One of the most important developments in Holocaust Studies over the past couple decades has been one of scale. Rather than focus on decision...

One of the most important developments in Holocaust Studies over the past couple decades has been one of scale. Rather than focus on decision making at the national or regional level, scholars are immersing themselves in the deep history of a small town or camp. In doing so you may miss the debates of diplomats and politicians. But you get a much better idea of how people actually experienced the Holocaust.

Omer Bartov’s new book Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz (Simon and Schuster, 2018) is a superb example of this trend. Bartov spent two decades immersed in archives across the world. He knows his characters, Polish, Jewish, German and Ukrainian, inside and out. His explanations for their actions and descriptions are fully convincing because they are so fully imagined and described.

It is because of this attention to detail that his conclusions are so sobering. He describes policeman, soldiers, neighbors and victims living lives that were intertwined. The killers here were not engaged in some anonymous, industrial process. Instead, they killed maids, and seamstresses, former classmates and colleagues. They lived in a world where the killing is only one aspect of their lives, one often subsumed in the routine of their jobs, in the community of card playing and drinking, and in their romantic adventures. They lived in a world where there was never a shortage of people willing to shoot to kill.

It’s a wonderful book, one that I recommend highly.


Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial