Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize
HWA Non Fiction Crown
The Holocaust has never been so widely commemorated, but our understanding of the accepted narrative has rarely, if ever, been questioned.
David Cesarani's sweeping reappraisal challenges accepted explanations for the anti-Jewish politics of Nazi Germany and the inevitability of the 'Final Solution'. The persecution of the Jews was not always the Nazis' central preoccupation, nor was it an inevitable process. Cesarani also reveals that in German-occupied countries it unfolded erratically, often due to local initiatives. Ghettos were improvised while the mass shooting of Jews during the invasion of Russia owed as much to the security situation as to anti-semitism.
In this new interpretation, war is critical to the Jewish fate. Military failure denied the Germans opportunities to expel Jews into a distant territory and created a crisis of resources that led to starvation of the ghettos and intensified anti-Jewish measures. It was global war that eventually triggered genocide in Europe.
Cesarani disputes the iconic role of railways, deportation trains and even Auschwitz, and reveals that plunder was more a cause of anti-Jewish feeling than a consequence of it. Using diaries and reports written in ghettos and camps, he exposes the extent of sexual violence and abuse of Jewish women by the Germans, their collaborators and, shockingly, by Jews themselves. But Cesarani also reveals the courage and ingenuity of those who struggled to evade capture and fought back wherever they could. And unlike previous histories, he follows the Jews' journey to the 'Displaced Persons' camps; camps which have so often been merely a footnote in the story but where Jews languished behind barbed wire for years after 'liberation'.
This moving and dramatic account captures the fate of the Jews, the horror and the heroism, in their own words. Resting on decades of scholarship, it is compelling, authoritative, and profoundly disturbing.
In the media
A brilliant synthesis and interpretation of the greatest crime of the modern era ... There is so much of value in this harrowing and extraordinary book that it's hard to encompass in a review ... There are stories here I didn't know and could scarcely have imagined ... A book that demands to be read and deserves every historical award going.
Oliver Kamm The Times
This is an elegantly written, honest and plausible account and it deserves to be widely read and reflected upon in a continent where racial and religious prejudice is not as far below the surface as we would like to think. Final Solution is a fitting monument to a fine historian and a fine human being.
Richard Overy Literary Review
Masterly . . . Final Solution will take its place among the most authoritative surveys of the persecution and murder of European Jewry in the Second World War.
A masterpiece . . . dense with fascinating detail, so very well written, and so passionately and compellingly argued.