Evans April 1994
The Third Reich
"Why was there a revolution in Nazi policy towards the Jews in 1941?"
The controversy that rages to this day about the Nazis' implementation of their so-
called 'final solution' is politically and emotionally highly-charged; unlike the majority of
historical debates it is not limited to groups of argumentative academics whose
quarrels take place away from the outside world. The topic was a hugely contentious
issue during the cold-war with all the questions it throws up not simply about the
nature of Germany itself, but also about the very basis of modern, western civilized
society. Did the Nazis take the ideals of modernism and logic, shaped by centuries of
intellectual and industrial development, to their obvious conclusion?
Or did the Nazis simply capitalise on the hatred and mistrust that characterised the
first half of this century's history and engage in a profoundly anti-modern counter-
revolution that had the murder of one-third of the world's Jews as one of many by-
products of the period. In the context of the cold-war, the subject in some ways was a
political football, used by diverse figures from both within and without the academic
community for their own ends, not least the effort to create a sense of national-identity
for both the Federal Republic and the DDR. The ending of the cold-war removed
some of the political baggage from the argument, but in many ways the re-unification
of Germany makes this effort even more urgent and thus potentially error-prone. After
all, many historians (by no means all Jewish and often German) have indicated when
writing about the subject of the 'Holocaust' that, in their view, German national-identity
does, and indeed should, end with Auschwitz.a
Thankfully this is not an argument I have to address directly, although my conclusions
inevitably have their repercussions in a wider sense; after all, the murder of the Jews
remains arguably the single most significant event in a century that is all too abundant
with horrific competitors for that title. Indeed, in many ways the explanation of the
enactment of the 'final solution' can and should have two answers - a precise one and
a general one. The first answer goes a long way to resolving the second, and this is
my primary motive; in contemporary humanistic terms if not in strictly historical criteria,
I believe that answering the general question of how the 'final solution' could be
allowed to happen is more fundamental than why, although of course the two
explanations are inter-dependent. For that reason I shall not be confining my
argument solely to the year 1941 in question, but rather shall attempt to relate the
events of that fateful year in a wider context of the Nazis' and the Germans' attitudes
towards not just Jews and their other victims, but to their outlook on life and
a For reasons articulately expressed by Laqueur, Mayer, Evans and others I shall
avoid using the term 'Holocaust', although I appreciate the value, culturally as well as
academically, of a single word to encapsulate the topic.
government as well before and, for reasons that will become clear, after 1941 as well.
By doing this I hope to illustrate how the explanation of the 'road to Auschwitz' is a
complex mosaic of factors that combined to produce a fateful conclusion that
inevitably and appropriately has resonant meaning today.
The key argument that surrounds the interpretation of the origins of the 'final solution'
is that between 'intent' - largely on Hitler's and other leading Nazis' part - and 'function'
and 'structure'. Ultimately, this debate does not promote understanding about the 'final
solution', but simply results in polemical polarizations of which the Historikerstreit of
the 1980s is symptomatic. Whilst it was an undoubtably interesting and valid debate
(and even more so in hindsight of re-unification that occurred shortly after), the
impression is given that some participants, notably Ernst Nolte, were producing
arguments mainly for their own sake -to justify their existence (and one might even say
their pay-cheque from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and elsewhere) by saying
something new and apparently innovative despite the fact that such arguments were in
most cases based on the flimsiest of evidence. As Browning aptly put it, the debate
was 'politically charged and emotionally laden, but historically barren', invoking much
heat but little light in terms of fresh evidence or research.1 Until new evidence appears
- and it may still, particularly now that access to previously restricted Soviet archives is
possible - historians must base their arguments on what can be largely proven.
The polarization of the debate on the 'final solution' indicates that a black and white
conclusion, one way or the other, can be achieved. The reality is that the origins of
genocide lies, like the role of the 'final solution' in the Nazi state itself, in a much greyer
sphere. The fact is that both arguments go too far in opposite directions, whereas in
fact they can complement each other when expressed intelligently. Thus whilst the
argument from 'intent' (the 'Hitlerist' interpretation) is persuasive, it lets itself down by
suggesting that Hitler, from 1918 or 1923-1924 on had the physical destruction of the
Jews not only in mind, but also as his primary will to power, when the large-scale
emigration of Jews encouraged by the Nazis during the 1930s is obvious evidence to
the contrary. Conversely, the 'functionalist' argument similarly falls down under careful
study of available evidence, especially chronology. The debate axiomatically suggests
that only one interpretation can be correct; taking both arguments in extreme terms,
this is true. However, as with most historical arguments, the most satisfactory
response to both points of view lies in qualification: 'yes, but...'
The 'Hilterist' argument cannot be discounted just because the hard evidence of long-
term intent is missing; it just appears that the wrong question is being asked: They
stress how the 'final solution' evolved mainly in terms of Hitler himself and his
contribution.b However, it appears to be germane to turn the question around
somewhat, and interpret how events would not have transpired without him. In this
fashion one can accept the bulk of the 'functionalist' argument yet still incorporate
bThere is of course a danger of an over-generalisation of individual historians'
views, but space or purpose does not permit any in-depth analysis of their various
arguments. "They" in general terms comprise Dawidowicz, Fleming, and Jäckel.
Hitler as a central figure within the process towards the 'final solution': put simply, it
does not matter that the Nazi system of government was chaotic or that Hitler rarely
meant what he said; Hitler nevertheless set the agenda and ensured that when the
policy towards the Jews evolved towards its murderous conclusion, that finale was an
option because the head of the Nazi state not only allowed it, but had on constant
occasions alluded to desiring it beforehand, albeit in nebulous terms, both during the
Kampfzeit and after his rise to power:
"If at the beginning of the War and during the War twelve or fifteen thousand of
these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas..., the
sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain."2
"Europe cannot find peace until the Jewish problem has been solved... if the
international financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the
nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing
of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish
race in Europe!"3
These two passages are Hitler's most renowned on the 'Jewish question'. They
should be qualified by noting that in the first extract, from Mein Kampf, Hitler only
speaks of 12-15,000 Jews, rather than the 6m whose lives the Nazis ultimately
claimed, although the reference to poison gas as early as 1925 is chilling. Of the
second passage, it should be placed into the context of a long rambling, ranting
speech to the Reichstag on 30 January 1939 lasting several hours of which the
'Jewish question' only occupied a few minutes; a European-wide 'solution' that he
appears to envisage was hardly conceivable until the dramatic military victories of
summer 1940. What is of great significance is Hitler's automatic link between the
Jews and war; in the second passage, he excludes the possibility of peace with the
'Jewish question' unresolved. In Hitler's terms, the Germans did not 'lose' the First
World War in the conventional military sense, but lost it on the home front because of
the alleged Jewish insurgents who propagated socialism and ultimately Bolshevism
and planted the seeds of dissent that led to strikes and the collapse of support for the
As he confirms in his 'Last Will and Testament', he was determined that Germany
should not make the same 'mistake' again. Vital to the understanding of Hitler's view
of war vis-à-vis the 'Jewish question' is determining his attitude to war: Was it a
means to an end, or an end in itself? What was the 'end'? There is persuasive
evidence that Hitler regarded war as the ultimate zenith of his dogma. Violence was a
crucial feature of the Nazi ideology, and in combination with his Darwinian outlook - in
which he regarded the struggle between peoples as the ultimate test of inner national
and racial strength - it is clear that he regarded war as a positive force that accelerated
the process of human natural selection, as he illustrated in a speech to Generals on
22 June 1944: "War is therefore an immutable law of life, the essential prerequisite to
the natural survival of the fittest and the method whereby the unfit are eliminated."4
His visions were apocalyptic, and this went hand in hand with two other dominant
features of his weltanschauung, the concepts of 'sacrifice' and race; Hitler was not a
conventional nationalist: He did not view international relations in terms of nation-
states, but of races. Thus, when he spoke of war it should be noted that his 'war' does
not end with war against Poland, Russia, Britain, or the USA. The Jews were an
'enemy' in their own right and, because of their supra-national character and general
perceived ubiquity, were a particularly insidious one. When speaking with the
NSDAP's race 'expert', Walter Gross, in 1935, Hitler spoke of the fact that in case of
"war on all fronts", he was "prepared for all the consequences."5 One might in fact say
that he actively looked forward to such consequences. He clearly revelled in war, and
his 'hands-on' direction of the war, especially after he replaced his army commander-
in-chief von Brauchitsch in December 1941, is well-known.
Hitler's conscious or sub-conscious link of the 'Jewish question' with the war is clear.
In his Reichstag speech of 30 January 1942 he refers to his 'extermination' speech of
30 January 1939 as having occurred on 1 September 1939 - the outbreak of war.
Himmler, whose SS and Police apparatus was responsible for enacting the 'final
solution', on numerous occasions referred to both speeches, particularly the first, in
justification throughout the war, but is clearly similarly confused by his master's
chronology, as shown by his speech to Generals at Sonthofen on 5 May 1944: "The
Führer announced to the Jews at the beginning of the war or before the war... the
extermination of the Jews."6 The issue of finding a solution to the 'Jewish question'
was not the only issue where the war appeared to justify radical options. In the
'unofficial' decree of October 1939 that he issued giving wide-ranging powers to the
officials responsible for implementing the 'euthanasia' ('T4') campaign, he similarly
back-dated the authorization to 1 September 1939.7 In 1935, Hitler had referred to the
'euthanasia' issue as being "more easily solved in war-time... in the event of war, he
[Hitler] intended to solve the problem of the asylums in a radical way."8
With the 'euthanasia' campaign, the war provided not only economic 'justification' for
the campaign, but also opportunities for camouflage, as shown by a letter from one
'centre' to a concerned relative in June 1941 shows: "The shortage of personnel as a
result of the war situation and the resultant increase in the work load obliges us to
request you politely to refrain from making further enquiries [about your murdered
relative]."9 The opportunities that the war offered for locating a solution to the 'Jewish
question' were similar, as Goebbels - on the radical wing of the party, especially on
Jewish policy, makes clear: "Fortunately a whole series of possibilities presents itself
for us in wartime that would be denied us in peacetime."10 The war presented great
opportunities for enacting the 'final solution': international public-opinion was no longer
a consideration, and the victories in the east, first in Czechoslovakia and Poland, later
in Russia, left few legal restraints on any possible radical policies. The conduct of the
brutal war in the east additionally ensured that any policies directly against the Jews
could be easily covered up, and the Nazis constantly equated the Jews with the
partisan war that rapidly escalated first in occupied Yugoslavia, and later in Russia.
The outbreak of war in 1939 brought in much greater restrictions on the Jewish
population in Germany, which involved curfews, limits to movement, and new food
restrictions, none of which were applied to the 'Aryan' population. However, the war,
and in particular the continuing war against Britain, brought to an end the centre-piece
of Nazi Jewish policy of the late 1930s, namely the encouragement of emigration.
As early as June 1939, Heydrich who had effectively appropriated the primary
responsibility for the 'Jewish question', wrote that the emigration 'campaign' was
showing signs of faltering "first of all because of the failure on the part of the Jewish
Reichsvereinigung [supreme body]; secondly because of the growing tendency for
other countries to lock their doors against immigration."11 The victory over France in
June 1940 appeared to offer a possible solution in the shape of using the French
colony in Madagascar as a giant resettlement area for the Jews of not only Germany,
but of the occupied territories as well, and it is in this context which the process of
ghettoization of the Jews in occupied Poland should be seen. This was not, as
'intentionalist' historians have argued, simply a 'smoke-screen' for a coming 'final
solution' through mass-murder. As can be seen from the available documents, the
Madagascar proposal was seriously considered, especially by the German Foreign
Office, which was aware that during the war its traditional role of diplomacy only had a
limited function. It seems that even a prospective Governor of the proposed colony
However, although the fate of deportation to Madagascar looks almost rosy in
comparison with the actual reality of the gas-chamber, it should be noted that the
island was nowhere near any of the traditional Jewish heartlands of Europe, the Near
East, or America; the prospects for prosperity on that place were limited to say the
least; finally, if Madagascar was not to be a giant extermination camp, under a
German administration it certainly would have resembled a giant ghetto,
concentration-camp even, and as events in Poland at the time were showing, life was
extremely cheap under such conditions. Perhaps more significantly, and less
hypothetically, the Madagascar plan was the first time that the Nazis considered a
scheme for solving the 'Jewish question' that was pan-European in concept, thus
setting a grim precedent for the future. However, continuing war with Britain and
growing hostility from the USA (as exemplified by the 'lend-lease' deal with Britain of
March 1941), both of which had far stronger surface fleets than Germany, precluded
the execution of the plan beyond the planning stage. This was not the only problem
that the war brought for reaching a 'final solution'; the most obvious is that with every
victory the Nazis incorporated more and more Jews into their territories.
The Anschluss, the incorporation of the Sudeten, and the occupation of the rest of
Czechoslovakia brought 300,000 more Jews; the defeat of Poland and later the
capture of the Soviet-controlled part brought 3m Jews, and European Russia was
thought to have contained as many as 4m Jews. As long as the Nazis' perceived a
need for a solution to this 'question', the continuing victories only brought new
problems for the Nazis' to solve. However, the victories did offer Hitler an opportunity
to enact a policy that he had desired at least from his 30 January 1939 speech -
namely the possibility to pursue a 'solution' on a European-wide scale.
It is often said that in terms of domestic policy at least, Hitler's own role is limited;
historians note his reluctance to make decisions, and he preferred that the ranks of
conflicting personalities and agencies should come to a solution for him which he
would later agree to. Historians have in particular noted this in regard to Jewish policy
during the 1930s, declaring that Hitler's own role in the making of policies appears very
limited. However, there appears to be a generally agreed consensus that Hitler was
far more active in the field of foreign-policy, an area which perhaps more appealed to
his sense of being 'defender of the German people'. As we have seen, the outbreak
of war in 1939 - a move which he and his entourage instigated themselves, with no
pressure from 'below' other than in strictly abstract terms (the forces which are
regarded as being so important in the 'cumulative radicalisation' of Jewish policies
before the war) - brought a great radicalisation of policies against not just the Jews of
the newly occupied territories, but also the Jews of Germany. There was similarly little
pressure from 'below' to go to war against Russia; historians simply regard
'Barbarossa' as Hitler attempting to fulfil his dream of Lebensraum in the east that he
had first written of in Mein Kampf, and then constantly referred to ever since.
However, 'What German ever wanted to settle in Russia?'13 Hitler regarded Soviet
Bolshevism as a Jewish invention, and he constantly saw the Jews as originators of
other factors that he hated, chiefly internationalism, democracy, and pacifism.
Goebbels, at the time of the April 1933 Boycott of Jewish shops, had floated the idea
of using the Jews as hostages for ensuring a positive response from abroad to Hitler's
revanchist territorial demands. In other words, there was a distinct foreign-policy angle
to his anti-semitism. In strictly qualitative terms, the 'final solution' does not begin with
the first systematic gassings at Chelmno in December 1941, or the first shootings of
German Jews outside Riga in late November 1941, or the destruction of the Lublin
ghetto in March 1942, or even the first experimental gassings of Soviet POWs at
Auschwitz in September 1941. Nor even does it begin when the 'final solution' was
systematised and coordinated at the Wannsee conference of January 1942. The 'final
solution', as it ultimately transpired, begins with the most fateful decision that Hitler
made in his foreign policy - his invasion of Russia on 22 June 1941.
In March 1941 Hitler had spoken of the coming campaign (the actual execution of
which was delayed, perhaps fatally, by the need to bail out Mussolini's disastrous
Greek venture and to act against the overthrow of the pro-German Yugoslavian
government) as a "war of extermination", and called on his military commanders to
"make the sacrifice of over-coming their scruples."14 This broad directive, which does
not mention Jews in particular, was supplemented by OKW - the high command of the
armed forces - with an order of 19 May 1941 concerning 'the behaviour of the troops in
Russia' in which the troops were exhorted to take "ruthless and energetic action
against Bolshevik agitators, guerillas, saboteurs, and Jews, and the total elimination of
all active or passive resistance."15 There was also a provision for an amnesty for
German troops committing 'ideologically-motivated' acts, and this was followed up by
the notorious 'Commissar-order' of 6 June 1941, which singled out Bolshevik officials
for immediate liquidation. Two days earlier, OKW had issued another directive
concerning 'the conduct of the troops in Russia', in which the coming struggle was
perceived to demand "ruthless and energetic measures against Bolshevik agitators,
guerrillas, saboteurs, Jews... "16 As in Poland in 1939, it was decided that the 'political'
(as opposed to military) side of the campaign should (could?) not be left to the regular
Wehrmacht, and thus the Einsatzgruppen, under the ultimate command of Heydrich,
was re-constituted. In Poland, the Einsatzgruppen had claimed 16,000 civilians' lives,
of which 5,000 or so were Jews. By the end of October 1941, the Einsatzgruppen had
murdered approximately 250,000 Jews.17 The 'revolution' in the Nazis' Jewish policy
was well underway. The Einsatzgruppen went on to claim 2m Jewish lives, roughly
the same number as were claimed in the gas-chambers of the largest death-centre, at
Auschwitz. Nor were their victims all Poles or Russians; it is significant that the lives
of the first transport of German Jews, mostly from Berlin and other cities, were claimed
by the men of the Einsatzgruppen, in this case Einsatzgruppen A under SS
Brigadeführer Stahlecker. Some historians have mentioned that the activities of these
units against the Jews should be seen in the light of the chaotic partisan warfare that
existed on much of the eastern front during much of the period 1941-1945, and that
killing Jews proved to be simpler than the militarily more urgent, yet more difficult, task
of hunting down and killing partisans. However, as the above directives show, the
Jews were listed as separate targets along with 'guerrillas, saboteurs' etc. Even the
Nazis knew that German Jews newly arrived from Berlin could hardly constitute
The 'war of extermination' that Hitler launched against Russia goes a long way to
explaining the transformation of a policy that formally had emigration and then
deportation at its centre, but was rapidly replaced by slaughter on a massive scale.
However, the concept of the interdependency of war and the execution of the 'final
solution' has of course one obvious shortcoming: Why did the mass-murder of the
Jews not begin in September 1939? Why, in the case of the Polish Jews, was there a
stay of execution of almost 3 years? The role of the army is significant; there was no
order for "a war of extermination" in Poland, and General Blaskowitz, notably, twice
complained vehemently of the Einsatzgruppen excesses there.18 His complaints were
nullified by Brauchitsch, and he lost his command shortly afterwards. Two years later,
chastened by Hitler's success and driven by his politically-inspired orders, the
Wehrmacht not only accommodated him but also actively implicated themselves in his
criminal-orders by not just agreeing to independence on the part of the SS in areas
that would 'traditionally' have been controlled by them, but also involving their own
troops in the murder process.
Put simply, in 1939 the Nazis did not feel that their position, internally or externally,
was sufficiently secure to support a measure that had probably been envisaged early
on, even before the war. Göring stated on 12 November 1938 that "If the Reich were
to become embroiled in an international conflict in the foreseeable future, it goes
without saying that we here in Germany would also consider it our first task to engage
in a major settling of accounts with the Jews."19 It is inconceivable, particularly in the
light of the Kristallnacht pogrom that had just occurred with the deaths of
approximately 100 Jews, that Göring's 'major settlement' was only in terms of enforced
emigration, deportation or economic dismemberment. Some historians , notably
Mommsen, have considered that there was a strong economic motive behind the
Jewish policies of the Nazis during the 1930s, and also behind the enactment of the
'final solution'. They note that Göring's power in the Jewish issue derived chiefly from
his Four Year Plan economics administration and the economic side of the
'Aryanization' policy that he promoted so heavily - he was the man who progressively
gave the SS more and more primary responsibility for the 'Jewish question',
culminating in the infamous directive to Heydrich of 31 July 1941:
"To supplement the task that was assigned to you on 24 January 1939... I
hereby charge you with making all necessary preparations with regard to
organizational, technical and material matters for bringing about a complete
solution of the Jewish question within the German sphere of influence in
Bearing in mind that this order led directly, in organisational terms, to the Wannsee
conference - Heydrich both included copies of the authorization in his invitations to the
meeting and referred to it there - the argument concludes that there was a significant
economic side to the 'final solution'.21
At first sight, there are strong economic motivations behind certain aspects of the
Nazis' Jewish policies; there were controls in place during the 1930s to appropriate
the property and other wealth of Jews who emigrated. 'Aryan' businesses were the
obvious beneficiaries of the vacuum left by Jews who were progressively being
economically or physically (through emigration, and then later deportation) removed
from the mainstream economy. In November 1938 Göring ordered the payment of a
'contribution of RM 1 billion to the German Reich' by 'Jews of German nationality.'22
During the war, the German war-machine profited mightily from the slave-labour of
Jews in ghettos and labour-camps; there were major industrial facilities at Auschwitz I,
of which the most notable is the IG Farben installation.
The Jewish ghetto sited at Lodz, historically the centre of Polish heavy-industrial and
textile industry, was a major producer of uniforms and armaments for the German
forces, and it is this factor which almost certainly contributed to the fact that this
particular ghetto survived for so long before it was liquidated between June and
August 1944 and the vast bulk of its occupants deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and
death. There are parallels with the Nazi policies of the 1930s; laws limiting the scope
of Jews in the economic sphere did not come to complete fruition until 1938 and
before then 'legislation was generally employed only to assure continued Jewish
participation in critical aspects of the economy, or more precisely, to protect the
economy from disruptive measures.'23 The Justice Minister, Guertener, had stressed
that the Nuremburg Laws did not affect Jewish economic activity in March 1936, and
in November 1937 the Economics Ministrya acted to defend the Jews' continued role in
the economy.24 In March 1941 Goebbels had written that "the Jews, it turns out,
cannot be evacuated from Berlin, because 30,000 of them are working in armaments
a Schacht, who as Economics Minister frequently protested at the detrimental effect
that Nazi anti-semitic policies had upon the economy, had been sent on enforced leave
at the beginning of September 1937 and was thus probably not responsible for this
However, all of these examples are of course exceptions, not the rule. Complaints
from the Economics and Justice ministries did little to halt the increasing economic
and general marginalisation of the Jews in Germany in the late 1930s. The fact that
many of the Jews of Berlin or Lodz worked in arms factories may have delayed their
fate, but did not save them.b Economic considerations in the 'final solution' were, as
Dr Bräutigam of the Ministry for the Eastern Territories put it on 18 December 1941,
"to be regarded as fundamentally irrelevant in the settlement of the problem."26 On 17
November 1941 the Jewish Cultural Association of Württemburg issued a circular to
'selected' Jews that,
"on the orders of the Secret State Police..., we are obliged to inform you that
you and the children mentioned above have been assigned to an
evacuation transport to the East... Employment, even in important plants, does
not provide exemption from the evacuation." [italics mine]27
The continued existence of the Lodz ghetto for so long shows of course that there was
not a necessarily uniform enforcement of such decrees, although to stress again, Lodz
was exceptional. Such directives obviously led to friction between those whose job it
was to ensure the continued smooth running of the German war-machine and those
whose task was to execute the 'final solution', and this was particularly true early-on it
appears, especially as such arguments were often delineated on the old Wehrmacht
versus SS rivalry. This was exemplified by the memorandum of General von
Gienanth, the Military Commander of the General Government, of 18 September
1942, in which he stressed the necessity of Jewish labour in arms factories there.28
The response from Himmler on 9 October was dogmatic and dismissive - Gienanth
was sacked within a fortnight29 , and the matter for all intents and purposes was
cleared up by a similarly unsympathetic OKW on 10 October:
"OKW is completely in agreement with the principle established by the
Reichsführer SS that all Jews employed by the armed forces in auxiliary
military services and in the armaments industries are to be replaced at
once by Aryan workers."
