Blind Spots in the “German Catechism” Debate – Gavriel Rosenfeld

Now that the debate over Dirk Moses’s essay, “The German Catechism,” appears to have crested, it is possible to take stock of its results.[1]  In this short commentary, I do not directly address Moses’s specific arguments in detail; plenty of insightful observers have already done so.  Like many of them, I support some of Moses’s assertions and reject others.  Instead, I reflect on some of the claims that have been made about the debate’s significance for contemporary Holocaust memory.  In so doing, I have identified four areas where, from my perspective, commentators have displayed interpretive blind spots.  I hope to rectify them by 1) placing the “German Catechism” debate into a larger historical context; 2) flagging issues of terminological confusion; 3) pointing out the existence of overly sweeping conclusions; and 4) restoring a more balanced perspective about Germany’s mnemonic achievements.

Gavriel Rosenfeld is Professor of History at Fairfield University and an editor at The Journal of Holocaust Research.His full bio is available on his personal webpage:

1. The “German Catechism” Debate is not the “Second Historians Debate” 

More than a few commentators have compared the debate over Moses’s polemic to a second Historikerstreit or “Historians Debate 2.0.”[2]  The comparison does not hold.  Apart from the fact that the phrase, “second historians’ debate,” has previously been applied to at least three German debates since 1986 — the controversy over Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners in 1996, the 1998 German Historikertag controversy over the complicity of German historians with the Nazi regime, and the 2002 debate over Jörg Friedrich’s book, Der Brand — the use of the phrase to describe the Catechism debate does not properly contextualize it.  Ironically enough, while some Moses’s supporters have attacked Germany’s reigning paradigm of Holocaust memory as overly “provincial,” their contention that the reaction to his polemic resembles the Historikerstreit of 1986-87 is equally narrow.[3]

In fact, the debate over “The German Catechism” should be seen within a much larger context – namely, the long international debate about the Holocaust’s uniqueness.  As I have noted in variety of publications over the past two decades, the “uniqueness debate” began over thirty years ago, and, until this past year, had experienced three phases.[4]  The ongoing “German Catechism” debate can be seen as the fourth.  Briefly tracing these phases reveals what is new — and what is not – about the recent controversy.

Given Moses’s renewed attack against Holocaust uniqueness, it is worth recalling that the idea was first embraced by scholars in the 1970 and 1980s as a defensive response to longstanding historiographical and political efforts to downplay the Holocaust’s Jewish specificity.  In the early postwar decades, Jews were at the margins rather than the center of the western discussion of Hitler’s crimes.  The historiographical paradigms of totalitarianism, fascism, functionalism, and modernity all emphasized the Holocaust’s universal aspects and deemphasized its particularistic (read: Jewish) dimensions.  These dimensions were also effaced by concurrent efforts to politicize the Holocaust.  The effort of Soviet bloc states to focus on the class and political identity of the Nazis’ victims, while downplaying their religious identity – thereby “de-Judaizing” the Holocaust – was one example of this politicizing trend.   Another was the effort of German neoconservatives in the mid-1980s to compare the Holocaust to other genocides in order to relativize Germany’s guilt for the Nazis’ crimes, normalize German national identity, and rehabilitate German nationalism.  It was the widespread opposition to this effort among German liberals that originally sparked the Historians Debate and bolstered the idea – already (or soon to be) embraced by Jewish scholars outside of Germany, such as Emil Fackenheim, Lucy Dawidowicz, Saul Friedländer, Yehuda Bauer, Steven Katz, Deborah Lipstadt, and Daniel Goldhagen — that the Holocaust had unique features. 

