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Dutchess Community College History 210 Daniel Hildebrandt
When people are asked to define the Holocaust, it is hard to define in terms of a “dictionary” definition. The first thought that comes to mind when people hear the term, the Holocaust, they usually refer to the mass killings of Europeans (especially Jews), committed by the Nazi’s, during World War II. According to the Merriam-Webster, the literal definition of the word holocaust is: a sacrifice consumed by fire. One but can’t help to wonder if the Holocaust was systematically planned or was this horrible tragedy and evolution of hate that gradually led to the death of approximately six million people in Europe during World War II? Historians have been arguing this point for many years. The answer they want to obtain is obviously not a very clear answer and is very complex. One thing that has been agreed on is that the Holocaust was not a single event at a single place but yet it was a series of events, which spanned Europe, and took place over years. Some historian’s say that Adolf Hitler had a master plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe and they he solely gave the order to do so. People who believe this ideology are known as Intentionalists. Historians, who oppose this, state that the orders to execute the Holocaust came from lower ranks within the bureaucracy. So is there more evidence to prove that the Holocaust was a direct intention and order of Adolf Hitler or did it gradually progress into a network of extermination camps based on the orders of lower ranking Nazi officials? The origins of this debate began almost as soon as the Second World War was over. At the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, the prosecutors concluded that the plan was a major basis of the formation of the Nazi party back in 1919. Following the war, many people simply had a strict Intentionalists point of view about the Holocaust. It was not
until the late 60’s and the early 70’s that people would begin to think otherwise. In 1969 a historian by the name of Martin Broszat had written a book called The Hitler State. Then in 1970, a man by the name of Karl A. Schleunee also wrote a book called The Twisted Road to Auschwitz. Both these books challenged the idea that the Holocaust was intended from the beginning. They both conveyed the idea that there was no master plan for the Holocaust to occur. The terms “functionalists” and “Intentionalists” were coined in an essay titled “Intention and Explanation” written by Timothy Mason in 1981. In this essay, Mason challenged top historians on their constant blaming of Adolf Hitler as one of the main reasons of the Holocaust. Lets take a look at the factual evidence from the beginning of the war up until the end. I am not going to provide my personal opinion just yet but yet rather present the facts to see if there a clear answer to the question was the Holocaust an intentional event executed by Adolf Hitler? Or was it slowly progressed into mass extermination by the orders of other ranking Nazi officials? The term “Final Solution” did not come into existence until January of 1942 (based on the evidence) at the Wannsee Conference. Was the “Final Solution” inevitable, or was it only brought up due the fact that the deportation of the Jews was not going as planned? I am now going to prevent evidence from the beginning of the war up until the Wannsee Conference, and until the surrender of Germany in 1945. The first major step that would lead up to the “Final Solution” would be the deportation of Jews out of Germany. However previous to this were a number of auxiliary laws known as the Nuremberg Laws. There is an uncanny relationship to these laws and the Jim Crow laws passed in the United States following the Compromise of
1877. Some historians say Hitler modeled the Nuremberg Laws after the Jim Crow laws. These laws were used to clarify the position of Jews in the Reich. The Nazi regime started by stripping the Jews of economic, political, and citizenship rights. So even before deportation Hitler wanted to “dehumanize” the German Jew. In March of 1938 Germany annexed Austria without any resistance from Austria and the rest of the world. Since Hitler had spent much time in politically conservative Vienna, he learned a lot about anti-Semitism and concluded that Austria and Germany were destined to be united. It was in Austria Hitler learned a great deal about antiSemitism. Hitler was persuaded by the mayor of Vienna in the late 1890’s to view the Jews as not equal. It was also here that Hitler would become interested in a publication known as Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Darwin’s ideas of “survival of the fittest and racial theories of human behavior” would have a lasting impact on Hitler. Almost immediately after Austria was annexed in 1938, the Nazi’s set up an Emigration office in Vienna. The control of the office was given to a man by the name of Adolph Eichmann. It had been reported that there were more then 180,000 Jews in Austria in 1938. In September of 1939, there had only been about 60,000 remaining. The office had faced much difficulty in finding countries that would accept the Jews. This deportation effort concerned President Roosevelt enough to call a meeting of 32 nations to discuss the issue. On July 6, 1938 the nations met in Evian, France. Despite
the fact that the conference had known about the Nuremberg Laws and the intention of Hitler to take away the rights of Jews, the conference closed with little accomplished. They did not come up with any kind of solution to help the Jewish deportees. The rest of the world did little to help either.
Did Adolf Hitler know that for the most part the world would close their doors to the Jews? Could this of been when he came up with the idea to exterminate all the Jews? This was the first major step leading up to the “Final Solution.” At the end of 1938 and straight through 1939 many laws were passed in Germany to further make the Jews .non human.” Jewish doctors and lawyers had their licenses declared invalid. They were required to hand over all their gold and silver to the Nazi government. This left the Jews without nearly enough money required for emigrating. This was the first major step toward the “Final Solution.” Was it after the failed attempt to force emigration that the Reich would think of genocide as an answer? At a meeting of top Nazi officials on November 12, 1938 Goring spoke about Hitler’s wishes on how to proceed with the Jewish Question: “The Jewish question is to be summed up and coordinated once and for all and solved one way or another...If the German Reich should in the future become involved in conflict abroad then it is obvious that we in Germany will first of all make sure of settling accounts with the Jews. Apart from that, the Fuehrer is now at last to make a major move abroad, starting with the powers that have brought up the Jewish question.”
The second major phase toward the “Final Solution” would begin with the outbreak of war in 1939. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and World War II begun. Within three weeks, Poland was under Nazi control. In 1939, Poland had approximately 3 million Jews living there. Germany quickly divided up Poland into 10
smaller districts. Like in Germany, the Jews living there were quickly stripped of their rights. There personal property had been taken away and they relocated to ghettoes and concentration camps. This is when we first see the Einsatzgruppen target and murder Jews. The Einsatzgruppen were elite mobile killing units who were granted exclusive permission to fight alongside the German army of the front lines. They were under control of SS leader Heinrich Himmler. There main purpose was to hunt out and kill Jews in Poland. 18 months after the invasion of Poland, the Einsatzgruppen had sought out and killed over 1,300,000 Jews. These innocent people were killed by shooting them or by stuffing them into a van, and filling it with poison gas. The Einsatzgruppen’s leader, Heinrich Himmler, would soon come to realize the harmful psychological effects of killing mass number of women and children would greatly hurt his elite soldiers psyche. Himmler was looking for a more “humane” way of effectively killing the Jews in Poland. Hitler soon realized that Poland did not have adequate space for German resettlement and the Jews. It was clear that in 1940 that the Jewish problem had to be taken care of once and for all. One idea that was considered was to deport all the Jews to some other place in the world. Madagascar was considered as an ideal place, however that plan was quickly abandoned. It was clear to Hitler that the Nazi’s need a “final” way to deal with the Jewish Question. Prior to the Nazi’s setting up extermination camps, they had set up a program in Berlin known as T-4 Euthanasia. The major purpose of this program was to rid the Reich of “unfit” Aryans. Hitler wanted to kill mentally ill, handicapped, and incurable Germans. This program was kept very secret because of the harsh opposition that would
come from the German public. Between 1939 and 1941, approximately 55,000 German adults and children were killed. They German scientists experimented with the technique used to kill them. The first used a form of lethal injection. Then they experimented with a shower stall that actually spewed poison gas. I feel that this foreshadows the events that would come to take place at the extermination camps such as Auschwitz. There is without a doubt, a link between the Euthanasia program and the “Final Solution.” Functionalists might argue that Adolf Hitler wanted to even kill his own kind who were seen as inferior. They might say that he did not intend to only pursue genocide against just Jews. It raises an interesting question, because the Fuhrer was perfectly willing to kill people of German blood. In 1940, we see the rise of ghettos in Poland. The Jews were sent to live there sort of a temporary solution until a final one could be proposed. Between 1940 and 1942, many ghettoes would be established throughout Poland. The conditions in these ghettoes were terrible. Many Jews would die in the ghettoes as a direct result of starvation. They were used exclusively for slave labor. Before the proposal of the “Final Solution” was official, it was very clear that something had to be done to get rid of the Jews. The figured starving them in the ghettoes was a better approach then just shooting them and “wasting” ammo. What the Jews did not know is that the ghettoes they were living in were amazing places to live compared to what awaits them.
On January 20, 1942 a meeting took place in Berlin to discuss what needed to be done about the “Jewish Question.” While previous to the meeting, Hitler and Himmler
already knew what had be done, this meeting was simply to inform other top Nazi officials of to what was going to happen. The meeting lasted about 90 minutes. The top Nazi official presiding over the conference was Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich had wrote:
"the main purposes of the conference were, firstly, to establish the overall control of the deportation programme by the RSHA over a number of important Reich authorities and thereby, secondly, to make the top representatives of the ministerial bureaucracy into accomplices and accessories to, and co-responsible for, the exile of all Jews in the present and future areas under German rule to Eastern Europe, where they were to be exposed to extraordinarily harsh living conditions and fatally exhausted or murdered.”
