There really is no way to “review” a book like this. So I won’t. I’ll just give a general impression of the empty feeling I have after reading it–and that feeling comes not from the author’s deficiencies, but his fantastic work. The subject itself is what does this.
I found myself continually struck by the paradoxical scenarios in the lead-up, the facilitation, and the implementation of a horror such as Auschwitz. The odd glimpses of humanity in a machine that was inhumane and ultimately and simply a Darwinistic extrapolation from The Descent of Man.
And yet, no attempt is made by the author to over-humanize anyone beyond observable contradictions. It’s a simple and extremely-well-resaeached compilation of documentation as well as interviews–sometimes interviews with the extant perpetrators of one of the world’s greatest infamies.
One thing that strikes me loudly, is how “dumbed down” the current political discourse has become, whenever these things are invoked. The term “Nazi” is an over-employed pejorative as it is, and usually delivered with the implication that one’s opponent is also some backward, underachieving water-head with only a passionate and uninformed aspiration for “change.”
Cue page 78, where 15 significants are gathered along the Shores of Wansee Lake, near Berlin to map out the “Final Solution:”
The address at which the meeting was held was Am Grossen Wansee 56–58, a villa once used by Interpol, the organization that coordinated international police activity. It is a useful reminder that the individuals who sat round the table at the Wansee conference were salaried functionaries from one of Europe’s great nations, not backstreet terrorists, although their crimes were to be greater than any conventional “criminal” acts in the history of the world. Equally instructive, when today some still refer to an ill-educated “criminal underclass,” is that, of the fifteen people around the table, eight held academic doctorates.
The bold letters were added by me.
I’d also venture to say that Viktor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz would have never found himself in the “education will save man from himself camp” as a sycophant, either. This educated man saw exactly where education has the ability to kill, when presented as a rudderless ship:
If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automation of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instincts, heredity, and environment, we feed the despair to which man is, in any case, already prone.
I became acquainted with the last stages of corruption in my second concentration camp in Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, as the Nazis liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
The Doctor and the Soul: Introduction to Logotherapy, 1982, p. xxi).
I could lay out my own takeaways from the book, but there is no need. This issue, and it’s incredibly-horrific history as well as foreshadowings–just needs to be read. I know I will be passing this one on.