This scholarly development set the stage for the first phase of the uniqueness debate in the 1990s.  While the scholarly studies supporting uniqueness were diverse, the dogmatic character of some of them (that of Katz, in particular), ended up sparked a backlash among scholars who rejected the idea as historiographically flawed and mnemonically pernicious.  Around the time of the 1992 quincentennial celebrations of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, two American specialists in Native American history, David Stannard and Ward Churchill, contended that the mass death of indigenous peoples was just as bad, if not worse, than the Nazi genocide, and that Holocaust memory had directly contributed to American “ignorance regarding the…horrors against indigenous peoples.”[5] Stannard and Churchill added that the idea of uniqueness distracted attention from the plight of the Palestinians (whose launching of the first Intifada in 1987 was in recent memory) — an idea that was further amplified by the American scholars, Peter Novick and Norman Finkelstein, in their books, The Holocaust in American Life (1999) and The Holocaust Industry (2000).  The launching of similar critiques against uniqueness by intellectuals in France (Stéphane Courtois, Tzvetan Todorov, Jean-Michel Chaumont) and Israel (Adi Ophir, Yehuda Elkana, Amos Elon), fueled prolonged international debate.  But it failed to produce any consensus about whether Holocaust memory was salutary or detrimental.

This failure prompted the second phase of the uniqueness debate in the first decade of the 21st century, when scholars devoted themselves more directly to the question of how Holocaust consciousness was actually shaping the memory of other historical atrocities.   Influenced by the genocidal violence of the Yugoslav Civil War and the “memory boom” of the turn of the millennium, scholars such as John Torpey, Alan Steinweis, Samantha Power, Michael Rothberg, Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider arrived at two key conclusions: on the one hand, they rejected the concept of uniqueness as conceptually flawed and politically partisan; on the other, they rejected the claim that Holocaust consciousness had siphoned attention away from other historical atrocities. Indeed, they argued that by inviting comparisons to other historical injustices, the idea of the Holocaust’s uniqueness had actually led to its universalization and, with it, the expansion, rather than contraction, of historical awareness.  To be sure, dissenting views were also heard.  Largely due to the worsening Arab-Israeli conflict, which was marked by the second Intifada (2000-2004) and the Israeli invasions of Lebanon and Gaza (2006 and 2008), scholars like Tony Judt and Jeffrey Alexander feared that the idea of uniqueness was being used by conservative Israelis and their foreign supporters for nationalistic purposes and muting its universal relevance.  Overall, however, a general scholarly consensus had been established endorsing the virtues of Holocaust consciousness.

The third phase of the uniqueness debate commenced in the second decade of the 21st century and was marked by a shift from memory back to history.  Seeking to avoid the polemical excesses of the first two phases, scholars such as Donald Bloxham and Timothy Snyder, produced highly empirical studies that sought to historicize the Holocaust within the context of modern genocide without diminishing the particularity of the former.  Bloxham’s The Final Solution: A Genocide (2010) and Synder’s Bloodlands (2010) both explicitly rejected the idea of uniqueness as provincial and sought to expand the temporal and spatial contexts for the Holocaust’s significance, the former arguing it should be seen within a global “racial century” (1850-1950) and the latter arguing it should be placed within a uniquely destructive Eastern European killing zone in the years between 1933-1945.  Both books were criticized by the supporters of uniqueness, who argued that they diminished the Holocaust’s specificity and supported worrisome trends, such as Eastern European Holocaust denial.  But many of these critiques misread or did not adequately credit the two scholars’ efforts to acknowledge the Holocaust’s distinctive features.

The new debate sparked by Moses’s “German Catechism” essay represents a fourth phase and a shift from the realm of history back to the realm of memory – specifically to the question of whether Holocaust consciousness positively or negatively affects the memories of other historic injustices.  Notably enough, Moses’s critique of German memory echoed contributions that he made to the earlier phases of the uniqueness debate.  Between the second and third phases, Moses shifted from being a peacemaker to a polemicist.  In 2002, he sought to mediate between the warring factions by criticizing both the supporters and opponents of uniqueness for privileging the singularity of their own groups’ historical experiences and failing to recognize their “common suffering.”[6]  He partly continued this line of reasoning in several essays published in 2010 and 2011, arguing that historians should “practice self-discipline” and “transcend…partisan identifications” in analyzing the Holocaust.[7]  Around the same time, however, he made a polemical turn by siding with the critics of uniqueness, arguing that the centrality of the Holocaust in public consciousness “promoted blindness to genocidal episodes around the world,” stimulated the paranoid “misperceptions of reality,” and produced a “calamitization of politics” that had its own “genocidal implications.”[8]  For all these reasons, he declared, “the widespread belief that ‘Holocaust education’ will make the world a better place was wildly optimistic.”[9] These claims, which he has further developed in his new book, The Problem of Genocide, directly inform Moses’s critique of Germany’s “catechism.”

