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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

BYLINE: Heilbrunn, Jacob

    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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