It’s curious how historical images become stereotyped over time. One hears the word “Nazi,” and immediately the Holocaust springs to mind. This reflexive association is probably a good thing, as it reminds us of the dangers of ethnic hatred in an era that knows it too well. But in another way the Nazi = Holocaust equation obscures part of the story of Hitler’s insanity and that of all genocidal madness. For as Mark Mazower points out in his excellent new book Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe (Penguin, 2008), Hitler’s homicidal aims went well beyond the Holocaust. Of course the Jews would have to go. But that was hardly to be the end of it. The Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, and other residents of the East would have to go too. They were all to be eliminated and replaced by “Aryan” settlers. That was the goal, anyway. That it went unrealized was not due to any lack of effort or nerve. As Mazower shows, the Nazi occupiers uprooted, enslaved, and murdered millions, often with the slightest moral qualms. They failed because they lost the war. We should have no doubt that had they won it–or even defeated the Soviets and brought the West to a stalemate–the Germans would have tried to obliterate the Slavic populations of Eastern Europe. (Whether they might have succeeded in this effort is a hypothetical better not contemplated.) The Jewish Holocaust, then, was but the first in a planned series of mass slaughters aimed at creating a pan-European Nazi Empire. Thank God–and the Allied armies–that it proved to be the last.
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