Yet, as is shown by the larger context for Moses’s polemic noted above, the current debate is quite different from the Historikerstreit.  The original debate was exclusively fueled by concerns about domestic German political affairs – specifically the effort of right-of-center Germans to pave the way for a new and potentially dangerous form of German nationalism.  It is worth recalling that the Historikerstreit erupted at a time when Germany was still divided and unification remained a frightening possibility with unknowable consequences.  In this context, the idea that the Federal Republic might still not have learned the proper political lessons from the Nazi experience was alarming both to left-liberals in the Federal Republic, as well as to millions of others — in Western and Eastern Europe, North America, and Israel – who still retained vivid memories of Second World War. 

By contrast, the current debate is taking place at a time when there are no longer any serious doubts about Germany’s stability as a trustworthy democracy.  The critiques launched by left-leaning post-colonial critics of Germany’s memory culture have more to do with concerns about the country’s foreign policy – especially in the Middle East – and its struggles to create a multicultural society.  It is no coincidence that the Catechism Debate flared up after the recent war in May 2021 between Israel and Hamas in Gaza; indeed, spiking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have consistently revived the uniqueness debate since its inception.  There is no question that Germany’s policies towards Israel – like its policies towards Middle Eastern refugees fleeing to Europe from Iraq, Syria, and other nations – are important in their own right.  But for non-Germans living outside of the Federal Republic, they do not have the significance that fears of German nationalism did during the Historikerstreit.  Whereas Germany in the 1980s represented a unique case – that of a western nation still on political probation in world opinion because of its unmastered Nazi past — Germany today is one of many countries struggling to cope with both the historical and present-day social legacy of colonialism.  While hardly inconsequential to Germans (and while certainly of burning interest to scholars of German history), there is thus less at stake with regard to Germany’s Holocaust memory culture today than there was a generation ago. 

2. Conceptual Confusion: Relativization vs. Universalization

Another major difference between the Historikerstreit and the German Catechism Debate – one that raises a second blind spot about the latter – involves the mechanisms of remembrance at work in the two controversies. In the original Historians’ Debate, German liberals opposed the effort of German conservatives to relativize the country’s guilt for the Holocaust.  In the current debate, by contrast, leftists and conservatives in Germany and beyond are debating the appropriateness of universalizing the Holocaust’s significance through comparisons to other historical injustices. 

It is important to understand the differences between relativization and universalization.  As I have written about extensively, both are methods of “normalizing” memory.[10]  Relativization typically hails from groups on the conservative right who seek to reduce responsibility for a specific (and usually shameful) historical legacy in order to preserve a sense of national pride.  The contemporary effort of American conservatives to relativize the nation’s guilt for slavery, for example, mirrors the relativizing efforts of German conservatives during the Historikerstreit.  By contrast, universalization has typically emanated from the political left and seeks to expand the significance of ahistorical legacy in order to direct attention to present-day political issues.  This strategy has long been visible throughout the western world in the use of Nazi analogies by left of center critics to attack rightwing political trends and policies.  Universalization is hardly restricted to the political left, however.  Conservatives have used the same strategy to try and discredit liberal trends and policies, as is demonstrated by the many comparisons made by right-wing groups in the U. S. and Germany between state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions and the Nazi regime’s persecution of the Jews. The instrumental motives that drive relativization and universalization are quite different.  But they are similar insofar as they both employ comparisons.  They also resemble one another in that they stress similarity rather than difference.  In so doing, they tend to obscure the distinctiveness of a given historical legacy and thereby promoting its normalization (ie. its transformation into a past like any other).

