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Did Hitler Order the Holocaust? (1 of 2)
Did Hitler orchestrate the Final Solution to the “Jewish Question?” Did Hitler merely approve of measures actually developed and organized by Henrich Himmler? Historians debate the “intentionality” issue, with some arguing that Hitler intended the extermination of the Jews from the beginning while others claim it was more of a function of historical contingencies. Raul Hilberg (1994), however, feels that this is an artificial distinction:
In reality it is more complicated than either of these interpretations. I believe Hitler gave a plenary order, but that order was itself the end product of a process. He said many things along the way which encouraged the bureaucracy to think along certain lines and to take initiatives. But on the whole I would say that any kind of systematic shooting, particularly of young children or very old people, and any kind of gassing, required Hitler’s order.
This makes sense from a psychological perspective. Hitler was the supreme commander and as such his orders were usually obeyed. Thus, he is responsible for his own actions as well as those of his underlings. As he said in 1933: “Every bullet that is now fired from the barrel of a police pistol is my bullet. If that is called murder, then I have committed murder, for I have ordered it all; I take the responsibility for it” (Fest, 1974, p. 392). But Hitler’s charges are no less guilty since they not only chose to join the Nazi regime in the first place, they freely carried out the order (it is a myth that death threats were made against those Germans who refused to participate). Thus, all participants become perpetrators.
In Hitler’s War, David Irving argued that Hitler did not know about the Holocaust. He has since become a revisionist and now believes there was no Holocaust for Hitler to know about. Irving (1994) believes that the number of Jews killed “is wrong by an order of magnitude. In other words, 500,000 to 600,000 instead of five to six million.” Hitler, in fact, was the Jews’ best friend: “Without Hitler the State of Israel probably would not exist today so to that extent he was probably the Jews’ greatest friend.” (To this I inquired: “So would you say slavery was good for the blacks because it gave them the opportunity to come to America where they would eventually be free?” He responded: “Oh this is like an examination question. I would have to sit down and work out the logic.”)
The Snapshot Fallacy. Irving claims that there is not one document showing that Hitler ordered the extermination of the Jews. As a classic example of a fallacy of reasoning we might call the snapshot fallacy, Irving reproduces, on page 505 of Hitler’s War, Himmler’s telephone notes of November 30, 1941, when the SS chief telephoned Heydrich “from Hitler’s bunker at the Wolf’s Lair, ordering that there was to be ‘no liquidation’ of Jews.” Irving took a “snapshot” out of historical context and concluded “the Fuehrer had ordered that the Jews were not to be liquidated” (p. 504). But we must see the snapshot in the context of the frames around it. As Hilberg points out, what the log really says is “Jewish transport from Berlin. No Liquidation.” It was in reference to one particular transport, not all Jews. And, ironically, says Hilberg, “that transport was liquidated! That order was either ignored or it was too late. The transport had already arrived in Riga and they didn’t know what to do with these thousand people so they shot them that very same evening” (1994). In addition, for Hitler to veto an order for liquidation implies that liquidation was something that was ongoing.
The “Ausrotten” Debate–the Meaning of “Extermination.” Irving also plays a fascinating game of semantics with the word, meaning “to extirpate or exterminate” (Langenscheidt’s 1952 German-English dictionary). The word is often used in reference to the Jews by Hitler and many of the top Nazis in their speeches and written documents. Irving claims that it really means “stamping out” or “rooting out.” For example, Irving (1977) translates a conversation between Hitler and Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi Reich Minister for the Eastern Occupied Territories. In the Rosenberg’s discussion of handling the Jews, Irving infers “stamping out” for the word ausrotten, and then concludes that Rosenberg meant transporting Jews out of the Reich (p. 356n). I explained to the British-born Irving, that my Occidental College colleague Juergen Pelzer, a German-born professor who teaches German, said ausrotten means “exterminate.” Irving responded (1994): “The word ausrotten means one thing now in 1994, but it meant something very different in the time Adolf Hitler uses it.” Pelzer checked his historical dictionaries. Ausrotten has always meant “exterminate.” Irving’s rejoinder was another example of post hoc rationalization:
Different words mean different things when uttered by different people. What matters is what that word meant when uttered by Hitler. I would first draw attention to the famous memorandum on the four-years plan of August, 1936. In that Adolf Hitler says, “we are going to have to get our armed forces in a fighting state within four years so that we can go to war with the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union should ever succeed in overrunning Germany it will lead to the ausrotten of the German people.” There’s that word. There is no way that Hitler can mean the physical liquidation of 80 million Germans. What he means is that it will lead to the emasculation of the German people as a power factor.
How do we know he did not mean actual liquidation? “Because no one is going to say that if Russians take over Germany they are going to liquidate 80 million people.”
