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Dan Stone — An Unfinished History of the Holocaust

The Holocaust is much discussed, much memorialized, and much portrayed. But there are major aspects of its history that have been overlooked.

Spanning the entirety of the Holocaust, this sweeping history deepens our understanding. Dan Stone—Director of the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London—reveals how the idea of “industrial murder” is incomplete: many were killed where they lived in the most brutal of ways. He outlines the depth of collaboration across Europe, arguing persuasively that we need to stop thinking of the Holocaust as an exclusively German project. He also considers the nature of trauma the Holocaust engendered, and why Jewish suffering has yet to be fully reckoned with. And he makes clear that the kernel to understanding Nazi thinking and action is genocidal ideology, providing a deep analysis of its origins.

Drawing on decades of research, The Holocaust: An Unfinished History upends much of what we think we know about the Holocaust. Stone draws on Nazi documents, but also on diaries, post-war testimonies, and even fiction, urging that, in our age of increasing nationalism and xenophobia, it is vital that we understand the true history of the Holocaust.

Dan Stone is Professor of Modern History and Director of the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author or editor of numerous articles and books, including: Histories of the Holocaust (Oxford University Press); The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and its Aftermath (Yale University Press); and Concentration Camps: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press). His new book is The Holocaust: An Unfinished History.

Shermer and Stone discuss:

  • Why this book now? What is unfinished in the history of the Shoah?
  • Holocaust denial: 20% of Americans under 30 who, according to a poll by The Economist, believe the Holocaust is a myth. Another 20% believe it is exaggerated
  • Just as “Nazism was the most extreme manifestation of sentiments that were quite common, and for which Hitler acted as a kind of rainmaker or shaman”, suggests Stone, the defeat of his regime has left us with “a dark legacy, a deep psychology of fascist fascination and genocidal fantasy that people turn to instinctively in moments of crisis – we see it most clearly in the alt-right and the online world, spreading into the mainstream, of conspiracy theory”
  • What was the Holocaust and why did it happen: intentionalism vs. functionalism
  • Ideological roots of Nazism and German anti-Semitism
  • “ideology, understood as a kind of phantasmagorical conspiracy theory, as the kernel of Nazi thinking and action”
  • From ideas to genocide: magical thinking
  • Blood and soil
  • Hitler’s willing executioners
  • The Holocaust as a continent-wide crime
  • Motivations of the executioners
  • Polish law prohibiting the accusation of Poles complicit in the Holocaust
  • Industrial genocide vs. low-tech mass murder
  • The banality of evil
  • Nearly half of the Holocaust’s six million victims died of starvation in the ghettos or in “face-to-face” shootings in the east.
  • Jews were constrained by a profusion of demeaning legislation. They were forbidden to keep typewriters, musical instruments, bicycles and even pets. The sheer variety of persecution was bewildering. It was also chillingly deceptive, persuading some law-abiding Jews that survival was a matter of falling into line. Stone quotes the wrenching letter of a woman reassuring her loved one that getting transported to Theresienstadt, in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, might be better than living in Germany. “My future place of residence represents a sort of ghetto,” she explained. “It has the advantage that, if one obeys all the rules, one lives in some ways without the restrictions one has here.”
  • Wannsee Conference of Jan. 20, 1942
  • In March 1942, “75 to 80 percent of the Holocaust’s victims were still alive.” Eleven months later, “80 percent of the Holocaust’s victims were dead.”

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This episode was released on March 19, 2024.

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