Unfortunately, various participants in the German Catechism debate have failed to clearly distinguish between relativization and universalization.  When some of Moses’s German critics, such as the FAZ’s Patrick Bahners, accused him of mimicking the talking points of rightwing critics of Holocaust remembrance, such as Rolf Peter Sieferle, they confused Moses’s leftwing universalization with rightwing relativization.  Moses has ably defended himself against this charge, saying that his motives in attacking uniqueness are quite different from those on the right.  At the same time, however, he contributed to the larger conceptual confusion by perpetuating the misleading impression that the larger debate was about relativization.  In his original essay, Moses argued that German critics of post-colonial studies had criticized it for “relativizing” the Holocaust.  Moses did not directly cite any specific evidence of critics using such terminology, but he made clear that he rejected the language of “relativization,” saying it “makes no sense” and dismissing it as “theological rather than scholarly.” Setting aside the fact that Moses’s claim ignored the existence of a large body of academic literature on the concept of relativization (and other forms of normalization), he mostly objected to the cynical, bad-faith, or otherwise hyperbolic attacks by conservative Germans against their leftist opponents for allegedly diminishing the Holocaust’s significance. For example, Moses referred to accusations by CDU politicians against the German intellectual, Carolin Emcke, who was charged with “relativizing” the Holocaust for comparing it to climate denial; he also alluded to conservative efforts to discredit the Cameroonian scholar, Achille Mbembe, who was accused of “relativizing” the Holocaust after comparing it to Apartheid. 

Moses was not alone in perpetuating the imprecise use of terminology.  When Michael Rothberg defended Moses’s polemic by arguing that “German colonialism can be remembered together with the Holocaust without relativizing the latter’s centrality,” he made a legitimate conceptual point, but did so with misleading language.[11]   To be sure, he needed to do so, in part, after having been subjected to the same charge of relativization by certain German critics following the appearance of the German translation of his book, Multidirectional Memory, earlier in the year. But that does not solve the larger problem: namely, the fact that the meaning of relativization in the Catechism debate differs dramatically from what it meant during the Historikerstreit (namely, the minimization of German guilt for the Nazis’ crimes).  This confusion has ended up obscuring the reality that the current debate is being driven by disagreements over universalization.

I say this not as a critic of universalization, for as I have written elsewhere, the phenomenon has served many useful purposes in the postwar period.[12]  But for the sake of analytical precision, I would recommend that relativization and universalization be kept distinct from one another.  I should add that, to my mind, the idea of universalization enjoys certain advantages over Rothberg’s influential, but easily misunderstood, concept of “multidirectionality.” The concept, which has been endorsed by various participants in the Catechism Debate, is closely related to universalization, insofar as it entails an open-ended process of historical comparison.  Where it differs, however, is in its hopeful, though perhaps somewhat idealistic, belief that comparisons can be made in a dialogical and non-competitive manner for the benefit of all groups whose historical experiences are being compared. Unfortunately, few of these worthy ideals are communicated semantically by the fuzzy term, “multidirectional.”  Read literally — as an adjective designating “many directions” — it an exceedingly capacious concept that, by suggesting an almost limitless number of mnemonic agendas and outcomes, can easily be misinterpreted (something confirmed by the German misreadings of Rothberg’s important book).  

I would argue that the concept of universalization deserves a more prominent place in the ongoing debate – to be sure, alongside, rather than instead of, Rothberg’s idea of “multidrectionality.” For one thing, universalization better describes what happens in actual practice when a historical comparison gets made: a historically specific event is examined for its universal (read: generic, common, typical) features and lessons.  Universalization also implies that most comparisons end up emphasizing similarity instead of difference.  The term also makes clear why critics opposed to the effacing of difference often view universalization with suspicion.  In the recent Catechism Debate, many critics of Moses and Rothberg (whether in good faith or in bad) have contended that the two scholars’ comparisons between the Holocaust and colonialism have overemphasized the similarities, and lost sight of the differences, between the two historical phenomena.  But the fact that these critics have gone on to charge both scholars with relativization rather than universalization reflects a lack of theoretical literacy about how cultural memories are forged. Recentering the concept of universalization in the discussion may help avoid future misinterpretations and acrimony.

