by Yaron Pasher
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015. Pp. xvi, 364.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700620060
Did the Holocaust Undermine the German War Effort?
One of the great paradoxes of the Second World War is that while German troops on the Eastern Front were starving and freezing to death for lack of supplies, the rail transport of Jews to the death camps proceeded with uninterrupted Teutonic efficiency. The explanation is found in a profound insight by the historian Gerhard Weinberg (born 1928); that for the Nazis the extermination of Europe’s Jews was the purpose of the war, not a distraction or a side show. A complication was that this “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” was a state secret, even though it might have been the worst-kept secret in history.
Yaron Pasher is a young Israeli historian who studied under Weinberg. In this book he sets out to explore how the implementation of the Holocaust fatally undermined the German war effort between 1941 and the final collapse in May 1945. Unfortunately Pasher is simply out of his depth trying to write military history from the perspective of logistics (admittedly, one of the hardest things that any historian can attempt!).
Much of the text is a mish-mash of rehashed secondary sources about the course of operations on the Eastern and Western fronts. The reader bogs down, like a Panzer division in the Spring thaw, in a welter of inconsistently transliterated Slavic place names. The narrative is interspersed with glimpses of the progress of the Final Solution repeatedly hammering home the same assertion: if all those trains that carried Jews to the death camps had been used to carry supplies and reinforcements to the Front, the Wehrmacht might have performed better against the Russians.
The book is rambling, incoherent and repetitive. In places, the same sentence is repeated in a paragraph; there seems to be a lack of copy-editing.
This interesting idea could have made for a superb journal article, but there is not enough material here to sustain a 350-page book. Some stock photographs from the Bundesarchiv, and the Yad Vashem archives add little to the narrative, and the maps are reproduced much too small to be legible.
It might have worked better as a book with a different focus, perhaps a history of the role of the German railways (the Reichsbahn) and the other railroads of occupied Europe in the Holocaust.
On the up side, Pasher’s research documents many fascinating bits of logistic data:
"The Reichsbahn was prepared to transport Jews as long as the transport ministry was paying. The invoice was simply handed to whoever was paying [Eichmann in this case] . . . . A third-class tariff of four pfenning per kilometer per person was set, while children under the age of four traveled free of charge . . . . Half-price on condition that there were at least 400 people per train. The minimum payment was set for 200 Reichsmarks and there was a penalty for returning the cars empty."
"One train car could carry fifteen tons, a dozen cows or forty pigs, or possibly sixty sheep. One car could carry eighty barrels of fuel (200 liters each) ... one train loaded with thirty cars of flour could make 83,300 loaves of bread."
Yaron Pasher is clearly a talented young historian. He deserves better editorial guidance and proper copy editing.
Note: A volume in the University Press of Kansas series “Modern War Studies,”
Holocaust versus Wehrmacht , is also available as an e-Book from several distributors.
Mike Markowitz is a D.C. based defense analyst, who writes for several defense related journals and Defense Media Network, including, The Year in Special Operations. He is the co-designer, with John Gresham, of Supermarina 1 andSupermarina 2, both from Clash of Arms. A collector and lecturer on ancient coins, he is active in the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, DC, and writes a regular column for CoinWorld. His previous reviews for StrategyPage include To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennios, The Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD), D-Day Encyclopedia: Everything You Want to Know About the Normandy Invasion, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, and Loyal Sons: Jews in the German Army in the Great War .