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Another Look at Hitler and the Beginning of the Holocaust
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MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION CONCERNING THE BEGINNING OF THE Holocaust does not pay sufficient attention to the specific nature of the documents that survive and have been utilized by scholars in analyzing events. We have known for years that Hitler told those who wanted to initiate a program for the killing of the handicapped that the implementation of this initiative would have to await the beginning of war. As Henry Friedlander has shown us, this was not some vague notion but a serious intent on Hitler's part. Indeed, this killing program would be implemented in 1939 with Hitler's written October authorization backdated to September 1, 1939. No one, as far as we know, came to Hitler in the 1930s with a similar call for a program of killing the Jews, so that he had no occasion to make a similar response about coordinating the timing of the killing and the war. We do know that in the winter of 1938-39, Hitler decided that there would be war in 1939, and he resolved that no one was going to cheat him of war as he believed Neville Chamberlain had done in 1938. It is no coincidence that at the time of the November 1938 pogrom, Hitler convened a gathering of German media representatives and told them to prepare the German public for war.
While Hitler had called for the extermination of all Jews to a cheering audience in Munich in early April 1920, the chronologically first documented reference by Hitler, as chancellor, to killing Jews came soon after the decision for war. On January 21, 1939, Hitler told Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky: "Die Juden würden bei uns vernichtet"—"the Jews in this country will be destroyed." The terminology here—vernichtet—is the one that Hitler invariably uses thereafter to describe killing, not expulsion or any other action. The notorious prediction of January 30, 1939, expands the concept of destroying all Jews from Germany to Europe, a subject I shall return to later. Hitler's next specific discussion of killing Jews is in a conversation with Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu in Munich on June 12, 1941. Hitler explained to the Romanian leader that the Jews in the Soviet Union—about to be invaded by Germany and Romania—are to be killed. Although this particular conversation between the two is not recorded by a German memorandum, the accuracy of the Romanian record of this part of the discussion was confirmed by the German Foreign Ministry's Karl Ritter for the benefit of the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW).
On the evening of July 21, 1941, Hitler had a long conversation with the Croatian Minister of War, Slavko Kvaternik. One page of the German record was accidentally omitted when the original was microfilmed before the Germans themselves destroyed it. Before the break in the microfilm ofthe record, Hitler had begun what appears to have been a lengthy discussion of the Jewish question. After the break in the record, he is quoted as warning that it would be dangerous to allow even one family of Jews to remain in any country. He would insist on emptying the entire European continent of Jews. Since Kvaternik had been born in the Hungarian portion of Austria-Hungary and had served in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, Hitler then commented that Hungary would be the last country to surrender its Jews. This comment proved to be one of the few predictions Hitler made in July 1941 that turned out to be correct.
In his conversation with Haj Amin al-Huseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, on November 28, 1941, Hitler explained his views both in more detail and with a wider range. He asserted that Germany was insisting on a solution of the Jewish problem in every European country and would then turn to Jews living among "außereuropäische Völker"—non-European peoples, that is, to the rest of the world. Just as with Kvaternik Hitler had assumed a particular interest in Hungary rather than Norway or Portugal, so with the mufti he assumed an interest in the Middle East rather than Peru or Tasmania. He therefore explained that when the German army arrived in that region, its only goal would be "die Vernichtung des im arabischen Raum unter der Protektion der britischen Macht lebenden Judentums" ("the destruction of the Jews living in Arab space under the protection of British power"). One should note here the use of the term "Vernichtung." For obvious reasons, Hitler did not tell the mufti that the area was to be a part of Italy's colonial empire. But he did clarify the global concept that would subsequently be implemented by the extension of the Holocaust to the Dodecanese Islands, which the Germans considered a part of Asia, as well as the attachment of a murder commando to Rommel's headquarters in Africa.
The reader may have noticed that every one of these reports covers a conversation that took place between Hitler and a foreign representative. Are we therefore to assume that Hitler reviewed his plans for the killing of Jews only with foreign leaders? It is more likely that the survival of these records is related precisely to the need for records of international discussions, while similar records were not always prepared for discussions with German leaders. We know that Admiral Raeder, the commander-in-chief of the German Navy from 1928 to 1943, and Albert Speer as minister of armaments and military production kept records of the questions they took up with Hitler precisely because that was the only way that they could afterward be sure to have a record of Hitler's decisions. They assumed—correctly, as we know—that unlike a very high proportion of Hitler's meetings with foreign leaders, until the institution of stenographic records of the military conferences in the fall of 1942, there was no systematic keeping of records of Hitler's meetings with German military and political leaders. But then, how were Hitler's plans to be implemented if not by the German political and military leaders with whom he met?
