It was January 30, 1939, the sixth anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s accession to power. The Führer addressed the Reichstag – and by extension – the people of Germany. In only months, Hitler’s armies would invade Poland. The German dictator spoke words to his parliament that were not to be forgotten by Jews and Germans alike. In Hitler and the Holocaust (2001), a book that is both concise and thorough, the historian Robert S. Wistrich includes the words of Hitler’s “prophecy” in his infamous address. “One thing I should like to say on this day which may be memorable for others as well as for us Germans: In the course of my life I have very often been a prophet, and have usually been ridiculed for it. During the time of my struggle for power, it was in the first instance the Jewish race which only received my prophecies with laughter when I said that one day I would take over the leadership of the state, and with it of the whole nation, and that I would then, among many other things, settle the Jewish problem. “Their laughter was uproarious, but I think that for some time now they have been laughing on the other side of their face. Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the Earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”According to Wistrich, “This was an extraordinary outburst from the leader of a great power and can hardly be reduced to a mere ‘metaphor’ or a piece of Utopian rhetoric.... The vehemence with which Hitler delivered this particular section of his speech, and the frenzied applause of the Reichstag delegates, makes it plain that it was a deadly serious threat.”And for those who claim that this was not a “smoking gun” in Hitler’s call for the extermination of the Jews, there is yet another public “prophecy” of Hitler’s plans to annihilate the Jews. In their 2000 study of Holocaust denial, Denying History, Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman quote Hitler, yet again, prophesying at a public speech in Munich on November 8, 1942. The dictator told his audience, “You will recall the session of the Reichstag during which I declared: ‘If Jewry should imagine that it could bring about an international world war to exterminate the European races, the result will not be the extermination of the European races, but the extermination of Jewry in Europe.’“People always laughed about me as a prophet. Of those who laughed then, countless numbers no longer laugh today, and those who still laugh now, will perhaps no longer laugh a short time from now. This realization will spread beyond Europe throughout the entire world. International Jewry will be recognized in its full demonic peril; we National Socialists will see to that.”In his groundbreaking work Ordinary Men (1992), historian Christopher Browning traces the activities of German Reserve Police Battalion 101 – not members of the SS mobile killing units – who murdered more than a million Jews in Russia after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. THE RESERVE policemen were not die-hard National Socialists, yet they participated in the murder of Jews and the hunting of Jews to deport to death camps. What motivated these ordinary men to participate in genocide when most were not fanatics? Were they not disgusted by the unspeakable tasks that were demanded of them? As Browning writes, “The fundamental problem is to explain why ordinary men – shaped by a culture that had its own peculiarities but was nonetheless within the mainstream of Western, Christian and Enlightenment traditions – under specific circumstances willingly carried out the most extreme genocide in human history.”In another groundbreaking study that sparked much controversy, historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argued in Hitler’s Willing Executioners (1997) that ordinary Germans were complicit in the genocide of the Jews, following the “eliminationist antisemitism” that was deeply rooted in German culture. Goldhagen writes: “The beliefs that were already the common property of the German people upon Hitler’s assumption of power, and which led the German people to assent and contribute to the eliminationist measures of the 1930s, were the beliefs that prepared not just the Germans who by circumstances, chance or choice ended up as perpetrators, but also the vast majority of the German people to understand, assent to and, when possible, do their part to further the extermination, root and branch, of the Jewish people. “The inescapable truth is that, regarding Jews, German political culture had evolved to the point where an enormous number of ordinary, representative Germans became – and most of the rest of their fellow Germans were fit to be – Hitler’s willing executioners.”I would add that Hitler’s prophecy in his address to the Reichstag in 1939 of the annihilation of European Jewry motivated Germans to murder Jews and, in fact, was a central harbinger of the actions of individuals, whether in the SS or among ordinary soldiers and police reservists. The centrality of Hitler’s prophecy of genocide of the Jews first came to my attention in historian Alon Confino’s A World Without Jews (2014). According to Confino, “Soldiers used the prophecy to describe and justify mass murder” in letters they wrote home from the Eastern Front. “The prophecy reiterated shared emotions about the Jews, such as anger, mockery, vengeance, sarcasm and brutality that in the past had already created an emotional link between Hitler and Germans.” The historian states, “By understanding the meaning of the prophecy, Germans became complicit, whatever they knew about Auschwitz and whatever they thought about the extermination.” Years under the pre-war Hitler regime of dehumanization of Germany’s Jews and the Hitler’s public call to destroy the Jews paved the way for the mass murder of Jews throughout Europe. As in any prophecy, there is no middle ground. Evil must be sought out and destroyed. While it is improbable that Hitler imagined Babi Yar and Auschwitz when he was in the trenches during the First World War, there is no doubt that by January 30, 1939, his destructive intentions were clear and imbued with charisma. Germans followed their Führer. In the end, as in the title of one book, the SS was “the alibi of a nation.”The writer is rabbi of Congregation Anshei Sholom in West Palm Beach, Florida.