"The Jewish people is being exterminated," every Party member will tell you, "perfectly clear, it''s part of our plans, we''re eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter."
Introduction: A long-standing debate continues among historians over whether and when Hitler gave an order for the extermination of world Jewry. The controversy, I feel, promotes confusion and encourages Holocaust denial (see Afterword, below). If we accept that the Holocaust was state policy it matters not whether Hitler or Goering, Himmler or Heydrich actually ordered it. Hitler made no secret of his intentions. His antipathy towards the Jews is clear in his earliest writings, as was his intention to use all means at his disposal to achieve a final solution to the Jewish Problem. That his writings reflect a graduated series of proposals for dealing with “the Problem,” this reflects immediate political/technical limitations rather than ultimate goal.
As I outline the Holocaust decision, my purpose as Zionist is to establish intentionality, to describe the process by which intent was operationalized as industrial murder.
Letter from Reinhard Heydrich to Martin Luther, Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, inviting him to the Wannsee Conference (Wikipedia)
20 January, 1942 certainly marked the visible transition from intent to action. The Wannsee Conference distributed bureaucratic tasks to state agencies, their specialize contributions to the murder of the Jews. Wannsee has, for many or most historians come to substitute for that absent order to murder, the start of the Holocaust. Somehow one million Jews murdered by Einsatsgruppen rifle in the year prior is, for some historians, pre-Holocaust.
The actual decision to murder, somehow not credited by some historians, was made two decades earlier. Hitler’s ambitions regarding the Jews expanded with his acquisition of political power and means. But the ideas driving those ambitions have been public since the appearance of Mein Kampf in 1924. Even in his now public “Gemlich Letter” of 1919, the same year he joined what would become the the Nazi party. In that letter he wrote, “The final goal must be the removal of the Jews.” One year later, in his 1920 speech to the NSDAP:
“Don''t be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus… This Jewish contamination will not subside, this poisoning of the nation will not end, until the carrier himself, the Jew, has been banished from our midst.”
In Mein Kampf, which Hitler dictated while in a Munich jail, he first introduces “an asphyxiating gas” as a means to murder Jews. And around the same time, in a 1922 interview with the journalist Josef Hell he boasted, “Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.”Again this reference to annihilation reflects his then situation, leader of a splinter right-wing group in jail for his failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch. But even as his dream was to,
“have gallows built in rows... Jews will be hanged … until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit… until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow… until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.”
Again, his situation is a Munich jail cell, his ambition to rule Germany, a dream realized ten years in the future. As chancellor his ambition took on larger proportions. His goal now was international, extending to “co-operation amongst nations.” In his 1933 speech to the NSDAP in Wilhelmshaven,
“Only when this Jewish bacillus infecting the life of peoples has been removed can one hope to establish a co-operation amongst the nations which shall be built up on a lasting understanding.”
Hitler may or not have been the “mad man” he appears in footage of his speeches to the German public. Certainly a magnetic orator, the Fuehrer was also an intuitive and highly skilled politician. The graduated manner in which what would become the Holocaust emerged, from the 1933 Nuremburg Laws stripping German Jews of their citizenship; the creation of concentration (not death) camps for Jews and other undesirables (1933); the Krystallnacht pogrom (1938): even a population with strong negative stereotypes of Jews needed to be prepared for the annihilation of their former neighbors.
Likewise internationally. From “voluntary” emigration to enforced extrusion, Hitler forced all the lands of Christendom, from Europe to the United States and around the globe via Britain’s colonies, to express in public their own nascent antisemitism by their refusal to accept Jews fleeing for their lives. This served both the need to acclimate Germans to the unfolding murder campaign while forcing the “liberal democracies,” by their closed borders, to themselves become participants, if passively, in the unfolding Holocaust.
As for the so-called failed efforts of creating a “Jewish reservation on Madagascar or “in the East,”: while such gestures provided Germany another measure of diplomatic cover they even today continue controversial: for some historians and all Holocaust deniers they represent a non-annihilative “final solution.” I suggest that even were such “reservations” created they would have been no more than city-sized equivalents of the Warsaw ghetto; way stations to adjacent death camps. The agenda was Auschwitz, not Israel.
Recent writings in this Series: