Reflections - A world without Jews: Interpreting the Holocaust

Alon Confino

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


It is my claim that a period of Holocaust consciousness stretching from the mid-1970s to the present is coming to an end. As the Holocaust now becomes part and parcel of history, memory, and the wider culture, a stage in the process of internalizing it comes to an end. This sense of pastness opens up new ways for understanding and interpreting it. In this essay, I discuss three interpretative notions that up to now have dominated historians' discussion of the Holocaust - racial ideology, radicalization of Nazi policy, and the context of war - and that in my view need to be rethought. The text shows how these notions were used in Holocaust historiography and how their use has been changing. I discuss future avenues of research. In particular, I suggest a new direction that builds on these notions and on new historiographical innovations, but that diverges from them. I propose to treat the persecution and extermination of the Jews as a problem of culture, a term that is admittedly vague but interpretatively rewarding: that is, narrating the world the Nazis and some Germans built - a Germany, and later a world, without Jews - and what they thought they were engaged in - namely, a necessary battle against their enemy, 'the Jew' - by placing memories, identities, fantasies, and symbols at the centre of the explanation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-559
Number of pages29
JournalGerman History
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Historiography
  • Holocaust
  • Nazi culture
  • Nazi memories
  • Nazi radicalization
  • Racial ideology
  • Second World War

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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