“Don''t be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus,” (Hitler, 1920)
"Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.”
Even as the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union and the Vatican shielded Nazi war criminals from the Nuremberg Trials, the International Military Tribunal was seeking answers as to how the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem emerged as a German war aim and why, in 1944-5, facing defeat in the war the Final Solution became Germany’s principle war aim. Certainly Hitler had spoken and written of his intentions long before achieving the power to act on them. They are numerous and appear in his writings and in his speeches. But for some historians, the “Functionalist School,” the absence of a Führerbefehl, a written and signed-by-Hitler order raises doubt that the Holocaust was a planned and intended German policy. To these historians the Final Solution was the result of a series of “accidents,” improvised responses to logistical problems of population control due to the Wehrmacht’s early Blitzkrieg successes, 1939 – 1941.
Does it really matter whether or not the Holocaust resulted from a pre-determined policy or was the result of chance? Either way six million Jews were murdered! But the controversy is important, and for several reasons. Least of all is the ammunition doubt provides to promoters of Holocaust Denial. These, of course, need little by way of actual “proof” to support their prejudice. For me the main concern is that many among we Jews would prefer to believe, as many scholars maintain, that the Holocaust was an “exceptional” event in history or, as Elie Wiesel describes it, a “mystery.” Either way, as “accident” or Act of God” Jewish experience of two-thousand years of persecution in service of a solution to Christianity’s Jewish Problem, a “problem” that Germany would have solved with its Final Solution is not even considered. Very consoling to our majority who insist that a “lesson was learned,” or since America’s Jews survived unmolested that is evidence that our Diaspora homeland is indeed “exceptional.”
Christianity’s Jewish Problem is pathological. Jewish denial of the pathology is delusional, and no less pathological.
The “missing” Evidence: It is one thing to intend a program of extermination, another to advertise it. So it should not surprise that a written order in the Fuehrer hand has not been found, a “blueprint” yet to be discovered. But Hitler certainly expressed his intentions openly, both in writing and speech, beginning with his recently discovered “Gehmlich Letter” (1919). And in his 1922 interview with Josef Hell he boasted:
"Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows - at the Marienplatz in Munich, for example - as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews."
In Mein Kampf, dictated in jail at the same time as the Hell interview Hitler refers to using ““an asphyxiating gas” to murder Jews.
In a 1920 address to the NSDAP he refers to Jews as “a disease… bacillus… Jewish contamination:”
“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.”
When, ten years later he became chancellor and had the full machinery of the state at his disposal his speeches grow increasingly international in scope. In his1933 speech to the NSDAP in Wilhelmshaven he already hints at a global final solution inviting Western participation:
“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” his emotional speeches suggest; he was a magnetic orator. He understood that the technological means, domestic support and international acquiescence if not open participation would take time to achieve. And he was patient.
By 1935 the ground had been prepared sufficient to exclude German Jews from state and Volk. The Nuremburg Laws stripped German Jews of citizenship. And by 1938 the Party was confident enough to launch Krystallnacht, a two-day long pogrom that included Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. More than a hundred Jews were murdered; tens of thousands arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Before and after the Krystallnacht pogrom German antisemitism was blatant. But between “antisemitism” and annihilation lies a wide psychological gulf. Hitler skillfully bridged that chasm by misdirection. He first proposed seemingly “humanitarian” solutions to the Jewish Problem such as emigration, extrusion (forcing Jews across borders to neighboring states) and finally the “proposed” creation of Jewish “reservations.”
Two “reservations” were suggested for the French colony of Madagascar off Africa; and Nisko in the Polish Generalgouvernement astride the border between German and Soviet zones of divided Poland. Madagascar was just an idea; Nisko was actually developed. But far from a settlement where Jews would live and work, the main camp was surrounded by satellite slave labor camps, a prototype of what would develop at the AG Farben industrial zone located at Auschwitz III. And slave labor was always intended to work the person to death. Those unfit for labor met that fate even sooner.
There is still a school of academic historians that maintains that such “programs” described above represent a non-lethal intention for Germany’s “final solution.” Based on the above description of available evidence such an interpretation demands an “unscientific” leap of faith, a denial of blatantly obvious fact. In fact the boundary between academic history and Holocaust Denial grows blurred since both approaches maintain that the Germany only “reluctantly” turned to annihilation as a last resort, that German military success was the cause. With the early victories of the Blitzkrieg the army could not both fight the war and care for masses of Jews: the Holocaust resulted from the need to focus on the war, not be distracted by controlling ever-increasing numbers of Jews falling into Wehrmacht hands. And so the Functionalists explain the Final Solution as a gradual approach population control, the “crooked road” to the Holocaust.
