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Was the idea behind what would become the Holocaust planned by German elites in that time?

Was the idea behind what would become the Holocaust planned by German elites in that time?

Can anyone provide references that point to the Holocaust being motivated not only by Hitler but also by German elites at that time?

Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

The storm of anti-Semitic violence loosed by Nazi Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945 not only reached a terrifying intensity in Germany itself but also inspired anti-Jewish movements elsewhere. Anti-Semitism was promulgated in France by the Cagoulards (French: “Hooded Men”), in Hungary by the Arrow Cross, in England by the British Union of Fascists, and in the United States by the German-American Bund and the Silver Shirts.

In Nazi Germany, anti-Semitism reached a racial dimension never before experienced. Christianity had sought the conversion of the Jews, and political leaders from Spain to England had sought their expulsion because Jews were practitioners of Judaism, but the Nazis—who regarded Jews not only as members of a subhuman race but as a dangerous cancer that would destroy the German people—sought the “ final solution to the Jewish question,” the murder of all Jews— men, women, and children—and their eradication from the human race. In Nazi ideology that perceived Jewishness to be biological, the elimination of the Jews was essential to the purification and even the salvation of the German people.

A novelty of the Nazi brand of anti-Semitism was that it crossed class barriers. The idea of Aryan racial superiority appealed both to the masses and to economic elites. In Germany anti-Semitism became official government policy—taught in the schools, elaborated in “scientific” journals and research institutes, and promoted by a huge, highly effective organization for international propaganda. In 1941 the liquidation of European Jewry became official party policy. During World War II an estimated 5.7 million Jews were exterminated by mobile killing units in such death camps as Auschwitz, Chelmno, Belzec, Majdanek, and Treblinka by being worked to death or through starvation.

Military History Museum, Dresden

Libeskind has also unmistakably left his mark on this museum which focuses on another chapter of German history. The museum dedicated to the military history of the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, was not designed to glorify Germany's army, but rather to document its violence. It also confronts visitors with their own potential for violence.

Daniel Libeskind's spectacular architecture

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In Black Earth, Hitler’s quest for lebensraum is placed in a global context. Snyder, for example, asserts that Hitler was inspired in part by the wide-open spaces of the American West, quoting the German leader as complaining, “Neither the current living space nor that achieved through the restoration of the borders of 1914 permits us to lead a life comparable to that of the American people.” The book focuses on the integral role that the state and its institutions played in determining the effectiveness of Hitler’s genocide. Where states were destroyed, Jews were murdered where the state remained intact, Jews could find some protection in bureaucracies and passports. It was in the stateless regions of Eastern Europe where the Nazis were able to experiment with and calibrate the Final Solution, which they then tried to export back west.

One of the most revelatory parts of the book is Snyder’s diagnosis of Hitler’s warped worldview. And it’s perhaps the most relevant today amid a fierce debate, in the pages of The Atlantic and elsewhere, over whether Iranian leaders are anti-Semitic and whether they can be counted on to conduct foreign policy rationally given their professed desire to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. “I think [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s] ideology is steeped with anti-Semitism, and if he could, without catastrophic costs, inflict great harm on Israel, I’m confident that he would,” U.S. President Barack Obama told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in August, in defending the nuclear deal with Iran. “But … it is possible for leaders or regimes to be cruel, bigoted, twisted in their worldviews and still make rational calculations with respect to their limits and their self-preservation.”

Hitler is often depicted as the prototypical totalitarian—a man who believed in the superiority of the German state, a German nationalist to the extreme. But according to Snyder, this depiction is deeply flawed. Rather, Hitler was a “racial anarchist”—a man for whom states were transitory, laws meaningless, ethics a facade. “There is in fact no way of thinking about the world, says Hitler, which allows us to see human beings as human beings. Any idea which allows us to see each other as human beings … come[s] from Jews,” Snyder told me in an interview. As Snyder sees it, Hitler believed the only way for the world to revert to its natural order—that of brutal racial competition—was to eradicate the Jews.

Last week, I spoke to Snyder at length about the nature and import of Hitler’s ecological anti-Semitism the spectrum of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s the intersection between anti-Semitism and rationality, and whether the question of rationality is even worth considering. An edited and condensed transcript of the conversation follows.

Edward Delman: In your book, you offer a portrait of Hitler as a brilliant tactician, but one who operated on the basis of a truly warped worldview based around racial struggle. Just so we can lay the framework: What would you say were the basic principles of Hitler’s worldview, and what did that mean for how he viewed the idea of nation-states, or ethics, and other universalist principles we assume as given?

Timothy Snyder: So what Hitler does is he inverts he reverses the whole way we think about ethics, and for that matter the whole way we think about science. What Hitler says is that abstract thought—whether it’s normative or whether it’s scientific—is inherently Jewish. There is in fact no way of thinking about the world, says Hitler, which allows us to see human beings as human beings. Any idea which allows us to see each other as human beings—whether it’s a social contract whether it’s a legal contract whether it’s working-class solidarity whether it’s Christianity—all these ideas come from Jews. And so for people to be people, for people to return to their essence, for them to represent their race, as Hitler sees things, you have to strip away all those ideas. And the only way to strip away all those ideas is to eradicate the Jews. And if you eradicate the Jews, then the world snaps back into what Hitler sees as its primeval, correct state: Races struggles against each other, kill each other, starve each other to death, and try and take land.

Delman: And that’s a good world to Hitler?

Snyder: Yeah, that’s the only good. It’s a very dark, empty universe. I mean, that’s how Hitler describes it to himself. There are really no values in the world except for the stark reality that we are born in order to take things from other people. And so Hitler sees the only good thing as removing the Jews who pervert, as he says it, human nature and physical nature.

Hitler in the early 1920s (Wikimedia)

Delman: And so that’s what you mean when you say that Hitler saw the Jews as an ecological or planetary threat—that they were truly existentially damaging the planet with their ideas and their attempts to invert the natural order. You said that they were “un-nature.”

Snyder: Yeah, so unnatur is actually a term that Hitler uses, and I think it’s a really telling term. I think it gets to the heart of the matter. When we think of anti-Semitism, we start from the ground up, right? We think about everyday prejudice. We think about discrimination. We think about the separation of Jews from other people.

What I’m trying to do is start from the top down, and say that the fundamental issue is not that Hitler was more of an anti-Semite than other people. It’s not a matter of just turning up the notches and getting up to a higher level of anti-Semitism. It’s a whole worldview, in the literal sense of the world. He sees the Jews as being the thing which destroys the world, which infects the world. He uses the term “pestilence” in this sense—the Jews have infected the world. They’ve made the world not just impure in some kind of metaphorical sense—he really means it. And so the only way to purify the world—to make things go back to the way they’re supposed to be, to have a natural ecology, to go back to this struggle between races, which Hitler thinks is natural—the only way to do that is to physically eliminate the Jews.

Delman: How did you arrive at this analysis of Hitler? Are you building upon prior scholarly literature to form this diagnosis? Or are you working off of new sources?

Snyder: It started with an intuition, which was actually present in my earlier book, in Bloodlands: that ecology was much more central to Hitler’s thinking than we had realized. And that was just an intuition from practice, from looking at what Hitler actually did. And another intuition, which was that the destruction of the state was very important. In practice, as I argue in the book, Jews die where states are destroyed.

So those were intuitions, but then I went back and reread [Hitler’s manifesto] Mein Kampf, and reread the second book, and read all the major Hitler primary sources, and I was really astonished at how clearly these ideas came out—that, in fact, Hitler’s quite explicitly an ecological thinker, that the planetary level is the most important level. This is something that he says right from the beginning of Mein Kampf, all the way through. And likewise, I was struck that Hitler explicitly said that states are temporary, state borders will be washed away in the struggle for nature. In other words, the anarchy that he creates was actually there in the theory from the beginning. He says from the very beginning, what we have to do is destroy the Jews strip away the artificial political creations that the Jews are responsible for and let nature just take its course. And what he means by nature’s course is [that] the stronger races destroy the weaker races. …

Delman: We all think of Hitler as the prototypical nationalist, and being one who utilized nationalism and was a fervent nationalist in his own right, but according to you, Hitler doesn’t believe in the state as an institution. He thinks it’s an abstraction, possibly even a Jewish invention. He only believes in the race. So, in your view, what was Hitler’s relationship with the German nation-state?

Snyder: … [I]f we think that Hitler was just a nationalist, but more so, or just an authoritarian, but more so, we’re missing the capacity for evil completely. If Hitler had just been a German nationalist who wanted to rule over Germans—if he was just an authoritarian who wanted to have a strong state—the Holocaust could not have happened. The Holocaust could happen because he was neither of those things. He wasn’t really a nationalist. He was a kind of racial anarchist who thought that the only good in the world was for races to compete, and so he thought that the Germans would probably win in a racial competition, but he wasn’t sure. And as far as he was concerned, if the Germans lost, that was also alright. And that’s just not a view that a nationalist can hold. I think a nationalist cannot sacrifice his entire people on the altar of the idea that there has to be racial competition, which is what Hitler did, and that’s what made him different from a Romanian nationalist, or a Hungarian nationalist, or what have you. At the end of the war, Hitler said, ‘Well the Germans lost, that just shows the Russians are stronger. So be it. That’s the verdict of nature.’ I don’t think a nationalist would say that.

And with the state, if anything that’s even more important. Hitler doesn’t so much make the German state stronger as prepare the German state to be an instrument for destroying other states, which is what the SS [Nazi paramilitary organization] does, and what the concentration camps are models for. And insofar as German power reaches outward, beginning in 1938, and destroys Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, and then tries to destroy the Soviet Union, it creates a zone where the escalation of the Final Solution is possible. And again, that’s only possible—killing Jews is only possible—because states are destroyed. And the idea in the end, which is not true of course, … [is that] this racial struggle is going to eventually transform the German race until there’ll be some kind of final revolution at the end. That of course never happens.

Delman: In your view, Hitler’s anti-Semitism and beliefs were all completely genuine? They weren’t a cynical ploy to play off of popular frustrations and consolidate power?

Snyder: It’s the other way around. So, Hitler uses popular frustrations to come to power. He uses the Great Depression to come to power. He presents himself precisely as a German nationalist who is going to get the German economy going, who is going to bring Germans inside the borders of Germany. That’s how he presents himself, but that is a lie. He’s quite consciously manipulating German national sentiment to get to power and then to start the war, which he thinks will transform the Germans, as it were, from a nation into a race. So he’s aware that German nationalism is a force in the world, but he’s just using it in order to create the world that he wants, which is this world of racial struggle. And he’s actually pretty explicit about that, which is pretty striking. So he knows that the Germans care about Germany, but he doesn’t. He actually just wants to manipulate their attachment to Germany—to toss them out into this struggle, which will purify them and so on.

Einsatzgruppen murdering Jews in Ukraine, 1942 (Wikimedia)

Delman: You have this leader of a major power. He’s a racial anarchist—he doesn’t believe in the validity of states, or laws, or ethics, or even history, and claims them as either Jewish lies or abstractions that get in the way of the “law of the jungle,” as you put it and as he put it. In your view, could a leader who thinks this way ever be rational? Could they understand cause-and-effect and cost-and-benefit?

Snyder: … It’s certain at a tactical level that he was quite rational, because he was able to say, ‘My goal is coming to power and starting this war,’ and then he was able to do things rationally to attain that goal, including tamping down the expression of his own views. So clearly he was politically rational, or he was means-ends rational. Whether he could see the world in an entirely rational way—there I would say no.

But the problem is that you don’t have to see the world rationally to be very powerful, and in fact certain kinds of circular ways of seeing the world, like anti-Semitism, can inform you day to day. They can keep you going—they can bring in the population—even though they’re not really true. You can create what Hannah Arendt talks about, “a fictional world”—we use the phrase today “alternative reality” to mean the same thing. You can create this fictional world in which you live, and which guides you and which allows you to move forward. In fact, it can even be a source of your success. So in December of ’41, when Hitler faces this unbeatable alliance basically of the British, the Americans, and the Soviets, he interprets that as the Jewish international conspiracy, which of course it wasn’t—the Jews had nothing to do with that whatsoever. But he interprets it that way, and he says, ‘Ah-hah! This is what I’ve always said, that all the world powers are controlled by the Jews, therefore they’re lining up against us,’ and then that becomes an argument for escalating the Final Solution. So the fictional world provides arguments that you then use to change the real world, because it’s at that point that the Final Solution becomes a total policy of killing all throughout Europe.

Delman: [Hitler’s] actions during those first six years [before he invaded Poland]—he put in place the Nuremberg Laws and other discriminatory acts, but he also, as you said, worked to build up the German state. You’re saying that those domestic and foreign policies were all part of this strategy to prepare the German state for this war that would then lead to racial struggle?

Snyder: … What I’m trying to suggest in this book is that Hitler, [Hitler’s deputy Heinrich] Himmler—they weren’t really thinking only about transforming Germany. They were mainly thinking about the future revolution, which would be possible once the war got started. And if you look at the ’30s in that light, then everything starts to make a lot more sense. The huge Wehrmacht [German army] makes sense as an instrument to destroy other armies. The SS makes sense as an instrument to destroy other states. Concentration camps make sense as a model for how you’re going to rule other states once you’ve gotten rid of their institutions and declared those institutions never existed and never had any validity.

So as I see it, it’s not so much that Hitler built up the German state in a conventional sense. He built up this new capacity to impose a racial worldview on other countries. And the paradox is that he couldn’t really do it in Germany. I mean, what happened to German Jews was dreadful, but German Jews were not actually killed in significant numbers in prewar Germany. The total is a couple hundred. Jews could only really be killed once Hitler got himself out of the box of Germany and used this German racial power that he created over the six years to wipe out other states. It’s at that point that all kinds of things are possible in those other states. But also, you can then send German Jews east, to places like Minsk or Riga where you’ve wiped out the political order, and have them be killed there. That’s one of these things that I think Holocaust historians have to explain. Sure, there was lots of anti-Semitism in, for example, Vienna, but the Jews of Vienna were murdered in Belarus. Why is that? And the answer is that the German state couldn’t actually murder them inside Germany—not in very large numbers. To carry out mass killing, it had to first create this zone of anarchy out in the east and then physically take the Jews and send them out there. …

Delman: You mention that Nazi Germany was not the only anti-Semitic regime in power at the time—Poland, Hungary, and Romania were all governed by anti-Semitic regimes. How did Polish official anti-Semitism, for example, differ from Hitler’s, and how did that affect their decision-making and policies?

Snyder: So in the Nazi case, you have a leader who is much more radical than his population, right? Hitler’s goal is to spread anti-Semitism within the German population, and he succeeds in doing that, but he comes to power much more radical than the population, and he comes to power in part by concealing just how anti-Semitic he is.

In Poland, you have something like the opposite situation. … The government is less anti-Semitic than the population, and for the government anti-Semitism is a kind of problem—and it’s a problem at a time of the Great Depression, let’s not forget, when rural unemployment in Poland was higher than 50 percent and lots of people in Poland actually wanted to leave. Not just Poles, not just Jews, but actually mainly Polish peasants, but [they] couldn’t because the world immigration was such, U.S. laws were such, that no one could actually go anywhere. And, of course, Jews couldn’t go to Palestine either. So everyone was stuck where they were. And the Polish government tries to handle this problem—that no one can immigrate and that there’s quite considerable local anti-Semitism—by this pro-Zionist policy, by supporting right-wing Zionists, by training them, so that they can work against the British in Palestine with the goal of creating some kind of Jewish state, so that in the fairly short run millions of Polish Jews can go there.

Now, I think that’s interesting in and of itself, but the contrast with Germany has to do with the state. The Nazis are thinking that the state is not really an entity—once we get our way we’re going to wipe them out. The Poles are thinking in terms of states. This isn’t to say that they were good or whatever—[just that] they were thinking much more conventionally. They were thinking, ‘OK, if there are Jews, then one way to solve the problem’—they also saw it as a problem—‘is to create a state for them in Palestine, or help them create a state in Palestine.’

So it shows how anti-Semitism itself is not a sufficient description [of the Nazi worldview], because there was plenty of anti-Semitism in Poland, but what there wasn’t was this anarchy. The Nazis had this ecological vision, this anarchic vision, which the Polish just did not have, and it was not very widespread in the Polish population either. And you can see this precisely on the question of Israel, because the Nazis are against Israel on the grounds that it will become some kind of center of Jewish world power, whereas the Poles are enthusiastically in favor of Israel because they think that building states is a perfectly normal thing to do. …

Children behind barbed wire in Auschwitz, 1945 (AP)

Delman: As the book’s [subtitle] is “Holocaust as history and warning,” how would you say that Hitler’s beliefs about Jewish power square with contemporary anti-Semitism? Has the world really moved that far from believing that Jews, or Jewish entities, control the world?

Snyder: Look, I’m not a sociologist—you can’t count on me to tell you what people think. But my general sense is this: Anti-Semitism of the Hitlerian kind—where you use the Jews to explain the whole planet—that is more resonant at times of, let’s call it, ‘globalization crisis.’ And I see the period of 1914 to 1941 as globalization crisis. And what I worry about is that we are to some extent repeating this.

There was a first globalization that starts in the 1870s. Things seem to be going pretty well—you know, Victorian theories of progress and so on, lots of global commerce, Suez Canal, Panama Canal. All these things which seem to be building one world. And then bang—there’s the First World War, and then the 1920s and ’30s, the Second World War, and the Holocaust. And you can see the Holocaust as the low point, the nadir, the final collapse of globalization, because globalization depends upon the idea that, ‘Hey we’re all human, let’s trade things, let’s trade ideas,’ whereas Hitlerian anti-Semitism has the idea that, in fact, some of us aren’t human and anything that’s going wrong in the world can be explained in reference to these unnatural beings.

I worry a little bit now about, just very generally, that with the financial crisis with the instability in the Middle East with the Chinese economy tanking with Russia breaking all the rules in Europe and with people in Russia, in Europe, in North Africa more freely expressing anti-Semitic views—I worry a bit that we are tilting towards some kind of anti-globalization where the Jews, or somebody else, could become the explanation for why things are going wrong.