The message was unequivocal; it did not even carry a qualifying rider, such as 'as
soon as is operationally possible without major disruption'. These orders were to be
implemented at once. The Jews of course had an economic value even in death -
from the appropriation of the property and valuables they left behind to the gold-fillings
b There were some examples where Jews managed to survive the war under such
conditions however, either when the SS increasingly realised the value - rather late on
- of the labour-force in Himmler's own concentration-camp empire, or because of
sizable 'rule-bending' by local SS officials, usually on personal-finance as opposed to
humanitarian grounds, of whom Amon Goeth in Cracow is perhaps now the most
from their teeth, as shown, for example, by the economic statistics detailing the
plunder of Aktion Reinhard - the mass-murder of mainly Polish Jews at the
extermination-camps of Sobibor, Belzec, and Treblinka.31 However, in the context of
fighting a war in which the shortage of labour became more and more pressing and
ultimately necessitated the deportation of over 7m foreign slave-labourers to German
factories - where they made up nearly 20% of the economy's labour-force32 - the
murder of 6m Jews in strictly economic terms represented a wanton destruction of
human-resources of vast proportions. Of a total of more than 1m armaments workers
in von Gienanth's General Government, 30% were Jews.33 Moreover, the European-
wide co-ordination of deportations involved the considerable employment of limited
and war-strained transport assets, chiefly the railways. Just as this was formally
getting under way in December 1941, the Wehrmacht advance was grinding to a halt
before Moscow, not least because of major deficiencies and shortages in the railway
network.34 In no documents that I can locate do any leading perpetrators of the 'final
solution' comment on this apparent anomaly and the reason for this would seem clear:
The Nazis did not care - the war in their terms, at least since June 1941, was against
the Jews as well as the Soviet Union. Himmler described his order from Hitler on the
'final solution' as "military (soldatisch)"35; 'soldiers' at the concentration-camps were to
regard themselves as on the front-line.
The Nazis enacted the 'euthanasia' campaign in 1939 primarily because the victims
there were an economic burden to the state at a time of increasingly scarce resources.
Alive, the Jews were not only not an economic burden, but, as Lodz and elsewhere
showed, had a positive, if somewhat ironic, contribution to make to the Nazi war-
machine that far outweighed their value in death. With the 'euthanasia' campaign, the
Nazis' ideological motives complemented economic considerations. In the 'final
solution', the two factors were, in the final analysis, diametrically opposed to each
other. Despite the fact that, as Speer knew and illustrated full well, economic factors
between 1941 and 1945 meant the difference between winning and losing the war,
such considerations lost hands-down when faced with the Nazis' violent, racist, and
downright counter-productive creed, just as they had done during the 1930s. The
Jews were murdered because they were Jews, and to repeat Dr Bräutigam, any other
issues were 'fundamentally irrelevant.' Such was the irony of implementing a dogma
that had the theme of sacrifice as a key tenet.
Clearly then the Nazis were perfectly willing to let their anti-semitic ideology rule
supreme despite the pressures that the war imposed; however, as has been
observed already, there is significant evidence to suggest that the 'final solution' was
enacted because of the war, rather than in spite of it. This is not however a coherent
explanation on its own - the reasons why the Nazis took their violent anti-semitism to
its grimly logical conclusion under such conditions need to be considered. Hitler and
the Nazis had always seen the Jews in strictly abstract terms. The Nazis were aware
of how the Jewish question went some way to 'papering over the cracks' of the regime,
and for the party faithful it was in many ways a 'lightning-conductor', an issue in which
they could exercise the full rabid nature of their beliefs. Jews were always the Nazis'
primary scapegoat to explain the nation's problems. However, this abstraction went
further. Himmler said in a speech to SS Generals in Posen in 1943 that there were
"eighty million worthy Germans, and each one of them produces his decent Jew. It's
clear the others are swine, but this one is a fine Jew."37 Hitler himself apparently had
340 'fine Jews'38 on whose behalf he intervened and mostly saved from the measures
he was imposing on their kinsmen, including the Jewish doctor who had tended to his
mother up until her death in 1907.39 Even when the 'final solution' was approaching its
apogee in 1943, Hitler felt able to speak to Himmler of how, when he observed,
"this global conflict, in which once more the best blood of the white race is
being shed on both sides, time and again I must observe, to my great sorrow,
that the actual driving forces, the subversive elements of the nations on
earth, the real instigators of this war, as so often before, getting away
with it completely unscathed... Therefore, Himmler, I have after much
deliberation decided to blot out once and for all the biological bases of
Judaism, so that if the Aryan peoples emerge weakened from this conflict, at
least a crippling blow will have been dealt to those other forces. I am
determined, out of a higher responsibility, to translate this recognition of
mine into action, whatever the consequences."40
The evidence suggests that this meeting with Hitler occurred some time in the summer
of 1943, and thus in completely different war-time circumstances to those in which the
'final solution' was launched two years previously. There is clear evidence here that
there was an intent to kill the Jews out of revenge at least at this stage, and if the
murder of the Jews was not necessarily a war-aim at the beginning of the war, it was
certainly one by the end. The 'final solution' continued unabated throughout the war,
slowed only by the fact that 'supplies' of remaining Jews were being rapidly exhausted
by the relentless production lines of death, from the endeavours of the Einstazgruppen
to the death marches, from the 3m Jews of Poland to the 120 of the Aegean island of
Kos, from the 500,000 Jews of Hungary deported in the summer of 1944 before the
Russian advance to the last transport to Auschwitz of five (sic) Jews from Berlin in
Hitler, as shown by Mein Kampf, held the Jews primarily responsible for Germany
losing the First World War; not only was Hitler determined that they not be allowed to
play a similar 'role' in the Second, but were going to be actively sought after because
of all their perceived crimes, and these feelings were manifest well before the tide of
the war started to turn decisively against Germany. The April boycott of 1933 was
enacted partially in response to perceived efforts by 'international Jewry' to organise
boycotts against Germany. The Kristallnacht pogrom was organised in propagandistic
terms as a response to the murder of vom Rath in Paris; Göring wrote that it was also
an indignant response to "the rabble-rousing propaganda of international Jewry
against National Socialist Germany."41, an accusation that had little grounding in fact -
this was before Chaim Weizmann made his announcement in 1939 that the struggle
of the western democracies was "our struggle" too.
During the war there is evidence of the abstract, illogical terms of the Nazis' anti-
semitism and their desire for revenge. In October 1941 Field Marshal von Reichenau
attempted to justify the racial nature of not just the actions of the Einsatzgruppen
whose murders were carried out alongside his troops but also the actions that the
Wehrmacht itself was carrying out in accordance with the directives that preceded
'Barbarossa', explaining that "soldiers must show full understanding for the necessity
for the severe but just atonement being required of the Jewish subhumans."42 Frank,
the head of the General-Government, said on 16 December 1941 that "As an old
National Socialist, I must state that if the Jewish clan were to survive the war in
Europe, while we had sacrificed our best blood in defence of Europe, then this war
would only represent a partial success... I will only operate on the assumption that they
will disappear. They must go."43 Deportations of Jews from the Protectorate of
Bohemia and Moravia were accelerated sharply following the assassination of
Heydrich at the end of May 1942, despite the fact that, as well the Nazis' knew,a the
Jews had absolutely nothing to do with it and that it was an operation carried out by
British-based Czech agents directed, supplied, and transported by the British SOE.
The 'final solution' in Serbia effectively began as a response to the partisan warfare
that sprung up there after 'Barbarossa', with Jews becoming the victims of an absurd
reprisal-policy enacted by the Wehrmacht, where they demanded a ratio of 100 Jews
for every German soldier killed.