3. The Baby and the Bathwater: Misplacing Blame

The recent debate has also witnessed slippage between different two different critiques of Holocaust memory.   For the most part, Moses has been careful to focus his attack on the institutionalized, state-supported endorsement of Holocaust uniqueness that came into being at the turn of the millennium under the Schroeder government.  In his essay, Moses explicitly targets “uniqueness” four separate times and largely avoids attacking the separate and broader notion of “Holocaust memory.” Yet, in certain places Moses blurs the lines between the two.  Echoing the arguments he made in earlier phases of the uniqueness debate, he comes close to throwing out the baby of Holocaust memory with the bathwater of uniqueness.  Moses opens himself up to being misunderstood on this issue, for example, when he declares that, “in its current modality, Holocaust memory has become an instrument to govern and exclude ‘foreigners’/Muslims/migrants.’”  The same is true when he criticizes “the (unhealthy) centrality that the Holocaust now plays in German academic and public discourse.”  Moses raises further suspicions by having nothing positive to say about Holocaust remembrance in general — apart from his puzzling claim that “the catechism served an important function in denazifying [Germany].” This claim is oddly anachronistic, given Moses’s earlier assertion in his essay that the catechism was only enshrined “about [the year] 2000” — thereby implying that Germany under the Schroeder administration was still “Nazi” in some way.  Moreover, his claim’s perfunctory endorsement of German memory is outweighed by his immediately ensuing (and concluding) declaration that the catechism has “outlived its usefulness” and “should be set aside.”

So that I am not misunderstood: Moses is certainly correct that the idea of Holocaust uniqueness can be used – by elites as well as ordinary people – for the conservative purpose of “blend[ing] out other historical crimes.”  The case of Rupprecht Polenz is a good example in Germany, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s tendentious use of the concept is well-known in Israel.  Indeed, the concept of uniqueness may actually be inclined to foster such abuses.  That is not to say the concept necessarily does so in any deterministic sense; indeed, the second phase of the uniqueness debate clearly showed that the concept can also be used by left-liberal commentators for universalizing purposes.  All that being said – and whatever its contributions to Holocaust historiography — the idea of uniqueness has sparked more than its share of misunderstandings due to its evolution into a kind of a code word that is all too often associated with diverging political positions.  Because of these tendencies, I called as far back as 1999 for replacing the concept of uniqueness with a different term that could better express the Holocaust’s distinctiveness without being unduly polarizing.

Yet while these sentiments make me partly sympathetic to Moses’s position, I do not share his broader critique of Holocaust memory, which I believe he blames too  much for present-day problems, whose roots lie elsewhere.  Plenty of critics, including Udi Greenberg, Bill Niven, Helmut Walser Smith, and Joachim Häberlen, have recently challenged Moses’s blaming of Holocaust memory for Germany’s failure to confront its colonial crimes, better integrate its foreign-born inhabitants, and respond more impartially to the Israel-Palestine conflict.[13]   There is thus little reason to point out that certain countries, such as the U. S. and Great Britain, are having just as many difficulties confronting their own histories of colonial violence and becoming more socially diverse, despite lacking Germany’s historical burden relating to the Holocaust. To overlook this point is simply to reproduce the flawed assertions made in the first phase of the uniqueness debate and to ignore how those assertions were effectively debunked in the second phase.  To be sure, anxieties about present-day political trends – especially the surge in rightwing extremism – have led certain critics to forget these lessons, which were forged in a less anxious political climate.  For the record, I very much share these concerns about the surging political right.  But from my own vantage point, writing in the United States in the wake of the Trump administration, I find it hard to see a major threat to progressive politics emanating from Germany, whatever the state of its memory culture. 