Delman: You make the point in the book that at some point during the war, Hitler realizes that he’s not winning the colonial aspect of the war—the object to conquer Ukraine and Eastern Europe and create lebensraum—but he can still possibly be victorious in the second objective, which was to exterminate the Jews. [What’s your sense of] how much Hitler could really separate his worldview from his grand strategy and his day-to-day decisions?

Snyder: This gets back to the disturbing fact that a worldview can lead you to successful actions even if the worldview is completely unreal. So, Hitler invades the Soviet Union, partly on the logic that the Soviet Union is a Jewish state, and therefore it will collapse on the first blow.

So what’s worldview there and what’s strategy? It’s impossible to separate. I mean, the [German] invasion of the Soviet Union is extremely well-planned. It’s very effective as these things go. It’s the largest assembly of men for an offensive operation in the history of the world. They cover a lot of territory very quickly. You can’t say it was bad tactics, but it was based on this ideological assumption that ‘the Soviet Union is Jewish, because communism is Jewish, and therefore it’s going to fall apart immediately, and the Slavs will be very happy to be our slaves.’ That’s not true, but it doesn’t prevent the war from starting, and then when the war doesn’t go as well as [Hitler] thinks it’s going to go, he can then make the move of saying, ‘Well if the Soviet Union didn’t collapse, it’s because of Jews beyond the Soviet Union in the rest of the world. The rest of the conspiracy around the world is supporting them and propping them up, and therefore we have to expand our war against the Jews.’

So the worldview comes in and helps you when the real world isn’t doing what you say it’s going to do, and you can just go back and forth and do this until you’ve killed tens of millions of people. That’s the tragic aspect of it. …

Delman: Do you think this question of whether a country or leader is rational is relevant or important?

Snyder: I would put it in a slightly different way. I would say, is a leader concerned primarily with transforming the world so that some other logic can take over? That’s what Hitler was like. It’s not that Hitler was rational or irrational. You can say both things. It’s that his primary concern was unleashing some kind of correct world order which was just lurking beneath the surface. The right way to think about Hitler is that he thought there was a natural order, and you just had to do a few things to unleash it. You had to kill the Jews, you had to get the Germans into the war, and then you would return to the struggle, which was nature. And that was the only thing for Hitler which was good.

That’s one model of leader. And that’s not just anti-Semitism that’s not just anti-Semitism-plus. It’s seeing the Jews as the essence of the world, and seeing everything else as being secondary. … You can have leaders like [Ion] Antonescu in Romania, who are unquestionably anti-Semitic who hold a good deal of prejudices about Jews—like, for example, that they’re the communists—and who even carry out policies of killing Jews. The Romanians, after the Germans killed the most Jews during the war, they killed 300,000. And yet, for Antonescu, that’s not the only thing he cares about. He doesn’t really think that the Jews are the only thing that matters in the world or that they’re the Gordian knot you have to cut to allow the world to return to its proper state. He doesn’t think something like that, which means that even after killing 300,000 Jews, he can reverse the policy. He can stop the Romanian holocaust, and he can not only refuse to send Romanian Jews to the German death facilities, but he can reverse the policy so that he actually starts protecting Romanian Jews and seeing them as citizens. That’s different, right? There you have a leader who’s clearly anti-Semitic, but who also cares about the state—who’s not fundamentally concerned about changing the whole world, but whose fundamental concern is about preserving the state.

And so looking at [Hitler and Antonescu] in 1938, it may have been difficult to tell the difference. And when they both invade the Soviet Union together in 1941, right—the Romanian army is massively present in the Soviet Union—it might be difficult to tell the difference. When they’re both killing Jews in the fall of 1941 in comparable numbers, in comparable ways, it’s hard to tell the difference. And so it’s a very difficult question of political judgment. But … with the distance of history, we can say there was a difference.

There’s a difference between a leader who sees the Jews as the hinge to an entire worldview, and a leader who is massively anti-Semitic—[who] wants to ethnically cleanse Jews—but at the end of the day also cares about his own people and accepts that the world order involves states. So that’s not a kind of political judgment I’m going to issue in the case of Iran or anything, but it’s a distinction that maybe we can draw from this history.

Rise of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler

This poster was used to promote Hitler in the 1932 Reichspräsident elections, where he ran against Hindenburg for the presidency. Hitler lost the election, with 36.8% of the vote to Hindenburg’s 53%. Despite losing, the election put Hitler on the map as a credible politician. The poster states ’Hesse chooses Hitler!’

This poster was used to promote Hitler in the 1932 Reichspräsident elections, where he ran against Hindenburg for the presidency. Hitler lost the election, with 36.8% of the vote to Hindenburg’s 53%. Despite losing, the election put Hitler on the map as a credible politician. The poster states ’Hesse chooses Hitler!’

This poster, also used in the 1932 Reichspräsident elections was aimed specifically at women, emphasising Hitler’s proposed policies on family life.

This poster, also used in the 1932 Reichspräsident elections was aimed specifically at women, emphasising Hitler’s proposed policies on family life.

The Nazis’ rise to power, and the role of Adolf Hitler himself, is one of the primary causes of the Holocaust. The Nazis initiated, organised and directed the genocide and their racist ideology underpinned it.

The Nazi rise to power

The Nazis’ ideology rested on several key ideas, such as nationalism, racial superiority, antisemitism, and anticommunism. These ideas were popular in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, as the economic and political situation fluctuated and then, following the Wall Street Crash in 1929, quickly deteriorated.

In these uncertain times, the Nazi Party appeared to offer hope, political stability and prosperity. In 1932, the Nazis became the biggest party in the Reichstag , with 37.3% of the vote.

Shortly afterwards, on 30 January 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor. The Nazis quickly consolidated their power, taking advantage of the Reichstag Fire of February 1933 to begin their reign of terror. Whilst primarily aimed at political enemies, the infrastructure of camps and institutionalised torture used in these initial months provided the groundwork for the camp system which later facilitated mass murder. Although not the subject of mass arrests in the same way that many political prisoners were initially, Jews were quickly targeted by the Nazi regime.

The Nazis’ persecution of Jews started with exclusionary policies, eliminating Jews from certain professions and educational opportunities and encouraging them to emigrate. As their power became more secure, the Nazis quickly escalated to more direct persecution, such as the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 which stripped Jews of their citizenship and Kristallnacht (an antisemitic pogrom ) in 1938. This escalation of oppression continued to intensify and radicalise until the outbreak of war, where it quickly became more lethal, and, eventually, genocidal.

The role of Adolf Hitler

As leader of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler played a key role in the ideas behind, the events leading up to, and the unfolding of, the Holocaust.

Prior to their election, the Nazis shaped their propaganda to present Hitler as a strong leader that could return Germany from the uncertain circumstances of the time to its former glory. In the early years, Hitler was the driving force behind the Nazis, and made key changes to the party’s structure, branding and methods to turn it into a credible political force.

The Chilling History of How Hollywood Helped Hitler (Exclusive)

In devastating detail, an excerpt from a controversial new book reveals how the big studios, desperate to protect German business, let Nazis censor scripts, remove credits from Jews, get movies stopped and even force one MGM executive to divorce his Jewish wife.

Ben Urwand

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This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The 1930s are celebrated as one of Hollywood’s golden ages, but in an exclusive excerpt from his controversial new book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler (Harvard University Press, on sale Sept. 9), Harvard post-doctoral fellow Ben Urwand uncovers a darker side to Hollywood’s past.

Drawing on a wealth of archival documents in the U.S. and Germany, he reveals the shocking extent to which Hollywood cooperated and collaborated with the Nazis during the decade leading up to World War II to protect its business.

Indeed, “collaboration” (and its German translation, Zusammenarbeit) is a word that appears regularly in the correspondence between studio officials and the Nazis. Although the word is fraught with meaning to modern ears, its everyday use at the time underscored the eagerness of both sides to smooth away their differences to preserve commerce.

The Nazis threatened to exclude American movies — more than 250 played in Germany after Hitler took power in 1933 — unless the studios cooperated. Before World War I, the German market had been the world’s second largest, and even though it had shrunk during the Great Depression, the studios believed it would bounce back and worried that if they left, they would never be able to return.

Beginning with wholesale changes made to Universal’s 1930 release All Quiet on the Western Front, Hollywood regularly ran scripts and finished movies by German officials for approval. When they objected to scenes or dialogue they thought made Germany look bad, criticized the Nazis or dwelled on the mistreatment of Jews, the studios would accommodate them — and make cuts in the American versions as well as those shown elsewhere in the world.

It was not only scenes: Nazi pressure managed to kill whole projects critical of the rise of Adolf Hitler. Indeed, Hollywood would not make an important anti-Nazi film until 1940. Hitler was obsessed with the propaganda power of film, and the Nazis actively promoted American movies like 1937’s Captains Courageous that they thought showcased Aryan values.

Historians have long known about American companies such as IBM and General Motors that did business in Germany into the late 1930s, but the cultural power of movies — their ability to shape what people think — makes Hollywood’s cooperation with the Nazis a particularly important and chilling moment in history . — Andy Lewis

‘Victory Is Ours’

On Friday, Dec. 5, 1930, a crowd of Nazis in Berlin seized on an unusual target: the Hollywood movie All Quiet on the Western Front. Recognized in most countries as a document of the horrors of the First World War, in Germany it was seen as a painful and offensive reenactment of the German defeat.

The Nazis, who had recently increased their representation in the Reichstag from 12 to 107 seats, took advantage of the national indignation toward All Quiet on the Western Front. They purchased about 300 tickets for the first public screening, and as they watched the German troops retreat from the French, they shouted: “German soldiers had courage. It’s a disgrace that such an insulting film was made in America!” Because of the disruptions, the projectionist was forced to switch off the film. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels gave a speech from the front row of the balcony in which he claimed that the film was an attempt to destroy Germany’s image. His comrades threw stink bombs and released mice into the crowd. Everyone rushed for the exits, and the theater was placed under guard.

The Nazis’ actions met with significant popular approval. The situation came to a climax Dec. 11, when the highest censorship board in Germany convened to determine the fate of the film. After a long discussion, the chairman of the board issued a ban: Whereas the French soldiers went to their deaths quietly and bravely, the German soldiers howled and shrieked with fear. The film was not an honest representation of German defeat — of course the public had reacted disapprovingly. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the picture offended a whole generation of Germans who had suffered through the War.

And so, six days after the protests in Berlin, All Quiet on the Western Front was removed from screens in Germany. “Victory is ours!” Goebbels’ newspaper proclaimed. “We have forced them to their knees!”

In Hollywood, the president of Universal Pictures, Carl Laemmle, was troubled by the controversy surrounding his picture. He was born in Germany, and he wanted All Quiet on the Western Front to be shown there. According to one representative, his company had “lost a fine potential business, for the film would have been a tremendous financial success in Germany if it could have run undisturbed.”

In August 1931, Laemmle came up with a heavily edited version of the movie that he was convinced would not offend the German Foreign Office. He made a trip to Europe to promote the new version. The Foreign Office soon agreed to support All Quiet on the Western Front for general screening in Germany, under one condition: Laemmle would have to tell Universal’s branches in the rest of the world to make the same cuts to all copies of the film. Late in the summer, Laemmle agreed to cooperate with the request.

As months passed, however, Laemmle, who was Jewish, grew worried about something much more important than the fate of his film. “I am almost certain,” he wrote in early 1932, “that [Adolf] Hitler’s rise to power &hellip would be the signal for a general physical onslaught on many thousands of defenseless Jewish men, women and children.” He convinced American officials that he could provide for individual Jews, and by the time of his death in 1939, he had helped get at least 300 people out of Germany.

And yet at precisely the moment he was embarking on this crusade, his employees at Universal were following the orders of the German government. In the first few months of 1932, the Foreign Office discovered unedited versions of All Quiet on the Western Front playing in El Salvador and Spain. The company apologized. Afterward, there were no more complaints Universal had made the requested cuts all around the world.

The following year, Laemmle made another concession to the Foreign Office: He postponed The Road Back, the sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. His son, Carl Laemmle Jr., also agreed to change many pictures in Germany’s favor. “Naturally,” the Foreign Office noted, “Universal’s interest in collaboration [Zusammenarbeit] is not platonic but is motivated by the company’s concern for the well-being of its Berlin branch and for the German market.”

Throughout the 1930s, the term “collaboration” was used repeatedly to describe dealings that took place in Hollywood. Even studio heads adopted the term. An executive at RKO promised that whenever he made a film involving Germany, he would work “in close collaboration” with the local consul general. A Fox executive said the same. Even United Artists offered “the closest collaboration” if the German government did not punish the studio for the controversial 1930 air combat movie Hell’s Angels. According to the Foreign Office, “Every time that this collaboration was achieved, the parties involved found it to be both helpful and pleasant.”

All this was a result of the Nazis’ actions against All Quiet on the Western Front. Soon every studio started making deep concessions to the German government, and when Hitler came to power in January 1933, they dealt with his representatives directly.

The most important German representative in the whole arrangement was a diplomat named Georg Gyssling, who had been a Nazi since 1931. He became the German consul in Los Angeles in 1933, and he consciously set out to police the American film industry. His main strategy was to threaten the American studios with a section of the German film regulations known as “Article 15.” According to this law, if a company distributed an anti-German picture anywhere in the world, then all its movies could be banned in Germany. Article 15 proved to be a very effective way of regulating the American film industry as the Foreign Office, with its vast network of consulates and embassies, could easily detect whether an offensive picture was in circulation anywhere around the world.

The Mad Dog of Europe

In May 1933, a Hollywood screenwriter named Herman J. Mankiewicz&sbquo the man who would later write Citizen Kane, had a promising idea. He was aware of the treatment of the Jews in Germany and he thought, “Why not put it on the screen?” Very quickly, he penned a play entitled The Mad Dog of Europe, which he sent to his friend Sam Jaffe, a producer at RKO. Jaffe was so taken with the idea that he bought the rights and quit his job. Jaffe, who, like Mankiewicz, was Jewish, planned to assemble a great Hollywood cast and devote all his energies to a picture that would shake the entire world.

Of course, various forces had been put in place to prevent a picture like this from ever being made. First and foremost was Gyssling. Up to this point, he had only invoked Article 15 against pictures that disparaged the German army during the World War. The Mad Dog of Europe was infinitely more threatening: It attacked the present German regime.

Gyssling was unable to use Article 15 against The Mad Dog of Europe for the simple reason that the independent company producing the picture did not do business in Germany. He was left with only one option: Inform the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America (popularly known as the Hays Office), which regulated movie sex and violence for Hollywood, that if the movie were made then the Nazis might ban all American movies in Germany.

The Hays Office reacted quickly. Will Hays, the organization’s president, met with Jaffe and Mankiewicz. He accused them of selecting a “scarehead” situation for the picture, which, if made, might return them a tremendous profit while creating heavy losses for the industry. Jaffe and Mankiewicz said they would proceed despite any ban that Hays might attempt.

Hays needed to adopt a different approach. He asked his representative, Joseph Breen, to reach out to the advisory council for the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles. The advisory council read the script and felt that the direct references to Hitler and Nazi Germany might provoke an anti-Semitic reaction in the United States. But “if modified so as to apparently have reference to a fictitious country, and if the propaganda elements &hellip were made more subtle &hellip the film would be a most effective means of arousing the general public to the major implications of Hitlerism.”

Even if the script were toned down, the Anti-Defamation League suspected that the Hays Office would object to the film because the major Hollywood studios were still doing business in Germany. Nobody in the ADL group knew exactly how much business was being done. Some imagined that Germany was banning films starring Jewish actors others thought that Germany was banning entire “companies supposed to be controlled by Jews.” Nobody had the slightest idea that the Nazis were actually facilitating the distribution of American movies in Germany.

The Anti-Defamation League decided to carry out a test: It asked a well-known screenwriter to prepare an outline of The Mad Dog of Europe that contained none of the obvious objections. This scriptwriter then submitted the outline to three different agents, and without any hesitation, they all told him the same thing: “It was no use submitting any story along this line as the major studios had put ‘thumbs down’ on any films of this kind.”

Eventually, Jaffe gave up his plans and sold the rights to The Mad Dog of Europe to well-known agent Al Rosen. And when the Hays Office urged Rosen to abandon the picture, Rosen accused the Hays Office of malicious interference and issued a remarkable statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency claiming “on good authority” that Nazi officials were trying to stop the picture. He scoffed at the idea that the picture would provoke further anti-Semitism.

Over the next seven months — from November 1933 to June 1934 — Rosen continued to work on the film, but he failed to convince Hollywood executives to pour money into the project. Louis B. Mayer told him that no picture would be made: “We have interests in Germany I represent the picture industry here in Hollywood we have exchanges there we have terrific income in Germany and, as far as I am concerned, this picture will never be made.”

And so The Mad Dog of Europe was never turned into a motion picture. The episode turned out to be the most important moment in all of Hollywood’s dealings with Nazi Germany. It occurred in the first year of Hitler’s rise to power, and it defined the limits of American movies for the remainder of the decade.


In 1936, the studios started to encounter major censorship difficulties in Germany. Nazi censors rejected dozens of American films, sometimes giving vague reasons, sometimes giving no reasons at all. The smaller companies had all left Germany by this point, and only the three largest companies — MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox — remained. By the middle of the year, these three companies had managed to have a combined total of only eight pictures accepted by the censors, when they really needed 10 or 12 each just to break even.

The studios were faced with a difficult decision: continue doing business in Germany under unfavorable conditions or leave Germany and turn the Nazis into the greatest screen villains of all time. On July 22, MGM announced that it would bow out of Germany if the other two remaining companies, Paramount and 20th Century Fox, would do the same.

Paramount and Fox said no. Even though they were not making any money in Germany (Paramount announced a net loss of $580 for 1936), they still considered the German market to be a valuable investment. They had been there for years. Despite the difficult business conditions, their movies were still extremely popular. If they remained in Germany a while longer, their investment might once again yield excellent profits. If they left they might never be permitted to return.

Over the next few years, the studios actively cultivated personal contacts with prominent Nazis. In 1937, Paramount chose a new manager for its German branch: Paul Thiefes, a member of the Nazi Party. The head of MGM in Germany, Frits Strengholt, divorced his Jewish wife at the request of the Propaganda Ministry. She ended up in a concentration camp.

The studios also adopted new tactics. When Give Us This Night and The General Died at Dawn were banned, Paramount wrote to the Propaganda Ministry and speculated on what was objectionable in each case. Give Us This Night was scored by a Jewish composer, so the studio offered to dub in music by a German composer instead. The General Died at Dawn had been directed by Lewis Milestone, who had also directed All Quiet on the Western Front, so the studio offered to slash his name from the credits.

In January 1938, the Berlin branch of 20th Century Fox sent a letter directly to Hitler’s office: “We would be very grateful if you could provide us with a note from the Führer in which he expresses his opinion of the value and effect of American films in Germany. We ask you for your kind support in this matter, and we would be grateful if you could just send us a brief notification of whether our request will be granted by the Führer. Heil Hitler!” Four days later, 20th Century Fox received a reply: “The Führer has heretofore refused in principle to provide these kinds of judgments.”

The Final Cut

In April 1936, Laemmle lost control of Universal Pictures to the American financier and sportsman John Cheever Cowdin, who revived All Quiet on the Western Front sequel The Road Back. “When this story originally came in four or five years ago,” a Universal employee explained to the Hays Office, “we were loath to produce &hellip solely due to the jeopardy in which its production would have placed our German business. &hellip [S]ince then the situation with regard to the American Film Industry has completely changed and we are now ready and anxious to produce this story.”

Despite this proclamation, Universal had not lost interest in Germany. In February 1937, Cowdin traveled to Berlin, and according to U.S. ambassador William E. Dodd, he made an “unusual offer” to the Nazis. “The company in question was previously controlled by Jewish interests but after recent reorganization, it is understood that it is now non-Jewish,” wrote Dodd, “[and after] discussions with government officials &hellip a plan was considered whereby, probably in collaboration with German interests, his company might re-enter the German market.”

On April 1, 1937, Gyssling made his boldest move yet. He sent letters to about 60 people involved in The Road Back — the director, the cast, even the wardrobe man — and he warned them that any films in which they participated in the future might be banned in Germany. The move created an uproar. Gyssling had directly threatened American film workers for their activities on home soil. He had used the U.S. Postal Service to frighten and intimidate individuals. Universal told everyone to keep the matter a secret, but the news leaked out. Several actors sought out legal advice complaints were lodged with the State Department. One member of the Hays Office hoped that Gyssling would finally be expelled “on account of his viciousness.”

The matter was considered at the highest level. A representative of the secretary of state met with the counselor of the German embassy and pointed out that such actions did not fall within the proper functions of a consular officer. He did not want to lodge an official complaint he simply asked the counselor to bring the matter up with the German government.

In the meantime, Universal Pictures made 21 cuts to The Road Back. By this stage, there was hardly anything in the film to which the ambassador could object. So many scenes had been cut out that the plot barely made any sense. The ending, which had criticized the rise of militarism in Germany, now criticized the rise of militarism all around the world. But the Nazis would not allow the company back into Germany.

For Gyssling, the news was less bleak. The German Foreign Office sent a brief, unapologetic letter to the State Department to explain that the consul in Los Angeles had been instructed not to issue future warnings to American citizens. As a result, the State Department considered the matter closed.

In all of these dealings with the Hollywood studios, Gyssling was doing something very strategic. He was objecting to a series of films about the World War when his real target lay elsewhere. Ever since he had heard about The Mad Dog of Europe, he had understood that Hollywood was capable of producing a much more damaging type of film from his perspective: a film that attacked Nazi Germany. His reaction to The Road Back was carefully calculated. He was focusing his energies on the films set in the past in an attempt to prevent the studios from moving into the present.

In April 1937, the final volume of Erich Maria Remarque‘s trilogy, Three Comrades, which was prime Hollywood material, was published in the United States. Whereas All Quiet on the Western Front had been about the World War and The Road Back had been about its aftermath, Three Comrades was set in the late 1920s, when the Nazis were emerging as a significant political force. The MGM producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz (brother of Herman) hired none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote a script that mounted a powerful attack on the rise of Nazism in Germany.

When the Hays Office’s Breen read the new script, he panicked. He had just received a fourth warning from Gyssling about Three Comrades, and he knew exactly what the German consul was capable of. He wrote to Mayer in the strongest possible terms: “This screen adaptation suggests to us enormous difficulty from the standpoint of your company’s distribution business in Germany. &hellip [and] may result in considerable difficulty in Europe for other American producing organizations.”

Despite Breen’s concerns, the shooting of Three Comrades went ahead. Screenwriter Budd Schulberg recalled MGM screened the movie for Gyssling: “There was some films that Louis B. Mayer of MGM would actually run &hellip with the Nazi German consul and was willing to take out the things that the consul, that the Nazi, objected to.” Although Breen did not keep a record of the meeting between Mayer and Gyssling, he was soon in possession of something else: a list of changes that needed to be made to the film. It is very unlikely that Breen came up with the list himself, for he had his own separate set of suggestions (relating to sex, foul language, etc.). In all likelihood this secret document, which contained 10 unusual changes, was the list that Mayer compiled with Gyssling at the end of their screening of Three Comrades .

Breen went through the list in a meeting with several MGM executives. The film needed to be set somewhat earlier, in the two-year period immediately following the end of the World War. “Thus, we will get away from any possible suggestion that we are dealing with Nazi violence or terrorism.” He read out the scenes that needed to be cut, and he pointed out that these cuts could be made without interfering with the romantic plot at the center of the picture. The MGM executives agreed. After all the changes had been made, Three Comrades neither attacked the Nazis nor mentioned the Jews. The picture had been completely sanitized.

From Gyssling’s perspective, the removal of all the offensive elements of Three Comrades was the true benefit of his behavior from the previous year. He had reacted so dramatically to the second film in the trilogy that he had now managed to get his way on the third. And this was no small feat, for Three Comrades would have been the first explicitly anti-Nazi film by an American studio. At this critical historical moment, when a major Hollywood production could have alerted the world to what was going on in Germany, the director did not have the final cut the Nazis did.

‘Throw Us Out’

The collaboration between Hollywood and the Nazis lasted well into 1940. Though Warner Bros. released Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939, this B-picture had no effect on the studios still operating in Germany. MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox kept doing business with the Nazis, and MGM even donated 11 of its films to help with the German war relief effort after the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

As the war continued, the studios found it virtually impossible to distribute their pictures in England and France, two of their largest sources of foreign revenue. In this context, they were less concerned with the relatively minor German market. MGM soon embarked on its first anti-Nazi picture The Mortal Storm, and 20th Century Fox began work on Four Sons. The Nazis responded by invoking Article 15 and by September 1940, both had been expelled from German-occupied territory.

In the year that followed, the studios released only a handful of anti-Nazi movies because of another, very different political force: the American isolationists. The isolationists accused Hollywood of making propaganda designed to draw the United States into the European war, and in the fall of 1941, Congress investigated this charge in a series of hearings. The most dramatic moment came when the head of 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, gave a rousing defense of Hollywood: “I look back and recall pictures so strong and powerful that they sold the American way of life, not only to America but to the entire world. They sold it so strongly that when dictators took over Italy and Germany, what did Hitler and his flunky, Mussolini, do? The first thing they did was to ban our pictures, throw us out. They wanted no part of the American way of life.”

In the thunderous applause that followed, no one pointed out that Zanuck’s own studio had been doing business with the Nazis just the previous year.

Excerpted from The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand (Harvard University Press, on sale Sept. 9). Copyright Ben Urwand.



The term holocaust, first used in 1895 by The New York Times to describe the massacre of Armenian Christians by Ottoman Muslims, [10] comes from the Greek: ὁλόκαυστος , romanized: holókaustos ὅλος hólos, "whole" + καυστός kaustós, "burnt offering". [d] The biblical term shoah (Hebrew: שׁוֹאָה ‎), meaning "destruction", became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of the European Jews. According to Haaretz, the writer Yehuda Erez may have been the first to describe events in Germany as the shoah. Davar and later Haaretz both used the term in September 1939. [12] [e] Yom HaShoah became Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1951. [14]

On 3 October 1941 the American Hebrew used the phrase "before the Holocaust", apparently to refer to the situation in France, [15] and in May 1943 the New York Times, discussing the Bermuda Conference, referred to the "hundreds of thousands of European Jews still surviving the Nazi Holocaust". [16] In 1968 the Library of Congress created a new category, "Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)". [17] The term was popularised in the United States by the NBC mini-series Holocaust (1978) about a fictional family of German Jews, [18] and in November that year the President's Commission on the Holocaust was established. [19] As non-Jewish groups began to include themselves as Holocaust victims, many Jews chose to use the Hebrew terms Shoah or Churban. [20] [f] The Nazis used the phrase "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (German: die Endlösung der Judenfrage). [22]


Holocaust historians commonly define the Holocaust as the genocide of the European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1941 and 1945. [a] Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia, in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (2000), favor a definition that includes the Jews, Roma, and the disabled: "the systematic, state-sponsored murder of entire groups determined by heredity." [31] [g]

Other groups targeted after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 [34] include those whom the Nazis viewed as inherently inferior (chiefly Slavs, the Roma, and the disabled), and those targeted because of their beliefs or behavior (such as Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, and homosexuals). [35] Peter Hayes writes that the persecution of these groups was less uniform than that of the Jews. For example, the Nazis' treatment of the Slavs consisted of "enslavement and gradual attrition", while some Slavs were favored Hayes lists Bulgarians, Croats, Slovaks and some Ukrainians. [24] In contrast, Hitler regarded the Jews as what Dan Stone calls "a Gegenrasse: a 'counter-race' . not really human at all." [9]

Genocidal state

The logistics of the mass murder turned Germany into what Michael Berenbaum called a "genocidal state". [36] Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that it was the first time a state had thrown its power behind the idea that an entire people should be wiped out. [h] Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated, [38] and complex rules were devised to deal with Mischlinge ("mixed breeds"). [39] Bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, and scheduled trains to deport them. Companies fired Jews and later used them as slave labor. Universities dismissed Jewish faculty and students. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners other companies built the crematoria. [36] As prisoners entered the death camps, they surrendered all personal property, [40] which was cataloged and tagged before being sent to Germany for reuse or recycling. [41] Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims. [42]


According to Dan Stone, it became increasingly clear after the fall of former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, and the opening of their archives to historians, that the Holocaust was a pan-European phenomenon, a series of "Holocausts" impossible to conduct without local collaborators and Germany's allies. [43] Stone writes that "many European states, under the extreme circumstances of World War II, took upon themselves the task of solving the 'Jewish question' in their own way." [44] Nearly three million Jews in occupied Poland and between 700,000 and 2.5 million Jews in the Soviet Union were killed. Hundreds of thousands more died in the rest of Europe. [45]

Medical experiments

At least 7,000 camp inmates were subjected to medical experiments most died during them or as a result. [46] The experiments, which took place at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Natzweiler-Struthof, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen, involved the sterilization of men and women, treatment of war wounds, ways to counteract chemical weapons, research into new vaccines and drugs, and survival of harsh conditions. [46]

After the war, 23 senior physicians and other medical personnel were charged at Nuremberg with crimes against humanity. They included the head of the German Red Cross, tenured professors, clinic directors, and biomedical researchers. [47] The most notorious physician was Josef Mengele, an SS officer who became the Auschwitz camp doctor on 30 May 1943. [48] Interested in genetics, [48] and keen to experiment on twins, he would pick out subjects on the ramp from the new arrivals during "selection" (to decide who would be gassed immediately and who would be used as slave labor), shouting "Zwillinge heraus!" (twins step forward!). [49] The twins would be measured, killed, and dissected. One of Mengele's assistants said in 1946 that he was told to send organs of interest to the directors of the "Anthropological Institute in Berlin-Dahlem". This is thought to refer to Mengele's academic supervisor, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, director from October 1942 of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin-Dahlem. [50] [i]

Antisemitism and the völkisch movement

Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were subjected to antisemitism based on Christian theology, which blamed them for killing Jesus. Even after the Reformation, Catholicism and Lutheranism continued to persecute Jews, accusing them of blood libels and subjecting them to pogroms and expulsions. [52] The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence, in the German empire and Austria-Hungary, of the völkisch movement, developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement embraced a pseudo-scientific racism that viewed Jews as a race whose members were locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination. [53] These ideas became commonplace throughout Germany the professional classes adopted an ideology that did not see humans as racial equals with equal hereditary value. [54] The Nazi Party (the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers' Party) originated as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, and it adopted that movement's antisemitism. [55]

Germany after World War I, Hitler's world view

After World War I (1914–1918), many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated. A stab-in-the-back myth developed, insinuating that disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and communists, had orchestrated Germany's surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment was the apparent over-representation of Jews in the leadership of communist revolutionary governments in Europe, such as Ernst Toller, head of a short-lived revolutionary government in Bavaria. This perception contributed to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism. [56]

Early antisemites in the Nazi Party included Dietrich Eckart, publisher of the Völkischer Beobachter, the party's newspaper, and Alfred Rosenberg, who wrote antisemitic articles for it in the 1920s. Rosenberg's vision of a secretive Jewish conspiracy ruling the world would influence Hitler's views of Jews by making them the driving force behind communism. [57] Central to Hitler's world view was the idea of expansion and Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe for German Aryans, a policy of what Doris Bergen called "race and space". Open about his hatred of Jews, he subscribed to common antisemitic stereotypes. [58] From the early 1920s onwards, he compared the Jews to germs and said they should be dealt with in the same way. He viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine, said he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism", and believed that Jews had created communism as part of a conspiracy to destroy Germany. [59]

Dictatorship and repression (January 1933)

With the appointment in January 1933 of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and the Nazi's seizure of power, German leaders proclaimed the rebirth of the Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community"). [61] Nazi policies divided the population into two groups: the Volksgenossen ("national comrades") who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("community aliens") who did not. Enemies were divided into three groups: the "racial" or "blood" enemies, such as the Jews and Roma political opponents of Nazism, such as Marxists, liberals, Christians, and the "reactionaries" viewed as wayward "national comrades" and moral opponents, such as gay men, the work-shy, and habitual criminals. The latter two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for "re-education", with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft. "Racial" enemies could never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft they were to be removed from society. [62]

Before and after the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against opponents, [63] setting up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment. [64] One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 22 March 1933. [65] Initially the camp contained mostly Communists and Social Democrats. [66] Other early prisons were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. [67] The camps served as a deterrent by terrorizing Germans who did not support the regime. [68]

Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. [69] On 1 April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses. [70] On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service. [71] Jews were disbarred from practicing law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms. [72] In Silesia, in March 1933, a group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers Friedländer writes that, in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials. [73] Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities. [71] Jewish businesses were targeted for closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish composers, [74] authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and exhibitions. [75] Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a medical journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only." [76]

Sterilization Law, Aktion T4

The economic strain of the Great Depression led Protestant charities and some members of the German medical establishment to advocate compulsory sterilization of the "incurable" mentally and physically disabled, [78] people the Nazis called Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life). [79] On 14 July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), the Sterilization Law, was passed. [80] [81] The New York Times reported on 21 December that year: "400,000 Germans to be sterilized". [82] There were 84,525 applications from doctors in the first year. The courts reached a decision in 64,499 of those cases 56,244 were in favor of sterilization. [83] Estimates for the number of involuntary sterilizations during the whole of the Third Reich range from 300,000 to 400,000. [84]

In October 1939 Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of Hitler's Chancellery, and Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out a program of involuntary euthanasia. After the war this program came to be known as Aktion T4, [85] named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, where the various organizations involved were headquartered. [86] T4 was mainly directed at adults, but the euthanasia of children was also carried out. [87] Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed, as were 5,000 children and 1,000 Jews, also in institutions. There were also dedicated killing centers, where the deaths were estimated at 20,000, according to Georg Renno, deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the euthanasia centers, or 400,000, according to Frank Zeireis, commandant of the Mauthausen concentration camp. [88] Overall, the number of mentally and physically disabled people murdered was about 150,000. [89]

Although not ordered to take part, psychiatrists and many psychiatric institutions were involved in the planning and carrying out of Aktion T4. [90] In August 1941, after protests from Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches, Hitler canceled the T4 program, [91] although disabled people continued to be killed until the end of the war. [89] The medical community regularly received bodies for research for example, the University of Tübingen received 1,077 bodies from executions between 1933 and 1945. The German neuroscientist Julius Hallervorden received 697 brains from one hospital between 1940 and 1944: "I accepted these brains of course. Where they came from and how they came to me was really none of my business." [92]

Nuremberg Laws, Jewish emigration

On 15 September 1935, the Reichstag passed the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, known as the Nuremberg Laws. The former said that only those of "German or kindred blood" could be citizens. Anyone with three or more Jewish grandparents was classified as a Jew. [94] The second law said: "Marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are forbidden." Sexual relationships between them were also criminalized Jews were not allowed to employ German women under the age of 45 in their homes. [95] [94] The laws referred to Jews but applied equally to the Roma and black Germans. Although other European countries—Bulgaria, Independent State of Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, and Vichy France—passed similar legislation, [94] Gerlach notes that "Nazi Germany adopted more nationwide anti-Jewish laws and regulations (about 1,500) than any other state." [96]

By the end of 1934, 50,000 German Jews had left Germany, [97] and by the end of 1938, approximately half the German Jewish population had left, [98] among them the conductor Bruno Walter, who fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there. [99] Albert Einstein, who was in the United States when Hitler came to power, never returned to Germany his citizenship was revoked and he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and Prussian Academy of Sciences. [100] Other Jewish scientists, including Gustav Hertz, lost their teaching positions and left the country. [101]