Irving is a formidable scholar and clever logician, but it was amusing to observe him trying to extricate himself from his own inconsistencies. Such reasoning becomes ludicrous after a while. The continual denial of such testimonial evidence demonstrates that Holocaust revisionists are really not historians obeying the normal rules of historiographical reasoning. For example, in a December, 1944, conference regarding the Ardennes attack against the Americans, Hitler ordered his generals “to ausrotten them division by division” (Irving, 1977, p. 741). Was Hitler giving the order to transport the Americans out of the Ardennes division by division?! “No,” Irving admitted (1994):
But compare that with a speech he made in August, 1939, in which he says, with regard to Poland, “we are going to destroy the living forces of the Polish Army.” This is the job of any commander–you have to destroy the forces facing you. How you destroy them, how you “take them out” is probably a better phrase, is immaterial. If you take those pawns off the chess board they are gone. If you put the American forces in captivity they are equally neutralized whether they are in captivity or dead. And that’s what the word ausrotten means there.
In a memo (reproduced below) SS Sturmbannfuehrer Rudolf Brandt tells SS Reichsdoctor Dr. Grawitz in Berlin, about “the eradication of TB [Ausrottung der Tuberkulose] as a disease affecting the nation.” What possible meaning can ausrotten have other than “to kill?” And in connection with this, Irving (1977) translates a report written in March, 1943 by this same Rudolf Brandt, to Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Heydrich’s successor as Chief of the RSHA, as “I am transmitting herewith to you a press dispatch on the accelerated extermination [ausrotten] of the Jews in Occupied Europe” (p. 867). The same man is using the same word to discuss the same process of extermination for both TB and Jews.
How many more examples do we need to demonstrate that Hitler and the Nazis not only hated Jews, they wanted them dead? Here are just a few out of thousands:
- Hans Frank, Governor General of occupied Poland, October 7, 1940, in a speech to a Nazi assembly summing up his first year of effort (Nuremberg Doc. 3363-PS, p. 891): My dear Comrades! . . . I could not eliminate [ausrotten] all lice and Jews in only one year. But in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be attained.Does Frank mean to transport the lice out of Poland on miniature trains?
- On December 13, 1941, Hans Frank told a cabinet session at Cracow, his HQ (N.D. 3363-PS, p. 892):
As far as the Jews are concerned, I want to tell you quite frankly that they must be done away with in one way or another . . . Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews.
Why must the Nazis rid themselves of pity if all they are doing is transporting Jews to a new homeland?
- December 16, 1941, Hans Frank addressed a government session in the office of the Governor of Cracow, in conjunction with the upcoming Wannsee Conference (see previous page for original document):
Currently there are in the Government Generalship approximately 2 1/2 million, and together with those who are kith and kin and connected in all kinds of ways, we now have 3 1/2 million Jews. We cannot shoot these 3 1/2 million Jews, nor can we poison them, yet we will have to take measures which will somehow lead to the goal of annihilation, and that will be done in connection with the great measures which are to be discussed together with the Reich. The territory of the General Government must be made free of Jews, as is the case in the Reich. Where and how this will happen is a matter of the means which must be used and created, and about whose effectiveness I will inform you in due time.
If the Final Solution meant deportation out of the Reich, why is Frank making references to the extermination of Jews through means other than shooting or poisoning them?
- Goebbels’ diary entries are so revealing that they need no further commentary (Broszat, p. 143):
August 8, 1941, concerning the spread of spotted typhus in the Warsaw ghetto:The Jews have always been the carriers of infectious diseases. They should either be concentrated in a ghetto and left to themselves or be liquidated, for otherwise they will infect the populations of the civilized nations.
August 19, 1941, after a visit to Hitler’s headquarters:
The Fuehrer is convinced his prophecy in the Reichstag is becoming a fact: that should Jewry succeed in again provoking a new war, this would end with their annihilation. It is coming true in these weeks and months with a certainty that appears almost sinister. In the East the Jews are paying the price, in Germany they have already paid in part and they will have to pay more in the future.
February 24, 1942, after a visit with Hitler in Berlin:
The Fuehrer again voices his determination to remorselessly cleanse Europe of its Jews. There can be no sentimental feelings here. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that they are now experiencing. They shall experience their own annihilation together with the destruction of our enemies. We must accelerate this process with cold brutality; by doing so we are doing an inestimable service to humanity . . . .
In a speech of September 23, 1942, to 60 German newspaper editors in the Throne Room of the Propaganda Ministry in Berlin, Goebbels made it clear that the press must keep silent about what they all knew was the outcome for the remaining Berlin Jews:
There are still 48,000 in Berlin. They know with deadly certainty that as the war progresses they will be packed off to the East and delivered up to a murderous fate. They already feel the inevitable harshness of physical extermination and therefore they harm the Reich whenever possible whilst they yet live.
Shermer, Michael. “Proving the Holocaust: The Refutation of Revisionism & the Restoration of History,” Skeptic, Vol. 2, No. 4, Altadena, California, June, 1994. Published by the Skeptics Society, 2761 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-3119.