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Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War

Nations Have the Right to Kill
Author: Richard Koenigsberg


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Commentary on Nations Have the Right to Kill

By Brian Crim, Professor of History, Lynchburg College

Richard Koenigsberg’s Nations Have the Right to Kill reminds us in clear and incisive prose that sacrifice and total war are inextricably linked. Drawing on a broad range of knowledge spanning the social sciences, Koenigsberg asks us to conceive of the Holocaust as the product of an ideology that demanded the sacrifice of both Germany’s male population and European Jewry. Born from the ashes of the First World War, National Socialism internalized the deadly logic that the only way to save the German nation was to eliminate any obstacle to the heroic Volksgemeinschaft so that it could, once again, fight a total war.

Convinced that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s failure the first time around, Hitler vowed to sacrifice the Jews on the altar of national unity. Koenigsberg’s most interesting arguments revolve around the central role the slaughter of the First World War played in National Socialist ideology. Not only did the conflict brutalize the collective European psyche, it convinced the National Socialist leadership that every great act demanded sacrifice.

Hitler had no qualms sentencing his own people to death—and targeted the Jews as agents of disintegration. Now “doctor of the nation,” Hitler was determined to remove the Jewish cancer from the body politic as the necessary prerequisite for Germany’s next foray into total war. Koenigsberg’s thesis resonates well into our own century by forcing us to confront the reasons why nations demand and expect human sacrifice on their behalf.