This was in spite of the fact that by the beginning of the uprising the vast majority of
adult male Jews were incarcerated and thus could hardly have been involved in events
that occurred in the mountains, producing the perverse situation of 'the predominantly
Austrian troops of the 718th division shooting refugee Austrian Jews in Sabac in
reprisal for Serbian partisan attacks on the German army.'44 The SS military
commander in Serbia perceived the anomaly, regarding the logic as "false, if one has
to be precise about it, that for murdered Germans, on whose account the ratio 1:100
should really be borne by Serbs, 100 Jews are shot instead..." However, "the Jews we
had in camps, after all, they too are Serb nationalists, and besides they have to
disappear."45 As Fuchs, the local Einsatzgruppen leader said, this skewed, wholly
illogical policy had the advantages of solving the 'problem' of Serbia's Jews even
before the full systematic 'final solution' began.
Other functionaries of the 'final solution' took this depraved logic to an almost absurd
degree: In the summer of 1941 Erhard Kröger, the commander of Einsatzkommando
6 based at Dobromil in the Ukraine went to the trouble of procuring an interpreter to
explain to Jews that were about to be killed that they were to be executed in
"retaliation" for murders of Ukrainians committed by the retreating Red Army.46 The
notorious massacre of 33,771 Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev was justified by the
leaders of Einsatzgruppen C as "retaliation for arson."47 The concept of 'revenge' was
in many ways part-and-parcel of the Nazi ideology from an early stage - Hitler wrote in
Mein Kampf that the Jews were an ''indispensable'' part of the German economy
during WW1, with "nearly the whole of production... under the control of Jewish
finance."48 Not only was Hitler determined that this 'indispensability' should disappear,
but that the Jews should suffer for essentially losing Germany the First World War.
a A traitor in the assassins' ranks told the Nazis the full details.
To be precise, the Nazi creed was one that had scapegoats - the blaming of others for
one's problems - at its centre, and it was inevitable that these scapegoats should
come from the group that was determinedly not part of the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft.
From this, there was a fairly inescapable progression to actively demanding
"atonement", the "settling of accounts" for the abstract Jews' perceived sins. The
Jews were not the only example: after his dramatic victory over France in 1940, Hitler
had the country scoured so that he could sign the armistice in the same railway-
carriage where Germany had capitulated 22 years earlier. Hitler delighted in watching
films of the gruesome deaths of some of the July bomb-plotters on meat-hooks. At
the end of the war, unable to vent his revenge on Himmler whom he had discovered
was attempting to deal with the West, he had Himmler's liaison officer, Fegelein, killed
instead. Although trumpeted as 'miracle-weapons' that were to win the war for
Germany, both the terminology and actuality of the V1 and V2 proved that they were
essentially weapons of Vergeltung - Revenge. As Hitler said in his speech to the
Reichstag on 30 January 1942, "the war will result in the destruction of Jewry. This
time, for the first time, the old and typical Jewish law will be applied 'An eye for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth.'"49
As has been observed however there was a certain timelessness to the Nazis'
abstract desire for revenge - to be precise, there was no fundamental relationship
between the escalation of the 'final solution' and the Germans' deteriorating fortunes in
war. The 'Functionalist' position argues that the 'final solution' was carried out chiefly
as an expedient response to the Germans' fading war-fortunes on the eastern-front,
putting an enforced end to a massive Jewish deportation plan to the East in much the
same way as continued hostility with Britain and the USA had scuppered the
'Madagascar plan'. In short, they view the execution of the 'final solution' as a product
of defeat and to an extent, revenge, and some historians even assert that '[German]
military victory was the precondition for Jewish survival.'50 However, such arguments
ultimately rest on a premise of not taking the violent anti-semitism of Hitler and the
Nazis' seriously. Their reasoning also depends on an assumption that the Nazis
realised they were losing the war at a very early stage; there is some evidence,
notably from General Halder51, that Hitler and others were exasperated by unexpected
difficulties in crises of confidence were the exception in the summer and Autumn of
1941, not the rule. After all, Hitler's (over-optimistic) advisors told him how Russia's
collapse was imminent, and as the Wehrmacht troops on the eastern front in the
winter of 1941-42 found to their cost - winter-clothing was not issued - plans for long-
term war in Russia were barely considered. Additionally, Hitler's cult of Aryan
superiority told him that losing the war against the sub-human 'Untermenschen' of the
East was inconceivable. The astonishing military successes of Germany during 1939-
1941 against both East and West seemed to bear out his feeling of superiority. Good
news from the front far outweighed bad until December 1941, and the planning and
execution of the 'final solution' as it materialised was well underway by then; Plans for
the death-camps at Belzec and Chelmno were well in train by August 1941, and the
first experimental gassings with Zyklon B at Auschwitz occurred in early September. It
seems that Eichmann, the Gestapo Jewish 'expert' who had been coordinating
deportations since 1939, was probably initiated into the planning process for the 'final
solution' sometime during August and September 1941, as was Höss - the
commandant of Auschwitz - and Globocnik, the future head of Aktion Reinhard.
There is no evidence that Hitler and other Nazis were remotely concerned about the
upsurge in partisan warfare or saw it as a sign that the war was lost; indeed, Hitler
seems to have welcomed it when speaking on July 16, for "it gives us the opportunity
to exterminate anyone who is hostile to us... Naturally, the vast area must be pacified
as quickly as possible; this will happen best through shooting anyone who even looks
askance at us."53 To put it simply, the upsurge in partisan warfare in Russia, Serbia,
and elsewhere of which the Jews were the primary indirect victims was regarded as
another event in a long line of successes. If anything, the very perceived imminence
of the end of the war gave extra urgency to the solution of the 'Jewish question'; the
Foreign Office's Jewish 'expert', Rademacher, wrote in the Autumn of 1941 that "The
stronger the German victory looms, the greater and more urgent become the tasks of
the Referat, because the Jewish question must be solved in the course of the war, for
only so can it be solved without a world-wide outcry."54 On that basis, the
'functionalist' argument that asserts that the 'final solution' was a by-product of defeat
and retribution appears wholly erroneous. In wider terms it seems highly unlikely that
the Nazis' long-term aim was to move the deported Jews of Europe into areas in
Russia that the Einsatzgruppen had so painstakingly rendered Judenfrei since the
beginning of 'Barbarossa'. The murder of the Jews was not a by-product of anything -
by the summer of 1941 it clearly had the shape of a war-aim in itself, and this was due
to a fateful combination of circumstances where the innate hatred of the Jews by the
Nazis', which was a product of long-held ideas of 'settling accounts' with the Jews, was
brought together with the Nazi cult of 'success.'
The Nazi state was one driven by success; it derived all of its legitimacy with the
German people from what it did, rather than for what it was. Studies of public-opinion
during the Third Reich - admittedly an inexact art - show that as the regime progressed
in the 1930s, the German people increasingly supported Hitler in particular, despite,
rather than because, of the increasingly dull and regimented reality that was everyday
life. The principle reason for this was because Hitler was perceived as successful - he
was credited with the economic upturn which had heralded a sharp decline in the
endemic unemployment of the twilight of the Weimar Republic. He was also linked
with the restoration of 'order', and a general re-generation of national pride that was a
direct consequence of Hitler's brilliant foreign-policy successes of the late 1930s,
something which studies show were very popular with the populace.