Anschluss (12 March 1938)

On 12 March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Ninety percent of Austria's 176,000 Jews lived in Vienna. [102] The SS and SA smashed shops and stole cars belonging to Jews Austrian police stood by, some already wearing swastika armbands. [103] Jews were forced to perform humiliating acts such as scrubbing the streets or cleaning toilets while wearing tefillin. [104] Around 7,000 Jewish businesses were "Aryanized", and all the legal restrictions on Jews in Germany were imposed in Austria. [105] The Évian Conference was held in France in July 1938 by 32 countries, to help German and Austrian Jewish refugees, but little was accomplished and most countries did not increase the number of refugees they would accept. [106] In August that year, Adolf Eichmann was appointed manager (under Franz Walter Stahlecker) of the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration in Vienna (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Wien). [107] Sigmund Freud and his family arrived in London from Vienna in June 1938, thanks to what David Cesarani called "Herculean efforts" to get them out. [108]

Kristallnacht (9–10 November 1938)

On 7 November 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew, shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in the German Embassy in Paris, in retaliation for the expulsion of his parents and siblings from Germany. [109] [j] When vom Rath died on 9 November, the synagogue and Jewish shops in Dessau were attacked. According to Joseph Goebbels' diary, Hitler decided that the police should be withdrawn: "For once the Jews should feel the rage of the people," Goebbels reported him as saying. [111] The result, David Cesarani writes, was "murder, rape, looting, destruction of property, and terror on an unprecedented scale". [112]

Known as Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"), the pogrom on 9–10 November 1938 saw over 7,500 Jewish shops (out of 9,000) looted and attacked, and over 1,000 synagogues damaged or destroyed. Groups of Jews were forced by the crowd to watch their synagogues burn in Bensheim they were made to dance around it and in Laupheim to kneel before it. [113] At least 90 Jews died. The damage was estimated at 39 million Reichmarks. [114] Contrary to Goebbel's statements in his diary, the police were not withdrawn the regular police, Gestapo, SS and SA all took part, although Heinrich Himmler was angry that the SS had joined in. [115] Attacks took place in Austria too. [116] The extent of the violence shocked the rest of the world. The Times of London stated on 11 November 1938:

No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults upon defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday. Either the German authorities were a party to this outbreak or their powers over public order and a hooligan minority are not what they are proudly claimed to be. [117]

Between 9 and 16 November, 30,000 Jews were sent to the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. [118] Many were released within weeks by early 1939, 2,000 remained in the camps. [119] German Jewry was held collectively responsible for restitution of the damage they also had to pay an "atonement tax" of over a billion Reichmarks. Insurance payments for damage to their property were confiscated by the government. A decree on 12 November 1938 barred Jews from most remaining occupations. [120] Kristallnacht marked the end of any sort of public Jewish activity and culture, and Jews stepped up their efforts to leave the country. [121]


Before World War II, Germany considered mass deportation from Europe of German, and later European, Jewry. [122] Among the areas considered for possible resettlement were British Palestine and, after the war began, French Madagascar, [123] Siberia, and two reservations in Poland. [124] [k] Palestine was the only location to which any German resettlement plan produced results, via the Haavara Agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the German government. Between November 1933 and December 1939, the agreement resulted in the emigration of about 53,000 German Jews, who were allowed to transfer RM 100 million of their assets to Palestine by buying German goods, in violation of the Jewish-led anti-Nazi boycott of 1933. [126]

Invasion of Poland (1 September 1939)


Between 2.7 and 3 million Polish Jews died during the Holocaust out of a population of 3.3 – 3.5 million. [127] More Jews lived in Poland in 1939 than anywhere else in the world another 3 million lived in the Soviet Union. When the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, triggering declarations of war from the UK and France, Germany gained control of about two million Jews in the territory it occupied. The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which invaded Poland from the east on 17 September 1939. [128]

The Wehrmacht in Poland was accompanied by seven SS Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolitizei ("special task forces of the Security Police") and an Einsatzkommando, numbering 3,000 men in all, whose role was to deal with "all anti-German elements in hostile country behind the troops in combat". [129] German plans for Poland included expelling non-Jewish Poles from large areas, settling Germans on the emptied lands, [130] sending the Polish leadership to camps, denying the lower classes an education, and confining Jews. [131] The Germans sent Jews from all territories they had annexed (Austria, the Czech lands, and western Poland) to the central section of Poland, which they called the General Government. [132] Jews were eventually to be expelled to areas of Poland not annexed by Germany, but in the meantime they would be concentrated in ghettos in major cities to achieve "a better possibility of control and later deportation", according to an order from Reinhard Heydrich dated 21 September 1939. [133] [l] From 1 December, Jews were required to wear Star of David armbands. [132]

The Germans stipulated that each ghetto be led by a Judenrat of 24 male Jews, who would be responsible for carrying out German orders. [135] These orders included, from 1942, facilitating deportations to extermination camps. [136] The Warsaw Ghetto was established in November 1940, and by early 1941 it contained 445,000 people [137] the second largest, the Łódź Ghetto, held 160,000 as of May 1940. [138] The inhabitants had to pay for food and other supplies by selling whatever goods they could produce. [137] In the ghettos and forced-labor camps, at least half a million died of starvation, disease, and poor living conditions. [139] Although the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30 percent of the city's population, it occupied only 2.4 percent of its area, [140] averaging over nine people per room. [141] Over 43,000 residents died there in 1941. [142]


Peter Hayes writes that the Germans created a "Hobbesian world" in Poland in which different parts of the population were pitted against each other. [144] A perception among ethnic Poles that the Jews had supported the Soviet invasion [145] contributed to existing tensions, which Germany exploited, redistributing Jewish homes and goods, and converting synagogues, schools and hospitals in Jewish areas into facilities for non-Jews. [146] The Germans announced severe penalties for anyone helping Jews, and Polish informants (Szmalcowniki) would point out who was Jewish [147] during the Judenjagd (hunt for the Jews). [148] Despite the dangers, thousands of Poles helped Jews. [149] Nearly 1,000 were executed for having done so, [144] and Yad Vashem has named over 7,000 Poles as Righteous Among the Nations. [150]

There had been anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland before the war, including in around 100 towns between 1935 and 1937, [151] and again in 1938. [152] David Cesarani writes that Polish nationalist parties had "campaigned for Polonization of the economy and encouraged a boycott of Jewish businesses. [153] Pogroms continued during the occupation. During the Lviv pogroms in Lwów, eastern Poland (later Ukraine) [m] in June and July 1941—the population was 157,490 Polish 99,595 Jewish and 49,747 Ukrainian [154] —some 6,000 Jews were murdered in the streets by the Ukrainian People's Militia, aided by Polish and Ukrainian locals. [155] Jewish women were stripped, beaten, and raped. [156] There were also mass shootings, most likely by Einsatzgruppe C. [157] During the Jedwabne pogrom, on 10 July 1941, a group of 40 Polish men killed several hundred Jews around 300 were burned alive in a barn. [158] According to Hayes, this was "one of sixty-six nearly simultaneous such attacks in the province of Suwalki alone and some two hundred similar incidents in the Soviet-annexed eastern provinces". [145]

Extermination camps

At the end of 1941, the Germans began building extermination camps in Poland: Auschwitz II, [159] Bełżec, [160] Chełmno, [161] Majdanek, [162] Sobibór, [163] and Treblinka. [164] Gas chambers had been installed by the spring or summer of 1942. [165] The SS liquidated most of the ghettos of the General Government area in 1942–1943 (the Łódź Ghetto was liquidated in mid-1944), [166] and shipped their populations to these camps, along with Jews from all over Europe. [167] [n] The camps provided locals with employment and with black-market goods confiscated from Jewish families who, thinking they were being resettled, arrived with their belongings. According to Hayes, dealers in currency and jewellery set up shop outside the Treblinka extermination camp (near Warsaw) in 1942–1943, as did prostitutes. [146] By the end of 1942, most of the Jews in the General Government area were dead. [169] The Jewish death toll in the extermination camps was over three million overall most Jews were gassed on arrival. [170]

Invasion of Norway and Denmark

Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940, during Operation Weserübung. Denmark was overrun so quickly that there was no time for a resistance to form. Consequently, the Danish government stayed in power and the Germans found it easier to work through it. Because of this, few measures were taken against the Danish Jews before 1942. [171] By June 1940 Norway was completely occupied. [172] In late 1940, the country's 1,800 Jews were banned from certain occupations, and in 1941 all Jews had to register their property with the government. [173] On 26 November 1942, 532 Jews were taken by police officers, at four o'clock in the morning, to Oslo harbor, where they boarded a German ship. From Germany they were sent by freight train to Auschwitz. According to Dan Stone, only nine survived the war. [174]

Invasion of France and the Low Countries

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. After Belgium's surrender, the country was ruled by a German military governor, Alexander von Falkenhausen, who enacted anti-Jewish measures against its 90,000 Jews, many of them refugees from Germany or Eastern Europe. [175] In the Netherlands, the Germans installed Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Reichskommissar, who began to persecute the country's 140,000 Jews. Jews were forced out of their jobs and had to register with the government. In February 1941, non-Jewish Dutch citizens staged a strike in protest that was quickly crushed. [176] From July 1942, over 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported only 5,000 survived the war. Most were sent to Auschwitz the first transport of 1,135 Jews left Holland for Auschwitz on 15 July 1942. Between 2 March and 20 July 1943, 34,313 Jews were sent in 19 transports to the Sobibór extermination camp, where all but 18 are thought to have been gassed on arrival. [177]

France had approximately 300,000 Jews, divided between the German-occupied north and the unoccupied collaborationist southern areas in Vichy France (named after the town Vichy). The occupied regions were under the control of a military governor, and there, anti-Jewish measures were not enacted as quickly as they were in the Vichy-controlled areas. [178] In July 1940, the Jews in the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed to Germany were expelled into Vichy France. [179] Vichy France's government implemented anti-Jewish measures in French Algeria and the two French Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. [180] Tunisia had 85,000 Jews when the Germans and Italians arrived in November 1942 an estimated 5,000 Jews were subjected to forced labor. [181]

Madagascar Plan

The fall of France gave rise to the Madagascar Plan in the summer of 1940, when French Madagascar in Southeast Africa became the focus of discussions about deporting all European Jews there it was thought that the area's harsh living conditions would hasten deaths. [182] Several Polish, French and British leaders had discussed the idea in the 1930s, as did German leaders from 1938. [183] Adolf Eichmann's office was ordered to investigate the option, but no evidence of planning exists until after the defeat of France in June 1940. [184] Germany's inability to defeat Britain, something that was obvious to the Germans by September 1940, prevented the movement of Jews across the seas, [185] and the Foreign Ministry abandoned the plan in February 1942. [186]

Invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece

Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded in April 1941 and surrendered before the end of the month. Germany, Italy and Bulgaria divided Greece into occupation zones but did not eliminate it as a country. The pre-war Greek Jewish population had been between 72,000 and 77,000. By the end of the war, some 10,000 remained, representing the lowest survival rate in the Balkans and among the lowest in Europe. [187]

Yugoslavia, home to 80,000 Jews, was dismembered regions in the north were annexed by Germany and Hungary, regions along the coast were made part of Italy, Kosovo and western Macedonia were given to Albania, Bulgaria received eastern Macedonia, the rest of the country was divided into the Independent State of Croatia or NDH, an Italian-German puppet state with the fascist Ustaše placed in power and which comprised Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and German occupied Serbia governed by military and police administrators [188] such as the puppet Government of National Salvation headed by Milan Nedić’s. [189] [190] [191] In August 1942 Serbia was declared free of Jews, [192] after the Wehrmacht and German police, assisted by collaborators such as Nedić government and others such as Zbor, a pro-Nazi and pan-Serbian fascist party, had murdered nearly the entire population of 17,000 Jews. [193] [194] [195]

In the NDH the Nazi regime demanded that the Ustaše adopt antisemitic racial policies, persecute Jews and set up several concentration camps. Ante Pavelić and the Ustaše accepted Nazi demands. The state broke away from Nazi antisemitic policy by promising honorary Aryan citizenship, and thus freedom from persecution, to Jews who were willing to contribute to the "Croat cause". Marcus Tanner states that the "SS complained that at least 5,000 Jews were still alive in the NDH and that thousands of others had emigrated, by buying ‘honorary Aryan’ status". [196] Nevenko Bartulin, however posits that of the total Jewish population of the NDH, only 100 Jews attained the legal status of Aryan citizens, 500 including their families. In both cases a relatively small portion out of a Jewish population of 37,000. [197] By the end of April 1941 the Ustaše required all Jews to wear insignia, typically a yellow Star of David. [198] The Ustaše confiscated Jewish property in October 1941. [199] During the same time as their persecution of Serbs and Roma, the NDH’s ruling party, the Ustashe, took part in the Holocaust, and killed the majority of the country's Jews [200] the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 30,148 Jews were murdered. [201] According to Jozo Tomasevich, the Jewish community in Zagreb was the only one to survive out of 115 Jewish religious communities in Yugoslavia in 1939–1940. [202]

In the Bulgarian annexed zones of Macedonia and Thrace, upon demand of the German authorities, the Bulgarians handed over the entire Jewish population, about 12,000 Jews to the military authorities, all were deported. [203]


Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, a day Timothy Snyder called "one of the most significant days in the history of Europe . the beginning of a calamity that defies description". [204] German propaganda portrayed the conflict as an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism, and as a racial war between the Germans and the Jewish, Romani, and Slavic Untermenschen ("sub-humans"). [205] The war was driven by the need for resources, including, according to David Cesarani, agricultural land to feed Germany, natural resources for German industry, and control over Europe's largest oil fields. [206]

Between early fall 1941 and late spring 1942, Jürgen Matthäus writes, 2 million of the 3.5 million Soviet POWs captured by the Wehrmacht had been executed or had died of neglect and abuse. By 1944 the Soviet death toll was at least 20 million. [207]

Mass shootings

As German troops advanced, the mass shooting of "anti-German elements" was assigned, as in Poland, to the Einsatzgruppen, this time under the command of Reinhard Heydrich. [208] The point of the attacks was to destroy the local Communist Party leadership and therefore the state, including "Jews in the Party and State employment", and any "radical elements". [o] Cesarani writes that the killing of Jews was at this point a "subset" of these activities. [210]

Typically, victims would undress and give up their valuables before lining up beside a ditch to be shot, or they would be forced to climb into the ditch, lie on a lower layer of corpses, and wait to be killed. [211] The latter was known as Sardinenpackung ("packing sardines"), a method reportedly started by SS officer Friedrich Jeckeln. [212]

According to Wolfram Wette, the Germany army took part in these shootings as bystanders, photographers, and active shooters. [213] In Lithuania, Latvia and western Ukraine, locals were deeply involved Latvian and Lithuanian units participated in the murder of Jews in Belarus, and in the south, Ukrainians killed about 24,000 Jews. Some Ukrainians went to Poland to serve as guards in the camps. [214]

Einsatzgruppe A arrived in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) with Army Group North Einsatzgruppe B in Belarus with Army Group Center Einsatzgruppe C in the Ukraine with Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D went further south into Ukraine with the 11th Army. [215] Each Einsatzgruppe numbered around 600–1,000 men, with a few women in administrative roles. [216] Traveling with nine German Order Police battalions and three units of the Waffen-SS, [217] the Einsatzgruppen and their local collaborators had murdered almost 500,000 people by the winter of 1941–1942. By the end of the war, they had killed around two million, including about 1.3 million Jews and up to a quarter of a million Roma. [218]

Notable massacres include the July 1941 Ponary massacre near Vilnius (Soviet Lithuania), in which Einsatgruppe B and Lithuanian collaborators shot 72,000 Jews and 8,000 non-Jewish Lithuanians and Poles. [219] In the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre (Soviet Ukraine), nearly 24,000 Jews were killed between 27 and 30 August 1941. [207] The largest massacre was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev (also Soviet Ukraine), where 33,771 Jews were killed on 29–30 September 1941. [220] [221] The Germans used the ravine for mass killings throughout the war up to 100,000 may have been killed there. [222]

Toward the Holocaust

At first the Einsatzgruppen targeted the male Jewish intelligentsia, defined as male Jews aged 15–60 who had worked for the state and in certain professions. The commandos described them as "Bolshevist functionaries" and similar. From August 1941 they began to murder women and children too. [224] Christopher Browning reports that on 1 August 1941, the SS Cavalry Brigade passed an order to its units: "Explicit order by RF-SS [Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS]. All Jews must be shot. Drive the female Jews into the swamps." [225]

Two years later, in a speech on 6 October 1943 to party leaders, Heinrich Himmler said he had ordered that women and children be shot, but according to Peter Longerich and Christian Gerlach, the murder of women and children began at different times in different areas, suggesting local influence. [226]

Historians agree that there was a "gradual radicalization" between the spring and autumn of 1941 of what Longerich calls Germany's Judenpolitik, but they disagree about whether a decision—Führerentscheidung (Führer's decision)—to murder the European Jews had been made at this point. [227] [p] According to Browning, writing in 2004, most historians say there was no order, before the invasion of the Soviet Union, to kill all the Soviet Jews. [229] Longerich wrote in 2010 that the gradual increase in brutality and numbers killed between July and September 1941 suggests there was "no particular order". Instead it was a question of "a process of increasingly radical interpretations of orders". [230]

Germany first used concentration camps as places of terror and unlawful incarceration of political opponents. [232] Large numbers of Jews were not sent there until after Kristallnacht in November 1938. [233] After war broke out in 1939, new camps were established, many outside Germany in occupied Europe. [234] Most wartime prisoners of the camps were not Germans but belonged to countries under German occupation. [235]

After 1942, the economic function of the camps, previously secondary to their penal and terror functions, came to the fore. Forced labor of camp prisoners became commonplace. [233] The guards became much more brutal, and the death rate increased as the guards not only beat and starved prisoners, but killed them more frequently. [235] Vernichtung durch Arbeit ("extermination through labor") was a policy camp inmates would literally be worked to death, or to physical exhaustion, at which point they would be gassed or shot. [236] The Germans estimated the average prisoner's lifespan in a concentration camp at three months, as a result of lack of food and clothing, constant epidemics, and frequent punishments for the most minor transgressions. [237] The shifts were long and often involved exposure to dangerous materials. [238]

Transportation to and between camps was often carried out in closed freight cars with little air or water, long delays and prisoners packed tightly. [239] In mid-1942 work camps began requiring newly arrived prisoners to be placed in quarantine for four weeks. [240] Prisoners wore colored triangles on their uniforms, the color denoting the reason for their incarceration. Red signified a political prisoner, Jehovah's Witnesses had purple triangles, "asocials" and criminals wore black and green, and gay men wore pink. [241] Jews wore two yellow triangles, one over another to form a six-pointed star. [242] Prisoners in Auschwitz were tattooed on arrival with an identification number. [243]


According to Dan Stone, the murder of Jews in Romania was "essentially an independent undertaking". [244] Romania implemented anti-Jewish measures in May and June 1940 as part of its efforts towards an alliance with Germany. By March 1941 all Jews had lost their jobs and had their property confiscated. [245] In June 1941 Romania joined Germany in its invasion of the Soviet Union. [246]

Thousands of Jews were killed in January and June 1941 in the Bucharest pogrom and Iași pogrom. [247] According to a 2004 report by Tuvia Friling and others, up to 14,850 Jews died during the Iași pogrom. [248] The Romanian military killed up to 25,000 Jews during the Odessa massacre between 18 October 1941 and March 1942, assisted by gendarmes and the police. [249] In July 1941, Mihai Antonescu, Romania's deputy prime minister, said it was time for "total ethnic purification, for a revision of national life, and for purging our race of all those elements which are foreign to its soul, which have grown like mistletoes and darken our future." [250] Romania set up concentration camps in Transnistria, reportedly extremely brutal, where 154,000–170,000 Jews were deported from 1941 to 1943. [251]

Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Hungary

Bulgaria introduced anti-Jewish measures between 1940 and 1943 (requirement to wear a yellow star, restrictions on owning telephones or radios, and so on). [252] It annexed Thrace and Macedonia, and in February 1943 agreed to a demand from Germany that it deport 20,000 Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp. All 11,000 Jews from the annexed territories were sent to their deaths, and plans were made to deport 6,000–8,000 Bulgarian Jews from Sofia to meet the quota. [253] When this became public, the Orthodox Church and many Bulgarians protested, and King Boris III canceled the plans. [254] Instead, Jews native to Bulgaria were sent to the provinces. [253]

Stone writes that Slovakia, led by Roman Catholic priest Jozef Tiso (president of the Slovak State, 1939–1945), was "one of the most loyal of the collaborationist regimes". It deported 7,500 Jews in 1938 on its own initiative introduced anti-Jewish measures in 1940 and by the autumn of 1942 had deported around 60,000 Jews to Poland. Another 2,396 were deported and 2,257 killed that autumn during an uprising, and 13,500 were deported between October 1944 and March 1945. [255] According to Stone, "the Holocaust in Slovakia was far more than a German project, even if it was carried out in the context of a 'puppet' state." [256]

Although Hungary expelled Jews who were not citizens from its newly annexed lands in 1941, it did not deport most of its Jews [257] until the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944. Between 15 May and early July 1944, 437,000 Jews were deported, mostly to Auschwitz, where most of them were gassed there were four transports a day, each carrying 3,000 people. [258] In Budapest in October and November 1944, the Hungarian Arrow Cross forced 50,000 Jews to march to the Austrian border as part of a deal with Germany to supply forced labor. So many died that the marches were stopped. [259]

Italy, Finland, and Japan

Italy introduced antisemitic measures, but there was less antisemitism there than in Germany, and Italian-occupied countries were generally safer for Jews than those occupied by Germany. [260] Most Italian Jews, over 40,000, survived the Holocaust. [261] In September 1943, Germany occupied the northern and central areas of Italy and established a fascist puppet state, the Republica Sociale Italiana or Salò Republic. [262] Officers from RSHA IV B4, a Gestapo unit, began deporting Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. [263] The first group of 1,034 Jews arrived from Rome on 23 October 1943 839 were gassed. [264] Around 8,500 Jews were deported in all. [261] Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Italian-controlled Libya almost 2,600 Libyan Jews were sent to camps, where 562 died. [265]

In Finland, the government was pressured in 1942 to hand over its 150–200 non-Finnish Jews to Germany. After opposition from both the government and public, eight non-Finnish Jews were deported in late 1942 only one survived the war. [266] Japan had little antisemitism in its society and did not persecute Jews in most of the territories it controlled. Jews in Shanghai were confined, but despite German pressure they were not killed. [267]

Pearl Harbor, Germany declares war on the United States

On 7 December 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, an American naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans. The following day, the United States declared war on Japan, and on 11 December, Germany declared war on the United States. [268] According to Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Hitler had trusted American Jews, whom he assumed were all powerful, to keep the United States out of the war in the interests of German Jews. When America declared war, he blamed the Jews. [269]

Nearly three years earlier, on 30 January 1939, Hitler had told the Reichstag: "if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will be not the Bolshevising of the earth, and thus a victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!" [270] In the view of Christian Gerlach, Hitler "announced his decision in principle" to annihilate the Jews on or around 12 December 1941, one day after his declaration of war. On that day, Hitler gave a speech in his apartment at the Reich Chancellery to senior Nazi Party leaders: the Reichsleiter and the Gauleiter. [271] The following day, Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, noted in his diary:

Regarding the Jewish question, the Führer is determined to clear the table. He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their destruction. Those were not empty words. Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence. We cannot be sentimental about it. [s]

Christopher Browning argues that Hitler gave no order during the Reich Chancellery meeting but made clear that he had intended his 1939 warning to the Jews to be taken literally, and he signaled to party leaders that they could give appropriate orders to others. [273] According to Gerlach, an unidentified former German Sicherheitsdienst officer wrote in a report in 1944, after defecting to Switzerland: "After America entered the war, the annihilation (Ausrottung) of all European Jews was initiated on the Führer's order." [274]

Four days after Hitler's meeting with party leaders, Hans Frank, Governor-General of the General Government area of occupied Poland, who was at the meeting, spoke to district governors: "We must put an end to the Jews . I will in principle proceed only on the assumption that they will disappear. They must go." [275] [t] On 18 December 1941, Hitler and Himmler held a meeting to which Himmler referred in his appointment book as "Juden frage | als Partisanen auszurotten" ("Jewish question / to be exterminated as partisans"). Browning interprets this as a meeting to discuss how to justify and speak about the killing. [277]

Wannsee Conference (20 January 1942)

SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA), convened what became known as the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 at Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, a villa in Berlin's Wannsee suburb. [278] The meeting had been scheduled for 9 December 1941, and invitations had been sent between 29 November and 1 December, [279] but on 8 December it had been postponed indefinitely, probably because of Pearl Harbor. [280] On 8 January, Heydrich sent out notes again, this time suggesting 20 January. [281]

The 15 men present at Wannsee included Heydrich, SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, head of Reich Security Head Office Referat IV B4 ("Jewish affairs") SS Major General Heinrich Müller, head of RSHA Department IV (the Gestapo) and other SS and party leaders. [u] According to Browning, eight of the 15 had doctorates: "Thus it was not a dimwitted crowd unable to grasp what was going to be said to them." [283] Thirty copies of the minutes, the Wannsee Protocol, were made. Copy no. 16 was found by American prosecutors in March 1947 in a German Foreign Office folder. [284] Written by Eichmann and stamped "Top Secret", the minutes were written in "euphemistic language" on Heydrich's instructions, according to Eichmann's later testimony. [285]

Discussing plans for a "final solution to the Jewish question" ("Endlösung der Judenfrage"), and a "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe" ("Endlösung der europäischen Judenfrage"), [286] the conference was held to coordinate efforts and policies ("Parallelisierung der Linienführung"), and to ensure that authority rested with Heydrich. There was discussion about whether to include the German Mischlinge (half-Jews). [287] Heydrich told the meeting: "Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Fuehrer gives the appropriate approval in advance." [286] He continued:

Under proper guidance, in the course of the Final Solution, the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.

The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival. (See the experience of history.)

In the course of the practical execution of the Final Solution, Europe will be combed through from west to east. Germany proper, including the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, will have to be handled first due to the housing problem and additional social and political necessities.

The evacuated Jews will first be sent, group by group, to so-called transit ghettos, from which they will be transported to the East. [286]

The evacuations were regarded as provisional ("Ausweichmöglichkeiten"). [288] [w] The final solution would encompass the 11 million Jews living in territories controlled by Germany and elsewhere in Europe, including Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, and Hungary, "dependent on military developments". [288] According to Longerich, "the Jews were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labour and mass murder." [290]

Extermination camps

At the end of 1941 in occupied Poland, the Germans began building additional camps or expanding existing ones. Auschwitz, for example, was expanded in October 1941 by building Auschwitz II-Birkenau a few kilometers away. [5] By the spring or summer of 1942, gas chambers had been installed in these new facilities, except for Chełmno, which used gas vans.

Camp Location
(occupied Poland)
Deaths Gas
Mass gassing
Auschwitz II Brzezinka 1,082,000
(all Auschwitz camps
includes 960,000 Jews)
4 [y] Oct 1941
(built as POW camp) [294]
c. 20 Mar 1942 [295] [z] [159]
Bełżec Bełżec 600,000 [160] N 1 Nov 1941 [296] 17 Mar 1942 [296] [160]
Chełmno Chełmno nad Nerem 320,000 [161] N 8 Dec 1941 [297] [161]
Majdanek Lublin 78,000 [298] N 7 Oct 1941
(built as POW camp)
Oct 1942 [300] [162]
Sobibór Sobibór 250,000 [163] N Feb 1942 [301] May 1942 [301] [163]
Treblinka Treblinka 870,000 [164] N May 1942 [302] 23 July 1942 [302] [164]
Total 3,218,000

Other camps sometimes described as extermination camps include Maly Trostinets near Minsk in the occupied Soviet Union, where 65,000 are thought to have died, mostly by shooting but also in gas vans [303] Mauthausen in Austria [304] Stutthof, near Gdańsk, Poland [305] and Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück in Germany. [306]

Gas vans

Chełmno, with gas vans only, had its roots in the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. [308] In December 1939 and January 1940, gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed compartment had been used to kill disabled people in occupied Poland. [309] As the mass shootings continued in Russia, Himmler and his subordinates in the field feared that the murders were causing psychological problems for the SS, [310] and began searching for more efficient methods. In December 1941, similar vans, using exhaust fumes rather than bottled gas, were introduced into the camp at Chełmno, [296] Victims were asphyxiated while being driven to prepared burial pits in the nearby forests. [311] The vans were also used in the occupied Soviet Union, for example in smaller clearing actions in the Minsk ghetto, [312] and in Yugoslavia. [313] Apparently, as with the mass shootings, the vans caused emotional problems for the operators, and the small number of victims the vans could handle made them ineffective. [314]

Gas chambers

Christian Gerlach writes that over three million Jews were murdered in 1942, the year that "marked the peak" of the mass murder. [315] At least 1.4 million of these were in the General Government area of Poland. [316] Victims usually arrived at the extermination camps by freight train. [317] Almost all arrivals at Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka were sent directly to the gas chambers, [318] with individuals occasionally selected to replace dead workers. [319] At Auschwitz, about 20 percent of Jews were selected to work. [320] Those selected for death at all camps were told to undress and hand their valuables to camp workers. [40] They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. To prevent panic, they were told the gas chambers were showers or delousing chambers. [321]

At Auschwitz, after the chambers were filled, the doors were shut and pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents, [322] releasing toxic prussic acid. [323] Those inside died within 20 minutes the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to the commandant Rudolf Höss, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. [324] Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: "Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives." [325] The gas was then pumped out, and the Sonderkommando—work groups of mostly Jewish prisoners—carried out the bodies, extracted gold fillings, cut off women's hair, and removed jewelry, artificial limbs and glasses. [326] At Auschwitz, the bodies were at first buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, 100,000 bodies were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers. [327]

Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka became known as the Operation Reinhard camps, named after the German plan to murder the Jews in the General Government area of occupied Poland. [328] Between March 1942 and November 1943, around 1,526,500 Jews were gassed in these three camps in gas chambers using carbon monoxide from the exhaust fumes of stationary diesel engines. [5] Gold fillings were pulled from the corpses before burial, but unlike in Auschwitz the women's hair was cut before death. At Treblinka, to calm the victims, the arrival platform was made to look like a train station, complete with fake clock. [329] Most of the victims at these three camps were buried in pits at first. From mid-1942, as part of Sonderaktion 1005, prisoners at Auschwitz, Chelmno, Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka were forced to exhume and burn bodies that had been buried, in part to hide the evidence, and in part because of the terrible smell pervading the camps and a fear that the drinking water would become polluted. [330] The corpses—700,000 in Treblinka—were burned on wood in open fire pits and the remaining bones crushed into powder. [331]

Jewish resistance

There was almost no resistance in the ghettos in Poland until the end of 1942. [333] Raul Hilberg accounted for this by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: compliance might avoid inflaming the situation until the onslaught abated. [334] Timothy Snyder noted that it was only during the three months after the deportations of July–September 1942 that agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached. [335]

Several resistance groups were formed, such as the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) and Jewish Military Union (ŻZW) in the Warsaw Ghetto and the United Partisan Organization in Vilna. [336] Over 100 revolts and uprisings occurred in at least 19 ghettos and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The best known is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, when the Germans arrived to send the remaining inhabitants to extermination camps. Forced to retreat on 19 April from the ŻOB and ŻZW fighters, they returned later that day under the command of SS General Jürgen Stroop (author of the Stroop Report about the uprising). [337] Around 1,000 poorly armed fighters held the SS at bay for four weeks. [338] Polish and Jewish accounts stated that hundreds or thousands of Germans had been killed, [339] while the Germans reported 16 dead. [340] The Germans said that 14,000 Jews had been killed—7000 during the fighting and 7000 sent to Treblinka [341] —and between 53,000 [342] and 56,000 deported. [340] According to Gwardia Ludowa, a Polish resistance newspaper, in May 1943:

From behind the screen of smoke and fire, in which the ranks of fighting Jewish partisans are dying, the legend of the exceptional fighting qualities of the Germans is being undermined. . The fighting Jews have won for us what is most important: the truth about the weakness of the Germans. [343]

During a revolt in Treblinka on 2 August 1943, inmates killed five or six guards and set fire to camp buildings several managed to escape. [344] In the Białystok Ghetto on 16 August, Jewish insurgents fought for five days when the Germans announced mass deportations. [345] On 14 October, Jewish prisoners in Sobibór attempted an escape, killing 11 SS officers, as well as two or three Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards. According to Yitzhak Arad, this was the highest number of SS officers killed in a single revolt. [346] Around 300 inmates escaped (out of 600 in the main camp), but 100 were recaptured and shot. [347] On 7 October 1944, 300 Jewish members, mostly Greek or Hungarian, of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz learned they were about to be killed, and staged an uprising, blowing up crematorium IV. [348] Three SS officers were killed. [349] The Sonderkommando at crematorium II threw their Oberkapo into an oven when they heard the commotion, believing that a camp uprising had begun. [350] By the time the SS had regained control, 451 members of the Sonderkommando were dead 212 survived. [351]

Estimates of Jewish participation in partisan units throughout Europe range from 20,000 to 100,000. [352] In the occupied Polish and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, [353] although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. [354] An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 joined the Soviet partisan movement. [355] One of the famous Jewish groups was the Bielski partisans in Belarus, led by the Bielski brothers. [353] Jews also joined Polish forces, including the Home Army. According to Timothy Snyder, "more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943." [356] [aa]

Polish resistance and flow of information

The Polish government-in-exile in London received information about the extermination camp at Auschwitz from the Polish leadership in Warsaw from 1940 onwards, and by August 1942 there was "a continual flow of information to and from Poland", according to Michael Fleming. [362] This was in large measure thanks to Captain Witold Pilecki of the Polish Home Army, who was sent to the camp in September 1940 after allowing himself to be arrested in Warsaw. An inmate until he escaped in April 1943, his mission was to set up a resistance movement (ZOW), prepare to take over the camp, and smuggle out information. [363]

On 6 January 1942, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, sent out diplomatic notes about German atrocities, based on reports about mass graves and bodies surfacing in areas the Red Army had liberated, as well as witness reports from German-occupied areas. [364] According to Fleming, in May and June 1942, London was told about the extermination camps at Chełmno, Sobibór, and Bełzėc. [365] Szlama Ber Winer escaped from Chełmno in February and passed information to the Oneg Shabbat group in the Warsaw Ghetto [161] his report was known by his pseudonym as the Grojanowski Report. [366] Also in 1942, Jan Karski sent information to the Allies after being smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto twice. [367] By c. July 1942, Polish leaders in Warsaw had learned about the mass killing of Jews in Auschwitz. [ab] The Polish Interior Ministry prepared a report, Sprawozdanie 6/42, [369] which said at the end:

There are different methods of execution. People are shot by firing squads, killed by an "air hammer" /Hammerluft/, and poisoned by gas in special gas chambers. Prisoners condemned to death by the Gestapo are murdered by the first two methods. The third method, the gas chamber, is employed for those who are ill or incapable of work and those who have been brought in transports especially for the purpose /Soviet prisoners of war, and, recently Jews/. [370]

