Why? Explaining the Holocaust (W.W. Norton), by Peter Hayes
Apr. 11, 2017
More than 70 years later, people are still asking why? As a particularly striking example of the human capacity for evil, the Holocaust continues to demand answers despite the library of books already dedicated to the subject. In Why? Northwestern University history professor Peter Hayes directs his attention to the general public. As he patiently explicates, there are many answers as well as many questions, including the relative lack of Jewish resistance, why Jews fared better in some Axis-occupied nations than others and why the outside world didn’t do more to help. In defense of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cautious efforts to admit Jewish refugees, Hayes cites widespread opposition to immigrants in Congress and among voters. And as to why the German public went along with the Nazi agenda, Hayes makes another point significant for today: the coarsening of political discourse changed the valence of acceptability. Intimidation and indoctrination played a role—as did indifference.