Destruction of European Jewry
©S D Stein
The destruction of European Jewry at the hands of
the Third Reich is approached conceptually most productively by assessing it, in the first
instance, as a series of distinct time-linked processes with crucial linking elements.
These common elements were an extended history of an entrenched European
anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic ideology, ideological racism of the late nineteenth and early
twentieth century, and the the leader and key personnel of the NSDAP. In the first
phase, the Party to social system phase, Jews in Germany were increasingly regulated,
being gradually transmuted from being a religious and cultural out-group that was part of
the main socio-cultural and interactive fabric, to one that was virtually entirely
separate from it, as its cultural out-group status was increasingly matched by its spatial
isolation from the everyday social life of the hegemonic cultural community. Its
spatial isolation, however, was somewhat less immediately consequential, and probably less
burdensome, than that which accompanied the second phase in Poland.
The second phase, the experimental totalitarian
regulatory phase, ran in Poland in parallel to the first in Germany, between September
1939 and June 22, 1941. In this phase all the regulatory processes that had been
applied to Jews in the Third Reich over a period of six and a half years, as well as
important additional ones, were applied to the Jewish population of Poland more or less
immediately after the consolidation of the German conquest. In this phase the
impetus shifted from the Party to functionaries occupying key positions straddling Party,
administrative and state social control agencies. Those who were most consequential
in the immediate and longer term respecting Jewish policy were Hitler, Himmler, Hans Frank,
Reinhard Heydrich and Alfred Rosenberg. The Party, in the
broad sense, had lost all control of Jewish policy.
The third phase began with the invasion of territory
controlled by the USSR on June 22, 1941. In Poland their was an overlap between the
second and third phase between June 22, 1941 and December 1941-January 1942. This
was the proto-bureaucratic direct killing phase. Although controlled from the center
by the SS, its implementation by the Einsatzgruppen was difficult to control
directly and there is some evidence that in the early months of the invasion they
frequently took matters into their own hand and exceeded their original instructions,
initiating widespread killing of Jewish women, children, and elderly on their own
initiative. In addition, various local groups and auxiliaries took matters
concerning Jews into their own hands in the early phases of the campaign. During
this phase control over Jewish policy was firmly in the hands of the SS, but with
immediate control exercised to some degree from units operating and dictating policy from
the frontiers at the periphery.
The final phase, lasting from December 1941 to May
1945, was the bureaucratic phase, firmly controlled by the SS central administrative
machinery, coordinating policy across the European continent. Although
proto-bureaucratic killing operations continued in the USSR zone of occupation these were
on a much lesser scale and gradually petered out during 1943.
In the timeline below I do not include all dates
relating to events that involved persecution of Jews in Germany or elsewhere. I have
endeavoured to focus on those that are regarded as being particularly causally efficacious
in creating the conditions favourable to the extermination of European Jewry.
Formation of the Nazi Party. Nazi is an abbreviation of
Nationalsozialistischen deutsche Arbeiter Partei, which, translated, is National Socialist
German Workers' Party.
One of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf is
October 24, 1929
Known as "Black Thursday", this was the
day that Wall Street recorded the sale of 12,894,650 shares, heralding the "Great
Depression" of the nineteen-thirties. Most historians are agreed that the
impact of the depression on Germany, in the context of its political, economic and social
structure, was more marked than on many other countries, and was a major factor in the
subsequent social turmoil and the electoral success of the Nazi Party:
"one out of two German families was affected. By 1933 many Germans could look back on
five years without work. Almost all sections of German society were affected,
especially blue- and white-collar workers. ... the streets of
Germany were overrun by an army of dispirited and increasingly enraged unemployed workers.
The stage was set for the final drama that would sweep Adolf Hitler into
power." (K P Fischer. Nazi Germany: A New History.
London: Constable, 1995, pp.216-17; A Bullock. Hitler: A
Study in Tyranny)
September 14, 1930
Elections to the Reichstag, the German parliament.
The NSDAP makes very significant gains, obtaining 6.4 million votes (18.3%), and
107 out of 577 deputies. The Social Democrats had 24.5% of the vote, with 143 seats.
The Communist Party polled 24.5% of the vote and returned 77 deputies. (Sources:
G Layton. Germany: The Third Reich 1933-45. London: Hodder&Stoughton, 1992,
p.31; M Freeman. Atlas of Nazi Germany. Second Edition. London: Longman, 1995,
pp.26-35; K P Fischer. Nazi Germany: A New History.