In his study of Heinrich Himmler's role in the Holocaust, Richard Breitman reviewed the evidence on new plans for dealing with Jews in the months of February to April, 1941. The references to Hitler in the evidence are invariably at second hand. I suggest that another look at the appointment calendar of Heinrich Himmler may be helpful. Himmler met with Hitler at least six times in April 1941. Both before and after these meetings Himmler regularly met with Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reich Security Main Office, and Kurt Daluege, the chief of the uniformed police. Since those were the days of final preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union, it is reasonable to assume that aspects of police planning for that campaign were discussed by Hitler and Himmler. In this connection, there is some new information that deserves mention.
There has been considerable discussion about whether the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were gathered for a meeting and given oral instruction to kill Jews in the newly occupied Soviet Union before the invasion started on June 22, 1941. Some have argued that this whole idea was fabricated after the war to provide a lesser punishment for the leaders of these murder commandos on the basis of their following orders. We now have access to documents that allow us to evaluate that argument. When the British turned over Otto Ohlendorf, the former commander of Einsatzgruppe D, to the United States in December 1945, the British also provided the Americans with summaries of their earlier interrogations of Ohlendorf. These documents were security classified at the time, and as "Foreign Government Information" they were not reviewed for possible declassification until after the passage of the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Law lifted the automatic exclusion of such material from review. With the agreement of the British, the material has now been declassified and is covered in Hilary Earl's book on the Ohlendorf trial. It is clear from this material that Ohlendorf was talking about the pre-invasion meeting in the summer of 1945, long before any trials of Einsatzgruppen leadership, and when he had no inkling of the possibility that he might be tried himself. The Ohlendorf interrogation documents indicate that there evidently had been such a meeting, and that the instructions to kill Jews were given orally, presumably intentionally so. That these directives would be interpreted somewhat differently in the early rapid rushing forward of the Einsatzgruppen in the first weeks of the campaign is hardly surprising. When we consider the now famous or notorious Einsatzgruppen reports, it is important to emphasize that these reports are from essentially militarized police units operating hundreds of miles apart and regularly reporting on the killing of Jews. Clearly they understood the killing as their mission, and the reports as required of them. Military units do not report on their operations unless they have reason to believe that it is expected of them.
This point seems to me to be essential for an understanding of the reports of the Order Police Battalions that were intercepted and decoded by the British. Unlike the Einsatzgruppen reports that became available while trials at Nuremberg were going forward, these decrypts were security classified at the time and not declassified until 1996. As has long been known, the original German documents were deliberately destroyed; the surviving officers and men of those units preferred to continue their careers and draw their pensions in postwar Germany rather than to stand trial for war crimes. Now that these reports for the summer of 1941 are available at least in part, they reveal an aspect similar to the reports of the Einsatzgruppen. From places hundreds of miles apart, the Police Battalions were reporting on the killing of Jews. Like the Einsatzgruppen, they clearly thought they were supposed to be killing and reporting on it. When they were told to report by more secure means, they naturally took that as a sign that they were acting as they should, and that they were to continue to report on the killings, but in a more secure manner.
The conclusion I would draw from this is that before the invasion of the Soviet Union, there was an analogous meeting of Orpo leaders with Kurt Daluege or his representative, giving them oral instructions similar to those given to the Einsatzgruppen. Although not phrased precisely this way, this is also the conclusion of Edward Westermann's careful study of the Orpo units. Since the British waited until 1983 to provide the United States with the intercepts just mentioned, there is no reason to believe that they provided them to the government of Czechoslovakia when Daluege was tried and executed there in 1946, so that he could not be asked about them even if the prosecutors had been interested in the general subject.
It has long been known that all German units were encouraged to incite local pogroms and to assist any that started without German help. Now that the size of the Police Battalions is known, there cannot be any argument that there were not enough German men available to implement a program of killing all Jews in the Soviet Union even without massive pogroms. Westermann suggests that 12,000 men made up the police units. There were well over 2,000 in the Einsatzgruppen. The recent excellent book by Johannes Hurter on the German commanders on the Eastern Front adds some other SS and police units for a grand total of 30,000 men tasked with the killing of Jews as one of their major responsibilities. The units under the control of Himmler's new immediate command staff (Kommandostab Reichsfuhrer-SS) add more than 10,000 more men to those engaged in mass murder in the summer of 1941. In this context, any notion that such numbers could not have been expected before June 22, 1941, to implement a program of the systematic killing of millions must be abandoned.
That there was confusion and local variation in killing procedures and victim selection during the initial phases of the campaign and the very rapid German advance precisely through areas of especially heavy Jewish settlement is hardly surprising. This aspect of the practical realities of the time has generally been ignored in the literature on the subject. The initial confusions and variations, however, do not reflect a confusion of pre-invasion planning or the nature of the orders that those who were trying to implement them did their best—or worst—to carry out.
