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The Holocaust

Hanna Arendt wrote that " ... it was Hitler himself, and not Himmler, or Bormann, or Goebbels, who always initiated the actually "radical" measures; that they were always more radical than the proposals made by his immediate environment; that even Himmler was appalled when he was entrusted with the "final solution" of the Jewish question..."

Some historians are of the view that Hitler had in mind the mass killing of all the European Jews from the earliest times. This "Intentionalist" school of thought is now a minority perspective, though not without adherents. One clear piece of evidence comes from Josef Hell, a retired Major active as a journalist in the 1920s, who interviewed Hitler in 1922 ["Aufzeichnung," 1922, ZS 640, p. 5, Institut fr Zeitgeschichte. Der Gerade Weg.] Hitler said "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."

But Hitler never left a written order ("Fuehrerbefehl") pertaining to this question.

Another view, called the "Functionalist" position, suggests that Hitler's initial plan was perform what would later be called "ethnic cleansing", embarking on the total annihilation of the Jews only after deportations had failed. In this view the Nazi's Jewish policy emerged after a series of failures in getting Jews out of Europe, rather than as a premeditated plan. By the time of the Wannsee directives of January 1942, large numbers of Jews had already been killed in various ways. These formal directives for the Final Solution were more a matter of providing definition and clarity for a program that was already under way.

The "Intentionalist" and "Functionalist" dichotomy is overly simplictic, and neither excludes the other. The "Intentionalists" are probably correct that Hitler appears from the outset to have sought the physical extirpation of the Jews, though without having clearly thought out how this might best be accomplished. The "Functionalists" are probably correct that the German state apparatus only arrived at the final solution once a variety of other schemes had been found wanting.

On the nights of November 9 and 10, 1938 gangs of Nazi youth roamed through Jewish neighborhoods throughout Germany and parts of Austria breaking windows of Jewish businesses and homes, burning synagogues and looting. In all 101 synagogues were destroyed and almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed.26,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, Jews were physically attacked and beaten and 91 Jews died. This event became known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. On 12 November 1938, Hermann Goering called a meeting of the top Nazi leadership to assess the damage done during Kristallnacht and place responsibility for it. It was decided that, since Jews were to blame for these events, they be held legally and financially responsible for the damages incurred by the pogrom. Kristallnacht turned out to be a crucial turning point in German policy regarding the Jews and may be considered as the actual beginning of what is now called the Holocaust. In the meeting, Goering announced, "I have received a letter written on the Fuehrer's orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another." The path to the Final Solution had been chosen, to remove Jews from the German economy. And all the bureaucratic mechanisms for its implementation were now in place.

On July 31, 1941 SS Obergruppenfhrer Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reichssichterheitshauptamt (RSHA), the main police authority in Hitler's Reich, secured a ten-minute interview with Reichsmarschall Hermann Gring, who was head of the Four Year Plan, and obtained his signature on a Vollmacht (authority) empowering Heydrich to draw up arrangements for a solution to the Jewish Problem. "As a complement of the task which was assigned to you by the decree of 24/1/1939, in other words to obtain the most advantageous solution possible to the Jewish question by way of emigration and evacuation given the circumstances, I charge you by the present letter to proceed with all the necessary preparations... to reach an overall solution (Gesamtlesung) of the Jewish question in the zone of German influence in Europe...I charge you with the rapid submission of an overall project (Gesamtentwurf) bearing on the measures of organization and the material and concrete dispositions to realize the final solution of the Jewish question to which we aspire. (Endlosung der Judenfrage.)" Endlosung is frequently translated as "final solution" but might also be translated as "overall solution", "complete solution" or "total solution"

In a memo which circulated in March 1942 in Heydrich's office, the ministers were informed that the Jews of Europe were to be concentrated in the East, "while awaiting to be sent to a distant territory like Madagascar after the war, which will become their homeland... " Final solution to the Jewish problem was one of those conventional phrases used to designate the Hitlerian plan to exterminate the European Jews.

In late 1944, six months before the end of the war, Eichmann reported to Himmler on the exact number of Jews killed so far as 6,000,000 4,000,000 in the death camps and an additional 2,000,000 by the death squads in Poland and Russia. Hoettl reported Himmler was dissatisfied with the report, asserting the numbers must be higher. [RG 263, Records of the Central Intelligence Agency]

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