4. Nothing Fails Like Success

In the end, the Catechism Debate may be the paradoxical result of Germany’s success, rather than failure, in constructing a nationally institutionalized culture of remembrance.  For years, left-liberal Germans worked tirelessly to convince their leaders to pursue a more honest and thorough reckoning with the Nazi legacy.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, they battled the Kohl government’s resistance to accepting such a viewpoint, whether after the Bitburg Controversy in 1985 or the Crimes of the Wehrmacht exhibition in the years 1995-90.  This effort finally bore fruit at the turn of the millennium, when the Schroeder and Merkel administrations endorsed a more contrite perspective towards Germany’s Nazi crimes.  Countless scholars have documented this important shift in German memory, and it requires no further discussion here.[14]  Yet, the point should be reiterated: German liberals succeeded in getting their mnemonic agenda endorsed by the German state.  All too many critics, Moses included, however, seem to have taken this achievement for granted.   Like the progressive activists in the United States who complain that corporate America’s embrace of LGBTQ Pride Month is nothing more than “rainbow capitalism” or who skeptically dismissed the Biden administration’s proclamation of Juneteenth as a Federal holiday, the critics of Germany’s “catechism” find only shortcomings to critique instead of accomplishments to acknowledge  Especially in light of other nations’ failure to achieve comparable successes, there are plenty of reasons for us to heed Susan Neiman’s advice and “learn from the Germans.” 

In the end, Moses’ polemic against Germany’s culture of remembrance may ironically accomplish the opposite of its goals.  While he has openly stated that his rationale for employing a polemical form of argumentation is to “force public clarification,” he has actually introduced new distortions into the history of German memory. As many commentators in the catechism debate have noted (Neil Gregor, Andrew Port, Frank Biess, Helmut Walser Smith), Germany’s memory culture originated in “bottom-up” fashion, thanks to the grassroots efforts of countless individuals and citizens’ groups.[15]  Moses, however, reduces this accomplishment to an artifice “thrashed out” from the top-down by German “conservatives,” working together with “American, British, and Israeli elites,” who thereafter succeeded in getting their narrative of the Nazi era to be (passively) “internalized by tens of millions.”  This assertion omits a major and especially admirable chapter in the story of Germany’s confrontation with its Nazi past and thus distorts the overall narrative.

This is not to say that Germany’s memory culture has no shortcomings. Apart from its widely-derided ritualistic dimensions (read: Betroffenheit), there are glaring gaps where inclusivity is called for.  It would be a mistake to use Germany’s “success” in dealing with the Nazi legacy as a pretext for ignoring its role in other historical injustices.   I share Moses’ desire for Germans to finally confront their country’s colonial crimes more thoroughly.  But I am less pessimistic that it will not happen because of any alleged taboos against Holocaust universalization.  I agree with Bill Niven’s recent point that the expansion of Germany’s memory culture in recent decades to include non-Jewish victims of Nazi crimes (Slavs, the mentally and physically handicapped, “Asocials,” gays and lesbians, Sinti and Roma) bodes well for Germany moving forward and increasingly confronting its colonial legacy.[16]  To be sure, there will be resistance to this process from conservatives – just as there continues to be conservative resistance in the U. S. to the ongoing reckoning with the country’s legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism.   But this resistance will only further reinforce the commitment of liberals, progressives, and other left-of-center groups to advance a true reckoning with unmastered historical legacies.

The question is how they should go about pursuing their goal.  While Moses favors a polemical strategy of challenging the alleged impediment of Holocaust uniqueness, the long history of the uniqueness debate, to my mind, suggests that such a method is destined to fail.  As I have argued elsewhere, the uniqueness debate has long been driven by a paradoxical phenomenon known as the “dialectic of normalization.”[17]  The more that scholars, journalists, and other activists have sought to normalize the Holocaust – whether by historicizing its relationship to other genocides or universalizing its significance for present-day political purposes – the more such efforts have alarmed other scholars who, fearing an effort to diminish the Holocaust’s Jewish dimensions, have rushed to defend its singularity.  This phenomenon is hardly only a German phenomenon and has shaped the ways in which people throughout the western world have viewed the Nazi past since the turn of the millennium.  It is a phenomenon, moreover, that shows no signs of abating.  The dialectic of normalization is an inherently presentist phenomenon, intensifying in times of political turmoil and ebbing in periods of comparative stability.  Given the deepening political polarization in the U. S., Germany, and other parts of the western world, the current Catechism Debate was probably inevitable.  Unfortunately, if the past is prologue, the ongoing debate is unlikely to produce any consensus. So long as there are political conflicts that touch on competing perceptions of the Holocaust’s legacy, the topic of uniqueness will continue to sow dissension.  The effort to normalize the Holocaust will end up preserving its exceptionality.