Similarly, studies of Nazi propaganda during the period show that it was most
successful when it had something to trumpet - essentially the Nazis' were always
better at extolling achievements than explaining defeats, although of course they
always explained the latter in terms of others - not least of course the 'International
Jewish conspiracy.' But success wetted appetites, not least with the large minority of
Nazis' whose area of expertise was the 'Jewish question'; as Hitler's successes
continued in the 1930s, so did the radicalisation of Jewish policy. Thus the zenith of
grass-roots anti-semitism in the shape of the mob-rule of the SA was reached shortly
after the triumph of Hitler's rise to power and the elections of March 1933. The
Nuremburg laws of 1935 were enacted to satisfy continuing Nazi angsts - however,
they were also enacted to give the regime an impetus, a new idea, for the party rally of
that year, a major foreign-policy speech by Hitler having been shelved on the advice of
The Laws also came at a time when Germany's isolation by the 'Stresa front' of Britain,
France, and Italy, was falling apart. Radicalisation of the Jewish policy went hand in
hand with the greater political establishment of the Regime. Kristallnacht in November
1938 came at a time when the Regime was at its strongest - the Anschluss and
Sudetenland victories were in recent memory, and the pogrom occurred after the
consolidation of Nazi power that had come with the ousting of moderates like Schacht,
Neurath, and Blomberg. The drive towards radicalisation was fostered by the
propaganda that was under the direction of the 'hard-liner' Goebbels, aided by rapidly-
growing journals like Streicher's virulently anti-semitic Der Stürmer. The diplomatic
successes of 1938 had also been closely followed by expulsions of Polish Jews out of
Germany, and violence towards Austrian Jews, and successful expulsions of some of
them to Hungary.
During the war, the pattern continued. Himmler was appointed 'Reich Commissioner
for the Strengthening of Germanhood' (RKFDV) shortly after the Polish victory, and
Hitler approved a provisional demographic re-organisation of eastern Europe,
including the short-lived plan for a Jewish reservation in Lublin. The plans for the Nazi
'new order' in Europe took concrete shape after the victories of the summer of 1940,
as did plans for a 'final solution' in Madagascar. Early victories in Russia were coupled
with the explosion in Jewish policy that had come with the Einsatzgruppen, and though
at first the numerically-small units limited themselves mainly to adult male-Jews, this
policy was enlarged to include all Jews towards the end of July. This change almost
certainly came about after a euphoric meeting between Hitler, Göring, Keitel and
others on 16 July, in which plans for the newly-occupied territories were discussed.
Although Himmler did not attend, he was nearby and probably met Hitler shortly after.
However, Hitler and Himmler often met alone, so records on the issue are limited. In
any case, the outcome of the meeting resulted in Hitler issuing a decree which, aside
from appointing Rosenberg 'Reichs Commissioner for the Occupied East', gave
Himmler's SS jurisdiction for "police security"; it also gave him the power to undermine
Rosenberg's orders if he so wished. Within a week of this meeting, Himmler had
quadrupled the number of SS troops in the Einsatzgruppen to about 15,000 men,
combining this new strength with an order of 30 July that "All Jews must be shot.
Drive the female Jews into the swamp."55 A combination of euphoria on Hitler's part
and a realisation that every victory brought a bigger 'Jewish Problem' were the driving
forces of this escalation. Jews were associated with Nazi failure; Hitler was not going
to allow them to get away, especially as so many Nazis demanded an answer to the
'Jewish question', seeing it as part-and-parcel of the general 'success-story' that was
the Nazi Regime.
To repeat Frank in December 1941, "...if the Jewish clan were to survive in Europe...
then this war would only represent a partial success."56 A knee-jerk decision from
Hitler, made after months of vacillation on the Jewish question, fits in well with what is
known about the decision-making habits of Hitler in general terms. He was always a
reckless gambler, and now he saw an opportunity to put into practice what he had
prophesied in 1939: a 'final solution' to the 'Jewish question' in Europe. The Jews
were the principle victims, although by no means the only ones, of this Nazi hubris.
Reflecting his parochial, nationalist viewpoint, Hitler in Mein Kampf had explained
Germany's defeat in WW1 in terms of home-front failures, chiefly the supposed
machinations of the Jews, rather than the enemy's success. Thus he more or less
ignores the significant consequences that the entry of the USA into WW1 had on
Germany's defeat, and it is tempting to suggest that his reckless declaration of war on
the USA in December 1941 stemmed from similar feelings. By ordering the murder of
the Jews, Hitler was going some way to, in his terms, completing the Aryan
Volksgemeinschaft that he thought genuinely superior to other peoples. In simple
terms, without Bolsheviks and Jews (and these two were inter-dependent in his eyes),
'anything was possible'. Hitler's dramatic career from mediocre Viennese artist to
leader of a European super-power was a precedent for this, and set an example to
others, not least the functionaries who acted on his orders. As Eichmann said at his
trial, "the man was able to work his way up from lance corporal in the German Army to
Führer of a people of almost eighty million... his success alone proved to me that I
should subordinate myself to this man."57 Ribbentrop said of the declaration of war on
the USA, "Great powers do not wait to have war declared upon them." That act was
one of pure bravado. The decision to kill the Jews came out of bravado and hatred.
As Hitler said in 1943, "Should we win the battle, no one will ask us afterward how we
did it. Should we lose, then we shall at the very least have hit decisively these
Failure was an alien concept to Hitler, on the Jewish issue as with any other, as he
exemplified in a meeting with Speer in May 1942:
"There are problems which absolutely must be solved. Where the right leaders
are available they have always been solved and will always be solved. One
can't always achieve it by amiable means; but for me the question of amiability
does not arise, just as I am completely indifferent to what posterity may say
about the methods I had to use. As far as I am concerned, there is only
one issue which has to be resolved, namely, we must win the war or
Germany will be destroyed. As a result, I am not concerned about how
we win the war but only that we do it... I repeat: for me the word 'impossible'
does not exist, it does not exist for me!"59
So in the way that Hitler attempted to impose this will of 'no retreat' on his troops when
the war turned against him, leading directly to disasters like Stalingrad, the same was
true, and was always true, of his Jewish policy. Perceived failures of this policy during
the 1930s - the reluctance of the German people to support the policy, as shown by
the failures of the 1933 boycott and Kristallnacht, the 'slowness' of legislation against
Jews, 'Aryanization', and emigration - were never allowed to change the fundamentals
of a drive down the road, albeit a twisted one - though a 'road' none the less - to
Auschwitz. The decision of the Nazis' to develop 'more efficient' methods of mass-
murder than shooting is also indicative of this approach, although much of the ground-
work had already been done by the technicians involved in the 'T4' 'euthanasia'
programme, many of whom went on to work in the 'final solution' itself, most notably
T4's technical 'supremo' Christian Wirth, who went on to help execute Aktion
The Jewish issue was one which was indicative of the structure of the Nazi state and
ideology - it was a Darwinian battle-field in microcosm, where the strongest and most
successful personalities and organisations won out. There were six rivals for
hegemony in the 'Jewish question' in 1937: The Interior, Economics, and Foreign
Ministries, the Four-Year plan administration, the Rosenberg agency, and the SS-
Gestapo apparatus. By 1939, the SS had established its pre-dominance; the most
successful Nazi organisation (one only has to witness the growth of Himmler's
appointments and power) was also the most radical, on the Jewish question as with
any other. This was no coincidence. Radicalism worked - the rise to power of Hitler
was proof of that. Radicalism was the process by which Hitler and the Nazis were
going to achieve their dream of a Judenfrei Reich; the SS's policies were most
successful at achieving this, hence its pre-eminence. There were 'also-rans' of course
who noticed the way the wind was turning - Goebbels tried to reflect this and thus get
back into Hitler's 'good-books'a by initiating Kristallnacht; it was a disaster from both
his and the Regime's point of view, and succeeded in Heydrich effectively being given
responsibility for the 'Jewish question' in January 1939.
