Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
History of any sort can be interpreted differently by anyone. People can view sources as bias, illegitimate or hard proof that something did or didn’t happen because of these factors people can choose to believe a variety of different things or interpret it in their own unique way. The holocaust is a great example of how a historical event has been interpreted in a number of different ways and how its history has been constructed. Through the thorough analysis of articles and books written by people from both sides we will unpack how this historical event is interpreted now and relevance to how history is constructed. Historians ask questions, they dig deep until they find the answer they were looking for, they gather evidence to back up their answers. So, what was the holocaust?
The holocaust methodical state-sponsored slaughter of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others during the second world war. The holocaust was run by the Nazi German party led by Adolf Hitler. The Germans called this “the final solution to the Jewish question.” The holocaust has had a huge influence on society since. It is one of the most talked about events ever and is taught all over the world. However, the Holocaust has been interpreted differently by a number of people. Some saying the numbers were highly exaggerated some saying that the numbers were larger and some completely deny that the Holocaust happened. Adam Grolsch’s Witnessing and Participating in Mass Murderstudies the question of what the German soldiers knew of the holocaust and what was going on behind the scenes. Grolsch questions a Radio Operator in order to find out what he knew and weather he thought it was right or wrong. Asking questions and confronting these topics construct a picture of what the holocaust was like. It gives us the perspective of a German soldier.
Through the first-hand account of the soldier, Grolsch uncovers the mystery surrounding the question of what the soldiers actually knew. The controversial question plays a huge role in the identity of the holocaust and its history. Many historians would argue that all Germans knew about the treatment of Jewish people. Grolsch’s book paints a different picture. One in which Germans knew Jewish people were being put in “labour camps”, however completely oblivious to the slaughtering occurring behind the scenes. Grolsch also notes how Germans felt towards Hitler, including the quote “My mother was a woman for whom Hitler was a god”. Grolsch would’ve selected this quote as it emphasises the fact the Germans considered Hitler a saviour of their country and nothing, he did was ever wrong or unjust.
By giving the insight of a German soldier Grolsch depicts the story of the holocaust in a different light. He confronts a difficult question by providing substantial evidence and an answer. Grolsch also chooses to select various quotes to boost his point, It is through selection and omission that historians are able to construct a story or event more suited to their interpretation of this event. Another example of historian’s facing a difficult and controversial question is Christopher Browning’s Reserve Police Battalion 101. Browning studies and evaluates a courtroom testimony made in the 1960’s and 1970’s by around 210 men who each served in the German Reserve Police Battalion 101. He aims to answer the question “what kind of person kills civilians, including old people and even babies all day long?
By evaluating and analysing the testimony Browning can identify the motifs and justifications for the mass murder of the Jewish infants, elderly or weak. The testimony yields some interesting results which are noted in browning’s findings. It is mentioned a few times that the orders “came from above” and the soldiers didn’t necessarily agree with the orders but had to follow through because of the hierarchy. This is quite common among all military caused genocides and mass killings. Many soldiers feel they don’t have a choice and “orders are orders”.
Browning identifies that the soldiers denied that they had any choice and we forced into it. Browning also notes that none of the soldiers admitted to anti-Semitic motives. Browning concludes that even though Commander Trapp offered people who weren’t comfortable with killing the Jews to step out, it still didn’t matter and that “the Reserve Police Battalion 101 killed the Jews they had been told to kill”. Whilst Browning does note validity of some of the testimonies as a whole the justifications given by the soldiers linked back to the concluding statement, that they “killed the Jews they were told to kill”. Browning’s study of the Reserve Police Battalion 101’s testimonies analyses a different aspect of the holocaust. He looks at the motives and justifications made by the soldiers.
Although browning doesn’t answer his original question, he still provides an alternative answer to the question of motives. By questioning the testimonies Browning uncovers a different story to the holocaust and its perpetrators. Through the examination of soldier’s accounts of the holocaust both Christopher Browning and Adam Grolsch draw conclusions about the soldiers of the holocaust. One isolates the majority of Germans as oblivious civilians blinded by Hitler’s Facade the other portrays them as robots following a set of instructions. These two very different articles show a lot about how history is constructed, about how historians manipulate and present evidence to construct a history based on their unique interpretation of that specific event.