[1] Dirk Moses, “The German Catechism,” Geschichte der Gegenwart, May 23, 2021.  See also Moses’s reply to his critics: “Dialectic of Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” New Fascism Syllabus, June 15, 2021.

[2] Michael Rothberg invoked this phrase already in September of 2020 to describe the “Mbembe Affair.”  “Comparing Comparisons,” Geschichte der Gegenwart, September 23, 2020. “Historikerstreit 2.0 über Shoah,” Deutschland Funk, July 11, 2021. An upcoming Princeton University roundtable is entitled “The New German Historians’ Debate: Holocaust Memory and the Legacy of Colonialism.”

[3] Moses employed the term twice in his original essay. See also Frank Biess, “Confessions of an Ex-Believer,” The New Fascism Syllabus, June 1, 2021.

[4] For my most up-to-date discussion of the debate, see chapter 2 of my book, Hi Hitler! How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture (Cambridge, UK, 2015), entitled “From History to Memory and Back Again: Debating the Holocaust’s Uniqueness.”See also “Between Uniqueness and Universalization: Holocaust Memory at a Dialectical Crossroads,” Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, Fall, 2011, pp. 359-69 and “The Politics of Uniqueness: Reflections on the Recent Polemical Turn in Holocaust and Genocide Scholarship,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Nr. 1, Spring, 1999, pp. 28-61.

[5] David Stannard, “Uniqueness as Denial: The Politics of Genocide Scholarship,” in: Alan Rosenbaum, Is the Holocaust Unique? Perspectives in Comparative Genocide (Boulder, CO, 1996), p. 198.

[6] A. Dirk Moses, “Conceptual Blockages and Definitional Dilemmas in the ‘Racial Century’: Genocides of Indigenous Peoples and the Holocaust,” Patterns of Prejudice, Nr. 4, 2002, p. 36. 

[7] A. Dirk Moses, “Paranoia and Partisanship: Genocide Studies, Holocaust Historiography, and the ‘Apocalyptic Conjuncture,” The Historical Journal, Nr. 2, 2011, p. 583.

[8] “Revisiting a Founding Assumption of Genocide Studies,” Genocide Studies and Prevention, December, 2011, p. 298; A. Dirk Moses, “Genocide and the Terror of History,” Parallax, Nr. 4, 2011, pp. 103, 91, 93.

[9] Moses, “Genocide and the Terror of History,” p. 104.

[10] See pp. 7-14 of the introduction to Hi Hitler!

[11] See also

[12] Rosenfeld, Hi Hitler!, pp. 11-12, 299.

[13] See their essays on the website of the New Fascism Syllabus:

[14] Ruth Wittlinger and Steffi Boothroyd, “A ‘Usable’ Past at Last?  The Politics of the Past in United Germany,” German Studies Review, Nr. 3, 2010, p. 492; Eric Langenbacher, “The Mastered Past? Collective Memory Trends in Germany since Unification,” German Politics and Society, Issue 94 Vol. 28, No. 1 Spring 2010.  Ruth Wittlinger, “The Merkel Government’s Politics of the Past,” German Politics and Society, 4, Winter, 2008, pp. 9–27.

[15] See their essays on the website of the New Fascism Syllabus:

[16] Bill Niven, “A Plea for More Balance,” The New Fascism Syllabus, June 2, 2021.

[17] Rosenfeld, Hi Hitler!, pp. 12-14; 347-48.


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