Raul Hilberg, one of the earliest Holocaust scholars, died Saturday at the age of 81. He was perhaps best known for his book The Destruction of the European Jews (originally released as a three volume set).
Hilberg’s reputation was made through his meticulous examination of documents from every facet of German life – the Nazi government, bureaucrats, citizens, etc – which revealed that the Holocaust was not part of a single idea dreamed up by Hitler.
Though some critics said Mr. Hilberg had understated the impact of historic German anti-Semitism, his broad conclusions were based on painstaking research. He examined microfilm of thousands upon thousands of prosaic documents like train schedules and memorandums between minor officials.
“This head-against-the-wall technique is the only virtue I can parade without blushing,” he said last year when Germany gave him with its Order of Merit, the highest tribute it can pay to someone who is not a German citizen.
The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote that Mr. Hilberg’s book “reveals, methodically, fully and clearly, the development of both the technical and psychological process; the machinery and mentality whereby one whole society sought to isolate and destroy another, which, for centuries, had lived in its midst.”
Aside from The Destruction of European Jewry, Hilberg was also known for Perpetrators Victims Bystanders, The Politics of Memory, and Sources of Holocaust Research.