The Foreign Office tried to get in on the act as well, announcing the "necessity for a
radical solution of the Jewish Question... the ultimate aim of Germany's Jewish policy
[is] the emigration of all Jews living on German territory."60 But it was the SS calling
the shots, facilitating the 'Führer's will.' The first perpetrators of the 'final solution' were
the Einsatzgruppen, an SS 'subsidiary'. Heydrich appears to have played a crucial
role in September-October 1941, when the murder of the Jews started to expand into
an organisational plan for a pan-European solution. Hitler had agreed to the
"identification of Jews in Germany as a preparation for further measures",61 and a
decree was publicly-issued by Heydrich on 1 September 1941.62
It is ironic that just as Hitler was reaching the zenith of his power and was issuing the
orders for the organisational 'final solution' (as opposed to the actual 'final solution',
which had effectively begun on 22 June), he was realising that even now he had limits
imposed upon him, and after the wave of publicity following Bishop Galen's critical
sermon of 3 August63, he ordered the ('official') cessation of the 'euthanasia'
programme on 24 August. Needless to say then he was more than usually careful
about the public-opinion issue with regard to the Jews. However, there was no Bishop
Galen to speak up for the Jews; the Mayor of Augsburg reported that the 'yellow-star'
decree had brought expressions of "great satisfaction among all national comrades."64
An SD report on the impact of the 'yellow-star' of 9 October reported generally positive
reactions, saying "for most people a radical solution of the Jewish problem finds more
a Goebbels was embroiled in a marital scandal at the time.
understanding than any compromise, and that there existed in the widest circles the
wish for a clear external separation between Jewry and German national comrades."65
Thus we have a situation whereby the head of the RSHA was directing policy that was
legitimised and shown to be uncontentious by reports that were written under his
auspices as head of the SD. Heydrich and the SS had proved themselves and their
radical policy successful again. Indeed, Heydrich's self-servicement goes further; the
Report goes on to assert that there was a general feeling that the decree was not a
'final measure', but as an indicator of future efforts to reach a 'final solution' to the
'Jewish question', thus seeming to emphasise the need for the "further measures"
quoted in the original decree. Heydrich presumably made very sure that Hitler saw the
report, and in the light of the 'T4' debacle Hitler was certainly interested in its contents;
the very next day, on 10 October, Heydrich announced that "the Führer wishes that by
the end of the year as many Jews as possible are removed from the German
sphere..."66 Two weeks after the SD report, Heydrich's RSHA issued an edict
prohibiting Jewish emigration,67 and deportations of the first German Jews to their
deaths at the hands of Einsatzgruppen A - another Heydrich 'subsidiary' - began very
Himmler, Heydrich and the SS had proved themselves the primary facilitators of the
Führer; not only were the various SS organisations carrying out the 'final solution', but
they were also putting his mind at rest about the potential repercussions. Not for
nothing has the SS been described as 'Alibi of a nation.' However, the 'final solution'
was a much more complex mosaic, involving the active participation on the part of
thousands outside the SS, and the passive participation of millions - the people who
preferred not to know what had happened to the thousands of Jews who used to live
in their midsts. There is of course a general question that needs to be posed about
the 'final solution' over and above the details of escalating murder; George Steiner put
it succinctly: 'Why did humanistic traditions and models of conduct prove so fragile a
barrier against political bestiality?'68
Certainly the history of the conception and execution of the 'final solution' has
something significant to say about the human condition, and whilst space does not
permit a comprehensive investigation here, some interesting insights can be gleaned.
Steiner mentions an argument by Elias Canetti whereby he makes a connection
between the collapse of currency in Germany in the 1920s - where 'large numbers lost
all but a vaguely sinister, unreal meaning' - and the murder of the Jews, where the
huge figures and statistics involved 'tainted with unreality the disappearance and
liquidations of peoples.'69 As we have seen, the concept of abstraction is significant in
this history, and a comparison with Hans Biebow, the Nazi 'ghetto manager' of Lodz
exemplifies this. His family insurance business had been ruined by inflation, and his
task in Lodz was reduced to seeing the Jews in wholly economic terms, as masses of
statistics and productivity figures, rather than as human-beings.
In August 1941 he demanded more food for Lodz's Jews, arguing that they could not
work without food, thus hindering economic activity. By the Autumn of 1941, this logic
led to its inevitable corollary; those Jews who could not work (the very young, the very
old, the ill) ought not to be fed.70 As Höppner in Posen said in his notorious memo as
early as July 1941, "Serious consideration must be given as to whether the most
humane solution might not be to finish off those Jews who are incapable of work with
some quick-acting preparation."71 As Steiner said of the 'final solution' in a general
sense, 'the enterprise had its own logic outside reason and human needs... a fabric of
impotent rationality which, every day, planned, authorized, justified the death of tens of
In many ways, there was an 'acceptance' principle at work. Once the perverse logic of
the 'final solution' was accepted, the reality of mass-murder became much more
simple to adopt. Biebow was not a 'professional' anti-semite; he was simply one of
thousands who found it easier to get on with his job in accordance with his orders than
give any real thought to what he was getting himself involved in. For them, there were
no fundamental moral leaps to jump, just gentle incrementations in a policy whose
ultimate source, violent hatred, ensured its ultimate destination. Indeed, the
adjustments they made were similar to those of Biebow's ilk ever since 1933 in the
bureaucracy and military - the journeymen of the Third Reich, the 95% or so of
NSDAP members who joined after Hitler's rise to power as a way of helping their
careers, of getting ahead; the Nazi cult of 'success' stretched from top to bottom. The
dehumanization of the Jews through degradation and disease certainly helped ease
any moral inhibitions, as did the 'division of labour': the bureaucrats who coordinated
the murder of millions rarely if ever saw their victims - they were just statistics, 'output.'
At the bureaucratic level, there seems to be no realisation in the Autumn of 1941 of
exactly what they doing, or the opprobrium that they were bringing on Germany for
generations to come. Similarly, the 'exceptions' to the 'final solution' prove a rule.
Half-Jews were in general excluded from deportation 'East', as can be seen from the
documents from the Wannsee conference.73
Whilst this decision almost certainly prevented the gruesome toll of the 'final solution'
from being significantly greater, it did contribute considerably to the climate in which
the fate of the Jews who were murdered occurred; Half-Jews, almost by definition,
tended to be much more assimilated into mainstream society than full-Jews; they had
more 'Aryan' friends, and had 'Aryan' relatives. Once this group was excepted, there
was no one left to fight the Jews' cause; millions of people whose friends and relatives
could have been affected by the 'final solution' were able to put their minds at rest and
return to seeing the 'Jewish question' in the abstract, ignorant terms which the Nazis
so desired - the imaginary enemy of 'International Jewry' and 'Eastern, Bolshevist
Jewry.' The same can be said of the 'model' concentration-camp at Theresienstadt,
which housed 'prominent' Jews who were considered too important to murder, or at
least whose sudden disappearance would cause potential political problems (most
were eventually sent to Auschwitz). This camp also went a way to countering rumours
about the true nature of the 'final solution'; inmates were encouraged to send
(censored) letters to friends in Germany and abroad.74 Such compromises were
politically expedient, but these exceptions facilitated the accomplishment of the murder
of millions who would not be so missed.
