The Abnormality of the Normal: Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Vol. 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939, New York: HarperCollins, 1997, 436 pp.
Saul Friedländer’s historical reconstruction of the prewar period emphasizes the primacy of Hitler’s role, tracing all early anti-Jewish measures undertaken by the regime, to a symbolic statement of a kind to be decoded in the context of what he terms “redemptive anti-Semitism,” a peculiar brand formed out of the convergence of biological antisemitism, closely associated with eugenics theories and the quasi-scientific study of race, and the visionary, pseudo-religious type which revolved around the sacred myth of the Aryan race. The force of the presentation lies more in the precise and multifaceted evocation of the period, than in the provision of any revolutionary new explanation. Friedländer sets out to integrate the story of the persecutors, which forms the backbone of the main chronological plot, with various themes taken from the experience of the victims; and indeed, some of the most poignant passages in his book derive their special effect from the juxtaposition of different levels of reality with its disjunctive perception by the persecutors and their victims. However, in the opinion of this reviewer, Friedländer’s masterly account of the early years of Nazi rule fails to do justice to the collective experience of the German Jews as an alienated ethnic minority and to their organized attempt to cope with their predicament.