At best this explanation is inadequate, too dogmatically tied to an absent Führerbefehl.
If the Final Solution was intended from the time National Socialism took power in 1933, why allow Jews to slip their grasp by voluntary and forced emigration; why propose a non-lethal “final solution” such as “Jewish reservations” away from Europe?
Whatever else, Hitler was an intelligent and skilled politician. By allowing Jews to emigrate he forced the “democracies,” and particularly the loudest “liberal,” Franklin Roosevelt, to back up protest of German persecution by willingness to accept its victims. At the time in question Hitler was, after all, only conforming to that which the US Supreme Court advocated in its 1927 ruling regarding forced sterilization. As explained by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:
“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”
Hitler understood Roosevelt and concluded he was as unlikely to accept Germany’s “unfit,” German Jews fleeing persecution than was Hitler to keep them. And that refusal served two purposes: it provided a suggested American “approval” of official antisemitism at home, and; forced America, leader of the “free world,” to openly support the unfolding final solution as passive observer. In Hitler’s eyes, despite pretenses the United States and Germany shared a common view of the Jews. In 1928, four years before he and Roosevelt assumed office, he pointed to this shared outlook by not that the Congress’s 1924 Immigration Restriction Act which limited Jewish immigration encouraged Aryan immigrants:
“That the American Union itself feels itself to be a Nordic German State… [is clear] from the manner in which it allots immigration quotas to European nations. Scandinavians… Englishmen, and finally Germans, are allotted the greatest contingents.”
By forcing Roosevelt to publicly bar Jewish immigration Hitler trapped the president into demonstrating that little difference existed between America and Nazi Germany regarding the Jews, a fact confirmed by a poll of American antisemitism taken ten years later.
“I refer to the conference held in Berlin today and once more point out that the planned overall measures [the Final Solution] are to be kept strictly secret.”
(Reinhard Heydrich, September 21, 1939)
"’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."
(Heinrich Himmler''s Poznan speech of October 4, 1943)
Many historians assign the “Holocaust decision” to the invasion of Russia in July, 1941, others the Wannsee Conference in January, 1942. Certainly Russia greatly expanded the numbers of Jews available for murder by Heydrich’s Einsatzgruppen. But Heydrich had already been actively murdering Jews both systematically and massively since 1939, more than a year before Russia and two years before Auschwitz. If in 1939 mass murder was “personal” by bullet, after the invasion “impersonal” by gas the purpose was never in doubt, at least within Germany: the Third Reich’s policy of murdering all Jews within reach was unchanged. And that, to my mind, is what is meant by, “the Holocaust.”
Historians can debate the meaning of this “fact” or that “document” endlessly. A Holocaust denier once insisted that Endlösung does not mean “extermination,” and offered such supposedly nonlethal intended “solutions” as emigration and Jewish reservations as evidence. One such that actually achieved some level of operation was Nisko and the site and its satellite camps proved itself a forerunner to Auschwitz. Slave labor is still a lethal “solution.” A “compassionate” Endlösung was never in the plan.
Not only is a date for the “start” of the Holocaust disputed but many areas of the unfolding Final Solution are subject to disagreement. Take, for example, Reichsführer-SS Reinhard Heydrich’s September 21, 1939 order to his Einzatsgruppen, “Jewish Question in the Occupied Territory”:
“I refer to the conference held in Berlin today and once more point out that the planned overall measures (i.e., the final aim) are to be kept strictly secret. Distinction must be made between:
(1) The final aim (which will require extended periods of time), and
(2) The stages leading to the fulfillment of this final aim (which will be carried out in short terms).
“The first preliminary measure for achieving the final aim is the concentration of the Jews from the countryside in the larger cities. It must be speedily implemented. … as few concentration points as possible should be established so that only those cities are designated which are either railway junctions or at least lie on a railway line.”
Does the German word for “aim/solution” imply a collection depot for transshipment to a non-lethal, proto-Zionist “solution” to the Jewish Problem; did “the east” refer to an intended Jewish “reservation” at Nisko, “liberated” Poland? Rather than joining the debate over the meaning of the word, “solution” I suggest reading Heydrich’s speech in the context in which it appears. The Order was distributed in September, 1939; his Eizatsgruppen began rounding up and executing Polish Jewry in November, 1939.
The last Jew in Vinnitsa, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, 1942. (Wikipedia)
The Einzatsgruppen: were special police units consisting of men, usually above military age or otherwise deemed not suitable to serve in regular army units. They included men from all professions and trades, including present and retired police, professors and pastors. A unit might consist of from several hundred to several thousand executioners. Part of the SS these “police” were not directly attached to the Wehrmacht but trailed after army units. Einzatsgruppen began operating during the 1939 invasion of Poland and murdered 15,000, mostly Jews, during the winter, 1939-40.