Sprawozdanie 6/42 had reached London by 12 November 1942, where it was translated into English to become part of a 108-page report, "Report on Conditions in Poland", on which the date 27 November 1942 was handwritten. This report was sent to the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. [371] On 10 December 1942, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, Edward Raczyński, addressed the fledgling United Nations on the killings the address was distributed with the title The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland. He told them about the use of poison gas about Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór that the Polish underground had referred to them as extermination camps and that tens of thousands of Jews had been killed in Bełżec in March and April 1942. [372] One in three Jews in Poland were already dead, he estimated, from a population of 3,130,000. [373] Raczyński's address was covered by the New York Times and The Times of London. Winston Churchill received it, and Anthony Eden presented it to the British cabinet. On 17 December 1942, 11 Allies issued the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations condemning the "bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination". [374]

The British and American governments were reluctant to publicize the intelligence they had received. A BBC Hungarian Service memo, written by Carlile Macartney, said in 1942: "We shouldn't mention the Jews at all." The British government's view was that the Hungarian people's antisemitism would make them distrust the Allies if Allied broadcasts focused on the Jews. [375] In the United States, where antisemitism and isolationism were common, the government similarly feared turning the war into one about the Jews. [376] Although governments and the German public appear to have understood what was happening to the Jews, it seems the Jews themselves did not. According to Saul Friedländer, "[t]estimonies left by Jews from all over occupied Europe indicate that, in contradistinction to vast segments of surrounding society, the victims did not understand what was ultimately in store for them." In Western Europe, he writes, Jewish communities failed to piece the information together, while in Eastern Europe they could not accept that the stories they had heard from elsewhere would end up applying to them too. [377]

The Holocaust in Hungary

By 1943 it was evident to the armed forces leadership that Germany was losing the war. [379] Rail shipments of Jews were still arriving regularly from western and southern Europe at the extermination camps. [380] Shipments of Jews had priority on the German railways over anything but the army's needs, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation at the end of 1942. [381] Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and the killing of skilled Jewish workers, [382] but Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations. [383]

The mass murder reached a "frenetic" pace in 1944 [384] when Auschwitz gassed nearly 500,000 people. [385] On 19 March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary and dispatched Adolf Eichmann to supervise the deportation of its Jews. [386] Between 15 May and 9 July, 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, almost all sent directly to the gas chambers. [387] A month before the deportations began, Eichmann offered through an intermediary, Joel Brand, to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks from the Allies, which the Germans would agree not to use on the Western front. [388] The British thwarted the proposal by leaking it. The Times called it "a new level of fantasy and self-deception". [389]

Death marches

As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the SS closed down the camps in eastern Poland and tried to conceal what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and corpses cremated. [390] From January to April 1945, the SS sent inmates westward on death marches to camps in Germany and Austria. [391] [392] In January 1945, the Germans held records of 714,000 inmates in concentration camps by May, 250,000 (35 percent) had died during these marches. [393] Already sick after exposure to violence and starvation, they were marched to train stations and transported for days without food or shelter in open freight cars, then forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Some went by truck or wagons others were marched the entire distance. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. [394]


The first major camp encountered by Allied troops, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets, along with its gas chambers, on 25 July 1944. [395] Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Germans in 1943. [396] On 17 January 1945, 58,000 Auschwitz inmates were sent on a death march westwards [397] when the camp was liberated by the Soviets on 27 January, they found just 7,000 inmates in the three main camps and 500 in subcamps. [398] Buchenwald was liberated by the Americans on 11 April [399] Bergen-Belsen by the British on 15 April [400] Dachau by the Americans on 29 April [401] Ravensbrück by the Soviets on 30 April [402] and Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May. [403] The Red Cross took control of Theresienstadt on 3 May, days before the Soviets arrived. [404]

The British 11th Armoured Division found around 60,000 prisoners (90 percent Jews) when they liberated Bergen-Belsen, [400] [405] as well as 13,000 unburied corpses another 10,000 people died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. [406] The BBC's war correspondent Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen, in a report so graphic the BBC declined to broadcast it for four days, and did so, on 19 April, only after Dimbleby threatened to resign. [407] He said he had "never seen British soldiers so moved to cold fury": [408]

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which. . The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them . Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live. A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms. . He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

Table from David M. Crowe [45]
Country Jews
Albania 200–591
Austria 185,000–192,000 48,767–65,000
Belgium 55,000–70,000 24,000–29,902
and Moravia
92,000–118,310 78,150–80,000
Bulgaria 50,000 7,335
Denmark 7,500–7,800 60–116
Estonia 4,500 1,500–2,000
Finland 2,000 7–8
France 330,000–350,000 73,320–90,000
Germany (1933) 523,000–525,000 130,000–160,000
Greece 77,380 58,443–67,000
Hungary 725,000–825,000 200,000–569,000
Italy 42,500–44,500 5,596–9,000
Latvia 91,500–95,000 60,000–85,000
Lithuania 168,000 130,000–200,000
Luxembourg 3,800 720–2,000
Netherlands 140,000 98,800–120,000
Norway 1,700–1,800 758–1,000
Poland 3,300,000–3,500,000 2,700,000–3,000,000
Romania (1930) 756,000 270,000–287,000
Slovakia 136,000 68,000–100,000
Soviet Union 3,020,000 700,000–2,500,000
Yugoslavia 78,000–82,242 51,400–67,438
Total 9,702,930–10,169,332 4,707,056–7,442,390

The Jews killed represented around one third of world Jewry [410] and about two-thirds of European Jewry, based on a pre-war figure of 9.7 million Jews in Europe. [411] Most heavily concentrated in the east, the pre-war Jewish population in Europe was 3.5 million in Poland 3 million in the Soviet Union nearly 800,000 in Romania, and 700,000 in Hungary. Germany had over 500,000. [45]

The most commonly cited death toll is the six million given by Adolf Eichmann to SS member Wilhelm Höttl, who signed an affidavit mentioning this figure in 1945. [412] [ac] Historians' estimates range from 4,204,000 to 7,000,000. [413] According to Yad Vashem, "[a]ll the serious research" confirms that between five and six million Jews died. [ac]

Much of the uncertainty stems from the lack of a reliable figure for Jews in Europe in 1939, border changes that make double-counting of victims difficult to avoid, lack of accurate records from the perpetrators, and uncertainty about whether to include post-liberation deaths caused by the persecution. [414] Early postwar calculations were 4.2–4.5 million from Gerald Reitlinger, [414] 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg, and 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. [415] In 1990, Yehuda Bauer and Robert Rozett estimated 5.59–5.86 million, [416] and in 1991, Wolfgang Benz suggested 5.29 to just over 6 million. [417] [ac] The figures include over one million children. [419]

The death camps in occupied Poland accounted for half the Jews killed. At Auschwitz, the Jewish death toll was 960,000 [420] Treblinka 870,000 [164] Bełżec 600,000 [160] Chełmno 320,000 [161] Sobibór 250,000 [163] and Majdanek 79,000. [162]

Death rates were heavily dependent on the survival of European states willing to protect their Jewish citizens. [421] In countries allied to Germany, the state's control over its citizens, including the Jews, was seen as a matter of sovereignty. The continuous presence of state institutions thereby prevented the Jewish communities' complete destruction. [421] In occupied countries, the survival of the state was likewise correlated with lower Jewish death rates: 75 percent of Jews survived in France and 99 percent in Denmark, but 75 percent died in the Netherlands, as did 99 percent of Jews who were in Estonia when the Germans arrived—the Nazis declared Estonia Judenfrei ("free of Jews") in January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference. [422]

The survival of Jews in countries where states were not destroyed demonstrates the "crucial" influence of non-Germans (governments and others), according to Christian Gerlach. [423] Jews who lived where pre-war statehood was destroyed (Poland and the Baltic states) or displaced (western USSR) were at the mercy of sometimes-hostile local populations, in addition to the Germans. Almost all Jews in German-occupied Poland, the Baltic states and the USSR were killed, with a 5 percent chance of survival on average. [421] Of Poland's 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed. [424]

Soviet civilians and POWs

The Nazis regarded the Slavs as Untermenschen. [24] German troops destroyed villages throughout the Soviet Union, [425] rounded up civilians for forced labor in Germany, and caused famine by taking foodstuffs. [426] In Belarus, Germany imposed a regime that deported 380,000 people for slave labor, killed 1.6 million, and destroyed at least 5,295 settlements. [427] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 3.3 million of 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in German custody. [428] The death rates decreased when the POWs were needed to help the German war effort by 1943, half a million had been deployed as slave labor. [429]

Non-Jewish Poles

In a memorandum to Hitler dated 25 May 1940, "A Few Thoughts on the Treatment of the Ethnically Alien Population in the East", Himmler stated that it was in German interests to foster divisions between the ethnic groups in the East. He wanted to restrict non-Germans in the conquered territories to an elementary-school education that would teach them how to write their names, count up to 500, work hard, and obey Germans. [430] The Polish political class became the target of a campaign of murder (Intelligenzaktion and AB-Aktion). [431] An estimated 1.8–1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were killed by Germans during the war. [432] At least 200,000 died in concentration camps, around 146,000 in Auschwitz. Others died in massacres or in uprisings such as the Warsaw Uprising, where 120,000–200,000 were killed. [433]

Germany and its allies killed up to 220,000 Roma, around 25 percent of the community in Europe. [434] [435] Robert Ritter, head of Germany's Racial Hygiene and Demographic Biology Research Unit, called them "a peculiar form of the human species who are incapable of development and came about by mutation". [436] In May 1942, they were placed under similar laws to the Jews, and in December Himmler ordered that they be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht. [437] He adjusted the order on 15 November 1943 to allow "sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies" in the occupied Soviet areas to be viewed as citizens. [438] In Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, the Roma were subject to restrictions on movement and confinement to collection camps, [439] while in Eastern Europe they were sent to concentration camps, where large numbers were murdered. [440]

Political and religious opponents

German communists, socialists and trade unionists were among the first to be sent to concentration camps. [441] Nacht und Nebel ("Night and Fog"), a directive issued by Hitler on 7 December 1941, resulted in the disappearance, torture and death of political activists throughout German-occupied Europe the courts had sentenced 1,793 people to death by April 1944, according to Jack Fischel. [442] Because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, where they were given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state's authority. [443] Between 2,700 and 3,300 were sent to the camps, where 1,400 died. [444] According to German historian Detlef Garbe, "no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness." [445]

Gay men, Afro-Germans

Around 100,000 gay men were arrested in Germany and 50,000 jailed between 1933 and 1945 5,000–15,000 are thought to have been sent to concentration camps. [446] Hundreds were castrated, sometimes "voluntarily" to avoid criminal sentences. [447] In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. [448] The police closed gay bars and shut down gay publications. [446] Lesbians were left relatively unaffected the Nazis saw them as "asocials", rather than sexual deviants. [449] There were 5,000–25,000 Afro-Germans in Germany when the Nazis came to power. [450] Although blacks in Germany and German-occupied Europe were subjected to incarceration, sterilization and murder, there was no program to kill them as a group. [451]


The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals held after the war by the Allies in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute the German leadership. The first was the 1945–1946 trial of 22 political and military leaders before the International Military Tribunal. [452] Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels had committed suicide months earlier. [453] The prosecution entered indictments against 24 men (two were dropped before the end of the trial) [ad] and seven organizations: the Reich Cabinet, Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), Gestapo, Sturmabteilung (SA), and the "General Staff and High Command". [454]

The indictments were for participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal passed judgements ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. [454] Eleven defendants were executed, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, and Alfred Jodl. Ribbentrop, the judgement declared, "played an important part in Hitler's 'final solution of the Jewish question'." [455]

The subsequent Nuremberg trials, 1946–1949, tried another 185 defendants. [456] West Germany initially tried few ex-Nazis, but after the 1958 Ulm Einsatzkommando trial, the government set up a dedicated agency. [457] Other trials of Nazis and collaborators took place in Western and Eastern Europe. In 1960 Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial on 15 indictments, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the Jewish people. He was convicted in December 1961 and executed in June 1962. Eichmann's trial and death revived interest in war criminals and the Holocaust in general. [458]


The government of Israel requested $1.5 billion from the Federal Republic of Germany in March 1951 to finance the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors, arguing that Germany had stolen $6 billion from the European Jews. Israelis were divided about the idea of taking money from Germany. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) was opened in New York, and after negotiations the claim was reduced to $845 million . [459] [460]

West Germany allocated another $125 million for reparations in 1988. Companies such as BMW, Deutsche Bank, Ford, Opel, Siemens, and Volkswagen faced lawsuits for their use of forced labor during the war. [459] In response, Germany set up the "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" Foundation in 2000, which paid €4.45 billion to former slave laborers (up to €7,670 each). [461] In 2013 Germany agreed to provide €772 million to fund nursing care, social services, and medication for 56,000 Holocaust survivors around the world. [462] The French state-owned railway company, the SNCF, agreed in 2014 to pay $60 million to Jewish-American survivors, around $100,000 each, for its role in the transport of 76,000 Jews from France to extermination camps between 1942 and 1944. [463]

Historikerstreit and the uniqueness question

In the early decades of Holocaust studies, scholars approached the Holocaust as a genocide unique in its reach and specificity. [464] This was questioned in the 1980s during the West German Historikerstreit ("historians' dispute"), an attempt to re-position the Holocaust within German historiography. [465] [ae]

Ernst Nolte triggered the Historikerstreit in June 1986 with an article in the conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "The past that will not pass: A speech that could be written but no longer delivered." [467] [af] The Nazi era was suspended like a sword over Germany's present, he wrote, rather than being studied as an historical event like any other. Comparing Auschwitz to the Gulag, he suggested that the Holocaust was a response to Hitler's fear of the Soviet Union: "Did the Gulag Archipelago not precede Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the 'racial murder' of National Socialism? . Was Auschwitz perhaps rooted in a past that would not pass?" [ag]

Nolte's arguments were viewed as an attempt to normalize the Holocaust. [471] [ah] In September 1986 in Die Zeit, Eberhard Jäckel responded that "never before had a state, with the authority of its leader, decided and announced that a specific group of humans, including the elderly, women, children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, then carried out this resolution using every possible means of state power." [h] Despite the criticism of Nolte, the Historikerstreit put "the question of comparison" on the agenda, according to Dan Stone in 2010. [465] Stone argued that the idea of the Holocaust as unique was overtaken by attempts to place it within the context of Stalinism, ethnic cleansing, and the Nazis' intentions for post-war "demographic reordering", particularly the Generalplan Ost, the plan to kill tens of millions of Slavs to create living space for Germans. [473] Jäckel's position continued nevertheless to inform the views of many specialists. Richard J. Evans argued in 2015:

Thus although the Nazi "Final Solution" was one genocide among many, it had features that made it stand out from all the rest as well. Unlike all the others it was bounded neither by space nor by time. It was launched not against a local or regional obstacle, but at a world-enemy seen as operating on a global scale. It was bound to an even larger plan of racial reordering and reconstruction involving further genocidal killing on an almost unimaginable scale, aimed, however, at clearing the way in a particular region – Eastern Europe – for a further struggle against the Jews and those the Nazis regarded as their puppets. It was set in motion by ideologues who saw world history in racial terms. It was, in part, carried out by industrial methods. These things all make it unique.

  1. ^ abc Matt Brosnan (Imperial War Museum, 2018): "The Holocaust was the systematic murder of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War." [23]

Yad Vashem (undated): "The Holocaust was the murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Between the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Nazi Germany and its accomplices strove to murder every Jew under their domination." [30]

SS General Reinhard Heydrich (chief of the Reich Security Main Office) SS Major General Heinrich Müller (Gestapo) SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Referat IV B4) SS Colonel Eberhard Schöngarth (commander of the RSHA field office for the Government General in Krakow, Poland) SS Major Rudolf Lange (commander of RSHA Einsatzkommando 2) and SS Major General Otto Hofmann (chief of SS Race and Settlement Main Office).

Roland Freisler (Ministry of Justice) Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (Reich Cabinet) Alfred Meyer (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories-German-occupied USSR) Georg Leibrandt (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories) Martin Luther (Foreign Office) Wilhelm Stuckart (Ministry of the Interior) Erich Neumann (Office of Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan), Josef Bühler (Office of the Government of the Governor General-German-occupied Poland) Gerhard Klopfer (Nazi Party Chancellery). [282]

Translation, Avalon Project: "These actions are, however, only to be considered provisional, but practical experience is already being collected which is of the greatest importance in relation to the future final solution of the Jewish question." [286]

The speech that could not be delivered referred to a lecture Nolte had planned to give to the Römerberg-Gesprächen (Römerberg Colloquium) in Frankfurt he said his invitation had been withdrawn, which the organisers disputed. [469] At that point, his lecture had the title "The Past That Will Not Pass: To Debate or to Draw the Line?". [470]


  1. ^"Deportation of Hungarian Jews". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 25 November 2017 . Retrieved 6 October 2017 .
  2. ^ abLandau 2016, p. 3.
  3. ^Bloxham 2009, p. 1.
  4. ^
  5. "Remaining Jewish Population of Europe in 1945". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 13 June 2018.
  6. ^ abc
  7. "Killing Centers: An Overview". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017.
  8. ^ For the date, see Marcuse 2001, p. 21.
  9. ^Stackelberg & Winkle 2002, pp. 141–143.
  10. ^Gray 2015, p. 5.
  11. ^ abStone 2010, pp. 2–3.
  12. ^Crowe 2008, p. 1.
  13. ^
  14. "Holocaust". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 5 October 2017 . Retrieved 4 October 2017 .
  15. ^
  16. Gilad, Elon (1 May 2019). "Shoah: How a Biblical Term Became the Hebrew Word for Holocaust". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 1 December 2019.
  17. ^Crowe 2008, p. 1
  18. "Holocaust" (PDF) . Yad Vashem. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 February 2018.

Knowlton & Cates 1993, pp. 18–23 partly reproduced in "The Past That Will Not Pass" (translation), German History in Documents and Images.

Earlier this year, German public broadcasters aired the 1978 American TV series “Holocaust” on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of its first broadcast in West Germany, in 1979. On that occasion, the series shook West German society, with an estimated 50 percent of the total population watching at least one episode.

In 1979, more than three decades after the end of World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime, the series marked the biggest public discussion of the Holocaust in post-war German society. Today, amid a resurgence of fascist forces internationally, including in Germany itself, the series is as relevant as ever.

