Explaining the Holocaust

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The question of whether the Holocaust could have been predicted or prevented goes well beyond determining the guilt or innocence of the German people during the 1930s and 40s. The question matters because understanding how the Holocaust was able to happen and what presaged its occurrence is the only way to prevent similar atrocities in the future. A popular answer to this question depends on absolving the German population of any sort of collective guilt, on the assumption that they simply could not have predicted the scope of Hitler's plans. Walter Laqueur argues that "there was no precedent in recent European history for the murderous character of German National Socialism," and as such it would be "ahistorical" to suggest "that everyone should have known what would happen once Fascism came to power" (Laqueur 233). However, Laqueur's own approach is ahistorical, because he implies somehow that Naziism sprung up out of uniquely novel circumstances, and that its ideology had no precedent in Europe. In reality, as author Daniel Goldhagen argues, the precedent for the actions of Hitler and the Nazis can be found in "ideas about Jews that were pervasive in Germany, and had been for decades" (Goldhagen 9). When considered in the context of the historical treatment of Jews, as well as other periods in history when radical ideologies went unchallenged, it becomes clear that the Holocaust was not an unpredictable, anomalous event, but rather the naturally and entirely-expected

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