Why Did the Holocaust Happen?

How Could This Happen book coverHow could a cultivated nation like Germany unleash a murderous frenzy against the Jewish people? Many authors have described the killings. A few authors have warned that explaining is in itself a profanation. But Dan McMillan takes a different course. With eloquence and clarity he sets the Shoah in a broad historical context. McMillan shows how step by step, ideas and institutions came into place in western nations, especially in Germany, that made the killings conceivable, then possible, and even likely, but never inevitable. This book is an impressive achievement.”
Robert O. Paxton, Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University, co-author of Vichy France and the Jews and author of The Anatomy of Fascism

To the limited extent that histories of the Holocaust try to explain it, they confine themselves to the immediate, short-term causes of this tragedy: Hitler’s beliefs about Jews, and the pressures which helped radicalize Germany’s anti-Semitic policies from discrimination to genocide.

Yet this partial explanation only begs further questions.  In How Could This Happen, historian Dan McMillan attempts a comprehensive explanation of the Holocaust by answering them: by showing where Hitler’s ideas came from and why they enjoyed support among much of Germany’s educated elite; how World War I produced a generation of men so hardened to human suffering that they would gladly kill millions in the service of these ideas; why a man like Hitler could come to power in Germany, but would have had no chance in other Western democracies like France or the United States; how Hitler, once in power, could become so admired by his countrymen that many of them would do whatever he commanded; what psychological mechanisms allowed men who were not Nazis to murder defenseless civilians; and other factors which let tens of millions of Germans who knew about the murders react with cold indifference.

Concise, accessible and engaging, How Could This Happen offers a more thorough and multi-layered answer to the question everyone has about the Holocaust: Why?

Praise for How Could This Happen

Dan McMillan’s book is clearly written, well-structured, and rests on good acquaintance with recent research. It offers a thoughtful and intelligent answer for a non-specialist readership to the vital but often strangely ignored question: what caused the Holocaust? It deserves to be widely read.” Sir Ian Kershaw, author of Hitler and The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945

An important and much needed book. In explaining why the Holocaust happened, Dan McMillan explores not only the motives of Hitler and his fanatical followers, but also of the millions of ordinary Germans and other Europeans who shared responsibility for this tragedy. Beautifully written, persuasive, and often very touching, this book should be read by everyone who wants to understand how such a monstrous crime was possible.”
István Deák, Seth Low Professor Emeritus, Columbia University, author of Essays on Hitler’s Europe

This is one of those rare books that is accessible to the general reader while offering significant new perspectives to academic specialists.  I marveled at the richness and clarity of McMillan’s insights, his efficient syntheses of scholarly debates, and the intellectual depth of the questions he poses.  His arguments are thoughtful, well informed, and grounded in wide-ranging literature. This book deserves a broad audience.”
S. Jonathan Wiesen, Southern Illinois University, author of Creating the Nazi Marketplace

This is an outstanding book. Dan McMillan has provided a compelling explanation of why the Holocaust happened in prose that is elegant, vivid, engaging, and fully accessible. The first comprehensive essay on the causes of the Holocaust, this admirably concise book offers a remarkable combination of scholarly rigor, new perspectives, and keen insights delivered in a passionate moral voice. McMillan has made a powerful contribution to the way all of us—scholars and laypersons alike—understand the Holocaust.”
John Cox, Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Studies, University of North Carolina Charlotte, author of Circles of Resistance: Jewish, Leftist, and Youth Dissidence in Nazi Germany