The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg
The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg


Professor Raul Hilberg was and still is among the most prominent Holocaust historians and his monumental book The Destruction of the European Jews – is among the most authoritative work in Holocaust studies. A future professor was born in a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria on June 2, 1926. His parents were immigrants from Poland and Romania. Raul Hilberg was a shiny secluded child and his interest was in music, history, geography, and, most notably, railway and all its means. He will give a strong reflection on this passion in his future The Destruction of the European Jews book, depicting Nazi German (Third Reich) transport bureaucracy. Despite being a Jewish child in an appropriate school, Raul Hilberg disapproved of religion both with growing antisemitism in Austria.

After the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich in 1938, the Hilberg family lost their accommodation in Vienna. The father of the family was arrested for strict reasons, but then he was released due to being a veteran of the First World War (the Great War at that time). A year after Hilberg’s family emigrated from Austria. Passing France and Cube (where they had to stay for 4 months) they have finally reached the United States, their future home. Raul Hilberg saw the United States on September 1, 1939 – the day, when Germany attacked Poland and two days before the Second World War burned out. Boy accumulated all the news from Europe, especially about racist persecution. After the war family found out that they had lost 26 relatives in the Holocaust. Once in 1942, worked up the courage, young Raul Hilberg made a call to Stephen Samuel Wise – a leader of American Jewish formations. A 16-year boy asked this official, what he intended to do to save millions of European Jews. Wise just hang the phone.


Hilberg’s family settled in Brooklyn, New York, where Raul Hilberg attended a local school and Brooklyn College after the Second World War. It was a period he wanted to devote life to Chemistry, but he did not. After reaching a military age in 1944 Raul Hilberg was mobilized and then transferred to Europe. Soldiers of his 45 infantry division participated in the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp in 1945. After the end of the War, Raul Hilberg was transferred to Munich and appointed, as now a member of the War Documentation Department, to guard and explore Brown House – former German NSDAP headquarter. This institution was to find and save Nazi war documents all over allied occupied Europe. In Brown House, Raul Hilberg succeeded to explore a part of Adolf Hitler’s personal library, which was an impulse to continue work.

RAUL HILBERG Holocaust historian

After army demobilization, Raul Hilberg pursued his education at Brooklyn College and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Political science in 1948. For some time was a student of Hans Rosenberg, a famous lecturer, and also a Jewish immigrant from Europe. Within a particular lection, Hilberg interrupted his older colleague, being enthusiastic about Napoleon’s wars, and ask why a lecturer ignore the topic of the recent destruction of European Jewry. Academicians objected to studying history till 1930-x and that history, like science, does not operate with so late events. Raul Hilberg was shocked by such an answer and reinforced in his own decision to study the Holocaust.

Raul Hilberg pursued studies and reached his Master’s degree in 1950 and defended a dissertation in 1955 at Columbian University. A long academic road to this event then became a basis for the prominent ‘The Destruction of the European Jews’ book. Professor Raul Hilberg was the first lecturer in the United States in 1974 to give lessons on the Holocaust. In 1979 he was honorably appointed to Jimmy Carter’s Commission on the Holocaust. He is also one of the founders of the biggest Holocaust museum in the world – USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Raul Hilberg is also famous for his participation and interviews for the legendary Claude Lanzmann Shoah documentary. Professor passed away on August 4, 2007 – he died of lung cancer, without being a smoker.



Raul Hilberg’s dissertation on the Holocaust won a prestigious educational scholarship in 1955, which meant a publication of 850 copies within Columbian University in short form. But the author himself did not agree with such restrictions and wanted to publish the whole volume on the Holocaust of the European Jewry. In order to have permission, Hilberg’s work had to obtain two positive reviews from acknowledged scholars or institutions. In 1958 Yad-Vashem Holocaust Museum denied giving such a recommendation to Raul Hilberg.  Within the next six years till 1961, Hilberg had been distributing his work to different publication houses with a lack of success. Princeton University gave extremely fast disapproval, based on the advice of Hannah Arendt. After another six rejections, a study came to the hand of Frank Petschek, a wealthy immigrant. He sponsored the publication of the first edition of The Destruction of the European Jews with 5,500 copies. 1300 of this amount was distributed to libraries. The Holocaust topic was still taboo in 1960-x and a number of former German Nazi officials still obtained high governmental positions in Germany. Although rights for the German edition were bought in 1963, it came out in 1982.



