Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ron Rosenbaum on Whether the Holocaust Would Have Happened Without Hitler

In a recent podcast of The Gist in Slate Magazine, Mike Pesca interviewed journalist Ron Rosenbaum about the publication of the second edition of his book, Explaining Hitler. 

Notably, the title of the interview featured an eye-catching counterfactual premise: “The Gist asks whether the Holocaust would have happened if Adolf Hitler were never born.” 

In fact, little of the interview was devoted to the premise, which was essentially used to garner attention.  Moreover, Pesca erred when he began pursuing his counterfactual line of questioning by declaring (erroneously) that “no one has really taken this tack before: What if you kill Hitler, will the Holocaust still happen, will the war still happen? It’s the biggest hypothetical in time travel, without Hitler is there a Holocaust?”

(In fact, plenty of authors have pursued this line of reasoning; but we can leave that aside for the time being). 

The main point is that Rosenbaum responded by noting:

“I studied Hitler’s inner circle and there were vicious antisemites like Goebbels and Heydrich.  It’s possible that certain fanatic Nazis might have done this [ie. ordered the Holocaust’ but my feeling is that a lot of them wanted to express  their fanatic Jew-hatred to earn points with Hitler as much as from personal conviction….”

“Certainly we know Hitler’s central drive was for extermination….I would be hard pressed to think of a scenario in which lacking Hitler’s all-encompassing drive it would have happened.”

In short, Rosenbaum ratified the prevailing scholarly consensus, epitomized by Milton Himmelfarb’s claim from 1984: “No Hitler, No Holocaust.”

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