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Perpetrator Studies Network


Clendinnen, Inga. Reading the Holocaust

Historian Inga Clendinnen’s book discusses issues such as witnessing and resistance, as well as artistic representation, but the most important sections are dedicated to the study of perpetrators: a chapter on “Leaders,” one on the SS, and one on the Order Police, as well as a chapter on the Sonderkommandos. Clendinnen convincingly argues for the importance of studying perpetrators. Critiquing scholars such as Saul Friedländer who state that it is morally dangerous to engage seriously with the perspective and motivations of the perpetrators, Clendinnen stresses the fact that understanding does not mean identification or condoning, but rather critically engaging with the reasons why people participate in atrocities. Placing the perpetrators in the realm of “evil” removes them from critical analysis. Clendinnen’s model for a productive inquiry into the perpetrators is akin to the approach of Christopher Browning on the one hand and the journalist Gitta Sereny who engaged with the perpetrators she interviewed without prior judgment, yet with a firm moral stance. In this, Reading the Holocaust has become a classic of early perpetrator studies.

Clendinnen, Inga. Reading the Holocaust. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 1999.