“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)
Introduction: Many historians assign the “Holocaust decision” to the invasion of Russia in July, 1941 or 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. If before Russia mass murder was “personal” by bullet, after the invasion “impersonal” by asphyxiation: the purpose, a German state 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 to me that Endlösung does not mean “extermination,” and offered such supposedly nonlethal intended “solutions” as emigration and Jewish reservations as evidence. We recently saw that the reservation idea in Nisko, far from a “zionist” solution to the Jewish Problem was actually an expanded concentration camp feeding surrounding slave labor camps, where “arbeit mach frie” explicitly referred to death by labor. Those not passing “selektion,” would be gassed.
So much for a “compassionate” Endlösung.
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? In such “controversies” do Holocaust historians provide Holocaust deniers support for their imaginings.
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: as early as 1939 his SS Einzatsgruppen were already tasked to murder Jews; by the time of Auschwitz and the launch of industrial extermination a million and a half Jews had already been murdered.
An Einsatzgruppe D member about to shoot a Jew kneeling at a mass grave in Vinnitsa, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, in 1942. The photograph is inscribed: The last Jew in Vinnitsa, (Wikipedia)
The Einzatsgruppen: were special police units consisting of men, usually above military age or otherwise deemed not suitable to serve in 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].”
By “Auschwitz” I refer to that period of the Final Solution of industrial extermination. 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.”
Photograph of 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 using transport, personnel and supplies to defend Germany from the Allies or to 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 not have ended at Europe’s Atlantic shore. Hitler saw 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.
Hitler began clandestinely rebuilding the Wehrmacht in 1933; began disenfranchising the Jews that same year. These actions do not thereby constitute a declaration of war, the beginning of the Final Solution. 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.
Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by British police at Croydon airport in March 1939. They were put on a flight to Warsaw
A week before this was to appear, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day JTA reported that Switzerland, officially neutral in the Second World War, “threw out asylum seekers,” even though that government,
“was aware of German leader Adolf Hitler’s extermination plan and the existence of German concentration camps as early as 1942, the year that Germany decided on its so-called “final solution” for the Jews.”
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, instead, not the Lutherans, or the Catholics or the French?
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 notarized order by Hitler, the missing blueprint representing intention? 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 his 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, that we are secure in our Diaspora our self-definced "exceptional" homeland.
That the Holocaust is but one event in a long history of a very long tradition of anti-Jewish persecution; that by our own denial will our children, more distant from the Holocaust, one day be victim to the next.
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