People glancing at this book might ask whether we need another general history of the Holocaust. There are already well-established syntheses and original overviews, including Saul Friedländer’s path-breaking two-volume history of the persecution and extermination of Europe’s Jews, in which he called for an ‘integrated history’ giving voice to victims. What does Dan Stone’s latest have to add to the existing literature?
The Holocaust is, as the subtitle of this book indicates, an almost overwhelming topic to tackle and one on which it is impossible to say the final word. Even the concept itself is problematic. While some historians interpret the term widely, to encompass the persecution and murder of a range of groups – including Sinti and Roma, and the mentally and physically disabled – others, such as Dan Stone and his late colleague David Cesarani, prefer a narrower definition relating specifically to the Jews. While some see the Holocaust as one case in a longer history of genocide or situate it in a wider framework of colonialism, others see the mass murder of Jews as sui generis. Even the very term is disputed. Some prefer the Hebrew word Shoah (‘catastrophe’), the title of Claude Lanzmann’s masterly film of 1985, to ‘Holocaust’ (‘totally burnt’), popularised by the 1978 American television miniseries of that name. Other historians, such as Richard J Evans, insist on using the Nazis’ own phrase, the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’.
Beyond the conceptual debates, there are issues of scope and explanatory framework. Many older histories focused quite narrowly on German policies and perpetrators, but the last thirty years have seen a huge expansion of research on both victim experiences and also perpetration and collaboration across Europe. This is