No wonder the comprehensive “The Destruction of the European Jews” work of Raul Hilberg did not obtain an academic boom in a time Holocaust still was an untold unpopular topic, despite its historical significance. On the one hand, the wound of the genocide tragedy was still bleeding – victims and people, who had lost relatives, were not ready to share their feelings and to take meager academic studies such as “The Destruction of the European Jews”. On the other hand – The cold war segregated former Allies into two ideological, political, and military camps and racism was still a problem after the war. Raul Hilberg has not taken the emotional drama of millions of Jews as a basis for his books on the Holocaust. His historical approach can be determined as completely academic, and neutral. Even the quotes of the survivors and witnesses within the book are used to study the bureaucratic machine of the Third Reich and not the fate of particular people. Such academic management of the facts and numbers provoked moderate or even negative responses from both historians and the wide public.




Raul Hilberg has taken the Holocaust bureaucracy machine of Nazi Germany as a key point of his The Destruction of the European Jews book (1961). This bureaucracy was able due to executors, office workers of the genocide, and millions of those who were indifferent or not enough concerned about the situation. At the same time, the professor does not break into the thoughts and psychology of the performers of the genocide. As Holocaust functionalist scholar, Raul Hilberg’s Holocaust approach considers the destruction of the European Jews as a long sophisticated process of changing priorities inside the Third Reich. He pays attention to clerical workers, who were intentionally distanced from the scenes of mass murders and performed their job paper after paper. Raul Hilberg does not convict the German people and their moral state – he performs a comprehensive study of the facts: documents, traces of crimes, and interrogations with perpetrators. He also emphasizes the participation of architectures of the Holocaust: Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Eichman, commandants of the death camps, and Einsatzgruppen.




Professor Raul Hilberg initiates his ‘The Destruction of the European Jews’ book with a backstory of the relations between Christianity and the Jewish religion. More specifically – with ideological conflicts, and persecutions of the Jews and Jewry throughout centuries. He distinguishes these events as precedents of the Holocaust in the XX century. Hilberg analyses both early Christian dogmas and speeches of Martin Luther, founder of much more modern derivation, who proclaimed significant differences between the two religions four centuries ago. The first chapter of The Destruction of the European Jews presents a parallel comparison of the religion’s key points and speeches of the prominent representatives on the one hand and Nazi laws and Third Reich policy on the other.

Destruction of european jews 1 - PRECEDENTS



The second chapter of “The Destruction of the European Jews” leaves back historical precedents of the persecutions of European Jews and manages the very Third Reich anti-Semitic policy. Raul Hilberg lightens an important transfer from the propaganda slogans in the 1920-s to an established law on segregation in Germany and the Holocaust in Europe. After occupying complete power in a state, national socialists, inspired by Adolf Hitler’s vision, tended to reconstruct social position on the Jewish question and Jewry. It took thousands of working hours and men to define who or what is “Jude” in new Germany and the measures and half-measures of this definition. Hilberg pays additional attention to the so-called Nuremberg laws – Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour. He uses text, examples, quotes, and tables to examine the formation of the law basis on who is to be characterized as a Jew, how to manage with half-blood people, and cross-marriages of different degrees. The name and participation of doctor Wilhelm Stuckart are to be repeated once and once again.




Raul Hilberg uses ghettoization as a common definition within the third chapter of his book. He now examines the process of social segregation in Nazi Germany which tended to separate “Aryans” from “non-Aryans”, especially Jews. Restrictions on using telephones, and trains, having a job and law protection, visiting particular places, to communicate with Aryans. After dealing with Germany itself in the 1930-s. Raul Hilberg continues with segregation in Poland, occupied in 1939. The ghettoization of big cities and mass deportations of people within the Third Reich. The most significant part of the academic concern is paid to the Warsaw ghetto and Lodz ghetto. Bureaucratic management machine, a creation of local Jewish councils, conditions in ghettos and mortality, and responsible officials. Differences in the vision of the issue were proclaimed by Henrich Himmler and Hans Frank.

