The feelings that German Americans and Jewish Americans have about the Holocaust are clearly the product of their experiences, perceptions, and internalizations of the phenomenon. Schuldiner discusses to great effect the anti-German sentiment in the U.S. during WWI; confrontations between German American isolationists and Jewish American interventionists in the 1930’s and 1940’s; boycotts of German goods in the U.S. and counter boycotts of Jewish businesses in Nazi Germany; accusations by isolationists and others that Jewish “dominated” Hollywood was anti-German; and the debate in Congress and the country over changing the immigration laws, allowing sanctuary for Jews seeking to escape from Nazi persecution. Fundamental disagreements over these issues colored the perception of the developing Shoah in these two ethnic communities.
These disagreements continued after 1945 in the debates over the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington; the controversy over President Reagan’s visit to a German military cemetery at Bitburg in 1985; and the substantive and sometimes heated disagreements by scholars over whether the Germans were “Hitler’s willing executioners” as Daniel Goldhagen claims, or merely “ordinary men” placed in extraordinary situations, as Christopher Browning suggests, with the implication that anyone in the same group situation would commit similar atrocities. Here I differ somewhat from Schuldiner’s characterization of the debate. I don’t believe that he effectively makes the case that at its heart it was about victim sympathy on the one hand and perpetrator identification on the other. That is not how most scholars would “read” Goldhagen and Browning. Nevertheless, this is a well-written book that looks at the Holocaust from the perspectives of communities deeply connected to the perpetrators and the victims and thereby provides new insights and dimensions to Holocaust studies in America.