The four-part series recounts the fate of the assimilated German-Jewish Weiss family, in Berlin under the Nazi regime from 1935 to 1945. The father, Dr. Josef Weiss (Fritz Weaver), is a doctor, and the mother (Rosemary Harris) is a great enthusiast of German culture, especially German music. Despite the growing political persecution of Jews and the ever-greater restrictions on their professional and everyday lives in Nazi Germany, she opposes the idea of emigrating until it is too late for the family to leave.

The series begins in 1935 with the wedding of their oldest son, Karl (James Woods), an artist, with the non-Jewish Inga (Meryl Streep). Her family are convinced Nazis. Apart from Karl the Weisses have two other children: Rudi (Joseph Bottoms) and Anna (Blanche Baker).

In the ensuing three parts, the viewers witness how the family is torn apart. It falls victim to the rapidly escalating persecution of the Jews by the Nazis and, with only a few exceptions, is murdered.

The father, a respected doctor in Berlin, is prohibited from treating non-Jewish patients. Then Kristallnacht, the nationwide, Nazi-instigated anti-Jewish pogrom of November 9, 1938, marks a turning point for the family. The grandfather’s bookstore is violently assaulted by a Nazi mob, and he himself is horribly humiliated. The oldest son, Karl, is arrested and deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. He will later be deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. The Nazis subject him to brutal torture after they discover that he and a group of camp inmates have drawn depictions of the atrocities of the Nazis.

The father, who is Polish and not a German citizen, is deported shortly after the pogrom, and is eventually imprisoned, along with some 400,000 other Jews from Poland and abroad, in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Anna and her mother remain in Berlin. When a group of Nazis violently rape Anna, she suffers a nervous breakdown. Inga and Frau Weiss decide to send Anna to a hospital for the mentally ill. There she is soon gassed along with hundreds of thousands of others, as part of the so-called “Action T4,” a pre-planned mass murder of mentally and physically ill people and children in Nazi Germany.

Shortly after Anna’s death, her mother is also deported to the Warsaw Ghetto, where she joins her husband. She will later be sent to Auschwitz, where she is gassed. Karl and his father are killed just weeks before the end of the war: Karl dies after the brutal torture he suffered in the camp, and his father is killed on one of the many so called “death marches” that the SS organized to kill the last concentration camp prisoners as the Red Army advanced toward Germany and liberated one camp after another. Apart from Karl’s wife, Inga, Rudi is the only one of the family who survives. He joins the Soviet partisans and fights against the Wehrmacht in Nazi-occupied Ukraine and Poland.

The fate of the Weiss family is contrasted with the career of Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty). Dorf is the son of a baker who had committed suicide, driven to despair by the economic crisis of the early 1930s. We meet the son first as a demoralized and unemployed lawyer in 1935. However, he is soon pushed by his ambitious wife, who maintains close ties to leading figures in the Nazi party, to rise rapidly in a career in the SS (Schutzstaffel), the paramilitary elite corps of the Nazi party. He eventually rises to become the right-hand man of Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), one of the worst Nazi criminals. Dorf becomes deeply implicated in the organization of the mass murder of European Jews.

The RSHA was created in 1939 through the unification of the SD and the SS. It played a central role in the planning and implementation of the genocide of European Jewry as well as in the brutal persecution and oppression of all “political” and “racial enemies” of the Third Reich. The SS-Einsatzgruppen, which murdered some 1.5 million Jews in the occupied Soviet Union, were directly subordinate to Heydrich. After the end of the war, Erik Dorf commits suicide, as did many leading Nazis who feared criminal prosecution by the Allied authorities.

Even though the series occasionally verges on the melodramatic, and despite some minor historical inaccuracies (the major deportation of Polish Jews from Germany, for instance, occurred before and not after Kristallnacht), it is remarkably clear-sighted, sharp and comprehensive.

The juxtaposition of Dorf’s family and the fate of the Weiss family allows the series to convey the scope and different stages of the Holocaust in an impressive and comprehensive manner, starting from the legal and political persecution in Nazi Germany, through the ghettos and mass shootings in Poland and the occupied Soviet Union, up to the gassing in the death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. The heroic struggle of the Soviet partisans against the Nazis is portrayed in detail, while the viewers can follow the different stages in the planning of the genocide through the character of Dorf. Several of the actors, especially Meryl Streep as Inga and Michael Moriarty as Erik Dorf, offer extraordinary performances that contribute considerably to the impact the film makes on its viewers.

The significance of the series, and the fact it was produced in the US, not in Germany, cannot be understood outside the larger historical context. For decades after the war, the crimes of the Nazis, including the Holocaust, were barely discussed in public in post-war Germany. This reactionary climate was a direct result of the postwar order. The suppression of the revolutionary struggles of the working class by the Soviet bureaucracy and the Stalinist parties throughout Europe made possible the temporary restabilization of capitalism in the wake of the massive destruction caused by the war.

With the beginning of the Cold War, the US largely abandoned the prosecution of Nazi criminals. Instead, old Nazis and officers of the Wehrmacht were integrated into the US army and CIA for the Cold War against the Soviet Union. In Germany the new elites were recruited from the old. In all essential aspects of social life—politics, economy or culture—former Nazis continued to play a major role. In 1951, a law (supported by all parties in the West German Bundestag (parliament)) came into effect guaranteeing all former members of the NSDAP the right to once again become state officials, thus allowing tens if not hundreds of thousands of Nazis to continue their careers in post-war Germany as if nothing had happened.

Likewise, doctors and lawyers—the two professions with the highest percentage of NSDAP-party membership—who had been deeply implicated in the crimes of the Nazis against Jews, political opponents and the mentally and physically ill, were never put on trial and were able to continue their careers.

The state prosecutor of the German state of Hesse, Fritz Bauer, faced massive opposition from the German judiciary, which was staffed from top to bottom by old Nazis, when he began to organize the first trial against criminals from Auschwitz on German soil in the early 1960s. (He famously said, “As soon as I step out of my office, I’m on enemy territory.”) Despite the Auschwitz trials in Germany and the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in the early 1960s, and even though opposition to the old Nazis in postwar Germany played an important role in the student movement of 1968, the Holocaust remained barely discussed in German public life. Up until the late 1970s, there was not even an official nationwide commemoration of Kristallnacht.

The first comprehensive study of the Nazi genocide, “The Destruction of European Jewry,” was authored by the Austrian-Jewish historian Raul Hilberg, who had emigrated to the United States. Having written and published the book in English in 1961, Hilberg was unable for two decades to find a German publishing house willing to publish a translation. After rejections from several major publishing houses, it was issued in 1982 by the small Berlin publishing house of Olle & Wolter.

German historians only really started to investigate the Holocaust in the 1980s. However, a real turn by a new generation of German historians, including figures like Christian Gerlach and Dieter Pohl, toward serious and comprehensive studies of the dynamics of the Holocaust, the war of annihilation against the Soviet Union and the role of the Wehrmacht in these crimes, only occurred in the 1990s. (See also: The debate in Germany over the crimes of Hitler’s Wehrmacht)

It is indicative of the prevailing climate in 1979 that before the actual airing of the series, the public broadcaster WDR came under bitter attack for its decision to show it. The management of the WDR felt forced to make a compromise, broadcasting the series only at a relatively late hour in the day. Neo-Nazis tried to prevent the broadcast by bombing two of the WDR’s stations.

The enormous impact of the series on mass consciousness, reflected in the overwhelmingly positive response to it, came as something of a surprise, and represented a turning point in views on the Nazi era. Polls showed that 86 percent of the series’ viewers discussed it with their families and friends. Tens of thousands called the WDR and expressed, often in tears, their shock and feelings of guilt about the crimes that had taken place. Former soldiers of the Wehrmacht called the broadcaster and confirmed that the atrocities that the series showed had in fact taken place.

German historian Miriam Rürüp explained the significance of the series in an interview: “What was really impressive, however, was how the four-part series, which in its main concept followed the principles of a soap opera, was received. It starts with a wedding, in a very classical manner, and then you are being drawn into history. In 1979, the war had not been over for long—but it was over long enough for another generation to have emerged, which now questioned their parents: ‘Where were you then? Did you speak to your parents? What happened? Why have we not heard about this?’ In this way, this series could contribute within families to a first confrontation with what had actually happened under National Socialism.”

The series also helped encourage a deeper study of the Holocaust in the historical sciences. The 1980s saw several projects documenting the Nazi period on a local level, including the oral history project “Bavaria in the NS-period” and the exhibition on “Resistance and Persecution in Essen.” Memorial sites at former concentration camps held several exhibitions which discussed the Holocaust much more forthrightly than had been the case before. There were also a growing number of grassroots initiatives at schools and in neighborhoods attempting to examine the history of National Socialism in their given city or region.

At the same time, the changed social and political climate triggered a massive counter-offensive by the right, led by the historian Ernst Nolte. Since at least 1979, Nolte had begun to systematically work on the justification of the crimes of the Nazis, and especially the Holocaust, as a “response to the violence of the Russian Revolution.” Auschwitz, Nolte declared, had, in fact, been a reaction to the “Gulag Archipelago” and Hitler had only committed his “Asiatic deed” because the Nazis “regarded themselves and their kind as potential or actual victims of an ‘Asiatic deed’”—that is, the Russian Revolution.

Back then, Nolte and his supporters, including historians Andreas Hilgruber and Michael Stürmer, remained in a minority.

This year, however, the series was shown under conditions where Nolte’s views are regularly advanced in the German parliament by the neo-fascist Alternative für Deutschland. They have been further developed by academics like Jörg Baberowski, and are defended by significant sections of the political establishment and the media, because the return of German militarism requires a relativization of the crimes of the Nazis. The “Holocaust” series has thus lost none of its relevance, and deserves a broad audience.

Did Nazis really try to make zombies? The real history behind one of our weirdest WWII obsessions

By Noah Charney
Published August 22, 2015 6:00PM (EDT)


From the pages of "Hellboy" and the pixilated corridors of "Wolfenstein 3D," popular culture has wondered whether the Nazis, who had no shortage of well-documented kooky ideas, might have researched the possibility of reanimating the dead. Nazi zombies make for a grabber of a headline, but what real evidence is there that raising the dead was on the agenda for even the most outrageous among the Nazis?

We can begin with the conclusion, because that is really just the start. No reliable evidence has been found that the Nazis tried to raise the dead. But though even asking the question may sound preposterous, a world of people believe that such a program was in the works — and knowing what facts we do about Nazi research and beliefs, this concept is entirely plausible.

The idea that the Nazis looked into the possibility of raising the dead might sound like an outtake from an Indiana Jones movie. But this is only because those plots were inspired by real, but little-known, facts. The Nazis did, in fact, have teams of researchers hunting for supernatural treasures, religious relics and entrances to a magical land of telepathic faeries and giants (I wish I were making this up). Relatively few people are aware of a very real organization that was the inspiration for the Indiana Jones plots: the Nazi Ahnenerbe, or the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Organization. (I wrote about the Ahnenerbe in my book "Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece.")

The Ahnenerbe (which literally means “Inheritance of the Forefathers”) was a research group into the paranormal, established by order of SS head Heinrich Himmler on 1 July 1935. It was expanded during the Second World War on direct orders from Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s interest in the occult, and the interest of many of the Nazi leaders (Himmler foremost among them) is well-documented. The Nazi Party actually began as an occult fraternity, before it morphed into a political party. Himmler’s SS, ostensibly Hitler’s bodyguard but in practice the leading special forces of the Nazi Army, was conceived of and designed based on occult beliefs. Wewelsburg, the castle headquarters of the SS, was the site of initiation rituals for SS “knights” that were modeled on Arthurian legend. The magical powers of runes were invoked, and the Ahnenerbe logo sports rune-style lettering. Psychics and astrologers were employed to attack the enemy and plan tactics based on the alignment of the stars. Nazis tried to create super-soldiers, using steroids and drug cocktails, in a twisted interpretation of Nietzsche’s übermensch.

What really got the Indiana Jones plots flowing were real Nazi expeditions launched through the Ahnenerbe. To Tibet, to search for traces of the original, uncorrupted Aryan race, and for a creature called the Yeti, what we would call the Abominable Snowman. To Ethiopia, in search of the Ark of the Covenant. To steal the Spear of Destiny from its display among the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Emperor at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, the lance which Longinus used to pierce Christ’s side as Christ hung on the cross, and which would disappear from a locked vault in Nurnberg at the end of the war. To the Languedoc, to find the Holy Grail. Indiana Jones’ nemesis, the Nazi archaeologist Belloq, may have been inspired by Otto Rahn, a member of the Ahnenerbe who spent years in search of the Holy Grail and who penned several fascinating books on the Cathars, Templars and a cult built around Lucifer, who was a god of light appropriated by early Christians and equated with the Devil (Dan Brown, I hope you’re taking notes). It is certainly possible that Hitler believed that The Ghent Altarpiece contained a coded map to supernatural treasure, as some have posited. The Ahnenerbe was hard at work looking for a secret code in the Icelandic saga "The Eddas," which many Nazi officials thought would reveal the entrance to the magical land of Thule, a sort of Middle Earth full of telepathic giants and faeries, which they believed to be the very real place of origin of the Aryans. If they could find this entrance, then the Nazis might accelerate their Aryan breeding program, and recover the supernatural powers of flight, telepathy and telekinesis that they believed their ancestors in Thule possessed, and which was lost due to interbreeding with “lesser” races.

As kooky as all this may sound (and it sounds extremely kooky), such things were fervently believed by some powerful people in the Nazi Party — so much so that huge sums of money were invested into research, along with hundreds of workers and scientists. Michael Kater, a professor who publishes extensively on Nazi Germany and who penned a book on the Ahnenerbe, underscores that the occult obsession was limited primarily to a few individuals, albeit individuals with a great deal of power. “Apart from Himmler and the Ahnenerbe, there is not a shred of evidence that ‘intellectuals’ or culture brokers of the Third Reich would have been concerned with this question (of the dead, the zombies, or the occult, for that matter).” But because of the interest from Hitler and Himmler, above all — and, frankly, the weirdness of some of their beliefs and practices — popular culture has latched onto this almost two-dimensional mad villainy and assigned it to Nazis in general. Which brings us to zombies.

The pseudo-scientific institute of the Ahnenerbe, acting out Himmler’s fantasies and theories, both sought supernatural advantages for the Nazi war effort, but also had a propagandistic agenda, to seek “scientific” evidence to support Nazi beliefs, like Aryan racial superiority. These experiments on human subjects, many concentration camp inmates, provide a horrifying constellation of facts that can lead to the theory about Nazi experiments to reanimate the dead. This popular myth, embraced in video games and comic books, is actually a plausible conclusion when one considers a thicket of facts that weave around it. Let us examine the facts that are established, and see how they lead to the “Nazi zombies” theory — which, whether true or not, tells us interesting things about the way we think about the Nazis today.

On 28 April 1945, at a munitions factory depot called Bernterode, in the German region of Thuringia, 40,000 tons of ammunition were found. Inside the mine, investigating American officers noticed what looked like a brick wall, painted over to match the color of the mineshaft. The wall turned out to be 5 feet thick, the mortar between the bricks not yet fully hardened. Breaking through with pickaxes and hammers, the officers uncovered several vaults containing a wealth of Nazi regalia, including a long hall hung with Nazi banners and filled with uniforms, as well as hundreds of stolen artworks: tapestries, books, paintings, decorative arts, most of it looted from the nearby Hohenzollern Museum. In a separate chamber, they came upon a ghoulish spectacle: four monumental coffins, containing the skeletons of the 17 th century Prussian king, Frederick the Great, Field Marshall von Hindenburg, and his wife. The Nazis had seized human relics of deceased Teutonic warlords. The fourth coffin was empty, but bore an engraved plate with the name of its intended occupant: Adolf Hitler. The return of these corpses to their proper resting places was a military operation called “Operation Bodysnatch,” as termed by "Monuments Man" Captain Everett P. Lesley, Jr.

It was never clear what the Nazis planned to use these disinterred bodies for, but conspiracy theorists offered no shortage of suggestions. In 1950, a Life magazine writer speculated that “the corpses were to be concealed until some future movement when their reappearance could be timed by resurgent Nazis to fire another German generation to rise and conquer again.” This article’s specific wording, “rise and conquer again,” which was read by hundreds of thousands when it first came out, could be interpreted either metaphorically or literally — and this is perhaps where the idea that the Nazis hid the bodies in hopes of resurrecting their fallen warlords came to be. Add this to the gruesome experiments in which some Ahnenerbe researchers were engaged, and this “Nazi zombie” theory gets easier to understand.

Wolfram Sievers, director of Ahnenerbe and, in 1943, the Institute for Military Scientific Research Interrogation at Nuremberg, oversaw a particularly horrific program of medical testing on concentration camp inmates, some of which ran parallel to the concept of raising the dead.

There were three main categories of unethical medical experiments carried out by Nazi scientists, most of which were done under the supervision of Sievers and the Ahnenerbe (as well as, famously, by Josef Mengele at Auschwitz). Prisoners were used as some laboratories might experiment on animals.

The first category was survival testing. The idea was to determine the human survival thresholds for Nazi soldiers. One example was an experiment to determine the altitude at which air force crews could safely parachute. Prisoners were placed in low-pressure chambers to replicate the thin atmosphere of flight, and observed to see when organs began to fail. Sievers’ most infamous experiments at Dachau were to determine the temperature at which the human body would fail, in the case of hypothermia, and also how best to resuscitate a nearly-frozen human. A body temperature probe was inserted into the rectum of prisoners, who were then frozen in a variety of manners (for example, immersion in ice water or standing naked in the snow). It was established that consciousness was lost, followed quickly by death, when body temperature reached 25 C. Bodies of the nearly-frozen were then brought back up in temperature through a variety of similarly unpleasant manners, such as immersion in near-boiling water. Himmler himself suggested the most bizarre, but least cruel, method of reviving a hypothermic — by obliging him to have sex in a warm bed with multiple ladies. This was actually practiced (and seemed to work, at least better than the other methods). But the very idea that experiments were undertaken to kill or almost kill, humans through freezing, and then determine how best to resuscitate them, bring them back to life, is not a long leap to the reanimation of the clinically dead.