London: Constable, 1995, p.227)
July 31, 1932
The Nazi Party increases its share of the national
vote in elections to the Reichstag, rising from 18.3% to 37.3%, and increasing the number
of deputies elected from 107 to 230 out of 608. It was now the largest party in the
Reichstag, by a considerable margin. The second largest part was the Social
Democratic Party which polled 21.6% of the total. (Sources: as for 1930
November 6, 1932
Last elections to the Reichstag before appointment
of Hitler as Chancellor. Nazi share of the vote declines in comparison with July 31
election. It lost 34 deputies and some 2 million votes. Nonetheless, it was
still the largest party represented in the Reichstag, representing 33.1% of votes cast. (Sources:
as for 1930 election.)
The relative shares in the vote in the elections
1928-1932 are illustrated in the graphic (from Freeman, first edition, 1987, p.29) and
table (Layton, p.31) below:
January 30, 1933 Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany
March 1933 Dachau concentration camp established and receives inmates.
April 1, 1933 NSDAP encourages boycott
of shops and businesses owned by Jews
April 7, 1933 Law for the Restoration of the
Professional Civil Service
This law was not specifically promulgated to
regulate solely Jewish employment in the civil service. However, Article 3, section
1, specified that "Civil servants who are not of Aryan descent are to be retired;
if they are honorary officials, they are to be dismissed from their official status."
Its impact was ameliorated to some degree by section 2 of this article:
"Section 1 does not apply to civil servants in office from August 1, 1914, who fought
at the Front for the German Reich or its Allies in the World War, or whose fathers or sons
fell in the World War."
Section 2 was included following the intervention of
the Reich President, Hindenburg, who in an exchange with Hitler, stated: "As far as
my own feelings are concerned, officials, judges, teachers and lawyers who are war
invalids, fought at the front, are sons of war dead, or themselves lost sons in the war
should remain in their position unless an individual case gives reason for different
treatment. If they were worthy of fighting for Germany and bleeding for Germany,
then they must also be considered worthy of continuing to serve the Fatherland in their
professions". (Dated April 4, 1933)
April 11, 1933 First legal definition
of who is a Jew since the passing of the Enabling Act allotted to the Chancellor absolute
powers, passed March 24, 1933.
Article 3 stipulated that "A person is to be
considered non-Aryan if he is descended from non-Aryan, and especially from Jewish parents
or grandparents. It is sufficient if one parent or grandparent is non-Aryan.
This is to be assumed in particular where one parent or grandparent was of the Jewish
April 25, 1933 Law Against Overcrowding of German Schools
Restricts the proportion of Jews admitted to public
education institutions to their proportion in the population.
October 4, 1933 Editorial Law
This law was introduced in order to restrain the
free expression of opinion unacceptable or oppositional to the Nazi Party and the world
view of its leadership. In 1933, only 2.5 percent of the German press was Nazi
controlled and owned. By 1944 this had risen to 82 percent. Much of this feat was
attributable to the indefatigable efforts of Max Aman, who had served as Hitler's
company sergeant in World War I, became the business manager of the Nazi Party in
1921, Director of the Party publishing house, Eher Verlag, in 1922, and who was also
Hitler's personal banker.
Although this law, like the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service,
was not specifically directed at members of the Jewish community, section 5 stipulated
that only those persons could be editors who "are of Aryan descent, and are not
married to a person of non-Aryan descent." (Sources: J Noakes and G Pridham
[eds.] Documents on Nazism 1919-1945. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974, p.337; R S
Wistrich. Who's Who in Nazi Germany. London: Routledge, 1995)
May 10, 1933 Burning of "undesirable" books and literature in Berlin and
other university towns.
The political and other police-control agencies had
been seizing left-leaning and "degenerate" books and publications since soon
after the assumption of power by the Nazis. The works of Marx, Engels, Rosa
Luxemburg, Lenin and Karl Liebknecht fell into the former category. By May the
Berlin political police had stored five hundred tons of books and periodicals. On
May 10 student sympathisers of the Nazis joined members of the SS and SA in publicly
burning these and other books that were seized on that day from university and public
libraries, in Berlin and other towns and cities. In Berlin Joseph Goebbels attended
the ceremony to make a speech quoted by the head of the Associated Press Bureau there:
"The age of extreme Jewish intellectualism has
now ended, and the success of the German revolution has again given the right of way to
the German spirit... [This burning of books] is a strong and great
symbolic act, an act that is to bear witness before all the world to the fact that the
spiritual foundation of the November Republic has disappeared. ...
