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Free Research Paper on Holocaust

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The issue being discussed in these two articles is when Hitler and the Nazi leadership made the decision to implement the systematic mass murder of the Soviet and European Jewish population. When was the plan for the “Final Solution” to the Jewish question formulated?

Christopher Browning argues in his article that the sequence of events and the documentary evidence suggest that Hitler did not harbor a “basic decision” or a “secret plan” for the deportation and extermination of Soviet and European Jewry.

Browning suggests that there were two decisions for implementation, one in mid July 1941 for the mass killing of all Soviet Jews and the second in early October for the “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem in German occupied Europe. He suggests that both these decisions were made in the “euphoria of victory” in the east.

The first decision, to implement the systematic mass murder of the Soviet Jews is supported by logistical, chronological and statistical evidence. Logistically, the 3,000 men of the Einsatzgruppen behind the rapidly advancing German army could not have carried out such mass killings.

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Reports received from the Einsatzgruppen in the first five weeks of the Barbarossa campaign indicate that the majority of victims were Jewish male leadership and intelligentsia, there is no mention of women and children being targeted. At a 16 July meeting with Goring, Lammers, Rosenberg and Keitel, Hitler spoke of Germany becoming a “Garden of Eden”, convinced that victory was imminent, he gave a clear indication (Hitler never gave an explicit order) of what was to happen to the Soviet Jewry. Within a week Himmler had quadrupled the number of SS men operating behind the advancing German army. There was now enough manpower to initiate the mass killing of all Soviet Jewry, including women and children. By mid August, reports showed a sharp increase in the number of Jews being murdered, these included large numbers of women and children.

It is Browning opinion that at the same time as the decision was made for the mass killings of Jews in the Soviet Union Hitler asked Himmler and Heydrich for a “feasibility study” for the extermination of the European Jewry. On 31 July Heydrich received authorization from Goring to prepare such a plan. In August Heydrich and Goebbels proposed to commence deportations from Germany, Hitler rejected this proposal. Hitler initially wanted to delay deportations until after the war. However, with the victories at Vyazma and Bryansk in early October, again in the euphoria of victory, his “last hesitations were overcome”. The end of the war seemed very close and Hitler made the “irrevocable decision”, construction of the extermination camps began and by mid October deportation of the European Jewry had started.

Richard Breitman’s article argues that the idea that the Nazis turned to genocide as “a last resort” is “simply ludicrous”. Breitman argues that along with Hitler’s desire to destroy the Soviet Union, he had an equally longstanding goal of destroying Jewry and that Operation Barbarossa gave him the opportunity and the cover needed for the “liquidation of racial enemies in the East”. The assignment of Einsatzgruppen and Order Police to the Barbarossa campaign demonstrates the intentions of Hitler, Himmler and other Nazi leaders to commit mass murder in the Soviet Union.

Breitman argues that it was Hitler’s plan to rid Europe of Jews prior to the beginning of the war. In January 1939 Hitler gave a speech in which he forecast the destruction of the Jewish race. The Nazis had begun to implement programs to eliminate the handicapped and the mentally ill and on a small scale the Jews as early as 1939. It could be argued that “with regard to decision making, personnel and technique, the killing program for the handicapped served as a model for the Final Solution”

Hitler and the Fuhrer Chancellery became very adept at deception in order to keep from the German public the gassing of the handicapped, code names were given to officials who participated, death certificates were falsified and the trucks used for the gassings were disguised as coffee trucks. Wording of Nazi documents contained euphemisms, for example the gassing of mental patients was referred to as “evacuations”. Hitler had caused trouble for himself by authorizing in writing the killings of the genetically deficient in October 1939 and this could explain why there is no written authorization from him for the Final Solution.

Breitman suggests that plans for the Final Solution were well advanced by early 1941. Evidence of this can be found from several sources. In early December 1940 Himmler gave a speech in Berlin (hand written notes survived), he mentioned Jewish emigration in Poland in order to leave more space for the Poles, who were to be used as a labour source. Himmler made no mention of where the Jews were to go, this is relevant due to the fact that the RSHA had banned Jewish emigration six weeks earlier. He was clearly not referring to Viktor Brack’s Madagascar Plan as this was not feasible at this time as the British fleet lay between the continent and Madagascar. Theodor Dannecker’s disclosure “that the Fuhrer wanted a final solution of the Jewish question after the war in all parts of Europe ruled or controlled by Germany”. Heydrich’s 2 January memo stating that Himmler had approved the establishment of categories within the concentration camp system with one category of prisoners to be sent to Auschwitz II , at the time there was only one camp at Auschwitz “Heydrich already knew that Himmler would soon order an expansion”. Breitman suggests that these early references to the Final Solution “meant then what they meant in July 1941”.

I find Richard Breitman’s article more persuasive than Christopher Browning’s. The many early references to “Final Solution” show there were plans in hand much earlier than Browning’s suggested date of July 1941. As Breitman asks, why would this term mean something different prior to mid 1941 than it did after? Browning’s “euphoria of victory” theory may well have had something to do with the timing of the implementation of these plans, but the evidence seems stronger that the plans were already available.

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