The exceptions helped to reinforce the wide-ranging tendency of people in the Third
Reich - whether directly involved in the Regime or not - to repress uncomfortable
truths. Hence the belief that the only Jews deported 'East' were Poles, military-service
shirkers, etc. Hitler and the Nazis cared what people thought, as exemplified by the
termination of 'T4' and the studious attempts by the SD to gauge public-opinion on this
issue as with any other. However, to repeat, there was no Bishop Galen for the Jews
in 1941, but there was Bishop Wurm - in 1943 - who petitioned Berlin on the subject of
the deportations. But even then his principal concern was to protect 'non-Aryan'
Christians, thus accepting the reality of the 'removal' of the Jews.75 Whilst SD reports
have to be regarded with considerable scepticism, it does appear that the general
sense of national isolation created an atmosphere where resentments fostered by the
Nazis capitalised on latent, conservative anti-semitism that long pre-dated Hitler. This
resulted in a consensus that there was a 'Jewish question' to be 'answered'. War-
time, and especially large-scale war against Russia, heightened insecurities and
general social dislocation and ensured that the Nazi dogma which proclaimed that the
Jews were 'not German' gained greater credence and perceived relevance. However,
somewhat paradoxically, the pressures of war also ensured that the population had
other concerns that rated far higher in significance. It was this apathetic, tacit
acceptance on the part of millions that played an important part in ensuring that the
'final solution' could happen; coupled with the fateful Nazi logic that decreed that it
should happen inexorably led the Nazi Jewish policy to the situation whereby it did
happen. As Kershaw famously put it, 'The Road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but
paved with indifference.'76
In January 1945 Hitler, exasperated by the Generals whom he accused of losing him
the war, appointed Himmler commander of an eastern battle-front; Himmler had been
successful at winning Hitler's other 'war' against the Jews - he now had a chance to
prove himself in Germany's hour of need. He was a disaster; the Russians could fight
back. The Jews had no guns, and mostly went calmly to their deaths, unable to
believe that they were so indispensable, unable to perceive the enormity of the crime
being perpetrated of which they were about to become victim. Clearly, the repression
of uncomfortable truths was not confined to just perpetrator and bystander. In 1943
Himmler had spoken of the 'final solution' as a "glorious page in our history... never to
be written."77 However the course of the war ensured that it was becoming
increasingly clear that this was a page of their history that would be written. Ever the
careerist, the former chicken-farmer ordered that the evidence of the 'final solution' be
destroyed, and ordered the mass disinterring and burning of the thousands of mass-
graves that had been created by the Einsatzgruppen and the death-camps earlier in
the war. He was looking to the future, and sent out 'peace-feelers', feelers which
included increasingly using the surviving Jews as hostages to the West, and acts
which he scrupulously hid from Hitler. Hitler didn't care at all; his place in the history
books had already been assured, and he was happy that the blood of six million were
ultimately on his hands. At the very end of his 'Last Will and Testament', he exhorted
the Germans "to merciless opposition to the universal poisoner of all peoples,
The year 1941 represented in many ways an evolution, rather than a revolution, in
Nazi Jewish policy. Early victories had increased the 'Jewish problem', but it also
confirmed in the Nazis a sense that they were 'right'. The war presented advantages
for finding a solution in all sorts of ways, not least in public-opinion and the
opportunities for secrecy that became available. Hatred and revenge were vital
ingredients for starting the 'final solution', and were fundamental for ensuring that it
continued to the bitter end. In 1945, the Nazi state, and the 'final solution', both so
driven by hatred and achievement - both on structural and personal levels - was hitting
the buffers. Hitler was the paramount 'facilitator' of the murder of the Jews, but he
could never have done it without thousands, in a way millions, of others and typically, it
is an inexact, abstract list: Himmler, Heydrich, Eichmann, Wirth, Frank, Biebow,
Stahlecker, Reichenau, Fuchs, Amon Goeth. Indeed, the Schindler episode raises an
uncomfortable question, for it illustrates that even sadistic, murderous anti-semites
were 'corruptible'. 10,000 Jews were found hiding in Berlin at the end of the war,
whose lives had been sheltered and saved by a somewhat greater number of
Germans. Such exceptions to the unrelenting rule of the 'final solution' exemplify what
could be accomplished by the 'right' people at the right time and in the right
circumstances - much like the execution of the 'final solution' itself. The fateful mosaic
- logic and illogic, unity and rivalry, ideology and technology, radicalism and
conservatism, accomodation and inspiration, indifference and hate, bravado and
euphemism, acception and exception, journeyman and fanatic, hubris and retribution -
triumphed over empathy and human decency. The veneer of civilization was indeed
1. Christopher R. Browning, The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution
(Cambridge, 1992), p.88.
2. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Translated by R.Manheim) (London, 1969), p.620.
3. J. Noakes & G.Pridham, Nazism 1919-1945 vols.1-3, (Exeter, 1988), document 770,
4. Hans Buchheim, 'Command and Compliance', in Helmut Krausnick et al, Anatomy of the
SS State (London, 1968), p.337.
5. Browning op.cit., p.91, reprinted from Burrin, P. Hitler et les Juifs (Paris, 1989), p.48.
6. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 909, p.1200.
7. ibid., 740, p.1021.
8. ibid., p.1004.
9. ibid., 748, p.1028.
10. Karl A. Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi policy toward German Jews
1933-1939 (London, 1970), p.257.
11. Schleunes op.cit. p.256.
12. For details of the plan, see Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 797-800, p.1074-1078.
13. Sebastian Haffner, The Meaning of Hitler (London, 1979), p.164.
14. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 810, pp.1086-1087.
15. ibid., 813, p.1090.
16. Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War against the Jews 1933-1945 (London, 1975), p.124.
17. ibid., p.400.
18. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 655, pp.938-940.
19. Hermann Graml, 'The Genesis of the Final Solution' in Walter H. Pehle (ed.), November
1938: From 'Kristallnacht' to Genocide (Oxford and New York, 1991), p.174.
20. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 825, p.1104.
21. See in particular Hans Mommsen, 'The Realisation of the Unthinkable: The 'Final
Solution of the Jewish Question' in the Third Reich', in Gerhard Hirschfeld (ed.), The Policies
of Genocide: Jews and Soviet Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany (London, 1986), pp.100-
117 and also Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The 'Final Solution' in
History (London and New York, 1988).
22. Noakes & Pridham op.cit, 429, p.560.
23. Schleunes op.cit., p.140.
24. ibid., p.140.
25. Fred Taylor (ed.), The Goebbels Diaries: 1939-1941 (London, 1982), p.277.
26. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 821, p.1098.
27. ibid., 839, pp.1117-1118.
28. ibid., 870, p.1160.
29. ibid., 872, p.1162.
30. ibid., 873, p.1163.
31. See ibid., 882, p.1169.
32. ibid., 638, p.908.
33. Dawidowicz op.cit., p.145.
34. See Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 593, p.827 and 595, p.829, for comments by von Bock
and Hitler on this issue.
35. ibid., 909, p.1200.
36. Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution (London, 1988), pp.173-174.
37. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 908, p.1199.
38. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York,
39. Fleming op.cit., p.5.
40. ibid., pp.149-150.
41. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 428, p.560.
42. ibid., 819, p.1096.
43. ibid., 848, pp.1126-1127.
44. Browning op.cit., p.135.
45. ibid., p.135.
46. Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945
(London and New York, 1993), pp.73-74.
47. Mayer op.cit., p.268.
48. Mein Kampf op.cit., p.175.
49. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 851, pp.1135-1136.
50. Mayer op.cit., p.306.
51. See Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 588, p.820.
52. Christopher R. Browning, Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution
(London and New York, 1985), pp.23-25.
53. Browning, The Path to Genocide op.cit., pp.104-105.
54. ibid., p.138.
55. Browning, The Path to Genocide op.cit., p.106.
56. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 848, p.1126.
57. Arendt op.cit., p.111.
58. Fleming op.cit., pp.149-150.
59. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 595, pp.829-830.
60. Michael Marrus, The Holocaust in History (London, 1988), p.32.
61. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., p.1107.
62. ibid., 828, pp.1107-1108.
63. ibid., 758, pp.1036-1039.
64. Ian Kershaw, Popular Opinion & Political Dissent in the Third Reich: Bavaria
1933-1945 (Oxford, 1983), p.361.
65. ibid., p.362.
66. Browning, The Path to Genocide op.cit., p.116.
67. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 837, p.1114.
68. George Steiner, In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture
(London & Boston, 1971), p.31.
69. ibid., p.45.
70. Browning, The Path to Genocide op.cit., p.132.
71. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 824, p.1103.
72. Steiner op.cit., p.32.
73. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 849, pp.1127-1135, esp. p.1133.
74. Helmut Krausnick, 'The Persecution of the Jews', in Helmut Krausnick et al, Anatomy of
the SS State op.cit., p.87.
75. Hans Mommsen, 'What did The Germans Know?' in Walter H. Pehle (ed.) op.cit., p.205.
76. Kershaw op.cit., p.277.
77. Noakes & Pridham op.cit., 908, pp.1199-1200.
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