If we now look back at the evidence discussed here, we can see a program of systematic killing for the Jews of the Soviet Union intended and ordered before the invasion, preferably with army support and without army objections. The initial German military victories of June and July convinced Hitler that the campaign would end as quickly as he had anticipated, and that the German military were fully cooperating in the slaughter of Jews. By the last week of July, he was confident that the time had come to extend the killing program to all of Europe. Because that looked feasible to him, he could indulge in the hopes of a worldwide killing program, as he explained in November. Like other Nazi leaders, Hitler knew that Jews had been expelled from various countries and cities in the past. But after more or fewer centuries, they had been allowed to return. No Jews could ever return in future centuries to any German state, however defined, once all Jews on earth had been killed.
The subject of the decision to launch systematic killing and the initial stages of mass murder in the summer of 1941 has hitherto been amply discussed and reviewed by scholars of the Holocaust. The existing literature, however, has perhaps not done so sufficiently from the perspectives of those who made decisions, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, those who believed themselves to be implementing their country's and their leader's policies.
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Police Force Under Occupation: Serbian State Guard and Volunteers' Corps in the Holocaust
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IN THE CONTEXT OF THE EXTREMELY HARSH NAZI OCCUPATION policies in Serbia, the local police regularly took part in German-led punitive actions against Serbian civilians. Although the police force was defined by the collaborationist regime as deeply patriotic, ethical, and protective of innocent Serbian civilians, their record of increasing brutality contributed to their rising unpopularity. In investigating the interdependent nature of the Holocaust and violence against the non-Jewish Serbian population in occupied Serbia, this chapter examines how the self-image of the local police was reconciled with frequent shootings of Serbian civilian hostages throughout the occupation. I argue that the Holocaust is key to understanding the regime's efforts at boosting its own patriotic reputation. The Jewish population provided a convenient pool of hostages in the course of German military reprisals, and its fate also proved to be extremely suitable for the collaborationist administration's propaganda. This chapter will, therefore, investigate how the local dynamics of Serbian-Serbian violence shaped the wartime regime's and the local police formations' understanding of and participation in the Holocaust.
The current historiography on wartime Serbia on the whole supports the view of Jozo Tomasevich, the most important author on this topic, that the country's tight and brutal occupation left very little room for the collaborationist government to undertake any meaningful measures. According to Tomasevich, consequently, the wartime administration led by General Milan Nedic faced increasingly extreme restrictions in all its spheres of action, and could not be held responsible for the mass murder that the occupation authorities orchestrated in Serbia in the first years of the war simply because it was awarded almost no autonomy. Tomasevich also recognized the attempts of Milan Nedic and his associates to help certain sections of the population. Revisionist authors, such as Vasa Kazimirovic, Stanislav Krakov, or Borivoje Karapandzic, mainly complied with this image of Nedic and Dimitrije Ljotic's formations as powerless bystanders, who were occasionally offered an opportunity to aid Serbian refugees or orphans, or to exert pressure on the Germans and alleviate somewhat their vengeful anger, and who collaborated out of patriotism rather than ideological convictions. On the other hand, the Yugoslav socialist historiography assumed the opposite viewpoint, arguing that the collaborationists willingly embraced the opportunity to advance the Nazi occupation aims, out of their own authentic fascistic leanings (see, in particular, Mladen Stefanovic, on Ljotic's organization Zbor), and functioned as a true partner in the destruction of the country. Moving beyond these contradictory interpretations, this investigation describes the collaborationist organizations as, in fact, very limited in their authorizations, but still committed to implementing their own vision of the right social order and doing away with political and ideological enemies under the German auspices. In so doing, this study also problematizes the motivation and internal dilemmas of the collaborationist police units who regularly engaged in executions of Serbian civilians.
Excerpted from LESSONS AND LEGACIES X Copyright © 2012 by Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Theodore Zev Weiss
Sara R. Horowitz
I Wartime Sources of Interpretation
Gerhard L. Weinberg
Another Look at Hitler and the Beginning of the Holocaust
Police force under occupation: Serbian State Guard and Volunteers' Corps in the Holocaust
Jewish Mystical Thought (Kabbalah) Through the Holocaust
Paul B. Jaskot
"Realism"? The Place of Images in Holocaust Studies
II Rethinking Testimony
Collaborative Interpretation of Survivors' Accounts: A Radical Challenge to Conventional Practice
Incapable of Revealing the Event: Elie Wiesel and the Reading of Memoir-Writing
III Victimhood, Identity, Practice
Political Upheaval and Shifting Identities: Holocaust Survivors in the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany, 1945-1949
Joanna Beata Michlic
The Aftermath and After: Memories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust
From Nuremberg to Kigali: On the Necessity and Impossibility of Post-Atrocity Justice
Reflections, Traditions, and Representations From a Painting Studio
Notes on Contributors