The Holo­caust: An Unfin­ished History

  • Review
By – April 30, 2024

This book seeks to lib­er­ate the his­to­ry of the Holo­caust from the clichés that have been pre­sent­ed in main­stream lit­er­a­ture and media. Its author, Dan Stone, is the direc­tor of the Holo­caust Research Insti­tute at Roy­al Hol­loway, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don. Intend­ed for the lay his­to­ri­an, The Holo­caust chal­lenges reduc­tion­ist think­ing by demand­ing that a read­er see the destruc­tion of Euro­pean Jew­ry as a series of inter­lock­ing local geno­cides car­ried out under the aus­pices of a grand project” as opposed to an indus­tri­al geno­cide” led by Hitler and the Nazi party. 

Stone’s book is writ­ten in eight chap­ters. In the first, titled Before the Holo­caust,” the author guides the read­er through the pseu­do­sci­en­tif­ic race the­o­ry and anti­se­mit­ic ide­ol­o­gy that pre­vailed through­out Europe and fueled the rise of the Nazi par­ty. These ide­olo­gies found pub­lic expres­sion and legit­i­ma­cy in the after­math of World War I in Ger­many and around the world. In chap­ter eight, Holo­caust Mem­o­ry,” Stone con­sid­ers how Holo­caust con­scious­ness after the war devel­oped in stages, marked by events such as the tri­al of Adolph Eich­mann and the pub­li­ca­tion of Anne Frank’s Diary. He also chal­lenges the read­er to con­sid­er the Holo­caust as the ide­o­log­i­cal pre­cur­sor to dis­turb­ing world events of the present, such as the embold­ened acts of the rad­i­cal Right in Europe and the riot at the Unit­ed States Capi­tol on Jan­u­ary 62021.

Chap­ters two through four recount Holo­caust his­to­ry from the legal restric­tions imposed on the Jews of Ger­many before the war to the adop­tion of the Final Solu­tion in 1942. Chap­ter five focus­es on the col­lab­o­ra­tion of oth­er nations in Germany’s geno­cide and presents the Holo­caust as a con­ti­nent-wide crime.” Chap­ter six offers a deep dive into the con­cen­tra­tion camps, death camps, and oth­er means used to anni­hi­late the Jews. In chap­ter sev­en, Stone writes of the death march­es, the lib­er­a­tion of Holo­caust sur­vivors, and the fate of Jews seek­ing to return to their homes or forced into Dis­placed Per­son camps. At the chapter’s con­clu­sion, Stone empha­sizes that the inter­est in sur­vivor tes­ti­mo­ny in recent years — and the wor­ry on the part of many about how the Holo­caust will be remem­bered once the last sur­vivors are dead — has obscured the fact that sur­vival was the excep­tion — death the norm.”

The Holo­caust is a chal­leng­ing but com­pelling read. Stone’s use of per­son­al nar­ra­tives rather than imper­son­al pri­ma­ry sources brings the destruc­tion of Euro­pean Jew­ry into sharp focus. His writ­ing unearths a dis­turb­ing para­dox: an increased aware­ness of the Holo­caust has led it to be banal­ized and exploit­ed.” Stone’s inti­mate retelling seeks to reverse that trend. 

At the same time, the author rec­og­nizes that such a retelling will nev­er be com­plete. Its events are too com­plex and inter­wo­ven to be ade­quate­ly unrav­eled and pre­sent­ed in any sys­tem­at­ic way. The Holo­caust, in oth­er words, is a per­pet­u­al­ly incom­plete his­to­ry. Nev­er­the­less, Stone’s book offers new insights about the Holo­caust and its impact on the Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, both then and now. 

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions