Sep 2001 Journal

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A weighty work

THE HOLOCAUST ENCYCLOPAEDIA, ed. Walter Laqueur, University Press, 2000

Whoever uses this splendid work of reference may think they have acquired knowledge of the fateful events from other sources; perhaps they are survivors themselves. But they can scarcely know the background, the steps whereby the murderous plans were put together or muddled up and thus made more terrible. Of course, this is an encyclopaedia; so one looks up, often not in sequence, what the moment brings up.

The main work is preceded by a chronology beginning with 1933 and ending at 1945. The main articles are signed, often with illustrious names. The chief villain, Adolf Hitler himself, spreads over almost eight pages. And no matter how often one has read about this character, one must be astonished anew at how such poison can have accumulated in one human mind. The article is written with cool consideration, allowing no David Irving-like speculations – AH is the inventor and initiator of the elimination of the Jews in Europe. Not Goebbels, not Göring, not even Himmler. They were puppets of the puppeteer. Their own weight is recorded in their own niche of this compendium, and thus is their place in crime fixed.

The encyclopaedia is signified by the word ‘Holocaust’; yet astonishingly the accuracy of the word in this context is doubted. It denotes a burning sacrifice, yet it was in reality an extermination made possible by WWII, its means adjusted to changing situations. By the time of the vaunted Wannsee Conference, the killings were well under way and it was an attempt to bring ‘order’ into chaos. The Conference is notable for systematising the euphemisms for mass killing and/or temporary exploitation. Perhaps the words Shoah, or ethnic extermination, would be more telling. But ‘Holocaust’ has by now been universally accepted. The question is raised whether the Final Jewish Solution (another sickening euphemism) was only the spearhead for actions such as the decimation of the Slavs and others to make room for a German empire, primarily in Eastern Europe. There is one example of this: the Gypsies. It is astonishing, perhaps shameful, how little one knows about that attempted extermination. True, even after reading Raul Hilberg’s excellent entry, it is still difficult to understand the so-called race experts’ theories about why and how to do away with that minority. Often the ‘science’ part of it runs counter to the anti-Jewish nonsense – e.g. Gypsy Mischlinge were sometimes treated worse than their Jewish equivalents. But, tragically, the fatal results were often the same. It shook me that their fate did not quite stir me as much as that of the Jews.

Obviously, high up in the Compendium is the word ‘Antisemitism’ – another poisoned dart, horribly imprecise and yet tragically fateful. It was invented in 1879 by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr. In his article, Peter Pulzer holds the sentiment responsible for “post-Christian” Jew-hatred. I think this hatred pre-dates Christianity – say the Egyptian diaspora and its end in the famous Exodus which gave rise to anti-Jewish tales resounding into our time.

The encyclopaedia deals with the Nazi atrocities in the various European countries in their alphabetical places. Researchers will find unexpected events recording heroic support for the persecuted, some memorialised as Righteous Gentiles. Names include those of a Japanese consul in Berlin and a 19-year-old girl in Holland.

This is a weighty book in every sense of the adjective (it weighs almost 5 lbs). Rarely can such terrible happenings have been spelled out so concisely, so scientifically.
John Rossall

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