Following this conference, the “Final Solution” was made an official Nazi policy. At that point mass extermination camps were set up very quickly. Concentration camps had already been set up when Hitler came to power. However these camps were to be used for political prisoners and people who opposed the Reich. People did die in these camps, but it was due to disease and starvation. These camps had been set up all over Germany and the occupied territories. There is no evidence to show that these camps were intended to exterminate people. A large camp in Germany by the name of Dachau did have crematoria in it, but it was strictly used to dispose of the people who had already died. Two major influences affected the emergence of the extermination camps. One of them was the T-4 Euthanasia program which I already mentioned. Another would be a small event that occurred at the Aschaffenburg concentration camp in Bavaria. As early
as 1933 a group of SS men killed a number of Jews who had been detained in the camp. The local authorities arrested the SS men. Himmler ordered the men to be freed and that they were not subject to civil laws. This event would help set forth the coming mass murder at extermination camps. Just to make clear that there is a big difference between the concentration camps and the extermination camps. People did die at concentration camps but these camps had been in place for quite some time. The major difference in the classification of the camps is in there intended purpose. Between 1933 and 1941 many concentration camps had been constructed and housed all kind of prisoners such as democrats, communists, homosexuals, and of course Jews. The extermination camps were specifically intended for mass murder. There were plenty more concentration camps then actual extermination camps. Some notable extermination camps included, Chelmno, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzek, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Stutthof. Below shows a timeline of the Nazi extermination camps:
Chelmno December 7, 1941 Gas Vans
AuschwitzBirkenau September 1941 Zyklon-B
Belzek March 17, 1942 Carbon Monoxide 600,000 Killed
Sobibor March 1942 Carbon Monoxide 250,000 Killed
Treblinka July 23, 1942 Carbon Monoxide 700,000 Killed
Majdanek October 1942 Carbon Monoxide and Zyklon-B 1,380,000 Killed
Stutthof June 1944 Zyklon-B
Most people killed in the extermination camps were killed because they were Jewish. Estimates conclude that approximately 3.5 million died in the extermination camps alone. They were not prisoners of war. The Einsatzgruppen killed many more and others died from starvation in the Ghetto. This whole process was rationalized by Nazi ideology. The Nazi’s combined their ideas of racial superiority with Hitler’s personal conquest of world domination, masked by World War II to commit the greatest crimes in the history of our species. So know the question still remains to this day is their enough evidence to prove a more functionalist or Intentionalists theory about the Holocaust? There are extreme points of view on both sides. Both sides have an extreme interpretation and a moderate interpretation. Extreme Intentionalists state that Hitler had plans for the Holocaust since 1924 or maybe even earlier. Historians have concluded that Hitler had made extremely antiSemitic remarks since 1919. However none of these marks refer to killing Jews. In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler only mentions killing Jews once. He says that if only 12,000 to 15,000 Jews had been gassed instead of German soldiers in World War I. Hitler states: "the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain." However this is only one line of his 684 page long book. Other extreme Intentionalists argue that the German people were already anti-Semitic and welcomed the persecution of Jews. On the other side of the fence extreme functionalists argue that the Nazi leader had nothing to do with initiating the Holocaust. They argue that the initiative came from within lower ranks in the German bureaucracy. They have found documents showing a top German general in Poland saying that the countries population had to decrease by
25% in order for the economy to grow. This does not explain why the Nazi’s deported Jews from France and the Netherlands to Poland. Why did they not just target 25% of the Polish population? The Nazi’s went out of their way to deport Jews to Poland. So both sides face criticisms. While researching the evidence and looking at how both sides prevented there facts I cannot pick a clear side. I feel that both groups make very excellent points. I personally feel that no it was not the original intention of Hitler and the Nazi’s to exterminate the Jews. I feel that around 1941 it did become very intentional and all Nazi’s including Hitler wanted this to be carried out. It almost became an obsession to them. They felt like all of a sudden they had to eliminate all the Jews and they had to do it as quickly as possible. So if I had to choose a side it would be moderate functionalism. The main point of all this, regardless if it was intentional or slowly approved, is that nearly 5 to 6 million people lost their lives. The debate that rages on between functionalists and Intentionalists is completely irrelevant to the final outcome. All the events that lead up to the Holocaust slowly evolved over time. The increase in political power, confidence, and being able to get away with almost anything was a recipe for disaster. Hitler and Himmler’s extreme anti-Semitism grew with Germany. The world was blinded by a world war. Either way, intentional or not, these crimes were committed without any empathy towards human life. The Holocaust showed the world how easily people can be controlled and how evil masks the goodness in people.
Kershaw, Ian. The Nazi Dictatorship; Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press Inc, Fourth Edition 2000. Shermer, Michael. "Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of Revisionism & the Restoration of History," Skeptic, Vol. 2, No. 4, Altadena, California, June, 1994. “Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution.” Christopher R Browing 2000 Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington < http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/GENOCIDE/browning1.htm> " Functionalism, Intentionalism, And The Concept Of Scapegoating.” June 1998. Excerpt from interview with Professor Dominick LaCapra. Cornell University < http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%203647.pdf>
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