The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Final Solution

Debate still rages over the chronology of the implementation of the Final Solution. It has been suggested that SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhardt Heydrich, chief of the SD and the Gestapo (commonly known as the RSHA or Reich Security Main Office) and Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, were responsible for the change in direction of Nazi ideology in regard to the treatment of the Jewish population after 1941. Some historians, however, believe that only after the start of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, against Russia, were orders given to Germany's Einsatzgruppen, (extermination squads) to kill all the Jews in the newly conquered territories, (the functionalist argument).2

Another argument, called (intentionalist) as outlined by historians Yehuda Bauer and Christopher Browning, is that the decision to exterminate the Jewish population was part of a much earlier German plan to destroy the Jews.3 There is definitely evidence to show that, despite the earlier emphasis on emigration and expulsion of the Jews from Germany and the Reich territories (such as the Madagascar Plan), the Nazis were planning other solutions for their "Jewish problem" even before 1941 and the implementation of the Aktion Reinhardt extermination plan in Poland. As Browning points out in his book, The Final Solution and The German Foreign Office, the senior German officials who later attended the Wannsee conference in Berlin on January 20, 1942, were informed a year earlier of Einsatzgruppen activity. Gestapo chief Heinrich Mueller sent five activity and situation reports to Joachim von Ribbentrop in the foreign office on October 31, 194 1, reports that gave details of the execution of approximately 70 to 80,000 Jews by the Einsatzgruppen in the greater Reich territories.4

These reports prove that for senior officials at the Wannsee conference, it was not the first time they had been exposed to the idea that Endlosung (the Final Solution) now meant, the mass killing, if not the extermination, of the Jewish people.

Historian Benno Muller-Hill has recently published an interesting article on the academic qualifications of those who attended the Wannsee conference.5 The academic background of these individuals is revealing because it shows the strong academic support for the extermination plan. Heydrich had invited 14 people to Wannsee, including seven ministers of state: the minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, the Interior minister, the minister of the Office of the Four-Year Plan, the minister of Justice, the General Government (controlling - central - southern Poland) minister, the minister of the Foreign Ministry, the Party Chancellory minister and the Reich Chancellery Minister, along with five high ranking SS officers.

Heydrich chaired the meeting and discussed the plan to move the Jews from the west to the east where they would be put to work. Any survivors would be, "dealt with appropriately." The problem of Mischlinge (mixed nationality Jews) was also discussed. These details are well known to historians, but as professor Muller-Hill emphasized in his article, seven of the participating ministers held doctoral degrees in law.6

What is even more surprising is the academic qualifications of Germany's Einsatzgruppenfuhrer (extermination squad leaders). Six of the 15 Einsatzgruppenfuhrer held doctoral degrees; 16 of the 69 Einsatzkommandofuhrer (smaller extermination commando squad) groups held doctoral degrees.7 Dr.Franz Alfred Six, the leader of Vorkommando Moskau of Einsatzgruppe B received his doctorate of philosophy in 1936 from the University of Heidelberg. He taught political science at the University of Konigsberg in 1937 and held the chair of foreign political science at the University of Berlin in 1939. He was also the top Jewish expert for the SD ( Heydrich's secret police).8

In 1941 Himmler gave Franz Six a promotion:
"I hereby promote you, effective 9 November 1941 SS Oberfuehrer for outstanding service in the east Einsatz. [Signed H.Himmler]

Six was sentenced at Nuremberg in 1948 to 20 years in prison, but was released in 1952 -- even though his Kommando units had killed more than 15,000 people according to the Nuremberg court.10 Six was named head of Porsche advertising after his release.

Otto Ohlendorf, who was sentenced to hang at Nuremberg for his war crimes, held a doctorate in sociology and was a professor at the University of Berlin. Ohlendorf, the Fuhrer of Einsatzgruppen D (Crimea) was convicted at Nuremberg for the deaths of more than 90,000 people.11

At his trial testimony at Nuremberg, Rudolph Hoess, the First Commandant of Auschwitz, stated that in the summer of 1941 he had been summoned to Berlin by Himmler and given specific orders that the Jews were to be exterminated. This meeting occurred after Himmler visited Auschwitz in May 1941.12 The ambiguity as to when the decision to kill the Jewish people on a large scale was made as opposed to the earlier policy of merely encouraging the killing of political opponents or partisans seems, therefore, pedantic.

Erwin Lahousen, an intelligence officer who worked directly under Admiral Canaris, head of intelligence for the Abhwer, testified at Nuremberg that the Chief of the OKW in the Eastern Occupied Territories General Keitel, had told him that the shooting of certain segments of Germany's population had already been agreed upon, including the Jews, Polish intelligentsia, nobility and clergy. Keitel's words were recorded by Lahousen on Sept 12, 1939, while the pair were aboard the Fuhrer's train, prior to the fall of Warsaw.13 It appears, then, that the confusion over when the Final Solution began to mean the extermination of the Jews was deliberate, and that the exact turning point has been purposely cloaked in secrecy. As Heydrich stated in regard to the Jewish problem in Sept 1939, "the ultimate goal is to be kept secret." 14

There are, according to the historian Philip Burrin, only two existing documents that refer to the 1941 extermination of Jews in the newly occupied Russian territory. One of these document's is Heydrich's letter of July 2, 1941, to the SS and German police chiefs. The letter encouraged the execution of all Jews in state and party positions, i.e., communists. The second document from Heydrich, dated July 17, 1941, stated that all Jewish prisoners from the war against Russia were to be executed.15

By June 22, 1941, Germany's campaign against Russia and the Jewish Bolshevik menace, commonly referred to as the Final Solution, was far reaching. Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering had succeeded by this time in drawing within their control the German police, the judiciary, the civil service and the Wehrmacht. Adolph Eichmann, Heydrich's specialist on the deportation and emigration of the Jews, had already worked successfully at deporting the Jews in Vienna with Dr. Lowenherz, a Jewish leader who worked on Eichmann's plan for Jewish emigration. In an 18-month period between 1937 and 1939, Eichmann had forced more than 150,000 Jews to leave Germany, and by August 1939, Heydrich had set up a Central Office for Jewish Emigration.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on emigration soon changed. On February 13, 1940, the first deportation of Jews by train -- from Stettin, Germany to Lublin in the Eastern Territories -- occurred. This transport was rapidly followed by forced deportation of Jews from the Reich. By June 30, 1943, 265,000 Jews had been deported by train from Germany. Germany was then proclaimed Judenrein (free of Jews), although there were still thousands of Jews in hiding and thousands more in Dachau and other camps, including Theriesenstadt.16

By 1943 then, the Final Solution had evolved from what was initially an emigration program in 1938 under Eichmann, to concentration and deportation eastward, to the collection of eastern Jews into the ghettos, and finally by 1941 and 1942, following the Wannsee Conference, to the execution of the Jews by Heydrich's Einsatzgruppen squads and gassing in Himmler's extermination camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and the other death camps in Poland. By November 1942, approximately 2,000 Jews per day at Auschwitz were being killed with Zyklon B gas produced by the I.G. Farben company. By the time Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians on January 27, 1945, it is estimated that at least a million people, mostly Jews, had been murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers located at the Birkenau camp. Approximately 75 per cent of the transports were gassed immediately upon arrival after selection in Birkenau, the remainder were kept in Auschwitz for slave labour or transported to other camps. © 1999 Martin Rose, No reproduction of this document is allowed without the author's permission

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