Between 1939 and 1945, six million Jewish men, women and children were killed as a consequence of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. In a ghastly parody of progress, the apparatus of a modern state – police, railways, the civil service, industrial machinery – was used to carry out mass murder. First published in 1986, The Holocaust is the definitive account of this genocide by one of the foremost world authorities on the Second World War. Martin Gilbert was among the first historians to make full use of the testimonies of Holocaust witnesses, both those who survived and those who died. The result is an unrivalled insight into one of the darkest episodes of human history.
During their years in power, the Nazis murdered millions of civilians, but it was Jews who were particularly singled out for annihilation. In his manifesto Mein Kampf, Hitler dwelled obsessively on his hatred for them: ‘Was there any shady undertaking, any form of foulness, especially in cultural life, in which at least one Jew did not participate?’ As unemployment spiralled, the Nazi party deflected criticism by denouncing Jewish ‘wealth’ and ‘conspiracy’. On 1 January 1930, Stormtroops killed eight men in Berlin: the first Jewish victims of the Nazi era.
Using a host of individual stories and eyewitness accounts, Gilbert documents the path to nightmare. The boycott against Jewish goods in 1933 was followed by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which stripped Jews of their citizenship. In that year Hans Serelman, a Jewish doctor, was sent to a concentration camp for seven months as a punishment for donating blood to a non- Jew. In March 1938 a British student in Vienna wrote that his neighbours, a family of six, had just committed suicide. The threat to life and liberty was accompanied by humiliation and degradation. In 1938, also in Vienna, Moritz Fleischmann was forced to scrub the pavement with acid, using his bare hands, and in the same month, Stormtroops rounded up terrified Jews and took them to Vienna’s Prater park, where they were forced to eat grass, climb up into trees and ‘gibber like birds.’ In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, in which 191 synagogues were destroyed, German Jews were fined for the damage done.
With the invasion of Poland in 1939, three million Polish Jews were trapped with no means of escape. The 15-year-old diarist Mary Berg was one of thousands who were driven from their homes and herded into the ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz, where terrible atrocities took place, alongside brave resistance. As Hitler’s armies spread across Eastern Europe, they harnessed existing anti-semitism and found willing collaborators. In remote forests or fields, mass executions were carried out daily, the victims often burned or buried alive. These shootings presented what SS Colonel Karl Jaeger described as an ‘organisational problem’, since they required considerable manpower and resources. By late 1941, the Nazis were ready to implement a more efficient method: death by gassing in concentration camps.
Through survivors’ testimonies, and those of the perpetrators, Gilbert takes the reader inside the camps. Hundreds of voices bear witness to the terror, cold, starvation, degradation and sadism. As Israel Gutman put it, ‘When we were sad and grieving, they were happy. Whenever they could torture us, they laughed. They were drunk with blood.’ As the Nazi war effort faltered, the slaughter intensified: 400,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed in Birkenau in the summer of 1944 alone. German defeat in 1945 brought freedom for thousands like Yehiel Shmueli, liberated from Dachau by his son David, who was serving in the British army. Others were less fortunate, like the survivors at Mauthausen who died from eating the rich food brought by the Allies. Although Hitler had lost the war, he had almost succeeded in his genocidal aim. Of the 8 million Jews of Europe, only 2 million survived.
Amid the horror, Gilbert pays tribute to the brave actions of communities and individuals. There was the Chief Rabbi of Norway, who chose to be arrested with his community rather than hide; the French General de St-Vincent, who refused to co-operate with the arrests of Jews; Matilda Bandet, who stayed with her elderly parents in Cracow rather than escape, and died with them. He also describes the Jewish partisan units and soldiers, the attempted uprising by the female prisoners at Birkenau and the successful escape of 300 men from Sobibor. One of them, Semyon Rozenfeld, joined the Red Army and was in Berlin on the day of victory. Yet, as Gilbert puts it, to die with dignity was itself courageous, and ‘simply to survive was a victory of the human spirit’.
Read more about the life and work of Martin Gilbert
The Holocaust was first published in 1986 in Britain and the United States, to wide critical acclaim. Sixteen years in the writing, it remains the most authoritative work on the subject: brilliantly researched, powerful and immediate. This Folio Society edition in three volumes has been designed to do it justice in every detail, from the choice of illustrations to the binding design.
For the binding, we followed the author’s suggestion of using a design based on a Holocaust memorial. Gleis 17 (Track 17) was created in 1998 at Berlin’s Grunewald Station. It commemorates the thousands of Jews who were transported from the station to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt concentration camps. The dates of the transportations, and the number of people in each train, are marked at intervals along the track.
In addition to 49 pages of black and white photographs, we have incorporated 24 pages of artwork from the period by Jewish artists. A total of 40 works have been reproduced from private collections and institutions. Artists include: Charlotte Salomon, who created over a thousand gouaches of life in Berlin and Vichy France; Felix Bloch, who produced ‘official’ art as a prisoner in Theresienstadt, and Zofia Rozensztrauch, whose paintings of Auschwitz were presented as evidence during the trial of Adolf Eichmann. From Felix Nussbaum’s Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card to Yehuda Bacon’s To the Man Who Restored My Belief in Humanity, these pictures provide a moving counterpart to the text.
In a new introduction written for this Folio Society edition, Martin Gilbert describes how he began researching and writing about the Holocaust 41 years ago, making trips to the sites concerned, visiting archives and interviewing survivors all over the world. Of his use of survivor testimonies, he says, ‘I was determined to give the names of people and places: thus, not “a Jewish girl born in France”, but “Marguerite Jakubovitch born in Paris”; I felt it was important to tell what was known of her story.’
Sir Martin Gilbert was born in London in 1936. He was evacuated to Canada aged three, and returned to Britain shortly before D-Day. After his national service, and a spell travelling around the Balkans and Turkey, he studied history at Magdalen College, Oxford. He is an Honorary Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan. He is Winston Churchill’s official biographer, and the author of Churchill: A Life, The First World War and The Second World War, all published by The Folio Society.
The painting on the slipcase by Alfred Kantor shows liberated prisoners at Theresienstadt. Kantor was imprisoned in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Schwartzheide, where he produced pictures in secret, having been given materials by a camp doctor. In 1945, he was one of the few to survive a forced march back to Theresienstadt.
Review by pedro7 on 7th Nov 2012
"Write your review about our edition here.Of all Martin Gilberts books i have read this was the one i enjoyed the least,not that its a bad book but it is very harrowing to get through.Its an endless li..." [read more]