Euphoria led to the Holocaust
Christopher Browning shows how the Holocaust began as the Nazis swept across Russia rather than as a response to their defeat at Moscow in The Origins of the Final Solution
Sunday May 23, 2004
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The Origins of the Final Solution
by Christopher Browning
Heinemann £25, pp644
Of all the books about the great crime, Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men in 1992 was uniquely horrifying. He described how a group of average German civilians formed Reserve Police Battalion 101 and proceeded in village after village, day after day, to slaughter the Jewish men, women and children they found there. After reading it, some people despaired of Germany. Others despaired of the human race.
At least Browning went some way to open up one of the two great questions left by the Holocaust: 'How could they have?' The other question is whether the Nazis always meant to kill the Jews, or whether they drifted into murder when other 'final solutions' became impossible. Now Browning has tried to answer that puzzle too.
The main argument between 'intentionalists' and 'structuralists' is pretty much over. Few historians now think Hitler, insane Jew-hater as he was, planned the gas chambers before he even came to power. But neither do they think that struggles inside the Nazi structure led to Auschwitz almost without conscious human agency. Browning shows how the decision for total extermination was crystallised by changing circumstances, but against the background of a driving impetus to radicalise racial policy which derived ultimately from Hitler. The centre almost never issued direct orders. But local commanders, whether SS officers or administrators in occupied territory, always sensed that more extreme action on the ground would find approval above them.
Some writers - The Observer's Sebastian Haffner among them - thought the decision for mass murder was the result of defeat. When the Wehrmacht was finally stopped at the gates of Moscow, in December 1941, the vague ideas of expelling European Jewry to starve in conquered Soviet Asia became impossible; the millions of deported Jews accumulating in eastern Poland would have to be disposed of in another way.
Browning shows that this is wrong. The decisive impulse was not defeat but the euphoria of victory in Russia, in the summer of 1941. It was the sense that they were invincible which persuaded the Nazis that the genocide of Soviet Jews, which they were already carrying out, could be extended to the Jews of every nation they controlled.
Up to 1939, Hitler's 'destruction of Jewry' meant driving the Reich's Jews into emigration. The conquest of Poland that September changed the picture. The atrocities there were aimed at Poles as much as at Jews, and the scene was soon dominated by Himmler's gigantic ethnic cleansings as he sought to empty western Poland and replace Poles by Germans from the Baltic and Ukraine. The Jews were simply to 'disappear', by emigration to Madagascar or by being shoved into Soviet-held territory. Himmler observed, no doubt sincerely in 1940, that 'the Bolshevik method of physical extermination... is un-German'.
Slowly a Final Solution by emigration shifted towards solutions by expulsion. By early 1941, with war against Russia being prepared, some Nazis were playing with ideas of deporting Polish and perhaps German/Austrian Jews into the Ural steppes where they would be worked and starved to extinction (the concept of 'expulsion' was always linked with 'decimation'). But the brutality of the 'Barbarossa' plan made this irrelevant. Behind the Wehrmacht, the Nazi slaughter-squads were assembled for a 'total war of destruction' against Soviet society. Millions had to die and in this programme the Jews - who in Poland had been perceived as 'vermin' - now became Satanic, central to the 'Judaeo-Bolshevik' hate image.
The deliberate killing of Jewish communities began as soon as the Nazi armies crossed the border. As Browning says, the German attack on Russia ended the era of expulsions. 'The era of mass murder was about to begin.'
The decision for the total extermination of the Soviet Jews opened the doors to the ultimate crime. Browning believes that Hitler made up his mind in July 1941, at the peak of the huge military victories in Russia. The emigration of German Jews was halted and their deportation to execution sites in the East began. The construction of death camps in eastern Poland was accompanied by experiments in the use of poison gas. By October, the evidence shows that the inner Nazi and SS group were preparing for the murder of Europe's Jewish population. The Wannsee Conference of January 1942 only made the German bureaucracy complicit in what was already being done.
Even Browning's researches have not turned up the fatal Hitler order. Probably none existed. That was not his way. Hitler preferred 'the best man, who bothers him least', henchmen who read his mind but took their own initiative. He filled the air with fearsome innuendo, but left it to junior figures to put into practice what they sensed he wanted - and what they wanted too. Afterwards, he would exult and take the credit.
This is a very dense and detailed book. It is a study of decision-making, painstakingly traced through the chaos of competing Nazi institutions. Unlike Ordinary Men, it only seldom takes the reader to the awful reality of what those decisions led to. And yet the horror accumulates. Page after page following the movements of SS and police killing units and analysing their orders alternates with cold figures. Einsatzgruppe A in Riga reports 125,000 Jews killed up to October 1941; two million Soviet prisoners of war are dead by spring 1942 out of 3.5 million captured; 1,000 Berlin Jews are shot in Riga immediately on arrival due to a misunderstanding about billeting.
Browning ends his history in early 1942, when most of Europe's Jews are still alive. But that is as it should be. In order to seek an answer to 'why', we have first to grasp 'how' and pick our silent way down the track which leads - as Gauleiter Greiser used to joke - from 'Expel to Exploit to Exterminate'. On that journey, this book is the best guide. http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/his ... 39,00.html
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Funny, I thought exterminationists were full of quotes from Hitler showing his murderous intent directly? Why is he suddenly now a man who communicated his genocidal intentions by body language in this article? If the Nazis were "euphoric" over their success, human nature dictates it would be less likely they would then reverse the previous public statements against Jews and suddenly go into stealth genocide mode...
If you've experienced revisionism long enough you can literally trace the evolving story as it changes with each new round of debunking. In this one it is the subtle inference that Jews were intended to be starved and worked to death, or "decimated" in the Steppes. The reason for this is because they need to have an out for the ever-increasing unlikeliness of homicidal gas chambers as the forensics become more and more obvious...
insecticide I read many years ago;
1. First you catch a mosquito.
2. You then pinch its mouth open.
3. You try to shove as much insecticide down it's throat as possible.
4. You just press the mosquito between your fingers as hard as you can.
5.You repeat the above instuctions as often as you can.
I think this is on an intellectual par with this kind of anti-revisionism.
Fortunately, there are many stinging mosquitos still left around.
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