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Unwilling Germans?

The Goldhagen Debate

1998

Robert R. Shandley, editor
Translated by Jeremiah Riemer

Unwilling Germans?

A comprehensive overview of the controversy surrounding Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

Few if any books of the past fifty years have moved a broad section of the German public to think about their country’s Nazi past as has Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Unwilling Germans? reprints articles that originally appeared in German newspapers, the popular press, and journals, as well as offering original essays. Shandley traces the initial reactions in Germany to the debate surrounding the U.S. publication of the book, the subsequent reviews and reactions upon the publication of the German translation, and includes contributions by Goldhagen and the American historian Christopher Browning.

“Shandley’s introduction is very useful not only because it provides an accurate chronology of the debate but also because he is able to highlight the central dynamics of the exchange. The essays in this volume present an illuminating range of positions, not only on Goldhagen, but on German history and historiographical method more broadly.” South Central Review

Few if any books of the past fifty years have moved a broad section of the German public to think about their country’s Nazi past as has Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners. The main argument of his book is that Germans committed the unthinkable acts of the Holocaust not because they were forced to but out of a deeply held conviction that killing Jews was morally just. Unwilling Germans? traces the intense and varied reception of a book that has created more heated debate than any other treatment of Germany’s genocidal past.

When Goldhagen’s book first appeared, it was almost universally dismissed by journalists and historians alike. However, following a book tour in Germany, Goldhagen started winning over many of his ardent detractors and finding a young, receptive audience. Although German scholars reacted to Goldhagen and his argument with outrage and dismissal, ironically the German public was mesmerized by both the book and Goldhagen himself.

Unwilling Germans? reprints articles that originally appeared in German newspapers, the popular press, and journals, as well as offering original essays. Among the writers whose work is represented are historians, journalists, political scientists, and literary critics, including Jürgen Habermas and Klaus Theweleit. The book traces the initial reactions in Germany to the debate surrounding the U.S. publication of the book, the subsequent reviews and reactions upon the publication of the German translation, and recent commentary by Goldhagen and the American historian Christopher Browning.

A unique and fascinating collection, Unwilling Germans? will help to sort out the confusing nature of the response to the “Goldhagen Debate,” and shed light on both Germany’s continuing process of coming to terms with its Nazi past and the resonances of that debate in the United States.


ISBN 0-8166-3100-X Cloth $44.95xx
ISBN 0-8166-3101-8 Paper $17.95
224 pages 5 7/8 x 9 June
Translation inquiries: University of Minnesota Press


Unwilling Germans?

Robert R. Shandley is assistant professor in the department of modern and classical languages at Texas A&M University.

Jeremiah Riemer is a translator who lives in Washington, D.C.

Unwilling Germans?

“Shandley’s introduction is very useful not only because it provides an accurate chronology of the debate but also because he is able to highlight the central dynamics of the exchange. The essays in this volume present an illuminating range of positions, not only on Goldhagen, but on German history and historiographical method more broadly.” South Central Review

“A highly useful tool to the study of contemporary German history and politics.” New Political Science

Although I am convinced that Hitler's Willing Executioners is worthless as scholarship, much of the critical commentary on Goldhagen's book-now collected in this fluently translated volum

is of remarkably high quality. One can learn much about the current state of scholarship on the Nazi holocaust. Indeed, even the essays in praise of Goldhagen tell us something, albeit unfortunate, about the current state of intellectual culture.” Norman G. Finkelstein, coauthor with Ruth Bettina Birn of A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth

“This unique collection makes available to non-speakers of German the principal salvos in the battle over the Nazi past that was unleashed in Germany by the publication of Goldhagen's book, Hitler's Willing Executioners. The availability of such a collection is of special importance because the debate overshadowed the book itself by revealing the attitude toward the past of a wide variety of significant publics.” John Torpey, author of Intellectuals, Socialism, and Dissent: The East German Opposition and Its Legacy