Book Review: Hitler’s Bureaucrats

Hitler’s Bureaucrats:  The Nazi Security Police And The Banality Of Evil, by Yaacov Lozowick

This book is really centered on demonstrating to the reader (and perhaps to the writer as well) how it is that the documents of the Nazi police bureaucracy demonstrate not the banality of evil as Hannah Arendt would have it, but the presence of actual evil, in somewhat terrifying form, that comes from ideological commitment.  I found this book pretty chilling to read, because in reading it I knew at least that a great many people on the right and left, including myself, could find ourselves very easily believing that the absence of certain groups of people (especially for political reasons) could make the world a better place, or at least a more peaceful place.  The author notes that while people are prone to think of bureaucracy as an unchangeable system, that it must be exploited by people, and that the evil committed in bureaucracies is evil for which people have personal responsibility for, for they have the chance to use bureaucratic means both to seek to carry out policies and build support for them but also to obstruct them, as was done to save Jews by Italian fascists.

This particular book is between 250 and 300 pages long and is divided into 8 fairly large chapters.  The book begins with a preface to the English Edition, an explanation of the author’s use of archival sources, and tables and charts relating to the SS organizational structure.  After that comes an introduction and a discussion of the creativity of ideological SS members in turning their wacky conspiratorial theories about Jews into anti-Jewish practice during the period from 1933-1938 (1).  After that there is a discussion of documents in the German bureaucratic system of the Nazis (2) as well as a look at how the Nazi government moved towards the Final Solution (3), and how this was executed in Germany (4) through the connivance of various figures.  After that the rest of the book explores how the Final Solution was executed in other countries, like Holland (5), France (6), and Hungary (7), and how it was that different people were able to frustrate the aims of the Nazis in destroying all of European Jewry through their manipulation of bureaucratic channels.  The author then concludes with a chilling discussion about listening to the screams of victims and facing the evil of Nazi bureaucrats who show themselves as anything but banal (8), after which there is a bibliography and index.

Indeed, this book has several very worthwhile elements to it that should make it a classic read for those who want to understand the evil of the Third Reich, or at least those who were ideologically committed to it.  For one, the author deals honestly with the question of evil and in the process undercuts the moral position of rationalists, among whom the author includes himself.  Similarly, the author’s focus on the way that bureaucracies are run and used by people for purposes that can be either good or evil undercuts the belief that people have about systemic evil.  All evil is personal, and those who blame systems lack understanding in how it is that people actually make decisions and seek to enforce them, or use their knowledge of bureaucracy to thwart decisions that they do not want to act upon.  To be sure, having a mastery of the skills of handling bureaucracies is not a universal or even a widespread matter, but it does exist, and its existence demonstrates that bureaucracies exist for the use of human beings, and are not independent sources of evil upon which people can put the blame.  The blame always rests on someone who is doing something and using institutional power in order to further those evil aims, the evil is not in the institutions itself.  That is a lesson a great many could stand to learn today, for evil certainly exists, if not yet on a form like that of Nazi Germany.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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