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Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust (2002)

– tekijä: Richard Rhodes

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
440741,913 (4.02)16
In Masters of Death, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rhodes gives full weight, for the first time, to the Einsatzgruppen's role in the Holocaust. These "special task forces," organized by Heinrich Himmler to follow the German army as it advanced into eastern Poland and Russia, were the agents of the first phase of the Final Solution. They murdered more than 1.5 million men, women, and children between 1941 and 1943, often by shooting them into killing pits, as at Babi Yar. These massive crimes have been generally overlooked or underestimated by Holocaust historians, who have focused on the gas chambers. In this painstaking account, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes profiles the eastern campaign's architects as well as its "ordinary" soldiers and policemen, and helps us understand how such men were conditioned to carry out mass murder. Marshaling a vast array of documents and the testimony of perpetrators and survivors, this book is an essential contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust and World War II.… (lisätietoja)
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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 7) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
This is a truly horrible and difficult book that needs to be read by everyone, especially those young people who glibly label as a “Nazi” anyone who holds an opposing view, or equates Reagan, Thatcher or Trump with Hitler.

Subtitled, “The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust”, Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Richard Rhodes’ concise account of the SS death squads’ actions throughout eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is a major contribution to the history of the Holocaust.

The Einsatzgruppen were specially selected and trained SS cadres who followed the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union from the outset of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Their job was to secure the occupied territories in advance of the civilian administrators. In Poland and the other occupied territories they confiscated weapons, gathered incriminating documents and tracked down and arrested people the SS thought were politically unreliable. They killed; they murdered the political, intellectual, educational and religious leadership as well as anyone they deemed a threat. After a July 1941 mandate from Hitler and his hand-picked Reichsführer-SS*, Heinrich Himmler, a new plan was initiated. It was now the function of the Einsatzgruppen to make the east Judenfrei, free of Jews. This book is a detailed and uncompromising account of how, between 1941 and 1943, the Einsatzgruppen made their way through Byelorussia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine murdering 1.5 million men, women and children by shooting them into killing pits. Rhodes documents these previously largely overlooked massive crimes from their inception and planning to their execution.

Who were the men that carried out these unthinkable actions? What type of people could lead 350 children under the age of seven to a pit at the edge of a cemetery, thrown them in, machine gun them and walk away while some of them are still sobbing as the dirt is being shoveled over them? Professional men, many of them; doctors, lawyers, architects, economists; some of them products of the most prestigious universities. Rhodes goes into some detail describing the parallels between the violent training process used by the SS and the four-stage violent development process studied by criminologist Lonnie Athens. Still, the face-to-face killing so traumatized the perpetrators that Himmler needed to develop a “less personal” means of killing which lead to the gas chambers and crematoria.

But the true horror lies in the numbers, the vast scope of the atrocities. Some people, I think, have been inured and desensitized to the horrors of the Holocaust. But what do you do when confronted with the fact that at Babi Yar 33,771 people were shot in two days. If the Nazis worked 14 hour a day that’s still 20 people shot every minute. That’s 20 lives snuffed out every minute. In many cases there were entire families; mothers with infants and toddlers, grandparents. For days afterward, some who were only wounded managed to dig themselves out and try to crawl to safety only to be shot again. This is only one incident of many hundreds. Rhodes does not spare the reader at all. To read this book is to be brought to the edge of the killing pit and made to look down. It is a very hard read and can only be taken in small doses at a time.

But it is an important read. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor are all names we are familiar with and rightfully so. These places still stand as monuments to the impersonal, mechanical Nazi killing machine that were the death camps. But there are no monuments, no memorials at the hundreds, no, thousands of unmarked mass graves of the killing fields of the Einsatzgruppen.

“Masters of Death” should be required reading in all secondary schools throughout the world.

*SS National Leader, a title unique to Himmler ( )
  JohnGorski | Jul 28, 2020 |
For as long as I can remember, being buried alive has been near the top of my list of things I'd prefer not to have happen to me. One of the weird outcomes of my having just read this book is that it has slid down that list. The SS-Einsatzgruppen were the people that followed the German army as it moved east during WWII, and organized and participated in the killing and mass burial of about one and a half million Jews. It seems that a substantial portion of what we know about these atrocities is due to intended victims who managed to crawl up through the layers of people piled on top of them and escape these graves before they were closed up.

Let me make 4 other comments about this book:

(1) The Washington Post said this book was "graphic and sometimes lurid". The Jerusalem Post said it "graphically and chillingly details the work of the special killing battalions of Himmler's SS". I was prepared to be shocked and sickened by what I read in Masters of Death, and certainly it describes terrible, terrible actions perpetrated against innocent people. Perhaps I've been reading too many books on the Holocaust lately, but I didn't find reading this book to be quite as wrenching as I'd anticipated.

