The title of Edward Westermann's new book, Drunk on Genocide: Alcohol and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany (Cornell University Press, published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2021), suggests that it is about the use of alcohol by perpetrators of the Holocaust. And it is. Westermann documents extensively how alcohol served to bind perpetrators together and to help them celebrate, conduct and perhaps forget mass murder. The amount of alcohol consumed as part of the German war is astonishing.
But Westermann's book is broader than its title suggests. At the heart of Westermann's examination is the way in which commonly held understandings of masculinity fueled violence--symbolic, sexual and physical. He explores the way hypermasculinity led to soldiers to humiliate Jews and other victims as a way of feminizing them. He examines the extensive trophy-taking practiced by Germans in the East. He outlines how widespread sexual violence was. And more.
Westermann uses a wide variety of primary sources ranging from photos to diaries to interviews to understand the behaviors and beliefs of perpetrators. It is a remarkably challenging book to read. But it is a necessary one.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University.
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