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Print Price: $62.50

312 pp.


Publication date:
January 2002

Imprint: OUP US

Mirrors of Destruction

War, Genocide, and Modern Identity

Omer Bartov

Mirrors of Destruction examines the relationship between total war, state-organized genocide, and the emergence of modern identity. Here, Omer Bartov demonstrates that in the twentieth century there have been intimate links between military conflict, mass murder of civilian populations, and the definition and categorization of groups and individuals.

These connections were most clearly manifested in the Holocaust, as the Nazis attempted to exterminate European Jewry under cover of a brutal war and with the stated goal of creating a racially pure Aryan population and Germanic empire. The Holocaust, however, can only be understood within the context of the century's predilection for applying massive and systematic methods of destruction to resolve conflicts over identity. To provide the context for the "Final Solution," Bartov examines the changing relationships between Jews and non-Jews in France and Germany from the outbreak of World War I to the present.

Rather than presenting a comprehensive history, or a narrative from a single perspective, Bartov views the past century through four interrelated prisms. He begins with an analysis of the glorification of war and violence, from its modern birth in the trenches of World War I to its horrifying culmination in the presentation of genocide by the SS as a glorious undertaking. He then examines the pacifist reaction in interwar France to show how it contributed to a climate of collaboration with dictatorship and mass murder. The book goes on to argue that much of the discourse on identity throughout the century has had to do with identifying and eliminating society's "elusive enemies" or "enemies from within." Bartov concludes with an investigation of modern apocalyptic visions, showing how they have both encouraged mass destructions and opened a way for the reconstruction of individual and collective identifies after a catastrophe.

Written with verve, Mirrors of Destruction is rich in interpretations and theoretical tools and provides a new framework for understanding a central trait of modern history.


  • "Bartov widely casts his scholarly net to illuminate the connection between military forces and genocide. In addition to his impressive familiarity with traditional historical scholarship and archival sources, he examines pertinent films and novels....this work is stimulatingly thoughtful and passionate, and its documentary accretion of evidence serves to make it a solid general reference.--"Choice
  • ...his insights about the Great War, the Holocaust, and public memory makes Mirrors of Destruction an important contribution to the literature...--History
  • ...this work is stimulatingly thoughtful and passionate, and its documentary accretion of evidence serves to make it a solid general reference....--Choice
  • "What does it mean to `come to terms with the Holocaust?' ....Bartov brings a prodigious amount of reading, intelligence, and critical energy to [this question]....To his credit, [he] rejects the mystifications that one often finds in writing on the Holocaust--for instance, the notion that it is fundamentally inexplicable, or that only survivors can grasp its deeper significance....In his conclusion [he] explores new material, taking on new polemics and problems and offering a brilliant analysis of the strange case of Binjamin Wilkomirski, a Swiss writer who falsely claimed to be a Holocaust survivor in his memoir `Fragments.'"--The New York Times Book Review
  • "This remarkable collection of essays is essential to anyone concerned with the Holocaust and the destructive intellectual trends that have sliced across the twentieth century."--The Journal of Military History
  • "Based on wide reading and reflection, Omer Bartov's new book is a vitally important comparative contribution to understanding apocalypticism, utopianism, and attempts to refashion humanity by violence. An exceptionally disturbing and powerful book whose imaginative insights remind us that History is not a simple-minded choice between 'facts' and 'fictions,' but an attempt to understand what it is to be human."--Michael Burleigh, Raoul Wallenberg Chair of Human Rights, Rutgers University
  • "With clarity, intelligence, and passion, Omer Bartov demonstrates how the experience and memory of violence on a massive scale have shaped the twentieth century. In a sweeping analysis that takes him from literature and film to autobiography and high politics, he locates the significance of the Holocaust in the larger context of genocide and war in the modern period, reminding us that Mirrors of Destruction from the past are ones in which we can still recognize ourselves. A major contribution to our understanding of the multiple meanings of the Holocaust, this book is a powerful reminder of how relevant the study of that event remains to an understanding of individual and national identity in the present." --Robert Moeller, University of California, Irvine
  • "Bartov's are powerfully emotive and beautifully written essays about the ways in which modern society and human consciousness have been transformed by the Holocaust. Concentrating on the French, German, and Israeli experiences, the book carefully peels back the layers of historical memory in the twentieth century and explores the Holocaust's meaning for all of us." --Norman Naimark, Stanford University
  • "Bartov's work has always been characterized by its thoughtfulness and independence, and here he combines archival research with an interdisciplinary critique of the literature drawn from widely diverse fields. He focuses on the links of social, cultural, and military history and offers particularly interesting insights into Europe's two major wars in this century and their relationship to the Holocaust. This is history painted in large strokes, and anyone trying to understand how and why the promise of the twentieth century went horribly wrong should read this book." --Robert Gellately, Strassler Professor in Holocaust History, Clark University
  • "Omer Bartov's works have established him as a meticulous archival scholar with a broad theoretical grasp. In Mirrors of Destruction Bartov continues to develop these qualities, bringing together his knowledge of the troops on the German-Soviet front and his skill as a literary and film critic."Holocaust and Genocide Studies
  • "This thoughtful, erudite, and above all disturbing volume is both a useful compilation of some of Bartov's works and a series of pointers for the future scholarly contextualization of war and genocide." - - Holocaust and Genocide Studies
  • "A penetrating, wide and subtle study of the twentieth century mass violence." - - H-Net Reviews
  • "At their best, the essays that make up Mirrors of Destruction provide moments of great eloquence and insight. Mirrors of Destruction provokes one to think with and against it: one cannot ask for more from a book." - - Modernism/Modernity

1. Fields of Glory
2. Grand Illusions
3. Elusive Enemies
4. Apocalyptic Visions

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Omer Bartov is John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History at Brown University and has written on the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and modern France. His books include Murder in Our Midst: The Holocaust, Industrial Killing, and Representation; Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich; and The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare.

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Special Features

  • From the author of Murder in Our Midst, which won the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History
  • Provides a new approach to understanding the Holocaust
  • "Powerfully emotive and beautifully written essays about the ways in which modern society and human consciousness have been transformed by the Holocaust." --Norman Maimark, Stanford University