Analysis of Alon Confino’s “A World Without Jews: Interpreting The Holocaust”


Following the period of moderate engagement with the Holocaust between 1945 and 1975, Holocaust perception from the mid-1970s to the present has been characterized by two simultaneous trends. The first trend is prominent in miscellaneous fields such as history, philosophy, the arts, and the literature has involved a strenuous attempt to acknowledge as well as realize the Holocaust and to cope with the difficulty of representing it. The second tendency might appear to stand in opposition to the intense discussion of the limits of Holocaust representation, is manifest in the massive cultural production of the Holocaust in history books, novels, comics, plays, films and other artistic vehicles.  In general, taking into consideration of Nazi policy towards Jewish, there are three overriding notions:

The Holocaust, according to Saul Friedlander, was determined by the centrality of ideological-cultural factors as the prime movers of Nazi policies in tandem with the Jewish issue, depending mainly on circumstances, institutional dynamics, and essentially… on the evolution of the war… The anti-Jewish drive became ever more extreme along with the radicalization of the regime’s goals and then with the extension of the war… The context of the war has been viewed as the breeding ground for the extermination and annihilation of Jews. Germans in occupied Eastern Europe… were living in a context in which the expulsion, even the extermination, of entire peoples was publicly discussed, a readiness to indulge in brutality and fanaticism was ubiquitously demanded, and the actions of individuals were legitimized by history and politics.

The war in general but especially the war on the Eastern Front, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, was fought as a racial ideological struggle for life or death, whose prime enemies were the Bolsheviks and Jews. The barbarization of war on the Eastern Front, a cumulative result of the scale of the fighting, geographical conditions, and ideological indoctrination, led to killing and extermination. The notion of the radicalization of racial ideology has been important for capturing the contingency that ran through the making of the Holocaust. The radicalization is no longer understood as a realization of long-term plans or as inherent in the system, but rather as the outcome of plans for the deportation of the Jews that were always being revised and extended. Holocaust is squarely placed within the context of the regime’s overall racial ideology. The ‘current scholarly consensus, writes Herbert, is that those who organized and carried out the extermination were committed ideologies who wanted to build a better world through genocide. Was there a master plan on the part of Adolf Hitler to launch the Holocaust? Intentionalists argue there was such a plan, while functionalists argue there was not.

Did the initiative for the Holocaust come from above with orders from Adolf Hitler or from below within the ranks of the German bureaucracy? Although neither side disputes the reality of the Holocaust, nor is there a serious dispute over the premise that Hitler (as Führer) was personally responsible for encouraging the anti-Semitism that allowed the Holocaust to take place, intentionalists argue the initiative came from above, while functionalists contend it came from lower ranks within the bureaucracy. Christopher Browning coined the term ‘moderate functionalism’, in which the centrality of Hitler’s belief and the role was recognized, but without an original grand design to kill the Jews. Philippe Burrin’s notion of ‘conditional intentionalism’ recognized the centrality of evolving circumstance during the war but continued to emphasize Hitler’s intention to exterminate the Jews.

“Heimat” idea as a Nazi formula

The Nazis took the Heimat idea, radicalizing and using it for their ideological purposes. It can be argued that here is another example of the hegemony of race. It was perceived as essential to Germanness. The main point rather is that the Nazis identified their sentiment of nationhood, localness, and political legitimacy with the Heimat idea: the revolutionary idea of race was thus built on tradition, and the racialized Heimat idea fitted within the boundaries of the Heimat genre that existed before and after the Third Reich, as the Nazis articulated their Heimat in familiar, traditional rhetoric and images. It is not so much race that made sense of Heimat in the Third Reich, as the Heimat idea that gave meaning to racial sentiments, making them amenable, legitimate, and familiar. There are two main directions towards the Holocaust perception: local and central approach.

The local history of the Holocaust in the hamlets of Eastern Europe is possible once we rethink the interpretative framework of racial ideology, the radicalization of Nazi policy, and the context of war. The former one rearranges these categories in significant ways: it shifts the focus from the war conditions of the Wehrmacht soldiers to the communal relationships between Jews and eastern Europeans; from Nazi racial ideology to In Bartov’s words, ‘the obvious though long-underestimated fact that the Holocaust cannot be understood without tracing its imagery, fantasies, passions, and phobias, as well as practices and legislation, to medieval Europe and centuries of Christian anti-Jewish theology, incitement, and demagogy, from the radicalization of Nazi policies to the dynamic of social, political, economic, and cultural relationship on the local level.

According to the central approach, Germans, in the years following 1933, constructed a moral community based on anti-Semitic fantasies that made the persecution and extermination of the Jews possible by making them conceivable. At this historiographical juncture, we view the Holocaust as a problem of culture: the making of and believing in a moral community of fantasies. Third Reich was revolutionary but not as revolutionary as was argued by contemporaries and current historiography: it was a revolution based on continuities. It was a world made by a fusion of German and Nazi identities in a way that linked Germans in the Third Reich to pre-1933 traditions and forms of belief, and where the extermination of 1941 to 1945 was part of the symbolic universe of Germany between 1933 and 1941.

To sum up, ideology, in particular, racial ideology was a crucial point for Hitler’s Germany. In the case of radicalization of racial ideology, the main step was led to extermination and annihilation of Jews community within the context of war and the Nazi policy in order to reconstruct European society without Jews. Of course, the Holocaust is still a contemporary history. Survivors are still alive and their nightmare will never be over as long as they live. The attempt to exterminate the Jews is and will remain a moral signifier of Judeo-Christian civilization. In this way, we try to consider views of the Holocaust as a European occurrence, as part of a larger Nazi attempt to reorder European civilization, as linked to other Nazi persecutions and genocides, to colonial imagination and dreams of empire. Moreover, ‘cultural history, memories, methods, in particular ideologies in its contemporary sense’ has been a highly important component of Holocaust research from its earliest beginnings.

Nargiz Hajiyeva
Nargiz Hajiyeva
Ms. Nargiz Hajiyeva is an independent researcher from Azerbaijan. She is an honored graduate student of Vytautas Magnus University and Institute D'etudes de Politique de Grenoble, Sciences PO. She got a Bachelor degree with the distinction diploma at Baku State University from International Relations and Diplomacy programme. Her main research fields concern on international security and foreign policy issues, energy security, cultural and political history, global political economy and international public law. She worked as an independent researcher at Corvinus University of Budapest, Cold War History Research Center. She is a successful participator of International Student Essay Contest, Stimson Institute, titled “how to prevent the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons”, held by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School and an honored alumnus of European Academy of Diplomacy in Warsaw Poland. Between 2014 and 2015, she worked as a Chief Adviser and First Responsible Chairman in International and Legal Affairs at the Executive Power of Ganja. At that time, she was defined to the position of Chief Economist at the Heydar Aliyev Center. In 2017, Ms. Hajiyeva has worked as an independent diplomatic researcher at International Relations Institute of Prague under the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Czech Republic. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral studies in Political Sciences and International Relations programme in Istanbul, Turkey.


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