essentially different than
anything that had happened to them before.
This must-read book concludes with an appendix describing the fate of European Jews, country by country. A second appendix gives overall statistics of the fate of six million human beings who followed the faith held and taught by Jesus the Jew. An unasked, and if asked an unanswerable question remains. Why did so many so-called Christians across Europe, East, and West, want to murder the people of their Savior, the Jews?