(2) The Denver Post said this book is "a pointed reminder that all of us . . . are capable of horrendous acts of violence." Well, certainly that's true in some trivial sense. Those of us who have control of our muscles can move those muscles and thereby hurt people in terrible ways. But would all of us have done what so many of the Latvian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian peasants did--take part in the mass murder of our Jewish neighbors? Periodically throughout the book, Rhodes tries to put these murders in context, talking about what Americans did to the American Indians, what the British did to the Asian Indians, what Stalinists and Maoists did to their fellow citizens, and even what meat-processing plants do to animals. His analysis seemed rather shallow, however. What the U.S. Cavalry did to the Indians differed from what the Einsatzgruppen did to the Jews in some fundamental ways; the analogy shouldn't have been raised unless the author was willing to carefully compare and contrast.

(3) I may be wrong, but I think that I've heard people put forth Christian non-violence not only as a great sign of one's faith but also as a model for an effective way for the secular nation that is the United States to conduct its foreign policy. If we as a nation turn the other cheek, the argument goes, the hearts of our enemies will be softened. The fate of the Jews in the Holocaust seems to be a counterexample to that line of reasoning. With few exceptions, the Jews submitted to the will of their persecutors, and they were slaughtered. The SS personnel who shot hundreds and thousands of Jews apiece were often psychologically affected by their work, but as often as not it turned them into brutes. The gas chambers were the solution to these psychological problems: The slaughter continued, but the perpetrators were able to distance themselves from the details.

(4) Richard Rhodes has won a Pulitzer and lots of other literary awards, but I was not impressed by his writing in this book. He's written another book called Why They Kill, which presents a theory of how violent people become violent, and I got the feeling that Masters of Death was just an extended case study for that theory. Sometimes I'm hesitant to buy books by university professors out of fear that they'll be dry as dust, or that they'll be the result of publish-or-perish pressures and not of having something significant to say. But academics like Robert Jan van Pelt and Richard J. Evans who've devoted their lives to trying to understand Hitler's Germany write a lot more convincingly than Rhodes did in this book. ( )
  cpg | May 16, 2020 |
Scopri la storia del capitolo forse più orribile dell'Olocausto: la frenesia omicida di due anni delle Einsatzgruppen. Passare al setaccio le prove lasciate: fotografie e un film raro che documenta i tentativi disumani di realizzare la Soluzione Finale di Hitler. Rispetto a quello che facevano gli Einsatzgruppen ogni giorno, le camere mortali di Auschwitz sembrano quasi umane. Questa terribile storia è riportata in vita in una città che ospita le innumerevoli vittime di Einsatzgruppen - una comunità in cui miracolosamente sopravvissero i volti e le storie delle vittime - sebbene gli uomini, la donna e i bambini dietro le immagini non sopravvissero.
  MemorialSardoShoahDL | Apr 26, 2018 |
This is a glorified highschool essay. Almost the entire book consists of strung-together quotes of other historians' work. If it is well-written it is because other authors and memoirists wrote well. ( )
  ShaneTierney | Jan 24, 2017 |
This book is definitely not for the faint of heart! Little has been written about the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazis' mobile killing squads, in large part because their story is so gruesome. One passage that stood out particularly in my mind was a story about how a bunch of Jews, including women and children, were pushed into a pit and then slaked lime was poured over them. Slaked lime is a powerful corrosive and these people essentially dissolved while fully alive. Their sufferings were so awful that not even the Einsatzgruppen tried that again.

This is a very well-researched and -written book, thorough but fairly short, and the author has some interesting theories about how "ordinary men" were driven to kill unarmed civilians over and over. I would recommend, but with the caveat that it's not for the squeamish. ( )
2 ääni meggyweg | Mar 6, 2009 |
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In Masters of Death, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rhodes gives full weight, for the first time, to the Einsatzgruppen's role in the Holocaust. These "special task forces," organized by Heinrich Himmler to follow the German army as it advanced into eastern Poland and Russia, were the agents of the first phase of the Final Solution. They murdered more than 1.5 million men, women, and children between 1941 and 1943, often by shooting them into killing pits, as at Babi Yar. These massive crimes have been generally overlooked or underestimated by Holocaust historians, who have focused on the gas chambers. In this painstaking account, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes profiles the eastern campaign's architects as well as its "ordinary" soldiers and policemen, and helps us understand how such men were conditioned to carry out mass murder. Marshaling a vast array of documents and the testimony of perpetrators and survivors, this book is an essential contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust and World War II.

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