Inside Hilberg’s Output


It is ironic that the future Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, who died in 2007, arrived in the United States in flight from Nazi Europe on Sept.1, 1939, the day that World War II began. Two newly edited collections of his writings, both published by Bergahn Books, commemorate the 80th anniversary of both events.

For those whom his monumental work, the three-volume treatise, “The Destruction of the European Jews,” remains daunting, these volumes serve as brief yet incisive introductions to the wide-ranging scope of Hilberg’s five decades of scholarship. The essays in “The Anatomy of the Holocaust,” edited by Walter H. Pehle and Rene Schlott, highlight how Hilberg’s methodical analysis of the bureaucratic functioning of the Third Reich in general and of its concentration camp machinery of destruction in particular brought to wide public attention the sinister genocidal efficiency at the Holocaust’s core.

“German Railroads, Jewish Souls: The Reichsbahn, Bureaucacy, and the Final Solution,” published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, further underscores the role of Nazi Germany’s amoral bureaucracy in implementing the slaughter of six million Jews. The emphasis here is the role of concentration camp-bound cattle cars in bringing Jews to their deaths.

Editors Christopher R. Browning and Peter Hayes, two eminent Holocaust scholars who were themselves influenced by Hilberg’s approach, supplement two essays by Hilberg with further analyses of their own. “Hilberg’s self-imposed task was to ‘grasp how this deed was done,’” Browning and Hayes write. These two books present in capsule Hilberg’s chilling, ever-haunting conclusions.