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The Years of Extermination
Cover of The Years of Extermination
The Years of Extermination
Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945

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.

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.

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  • Chapter One

    September 1939-May 1940

    "On Friday morning, September 1, the young butcher's lad came and told us: There has been a radio announcement, we already held Danzig and the Corridor, the war with Poland was under way, England and France remained neutral," Victor Klemperer wrote in his diary on September 3. "I said to Eva [that] a morphine injection or something similar was the best thing for us; our life was over."1

    Klemperer was of Jewish origin; in his youth he converted to Protestantism and later on married a Protestant "Aryan." In 1935 he was dismissed from the Technical University in Dresden, where he taught Romance languages and literature; yet he went on living in the city, painstakingly recording what happened to him and around him. The British and French responses to the German attack remained uncertain for two days. "Annemarie brought two bottles of sparkling wine for Eva's birthday," Klemperer reported on September 4. "We drank one and decided to save the other for the day of the English declaration of war. So today it's the turn of the second one."2

    In Warsaw, Chaim Kaplan, the director of a Hebrew school, was confident that this time Britain and France would not betray their ally as they had betrayed Czechoslovakia in 1938. On the first day of the war Kaplan sensed the apocalyptic nature of the new conflict: "We are witnessing the dawn of a new era in the history of the world. This war will indeed bring destruction upon human civilization. But this is a civilization that merits annihilation and destruction."3 Kaplan was convinced that ultimately Nazism would be defeated but that the struggle would entail enormous losses for all.

    The Hebrew school director also grasped the peculiar threat that the outbreak of the war represented for the Jews. In that same September 1 entry, he added, "As for the Jews, their danger is seven times greater. Wherever Hitler's foot treads there is no hope for the Jewish people." Kaplan quoted Hitler's notorious speech of January 30, 1939, in which the Nazi leader threatened the Jews with extermination in case of world war. The Jews were thus more eager than most to take a hand at common defense: "When the order was issued that all the inhabitants of the city must dig shelter trenches for protection from air raids, the Jews came in numbers. I, too, was among them."4

    On September 8 the Wehrmacht occupied Lodz, the second largest Polish city: "All of a sudden the terrifying news: Lodz has been surrendered!" Dawid Sierakowiak, a Jewish youngster, barely fifteen, recorded. "All conversation stops; the streets grow deserted; faces and hearts are covered with gloom, cold severity and hostility. Mr. Grabinski comes back from downtown and tells how the local Germans greeted their countrymen. The Grand Hotel where the General Staff is expected to stay is bedecked with garlands of flowers: [Ethnic German] civilians — boys, girls — jump into the passing military cars with happy cries of Heil Hitler! Loud German conversations in the streets. Everything patriotically and nationalistically [German] that was hidden in the past now shows its true face."5

    And in Warsaw again, Adam Czerniaków, an employee of the Polish foreign trade clearinghouse and an active member of the Jewish community, was organizing a Jewish Citizens Committee to work with the Polish authorities: "The Jewish Citizens Committee of the capital city of Warsaw," he wrote on September 13, "received legal recognition and was established in the Community building."6 On September 23 he further noted: "Mayor Starzynski named me Chairman of the ...

About the Author-
  • Born in Prague, Saul Friedländer spent his boyhood in Nazi-occupied France. He is now a professor of history at UCLA and has written numerous books on Nazi Germany and World War II.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 5, 2007
    In the second volume of his essential history of Nazi Germany and the Jews, one of the great historians of the Holocaust provides a rich, vivid depiction of Jewish life from France to Ukraine, Greece to Norway, in its most tragic period, drawing especially on hundreds of diaries written by Jews during their ordeal, depicting a world collapsing on its inhabitants, along with the thousands of humiliating persecutions that Jews suffered on their way to extermination. Friedländer also provides insightful discussions of the many interpretive controversies that still surround the history of Nazi Germany. He has been party to many of the debates, and he remains attuned to the most recent historical research. Friedländer knows the bureaucratic workings of the Third Reich as well as anyone, but refuses to see in that alone the explanation for the Holocaust. Instead, he focuses largely on cultural and ideological factors. He considers other factors, such as "the crisis of liberalism," but these were not the essential motives for the Holocaust, which, Friedländer says, was driven by sheer hatred of Jews, by "a redemptive anti-Semitism" espoused by Hitler, a belief that Germans could thrive only through the utter destruction of Jews. This is a masterful synthesis that draws on a lifetime of learning and research.

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The Years of Extermination
The Years of Extermination
Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945
Saul Friedlander
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