The second category of tests included those with pharmaceuticals and experimental surgeries, with inmates used like lab rats. Doctors tested immunizations against contagious diseases like malaria, typhus, hepatitis and tuberculosis, injecting prisoners and exposing them to diseases, then observing what happened. Procedural experiments, like those involving bone-grafting without anesthetic, which took place at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp, could also fall into this category. Antidotes were sought to chemical weapons like mustard gas and phosgene, with no regard for the well-being of those experimented upon. Keeping in mind the Nazi policy of using prisoners of “lesser” races for economic benefit (this is why concentration camp victims were often kept just alive enough to provide free labor, rather than universally being killed upon capture), this prisoner-as-guinea-pig approach fits into this perverse logic.

November 1944 saw an experiment with a cocktail drug called D-IX, at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. D-IX included cocaine and a stimulant called pervitine. The Luftwaffe (Nazi air force) had been supplied with 29 million pervitine pills from April-December 1939 alone, with the pill codenamed “obm.” Its use left the soldiers addicted, but did succeed in extending attention spans, reducing the need for sleep and food and giving a dramatic increase in stamina. 18 prisoners were given D-IX pills and forced to march while wearing backpacks loaded with 20 kilos of material — after taking the pills, they were able to march, without rest, up to 90 kilometers a day. The goal was to determine the outer limit of stamina induced by the pills. The D-IX pill proper, launched March 16th, 1944, included in each pill 5 mg of cocaine, 3 mg of pervitine, 5 mg of eucodal (a morphine-based painkiller) and synthetic cocaine. It was tested in the field with the Forelle diversionary unit of submariners. The experimentation and use of the pills, both on prisoners and soldiers, was considered very successful, and a plan was put in place to supply pills to the whole Nazi army, but the Allied victory months later stopped this. These pills sought to create super soldiers, in a contorted interpretation of the Nietzschean übermensch.

The third category was racial, or ideological testing, famously overseen by Josef Mengele, who experimented on twins and gypsies, to see how different races responded to contagious diseases. Mass-sterilization experiments on Jews and gypsies provided a sort of photo-negative to one of Himmler’s pet projects, called Lebensborn. It was a breeding program in which racially-ideal Aryan men and women (tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, strong Nordic bone structure) were obliged to breed, in order to produce more, and purer, Aryan children. This was part and parcel with the belief that the Aryans of the 20 th century were descended from an ancient race with superhuman powers — and that these powers had been gradually lost through interbreeding with “lower” races. If the “pollution” of these other races could be bred out, through generations of Aryans mixing only with other Aryans, then perhaps these powers could be regained? This, too, has an echo of resurrection to it. Resurrecting the lost purity of the original Aryans from Thule, and bringing back their superhuman powers, through breeding programs with pure-blooded Aryans.

With all this in mind, but with the acknowledgment that no extant document attests to such a “Nazi zombie” program, we come to what may be the more interesting question. We think of the Nazis as crazy, cartoonishly-evil super villains. And many were. The facts attest that they were capable of lunatic theories and illogic. They are confirmed to have believed things no less fanciful than reanimating the dead. But what does this tell us about how we consider them today?

There is two-part danger to our tendency to lump “the Nazis” into a collective, super-evil entity. By dismissing a complex, layered political party, which featured millions of people who, personally, ran a nuanced gamut from good to evil, under the banner of “the Nazis,” we tend to pass over the behavior of individuals within that umbrella term. Each person under the auspices of Nazi Germany was three-dimensional, even the comic book super-villains like Himmler and Sievers. People made decisions within the context of the political atmosphere, acting better or worse than was expected or commanded of them. There were nurses who took it upon themselves to euthanize unwanted wounded, not because they were ordered to do so, but because they felt it was “right.” There were Germans who refused to follow orders, or who helped victims escape. The cauldron of the Second World War provoked bestial behavior in individuals, not just in big-name villains, and prompted acts of good amidst the turmoil. To lump so many millions of three-dimensional humans together under the banner of Nazi Germany both excuses the evil behavior and dismisses the good. It also risks dismissing the slow-build of Nazi power with a flick of the wrist: as if it was born of a cartoonish madness that could not happen again (whereas North Korea or ISIS, for example, seem to be incubators of similar behavior).

Michael Kater concurs: “When you think of it, there is also a self-exculpatory element here. If you can blame Nazi zombies for all the evil, you can take blame away from the Nazi humans. Hegel never said that zombies were responsible for evil humans' actions.” The sort of man-monsters who could concoct the Holocaust could surely have tried to raise an army of undead, but this idea further pushes them away from the feeling that they were real people, and that their ideas and era could, if we are not careful, resurface.

Kater continues, “What interests me in all this is not why the Nazis were guided by secret forces hiding in Tibet or under the ground (of course they were not), but why people think they were. One can take what circumstantial evidence one has and tie all this to mass psychology and actual history, or such. I do not know how many times I have been asked about the Nazis and the occult during my career (ever since I published the Ahnenerbe book in 1974, and then some). If people cannot explain something in ordinary, human, terms, they come up with conspiracy theories. Creationists need religion.” The Nazis seem so evil to us, that we tend to make of them a cartoon construct, emphasizing the real (though less-widespread than is generally imagined) influence of supernatural beliefs. Kater draws a parallel to the theories that rise up in other horrifying historical events. “One such instance was after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. These are incidents so gross that something super-natural must be behind them. However, it is really true: history writes the best, or the most gruesome, novels makes the best films.”

At the end of the day, we can say without doubt that certain influential Nazis very much believed in the occult, and founded a research institute, the Ahnenerbe, to look into it. They engaged in experiments as bizarre and gruesome as trying to raise the dead, and they may well have toyed with that idea as well, although documentary evidence of it has not survived. But our mental construct of the Nazis, and the way popular culture assigns to them a two-dimensional, comic book type of evil, is as interesting, if not more so, than the question of whether they sought to raise a zombie army or animate their long-dead Teutonic warlords.

Noah Charney

Noah Charney is a Salon arts columnist and professor specializing in art crime, and author of "The Art of Forgery" (Phaidon).

Ghettos: The Ghettoization of European Jews

On September 1, 1939, Hitler's troops invaded Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany &mdash World War II has begun. But, within three weeks, Poland has completely succumbed to Hitler's Blitzkrieg. In 1939 there were approximately 3.3 million Jews living in Poland (about 10% of the Polish population. One week before the invasion, Hitler signed a secret non-aggression pact (The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with Stalin. Under German occupation, Poland was divided into 10 administrative districts. The western and northern districts (Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony, Upper and Lower Silesia and Danzig) were annexed to the German Reich and the eastern districts were ceded to the Soviet Union. The largest district, the central section including the cities of Lublin Kraków and Warsaw, was set aside as a German colony and came to be known as the General Government (Generalgouvernement). So, with the conquest of Poland, an additional 2 million Polish Jews were brought under German control.

The stunning victories of the German armies in the early years of World War II brought the majority of European Jewry under Nazi control. Consistently, Jews were deprived of human rights. Their property confiscated, most of them were herded into ghettos and concentration camps. The victories also increased Hitler's confidence that he could proceed with his plans with minimal opposition from the outside world. Almost from the beginning of the campaign against Poland, the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units were at work just behind the front lines. Over the next 18 months these units killed, either by shooting or by mobile gas vans, over 1,300,000 Jews.

Hitler's long-standing commitment to lebensraum, or "living space," was an obsession almost as important as the solution of the Jewish "problem." Following World War I (1914-1918), the Versailles Treaty outlined the conditions which would be imposed on Germany. As a result of the territorial provision of the treaty,

. Germany was stripped of one-sixth of her arable land, two- fifths of her coal, two-thirds of her iron and seven-tenths of her zinc. Her province of East Prussia was cut off from the rest of her territory, and her port city of Danzig, almost wholly German, was subjected to the political control of the League of Nations and to the economic domination of Poland. (Edward McNall Burns, Western Civilizations: Their History and their Culture, NY: W.W. Norton, 1958:836)

Further, the burdensome reparations (some $33 billion) were clearly designed to so totally cripple Germany that she would never again be a threat to the world. The Great Depression which gripped the western world after 1929 was especially severe in western Europe and was keenly felt i Germany, Austria and Italy. The war had divided the world into "have" and "have-not" nations. Germany, Italy and Japan were clearly "have-not nations. It appears now, in retrospect, that the aftermath of World War I increased rather than diminished the intense nationalistic spirit of the central European republics and contributed directly to the rise of Fascism in Italy and the Nazi movement in Germany.

The immediate origins of Fascism in Germany may be traced to a meeting of seven men in a little beer hall in Munich in 1919 and the establishment of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (later shortened to NAZI). One of those seven was, of course, a thirty year-old German National from Austria, Adolf Hitler.

The Nazi Party's rise to power was built upon two dominant ideologies: RACIAL PURITY and LEBENSRAUM These two became so intertwined over the following years (1933-1939) that it is almost impossible to separate them. They became the basis for Hitler's foreign policy (e.g., the Anschluss and the invasion of Poland, and his domestic policy with regard to all groups whom Hitler considered "inferior" races. As a result of the territorial restructuring of Germany following World War I, the average German citizen had .004 of a square mile of living space. Even tiny England, with its vast imperial territories around the world, could offer its average citizen 3 square miles of space.

In 1939, Hitler demanded the abolition of the Corridor which separated Germany from its eastern territories and the return of Danzig to German control. Believing that the western powers (the United States, France and Britain) would not honor their commitment to protect Poland, Hitler announced his intent to invade Poland and take back those areas lost in the war. The successful annexation of Austria and the successful conquest, first of Czechoslovakia and then, of Poland opened up vast territories of available space to Hitler for colonization and resettlement. It also brought into focus the "Jewish Problem" and the quest for a "Final Solution."

The General Government, headed by Governor Hans Frank, seemed to offer the greatest potential for lebensraum. First, however, there was the problem of clearing the area of Polish nationals and the more than 2 million Jews who lived in the area. Accordingly, Heydrich issued the following memorandum to the Einsatzgruppen officers under his authority regarding their mission:

  1. the final aim (which will require extended periods of time) and
  2. the stages leading to the fulfillment of this final aim (which will be carried out in short periods).

That Heydrich's orders were clearly understood by those under his command is clear from the following directive from The Reichskommissar for Ostland IIa 4 in 1941:

The Reichskommissar for Ostland IIa 4

Provisional Directives for the treatment of Jews in the area of the Reichskommissariat Ostland.

The final solution of the Jewish question in the area of the Reichskommissariat Ostland will be in accordance with the instructions in my address of 27.July.1941 in Kovno.

Insofar as further measures are taken, particularly by the Security Police, to carry out my verbal instructions, they will not be affected by the following _provisional directives._ It is merely the purpose of these provisional directives to assure that where, and as long as, further measures for the final solution are not possible, minimum measures will be taken by the Generalkommissare or Gebietskommissare. . .

. . .As far as possible the Jews are to be concentrated in cities or in sections of large cities, where the population is already predominately Jewish. There, ghettos are to be established, and the Jews are to be prohibited from leaving these ghettos.

In the ghettos the Jews are to receive only as much food as the rest of the population can spare, but not more than is required for their bare subsistence. The same applies to the allocation of other essential goods.


The first task in the transformation of Poland into German "living space" was to remove Poles and Jews from the Polish countryside as well as Jews from the German homeland concentrate them in the cities of the General Government. Despite the effectiveness of the Einsatzgruppen on the Russian front, there were problems with carrying out mass extermination in that manner. First, it was too public. The shootings at places such as Babi Yar, were often carried out in full view of civilians and regular Wehrmacht (regular German army) troops. Second, there are indications that such firing squad activities were having a demoralizing effect on those military personnel who participated&mdashparticularly the close-range shooting of women and children. Himmler suggested that a "more humane" and "rational" method of "disinfecting" the area was needed. Already, at this point, Himmler was planning the construction of special annihilation centers staffed with special technology and specially trained staff for mass extermination. The ghettoization process was merely a necessary first step in organizing the operation. Then the incorporated territories could be re-populated with ethnic Germans (Ger. volksdeutsche from the Baltic states, Austria, etc.

Kenneth McVay provides the following text and commentary from Arad's discussion of the strategic issues and goals in the deportation of Jews to the ghettos of Poland:

  1. It would be appropriate if the transport of Jews that arrive in the Lublin district were split in the departure stations into those who are able to work and those who are not. If this division is impossible in the departure stations, eventually it should be considered to divide the transport in Lublin, according to the aforementioned point of view.
  2. All the Jews incapable of work would arrive in Belzec, the final border station in the Zamosc region.
  3. Hauptsturmfuhrer Ho"fle is preparing the erection of a big camp, where the Jews capable of work will be held and divided according to their professions and from where they will be requested [for work].
  4. Piaski will be cleared of Polish Jews and will become a concentration point for Jews arriving from the Reich.
  5. In the meantime Trawniki will not be populated by Jews.
  6. .The Hauptsturmfuhrer asks whether on the train section Deblin-Trawniki 60,000 Jews can be disembarked. After having been informed about the transports of Jews dispatched by us, Ho"fle announced that out of the 500 Jews who arrived from Suzic, those unable to work can be sorted out and sent to Belzec.

&ldquoThe millions of Jews who were taken from their places of residence, ghettos or transit camps did not in any way know that they were being brought to extermination camps nor did they know what fate awaited them. Most of them had not even heard of the existence of such camps. Rumors about the death camps did, it is true, reach Warsaw and other ghettos in Poland, but the public for the most part did not want to believe them.&rdquo

In the spring of 1940, Hitler became convinced that Poland did not offer sufficient space for both German resettlement and Jews. The deportation of Jews to some other place in the world, e.g., an African colony [the Madagascar Plan], was considered briefly and then discarded. By late 1940, there had occurred a clear shift on German mentality. It was now a foregone conclusion that the Jewish Question had to be dealt with in some "Final" way. Territorial final solutions seemed to be unfeasible. The Euthanasia program and the success of the Einsatzgruppen had two important consequences for German policy: (1) extermination was not a viable option and (2) the technology of gassing had already been successfully tested and demonstrated.

As Louis Snyder informs us:

&ldquoIn late September 1939. Heydrich began to place all Polish Jews in ghettos, where they could slowly die of hunger and disease. The Warsaw ghetto was the largest of these segregated areas established by the Nazis in Poland.

In the summer of 1940 Heydrich, using the excuse that the spread of typhus had to be contained, set up a special section 11 miles in circumference enclosed by a brick wall 10 feet high.

In September 1940 more than 80,000 gentile Poles living in the "infected area" were ordered to leave, and the next month about 140,000 Jews living elsewhere in the city were moved in with the 240,000 still in the ghetto. Some 360,000 Jews, a third of Warsaw's population, were herded into a 3.5-square-mile area. 300 to 400 died daily. More than 43,000 starved to death during the first year, and 37,000 in the first nine months of 1942.

. Mass deportations to the gas chambers at Treblinka began. In two months 300,000 Jews were eliminated.

. Fewer than 100 escaped, and of those, only a handful survived the war.&rdquo (Snyder, Louis L. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, NY: Paragon House, 1989.)

The creation of ghettos in Polish cities proceeded systematically.

. It was in April 1940 that the first ghetto was created, in Lodz. The steps taken were gradual. Warsaw came next, in October then krakow in March 1941, Lublin and Radom in April and Lvov in December. By the end of 1941 the ghettoizing process was almost complete.(Milton Meltzer, Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust, NY: HarperCollins, 1976:78)

The Structure of the Ghetto

In contemporary usage, &ldquoghetto&rdquo means &ldquoseparate living quarters&rdquo for a specific racial or ethnic group. In this sense, many inner city areas in the United States may be characterized as ghettos. This was, clearly, not the case for Jews in Poland between 1940 and 1942. The ghettos created by the Nazis were transitional areas between deportation and the &ldquoFinal Solution.&rdquo Many, though not all, were enclosed areas barbed wire at Lodz, a brick wall in Warsaw and Cracow. Almost all were heavily guarded by armed military personnel.

While the ghettos were under Nazi control, each ghetto had an internal administrative structure &mdash the Judenrat, or Jewish council, generally made up of leading rabbis and other influential persons in the Jewish community. Their functions were to administer Nazi policy within the ghetto. There has been considerable controversy regarding these councils' role in the fate of Jews. On the one hand, they provided some sense of autonomy to the Jewish community. They were responsible for health and welfare, the distribution of food, and for policing the ghetto internally. On the other hand, the Judenrate were, intentionally or unintentionally, a tool of the Nazis in the destruction of the Jews. While they had authority within the ghetto, they had no authority at all in representing the needs and interests of the Jews to the Nazi government. The members of the Jewish Councils were themselves subject to on-the-spot execution for any failure to carry out Nazi policy.

Living conditions in most of the ghettos were horrible. Malnutrition was widespread and death by starvation was a daily occurrence. Between 1941 and 1942, 20 percent of the population in the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos starved to death (over 112,000 people). At the same time, Jews during these two years were used extensively as slave labor and had, at least, some economic value to the Nazis. Why, then, would the Nazi government intentionally deprive them of food necessary for survival? For one thing, a steady flood of Jews were streaming into the ghettos from other parts of Europe. Any who starved to death, or were executed for disobedience, would likely be replaced very quickly. Also, despite the fact that the Final Solution had not begun officially, previous activities, e.g., the Einsatzgruppen, the Euthanasia Program, had demonstrated that ridding the Reich of Jews was a desired outcome. Finally, starving the Jews to death was cheaper than shooting them or gassing them and all available foods and other survival necessities were needed at the front for military personnel.

After 1942, and the decisions reached by the Wannsee Conference, the liquidation of the ghettos became a much more systematic process.

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