April 30, 2014
Unlike other accounts of this tragedy, McMillan forgoes a narrative retelling of the Holocaust and instead illuminates the perfect storm of reasons it was able to occur: because Germany achieved democracy too late, so that inexperienced voters made the error of supporting the Nazis; because World War I inured Europeans to killing people by the millions; because in the 1940s, racism and anti-Semitism were intellectually respectable; because accidents of history put Hitler in office and gave him such astonishing successes that millions of Germans worshipped him; and because most of us, like the tens of millions of Germans who knew about the murders, care little about the fate of people who do not belong to our own community.
McMillan also explains why the Holocaust inspires a special kind of horror and loathing, leading us to place it in a class by itself among historical events. He distinguishes it from other genocides, explaining that its perpetrators dehumanized their victims to a far greater degree than did other genocidal societies and wielded much more power over them. One result, he shows, is that unlike other victims of genocide, Jews have been the only large ethnic group ever targeted for complete extinction. The Holocaust thus struck at the sacred principle that all human life has value, calling into question the moral foundation of every human society.
How Could This Happen offers a comprehensive answer to the question everyone asks themselves when first learning about this terrible event.
About the Author: Dan McMillan holds a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University and a law degree from Fordham University, and has worked as a prosecutor and a history professor. The need to understand the Holocaust has shaped McMillan’s life since he first read about this tragedy at the age of 14: he became completely fluent in German, studied History at Stanford University and at the Freie Universität in Berlin, earned his doctorate in German history at Columbia, and taught history at universities in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. He lives in New York City.
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