Lines: 252 Archive/File: holocaust/reviews breitman.001 Last-Modified: 1994/10/24 Copyright 1992 Information Access Co., a division of Ziff Communications Co.; Copyright American Labor Conference on International Affairs 1992 The New Leader April 6, 1992 SECTION: Vol. 75 ; No. 5 ; Pg. 18; ISSN: 0028-6044 LENGTH: 2199 words HEADLINE: The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution.book reviews BYLINE: Heilbrunn, Jacob BODY: The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution By Richard Breitman Knopf. 352 pp. $ 23. 00. SHORTLY BEFORE reunification in 1990, I visited the World War II exhibit of the East German Museum of History. The Communist regime's persistence in distorting the past was striking: Its display focused on the Nazi persecution of Communists and alluded only in passing to the Jewish victims of the Third Reich. As the West German Historikerstreit demonstrated, however, the urge to manipulate history has hardly been confined to the East. Indeed, Presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan's past defense of Nazi war criminals, and his belief that the German invasion of Stalinist Russia was a preventive maneuver, indicate that Holocaust revisionism continues to be perpetrated in the United States, too. In The Architect of Genocide Richard Breitman observes that the Holocaust has been particularly susceptible to distortion, because fundamental questions about its origins remain unanswered. His book helps to correct the situation by exposing Heinrich Himmler's central role in the genesis and pursuit of the Final Solution. A professor of history at American University, the author painstakingly reconstructs and documents Himmler's methodical planning of the annihilation of Jews, showing how from the outset he intended to wage a war without parallel against them - and that he was first and foremost the executor of Adolf Hitler's will. Himmler was the Fuhrer's most loyal disciple, and his faith in him was boundless. As SS chief he insisted that his officers be of pure Aryan descent dating to 1750; he ordered researchers to investigate Rosicrucianism and the occult meaning of Gothic pinnacles; he dispatched an explorer to Tibet to locate unsullied strains of an ancient Germanic race; he built a crypt for his forces beneath the dining room of his castle at Wewelsburg; and, above all, he preached against the Jews. Himmler's worship of Nazism was coupled with formidable organizational abilities. He began to mold the SS into an elite and disciplined force in 1931. Eventually, his men "carried out police functions and ran concentration camps, developed military units, took over or founded agricultural and industrial enterprises.... It was commonly believed that Himmler assigned personnel to the concentration camps down to the last washerwoman." He was no less adept at deception. Horrified by the November 9, 1938, Reichskristalnacht, he declared that the punishment of Jews "had to be done quietly - not out in the open, in front of foreigners and reporters." He carefully avoided affixing his name to documents planning the murder of Jews. In fact, as Breitman points out, the very lacunae in Himmler's otherwise meticulous notes and memoranda are often indications of his deliberately concealing his involvement in the plot. Despite such evasions, the author's patient research reveals that as far back as December 1939 Himmler discussed the need for "crematorium - delousing units" with a subordinate. Although Himmler "even in his private documents" employed "linguistic devices designed to camouflage reality," his own handwriting supplies the "earliest evidence of a plan for a kind of death factory, with poison gas the killing agent and crematoria to dispose of the bodies." By 1940 Himmler was devoting himself to securing concentration camp sites in the newly conquered Eastern territories. This brought objections from Hans Frank, the cruel Governor-General of Poland, who wished to rule over a "stable domain." Breitman shows that Hitler himself intervened, warning Frank in December that he had no choice but to accede to the shipments of Jews. Earlier that year Himmler overcame opposition by simply invoking the Nazi leader. Germany's regular troops viewed the SS and its radical brand of anti-Semitism with unease. Yet having already incurred Hitler's wrath for, in his words, their "Salvation Army" methods during the Polish campaign, the military commanders were not about to press their complaints when Himmler told them in March 1940, " I do nothing that the Fuhrer doesn't know." He not only knew, of course, he was the perpetrator of mass murder. Before Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Hitler made it absolutely plain in an address to senior military officers that German troops would work in tandem with SS Einsatzgruppen to execute Communist functionaries and commissars. That speech anticipated the infamous Commissar Order. Breitman explains that " Nazi propaganda dating back to 1935 closely identified commissars and Party functionaries with Jews, and many German officers had come to accept this equation. The order would involve the Army in the planned liquidations of commissars and move it toward acceptance of the general killings of Jews." Breitman shows that the fate of European Jewry actually was sealed prior to Hitler's June address. in January 1941, while Himmler was surveying possible concentration camp sites, his assistant, Reinhard Heydrich, won Hitler's assent to a plan envisioning the "resettlement" of all German Jews by the end of 1942 and the Final Solution. The author leaves no doubt that in the early months of '41, Hitler, who had two years previously approved mass killing by gas, and who had as early as the mid-'20s held that poison gas might solve the Jewish problem, sanctioned its use in the East. The dates are significant. Breitman's research establishes that the Holocaust was not, as Arno Mayer for one has contended, the response of a frustrated Hitler to military losses on the Eastern Front. On the contrary, the first camps were constructed in 1941, when the Third Reich was enjoying military triumphs over the Red Army. The Architect Of Genocide thus demonstrates that the January 20, 1942, Wannsee Conference "was designed to give an official stamp of approval to a prior policy," and that the Final Solution itself was "the direct expression of Hitler's ideology and frequently expressed wish to destroy the Jewish race." The strengths of Richard Breitman's thoroughness are underscored by the weaknesses of George Bailey's ideological thrust in Germans. An American journalist who has spent much of his life in Germany, Bailey originally published the book 20 years ago; today, revised and updated to include the events of the closing decades