Raul hilberg holocaust book CONCENTRATION



Fours chapter of “The Destruction of the Europeans Jews” book shifts focus from segregation and ghettoization within occupied eastern territories to the Holocaust policy on the occupied Soviet Union. Raul Hilberg pays extreme attention to Einsatzgruppen and its subordinate units, and cooperation with Wehrmacht within the huge military and bureaucratic machine of the Third Reich. Hilberg emphasizes three periods of this initial phase of the Final Solution of the Jewish question: Preparation, The First sweep, and The second sweep. Starting from launching a huge governmental mechanism to direct killing operations and mass murders of 1.5 million Jews in occupied territories. Raul Hilberg declares an unpopular issue – why most Jews decided to wait for their fate passively without moving East or struggling till the very end of their lives. He precisely examines the structure of the Einsatzgruppen A, B, C, and D and the units responsible for killing operations, which include local nationalist groups.

MOBILE KILLING OPERATION The Destruction of the european jews



The fifth chapter of Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews turns the page of the Holocaust to the “Final solution of the Jewish question” in Europe. Professor analyzes the methodical and carefully measured transformation of the policy of segregation and concentration to the deportations to the death camps. The very core of the chapter deals with a liquidation of the biggest and most populated ghettos in Poland such as Warsaw, Lublin, Lodz, and Lviv ghettos in the context of transport bureaucracy and not of mass murders themselves yet. Raul Hilberg thoughtfully examines the transport system of the Holocaust, cooperation between Germans and Judenrats, and economic manipulations, which made it possible to transfer millions of people to the death sites and death camps. Authors figures out other rhetorical questions on Jewish resistance – its abilities and necessity. The Warsaw ghetto uprising is analyzed as an example. Professor characterizes the informational breakthroughs of Holocaust secrecy.

The Destruction of the european jewry Deportations



Professor now makes focuses on the mechanism of six death camps (killing centers): Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. He determines the common bureaucratic features of these sites, which have “absorbed” 3 million people. Waggonage with people was transported on the basis of the simple scratch of a pen. Professor Raul Hilberg finalizes his Holocaust chain: Definition-Segregation-Concentration-Deportation. He emphasizes the participation of German businessmen and companies, who made the functioning of the killing center operations possible. The fate and consummation of infamous Cyclone-B gas and its transport logistics – tons of deadly substance were bought with no much difficulty than soup or office accessories. At the end of a chapter, professor Raul Hilberg presents his table of approximate death volumes of each of the death camps and their killing geography. This statistic of “The destruction of the European Jews” is still characterized as extremely competent.




We can relatively divide this part of “The destruction of the European Jews” book into two parts. PERPETRATORS is the first one, with priority on volume. It finalizes the analysis of the German bureaucratic machine of the Holocaust, thoughtfully made in the previous chapters. Raul Hilberg makes a conclusion that a major part of state machinery was intentionally distanced from the murders themselves and the Holocaust. Office workers of the Third Reich could both easily deal with ordinary routines and send cattle boxes with people to death camps. Most of the perpetrators had no problems with a conscience, inner voice, or pity, which were suppressed by the flaming speeches of Adolf Hitler and Henrich Himmler. Paper bureaucrats had no direct common connection with murders, suffering, and starvation but just performed work. The second part VICTIMS reveals a taboo topic – Jews did not give adequate resistance, being blinded by their 2000-year experience in accommodation.

THE NATURE OF A PROCESS - Victims and Perpetrators of Holocaust



In his final chapter of “The destruction of the European Jews”, Raul Hilberg finalizes the Holocaust fate of European Jews. Despite the chapter title, he does not tell the story of the liberation from the death and concentration camps, as well as Righteous among the Nations. Professor explores bureaucratic protractions which cost thousands of lives of human beings. A slow systematic breakthrough of the informational vacuum of the Holocaust in Europe, publications in western countries, and testimonies of former victims and inmates of the camps. Attempts to trade people live on trucks, ammunition, weapon, and money. Suggestions to bomb the railway infrastructure of Auschwitz to delay the work of the killing center. Raul Hilberg once again determines the bureaucracy on both sides, when every number on paper reflected human life.

The final chapter - Rescue of the European Jews