January 09, 1997
University Gazette


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Goldhagen Wins German Prize for Holocaust Book

By Debra Bradley Ruder

Gazette Staff

Daniel J. Goldhagen, associate professor of government and social studies, has been honored by a prestigious German journal for his recent and provocative book about the Holocaust.

The Journal for German and International Politics selected Goldhagen for the 1997 Democracy Prize because his book, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, has helped sharpen public understanding about the past during a period of radical change in Germany.

"Because of the penetrating quality and the moral power of his presentation, Daniel Goldhagen has greatly stirred the consciousness of the German public," the Journal said on Tuesday. "This is especially important in the present period of transition that is shaping the transformation of the Bonn Republic to the Berlin Republic."

Goldhagen's book, which is being published in 12 languages and has become a best-seller in the United States, Germany, and seven other countries, has drawn enormous praise, criticism, and media attention. It argues that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were ordinary Germans who were driven by virulent anti-Semitism to degrade, torture, and kill Jews. The volume, published in the U.S. last March, is based on Goldhagen's prize-winning Harvard doctoral dissertation.

Goldhagen will accept the Democracy Prize on March 10 in Bonn, where the "laudatio" speech will be given by Jürgen Habermas, the world-renowned German philosopher and social critic.

The roughly $6,400 prize is given occasionally and was last bestowed in 1990, on the democratic movement of the former East Germany.

In making its choice, the Journal -- a mainstream political and intellectual monthly -- said the ferocious debate sparked by Hitler's Willing Executioners provides a "striking example" that the past cannot be forgotten. The book, it noted, has underscored that there is no historical German "normalcy" to which Germany can return, and that "the founding principles of the Federal Republic of Germany" must continue to govern unified Germany.

It also praised Goldhagen for helping provide answers to the German descendants of the Holocaust, answers "which, as a rule, parents or grandparents had denied them. And the answers of German historiography have until now not been able to fill the gap," it said.

Goldhagen, who has been on leave from Harvard this term, said he is "delighted, thrilled, and, even more, honored and deeply moved" to receive the prize.

"When I wrote my book, I believed that it was only about how to understand and think about the past," he reflected. "More and more, I have come to realize that the book is also about the present and the future."


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College