The Europeanization of Holocaust remembrance

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While any encompassing history of the perpetrators ought to prioritize Germans and Austrians without making them the exclusive focus, any inclusive and adequate history of the victims would have to begin with Poland and eastern Europe at large before arriving at the European level. Surprisingly, while there has been consensus on the former point ever since the war, the latter is far from established practice even today. Many of the finest historians of the Holocaust who devote attention to the Jewish experience of the Nazi era tend to focus almost exclusively on Jews in Nazi Germany prior to 1939 – to take an eminent example, Saul Friedlaender’s justly praised The Years of Persecution. Such books thereby largely neglect Jews from elsewhere in the same years – people who came to account for some 98% of the victims.

What is more, the crime of the Holocaust was committed primarily on the pre-war territory of Poland and the Soviet Union. The main extermination camps of Operation Reinhard, most infamously Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka, where the majority of Polish Jews were murdered during the main phase of the Holocaust in 1942-43 and which in fact were little more than killing facilities, are all located in what is now Poland; the main sites of the Holocaust where victims were killed by bullets, a method that started and reached its peak in 1941, such as Mikolaev or the Babi Jar ravine just outside Kiev, are in Ukraine; even the Reich-territory that Auschwitz constituted during World War II – a surprisingly little known fact in Germany today – belonged to Poland both before and after the war.

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