“Wendy Lower’s Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine is an outstanding case study, centered on the Zhytomyr District, of German policies in an occupied Western Ukrainian region.”
— Raul Hilberg, author of The Destruction of the European Jews
On 16 July 1941, Adolf Hitler convened top Nazi leaders at his headquarters in East Prussia to dictate how they would rule the newly occupied eastern territories. Ukraine, the “jewel” in the Nazi empire, would become a German colony administered by Heinrich Himmler’s SS and police, Hermann Göring’s economic plunderers, and a host of other satraps. Focusing on the Zhytomyr region and weaving together official German wartime records, diaries, memoirs, and personal interviews, Wendy Lower provides the most complete assessment available of German colonization and the Holocaust in Ukraine.
Although the Nazi leaders derived many of their colonial ambitions from European models, Lower argues, the Nazi takeover of Ukraine was an unprecedented attempt at empire-building in which violence, racism, anti-Semitism, and militarism pervaded all aspects of everyday life. Zhytomyr, a significant forward base for the Nazi elite, also served as the site of Himmler’s experimental ethnic German colony Hegewald, where campaigns of destruction and genocide were perpetrated in the name of progress.
Midlevel “managers,” Lower demonstrates, played major roles in mass murder, and locals willingly participated in violence and theft. Lower puts names and faces to local perpetrators, bystanders, beneficiaries, as well as resisters. She argues that Nazi actions in the region evolved from imperial arrogance and ambition; hatred of Jews, Slavs, and Communists; careerism and pragmatism; greed and fear. In her analysis of the murderous implementation of Nazi “race” and population policy in Zhytomyr, Lower shifts scholarly attention from Germany itself to the eastern outposts of the Reich, where the regime truly revealed its core beliefs, aims, and practices.
“Wendy Lower’s Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine is among the first studies of German occupation policies in Ukraine based on newly available documents. Focusing on the Zhytomyr region—where Adolf Hitler’s headquarters were located in summer 1942—this excellent book reconstructs the regime’s attempt to implement its colonial vision by murdering the Jewish population, enslaving the Ukrainians, and transforming the local ethnic Germans into the new Master Race of this rich agricultural region... One can only hope that Wendy Lower’s book will eventually reach Ukrainian readers.”
— Omer Bartov, Times Literary Supplement
“Lower presents an extremely important addition to our knowledge of the eastern front in the Second World War. By treating the Holocaust and German colonization policies at the local level, Lower presents social history as the consequence of political history. The ‘bottom-up’ and the ‘top-down’ perspectives are beautifully integrated here.”
— Timothy Snyder, Yale University
“Wendy Lower’s book ... is a model regional study that both vividly captures the details of local experience and throws light on broader issues. Alongside a succinct and perceptive analysis of the continuities and particularities of Nazi colonialism and empire-building ‘in the East,’ Lower portrays the devastating consequences for Jews, Ukrainians, and ethnic Germans of the lethal Nazi combination of utopian illusion and policies of unfettered exploitation and destruction.”
— Christopher Browning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“First-rate….an important contribution to the existing scholarship….In addition to incorporating a broad range of secondary sources, Lower expertly leverages an impressive collection of primary sources…. to present a detailed and nuanced picture of the occupation in the Zhytomyr region during the period 1941–1944, including the everyday experiences of Jews, non-Jewish Ukrainians, the ethnic German population, and the various agencies and organizations of the German administration. Her depiction of the issues, challenges, opportunities, and dangers faced by each of these groups at the grass-roots level constitutes one of the major strengths of the work.
“Lower also traces the relationship of specific Nazi initiatives in the region to their broader historical and contemporary influences….Ultimately, Lower’s description and analysis of actors and events at the local level provides the greatest insight into the realities of the everyday experiences of occupied and occupier.... Her analysis of the changing roles and attitudes among the various Ukrainian nationalist groups is especially noteworthy, as is her evaluation of the relations between Ukrainians, ethnic Germans, and Jews....
“Lower’s examination of collaboration among the various German agencies and organizations tasked with carrying out the destruction of the region’s Jewish population is especially interesting.... In the end, Lower’s excellent study offers important insights into the nature of National Socialist racial visions and efforts to transform colonial fantasy into reality, as well as into the tragic consequences for the Jewish and non-Jewish populations of Ukraine.”
— Edward B. Westermann, United States Air Force Academy, Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Wendy Lower is research fellow and lecturer at the department of Eastern European history at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. She is a former Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies Research Fellow (1999–2000) and director of Visiting Scholars Programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.