BONN — His is no ordinary book signing at Bouvier's, Bonn's leading bookstore. The author is Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. The German edition of his "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust," has been one of the surprise bestsellers here over the past year, with sales pushing 200,000.
It's not exactly beach reading: It makes the case that the Nazi horrors were perpetrated not just by a relatively small group of Hitler's minions, but by a virtual army of willing accomplices, ordinary citizens whose thinking was so polluted by the anti-Semitism endemic in their society that they murdered with positive enthusiasm.
The Goldhagen phenomenon is the latest chapter in the German saga known as "coming to terms with the past." And the book signing, with its hordes of (mostly) youngish admiring autograph seekers, as well as the undertone of tension, as represented by Mr. Goldhagen's silent bodyguard, is a good illustration of this phenomenon.
The release of the American edition of the book last spring touched off a huge academic and public debate here. But Goldhagen waited until the book appeared in German before answering his critics.
Now the independent Journal for German and International Politics, in Bonn, has awarded him its Democracy Prize, last awarded in 1990 to Brbel Bohley and Wolfgang Ullmann, the human rights activists who helped bring down communist East Germany.
Commenting on what the German experience teaches about the capacity of societies, as well as individuals, to change and progress, Goldhagen says, "The history of Germany is an incredibly hopeful story. Just as individuals rethink important aspects of what they do as they live their lives ... so too can this be done by societies.... And Germany, the Federal Republic, is the shining example of this."