There is nothing which has so defined the world for the last several decades and which will continue to define the world for many decades to come as the concentration camp and the gas chamber. It is the knowledge that man is capable of the systematic and brutal extermination of his fellow man that has shaped the modern world. As Schleunes very poignantly phrases it in the introduction to this book, “if we are to begin to understand ourselves we must somehow come to grips with the reality of Auschwitz.” In his book The Twisted Road to Auschwitz, Schleunes offers us an opportunity to make sense of the senseless and to begin the process of coming to grips with this reality.
Before reading Schleunes's book I had a very different picture of “the twisted road to Auschwitz” in mind. It is tempting to want to see the perpetrators of such crimes as superhumanly evil, even as monsters. Schleunes, however, reminds of the reality, that those who created the concentration camps and gas chambers were as human as the rest of us, and that, as humans so often do, they largely bumbled their way into genocide.
Schleunes paints a picture of a perfect storm, a collusion of people, events, and ideas brought together by chance. Here are radical Antisemites of the lower-middle class whose hatred for Jews derives from a combination of culture heritage and envy. Here is a science only vaguely understood and manipulated for propaganda purposes. Here is a continually growing population of Jews. And here is the “Final Solution.”
Schleunes's book is a masterful account of “the twisted road to Auschwitz” which hits every bump and dip along the way. This is an important read for all people. It is only through understanding how we ended up there in the first place that we can fulfill the motto often repeated since the Holocaust: “never again.”