“The Jäger Report is the most precise surviving chronicle of the activities of one Einsatzkommando. It is a tally sheet of the actions of Einsatzkommando 3 — a running total of their killings of 136,421 Jews (46,403 men 55,556 women, 34,464 children), 1,064 Communists, 653 mentally disabled, and 134 others, from 2 July-1 December 1941 [six months before Wannsee].”
Germany kept very precise records.
There is overlap between the face to face murders at the killing fields and the introduction of gas chambers. In December, 1941 the Einzatsgruppen began gassing their victims by carbon monoxide in hermetically sealed trucks designed to handle up to 100 victims at a time. Some 500,000 people, nearly all Jews, were murdered in this manner.
"Selektion" on the Judenrampe, Auschwitz, May/June 1944. To be sent to the right meant slave labor; to the left, the gas chamber. This image shows the arrival of Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia, many of them from the Berehov ghetto.”
Auschwitz staff enjoying a day off.
A solution to its Jewish Problem haunted Christendom for two millennia before Hitler. It was only in the 20th century that the technological means to achieve a “final” solution became a realistic possibility: Henry Ford’s assembly line; IBM’s data collection; IG Farben’s Zyklon gas: Together these provided the means to finally achieve the full and complete eradication of Jewish existence from the world. All that was absent was a government committed to that end.
Once adopted the War Against the Jews was of such high priority that having to choose between allocating transport, personnel and supplies to defend Germany from the Allied invasion, or to assign these to the murder Jews Hitler chose the latter. Well after America entered the war Roosevelt and Churchill were uncertain of victory. The Wehrmacht must have understood that those resources spelled the difference between conditional and unconditional German surrender.
One thing should be clear: Had Hitler achieved the victory Roosevelt and Churchill thought possible there is little doubt that the Final Solution would have ended at Europe’s Atlantic shore. Hitler defined his mission as the final solution to Christendom’s two-thousand year long Jewish Problem:
“I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.”
Afterword: A long-standing debate exists between “schools of historians” over whether and when Hitler gave an order for the extermination of world Jewry. And if, as seems likely, no such written document survives, if it ever existed, does a missing Führerbefehl change anything? What if it turns out that the only documentary evidence is Wannsee, does that become the default start date simply based on a documentary trail? And what of the one million Jews systematically murdered before that date? Common sense informs that intention to wage war may long precede a formal declaration, if ever.
Hitler began clandestinely rebuilding the Wehrmacht in 1933; began disenfranchising the Jews that same year. These actions do not thereby constitute a formal intention to commence military action, to commence hanging Jews as promised to the journalist Hell in 1923. Yet both led inexorably to those ends. And while the 1935 Nuremburg Laws are a historical document, their appearance was sufficiently ambiguous that even today its meaning in terms of the Holocaust is open to interpretation. What is not in doubt is the fact of the Holocaust, that with or not a written führerbefehl the Holocaust murdered each and every Jew within reach, that Hitler made no secret in interview and speeches of his intention to annihilate each and every Jew alive in the world. And had he won the war there should be no doubt that that the Final Solution would have achieved that outcome.
Despite clear evidence that Hitler proposed a final solution to Christendom’s millennial Jewish Problem for more than a decade before attaining office, much of academic history prefers controversy and debate. But the Holocaust represents far more than an academic exercise. It did not arrive out of the blue, merely responding to frustrations following military defeat, of economic collapse. To suggest such misses the crucial question: Why the Jews? Why not the Lutherans, or the Catholics or the French instead?
It was no accident that the Jews were targeted; in fact it fits neatly into a very long history of persecution. The Holocaust, the final solution to the Jewish Problem already describes a foreordained target: the Jews. And if so what, beyond ego and sport, is served by academic debate over a missing and-drafted and notarized order by Hitler? If in 1922 Hitler publicly announced his intention,
"Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.”
If Hitler’s own words, recorded in print at that time are discounted, if evidence such as this does not achieve acceptance as historically valid, then denial will always shadow the Holocaust, doubt always available providing antisemites a “logical” doorway to promote their own agenda. But far more serious is that doubt provides we Jews the comfort of our own denial, the deception that we are secure in the Diaspora, in our self-defined "exceptional" homeland; that the Holocaust is but the most recent in a long history of a very long tradition of anti-Jewish persecution; that by our denial will our children, more distant from the reality and significance of the Holocaust one day be victim to the next.