According to Josef Joffe, foreign editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German historian Ernst Nolle once asked at a Harvard seminar whether anyone present could find the idea of the "Final Solution" in history before Hitler. Since no one answered, he drew the attention of his audience to the work of Marx and the concept of annihilation of the bourgeoisie as a class.
Writing in a recent issue of Encounter, Mr. Joffe recalls:
By now, puzzlement had frozen into strained silence, and the American scholar Eric Goldhagen, a survivor of the Holocaust, tried a bit of friendly irony: "Professor Nolte, when Fiorello LaGuardia [New York's mayor] overwhelmed his political opponents, the Democrats, in the elections of 1932, the New York Times quoted him in a banner headline: 'We Really Murdered Them.' Herr Nolte, he did not mean it literally."
Mr. Joffe does not record the incautious professor's reply, adding didactically that he "did not get the point then, nor has he apparently accepted the distinction between metaphor and mechanized mass murder ever since." Quite obviously, the distinction exists, as do other distinctions—between (Marxist) theory and (Marxist) practice, for instance—and one doubts that the man whom Mr. Joffe describes as "a Heidegger disciple who favors 'metaphysical history'"...