of the Cold War, it remains an incoherent and eccentric survey. The bulk of this Cook's tour of German history is too vague to unravel, but we discover along the way that the author's anti-communism has led him to feel " sympathy" for the defendants at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. An Army officer during the War, Bailey compares his forced repatriation of Soviet soldiers with the orders that Nazi commanders had to follow. In one instance he defends General Alfred Jodl, who helped carry out the Commissar Order: "Jodl himself made it clear enough: He was a soldier bound by oath to obey; he had not been allowed to resign; he could protest as he had, but then he was bound to obey." Bailey further asserts: "Knowingly or instinctively, most if not all the defendants in the main Nuremberg trial tried to protect and preserve the basic substance, the essential elements of the German nation." Nonsense. Recent scholarship indicates that even Nazi leader Albert Speer was merely more adept at disclaiming knowledge of his actions than his codefendants. In any case,Bailey never tells us what Germany's "basic substance" might have been. His remarkable conclusion is that "what the Nuremberg trials were all about" was an "attempt to establish a new order. It is hard to say which was sillier: the Germans' attempts to establish a new order by conquest ... or the Allies' trying to establish a new order Bailey's reflections on German Jewry are equally odd. The SS, he says, was determined early on to rid Germany of Jews, but the "biggest hitch proved to be the German Jews' reluctance ... to leave ...... To be sure, some hesitated to emigrate, yet Bailey neglects to mention the difficulties hundreds of thousands of others faced in finding nations willing to accept them. Breitman rightly reminds us that "few countries in the world were willing to take in substantial numbers of Jews." Then there is Bailey's incredible dismissal of Himmler's role in the Holocaust. Goebbels, he writes, "persuaded ! the Fuhrer that the 6 million Jews whom the Reich had by that time acquired through conquest would have to be physically exterminated." At another point the author detects " astonishing similarities between Zionism and National Socialism." And again: "The fact of Israel has changed the Jews from an international liberal-radical class to a nationalist conservative, the homeland-is-holy, Blut-und-Boden, deep-roots-in-the-sacred-soil race." Bailey's perception of the Germans themselves is as unusual as his view of the Jews. Declaring that he has always been favorably disposed toward Prussians, he waxes eloquent on the "Germanic-Celtic combination with the Polish admixture ... the Slavic cast is delightfully mixed with a solid German base." So attracted is he, apparently, that he can't resist dilating on his sexual exploits in Germany. At one point, he recalls "a decathlon of sexual acts," during which he "yelped" when one of his German inamoratas "bit me in a place where I had least expected to be bitten." As that anecdote suggests, we don't learn so much about the Germans' obsession from Bailey as we learn about his chief obsession: himself. When his life becomes interesting (his account of the German publishing magnate Axel Springer is readable) the book becomes bearable. More often, though, Bailey has the verbosity, but not the charm, of Dickens' Mr. Micawber. One wonders why the Free Press saw fit to reissue this monstrosity. Robert Darnton's Berlin Journal, by contrast, is a restrained and incisive account of the first peaceful German revolution. Darnton, a professor of French history at Princeton, lived in Berlin in 1989-90. Through a series of vignettes, he describes the overthrow of the German Democratic Republic's ancien regime and recounts his extensive travels through the country, recording his conversations with local officials, car mechanics, censors, and political activists. A keen observer, he vividly evokes the flavor of life in East Germany before and after the breach in the Wall. When Hungary permitted visitors from the GDR to cross into Austria in September 1989, and those fleeing to Bonn's Embassy in Prague similarly were allowed to travel westward, East Germany's beleaguered Communist Party began its retreat. Darnton headed to the Czech capital in October, strolled through the city and "strayed into the front fine of the current combat zone in the Cold War: the West German Embassy." The thousands of Germans who clambered over the building's fence, he notes, "left almost everything behind .. family, friends, a whole way of life." Darnton calls the country they fled a Nischengesellschaft, or a niche society. Since the underground market triumphed over Socialist inefficiency, for example, the "car mechanic occupied a strategic place in a barter economy where the supreme object of value was the humble Trabi." One German proudly told Darnton, "The mechanic is king." Another reason for the niches was the pervasive snooping of the Stasi, or secret police. In Leipzig alone Stasi officers collected what added up to 5 miles of files "more than all the archives generated not just by Leipzig but by the entire duchy of Saxony over 800 years." After the government dissolved the Stasi, many officers reportedly became taxi drivers. "According to the most widely reported joke," Darnton writes, "when you took a taxi, you only had to tell the driver your name; he would already know your address." It is not surprising, given these circumstances, that under the Communist regime East Germans frequently went into "inner emigration," carving out private lives that included only a few trusted friends. Part and parcel of the GDR's official identity was the adamant refusal to concede any responsibility for the Nazi era. The present proliferation of vicious young neo-Nazi bands in eastern Berlin suggests the consequences of that denial. Still, Darnton points out, in a dramatic departure from the Communist government's mendacity, the first freely elected Parliament immediately asked "the Jews of all the world for forgiveness." Berlin Journal concludes with a visit to the German Museum of History, where Darnton encountered a similar readiness to confront reality. The curators, he reports, plastered the original exhibition, "The GDR, a Socialistic Fatherland," with banners from protest demonstrations. "By examining the slogans of November 4 juxtaposed against the propaganda of 1949-89," he comments, "the visitor can watch the revolution bursting out from the old regime; and at the same time, he can see it congeal as a piece of the past, history only a few months old." On this occasion, it seems, the Germans successfully laid bare their past by covering it up.
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