How Did It Happen?: Understanding the Holocaust by Christoph Dieckmann, Rūta Vanagaitė
In this compelling book, Lithuanian author Ruta Vanagaite holds an extended conversation with noted historian Christoph Dieckmann. His exploration of the causes and consequences of the
Holocaust in Lithuania provides the first overview for general readers that considers the perspectives of all the central groups involved—Jews, Lithuanians, and Germans. Drawing on a rich array of sources in all the key languages—Yiddish, Ivrit, Lithuanian, and German—Dieckmann considers not only the Berlin-based orientation of the German perpetrators but also the space where the Shoah took place—Lithuanian society with its Jewish minority under German occupation. He contends that this “space” of mass crimes is always linked with warfare and occupation. The Holocaust was unprecedented, but he makes a powerful case it cannot be isolated from the other mass crimes that took place at the same time in the same space against thousands of Soviet prisoners of war and forced refugees from the Soviet territories.
Dieckmann shows that the Holocaust could not have unfolded throughout German-dominated Europe without the conditional cooperation of non-Germans in each occupied country. Existing antisemitism was radicalized from the 1930s onward, turning Jews, under the enormous stress of unrelenting warfare and often instable conditions of occupation, into what were perceived as deadly enemies. The Holocaust, its history and memory, can only be understood through this broader context. The authors’ searching exchanges illuminate the most profound questions we have as we struggle to understand the Holocaust.
Year first published: 2021