What Are The Key Characteristics Of The Browning-Goldhagen Debate And What Has Each Historian Contributed To Holocaust Historiography?


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Christopher Adam Profile
Christopher Browning's publication of "Ordinary Men" in 1992 was significant in that it was among the first works to move the culpability of the Holocaust away from a small group of German political leaders and the world of high politics and extend it to the larger German population. Following on this same theme, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen published Hitler's Willing Executioners in 1996 and went several steps further to assert that not only did ordinary Germans actively participate in genocide, but that they were naturally predisposed to participate in the Final Solution. It was this book that had the German historical establishment up in arms and the general German population lining up at bookstores to purchase a German copy of Goldhagen's sensational and scandalous book.

The most unusual aspect of the debate between Goldhagen and Browning is that both historians based their respective books on nearly the same set of primary sources. As Browning himself has also noted, it was highly unusual for two historians to arrive at such different and mutually exclusive conclusions when studying the same sources. Consequently, the Goldhagen-Browning debate also raises some important questions about the nature of the historical discipline, the question of "objectivity" and the historian's role in creating a historical narrative.

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