Whoopi Goldberg is in the news again — here and here, for example. Ignorance and malice can be mitigated, but stupidity is something with which you are stuck. Ms. Goldberg is the bearer of a toxic combination. Her thoughts on the Jewish people are a case in point. Something does not compute.
When I was a teenager I read every paperback book I came across on the Holocaust. Among the books that come to mind this morning are Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account, by Miklós Nyiszli, for example, as well as I Cannot Forgive (as it was titled in England, where I bought it), by Rudolf Vrba, and Night, by Elie Wiesel. As an adult I read the histories by Lucy Davidowicz, Raul Hilberg, and Yehuda Bauer.
After watching the series A French Village, I returned to the subject this year with the two-volume history Nazi Germany and the Jews, by Saul Friedländer. Volume 1 has the subtitle The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939. Volume 2, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, is titled The Years of Extermination. It has the subtitle Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. The two volumes are abridged in Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1945.
Friedländer’s are the best books I have read on the subject. He takes a panoramic view and exudes the virtues of humane learning. I want to take the liberty of recommending them to readers who may find them of interest.
Born in Prague in 1932, Friedländer is himself a survivor. His parents found refuge for him in a Catholic boarding school in occupied France. When his parents tried to flee to Switzerland, they were apprehended and sent to Auschwitz, where they perished. Friedländer tells his own story in When Memory Comes.
Friedländer begins in chapter 1 of Volume 1 with the expulsion of Jews from the arts. “As peripheral as it may seem in hindsight,” Friedländer writes, “the cultural domain was the first from which Jews (and ‘leftists’) were massively expelled.” A few pages later, after discussing Thomas Mann, who was himself married to a Jew, Friedländer adds: “Apart from a few courageous individuals such as Ricarda Huch, there was no countervailing force in that domain — or, for that matter, in any other.”
I find Friedländer to be a narrative historian of great power. The terrible details accumulate.
There are many videos of Friedländer available on YouTube. In the excellent two-minute video below he conveys the sense of his approach to the subject.