Brightened by these flames our vow shall be: The Reich and the
Nation and our Führer Adolf Hitler: Heil! Heil! Heil!" [Source: J Noakes and G
Pridham (eds.) Documents on Nazism 1919-1945. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974, p.345]
September 15, 1935
Law on Reich Citizenship
September 15, 1935
Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour
November 14, 1935
First Supplementary Regulation to the Reich Citizenship Law
July 6-14, 1938 Evian (France)
Conference on Jewish Refugees
Between the assumption of power by the Nazis in January 1930 and the Annexation of
Austria (Anschluss) in March 1938, more than 120,000 Jews had elected to emigrate
from Germany. Many of these were drawn from the wealthier sections of German Jewry.
The annexation of Austria, and the application of various impositions on Austrian
Jewry led to widespread fear among Jews as to the likely consequences of remaining in
areas under Nazi jurisdiction. Many now sought to escape the Reich.
At the same time that Jews were seeking means of emigrating to other countries, Jewish
communities elsewhere, particularly in Europe and the United States, were lobbying their
governments to permit the settlement there of those endeavouring to escape Nazi
persecution. These pressures were probably most intense in the United States, which
already had a sizeable Jewish community. Soon after the Anschluss President
Roosevelt proposed the convening of an international conference with a view to
establishing international coordination of the Jewish refugee crisis.
It was attended by delegates from thirty two countries, including Britain, France, the
Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and countries from South America.
Nothing that was agreed in Evian made any difference to the plight of Jews in Germany and
Austria, even though an international coordinating body, the Intergovernmental Committee
on Refugees, was established. The reasons for this require no complex
analysis. None of the participating countries was enthusiastic about increasing its
intake of Jews. The United States was prepared to fill the annual quota for
immigrants from Austria and Germany, which at present was undersubscribed, by accepting
Jewish refugees. Great Britain claimed that her overseas territories were crowded
and that England was already too densely populated, an argument that was fielded widely in
many quarters in the United Kingdom during the nineteen sixties and seventies when
concerns about non-white migration peaked. Australia, hardly a country with a population
density problem, feared that letting too many Jews in would create a racial problem where
none existed. As the `democracies' refused to open their doors this sealed the fate
of those Jews who still had the time and the means to escape before the outbreak of war in
August 17, 1938 Regulation requiring Jews
to change their names.
1. Jews must be given only such first names as are specified in the directives issued
by the Reich Minister of the Interior concerning the bearing of first names.
2. Section 1 does not apply to Jews of foreign nationality.
If the Jews bear first names other than those authorised for Jews by Section 1, they
must, from 1 January 1939, adopt another additional first name, namely `Israel' for men
and `Sarah' for women.
[Source: J Noakes and G Pridham (eds.). Documents on Nazism 1919-1945 London:
Jonathan Cape, 1974, p.471; Y Arad, et.al. Documents on the Holocaust. London:
Pergamon Press, 1981, pp.98-99]
November 9-10, 1938 Kristallnacht riots
On November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish student living in Paris, sought an
audience with a diplomat at the German embassy there. He was received by Ernst
vom Rath. Grynszpan pulled out a revolver and shot him. Two days later,
November 9, vom Rath died.
Grynszpan was prompted to this extreme measure by the persecution wreaked by the Nazi
authorities on members of his family. On October 27 Hitler ordered the expulsion
from Germany of some eighteen thousand Jews who had migrated there from Poland.
Herschel's family were included among them, even though his father had been resident
in Hanover since 1911. The Jews who were expelled could take hardly any belongings
with them, were allowed a monetary allocation of 10 Reichsmarks, were brutally treated on
route to the Polish border, being driven there in railway cattle cars, and were then kept
in appalling conditions in Poland itself. Herschel's father had sent him a postcard
describing their experiences.
News of vom Rath's death was the pretext for a wave of mass violence throughout many
pats of Germany against the Jewish community. Prior to his death Heydrich had anticipated
the riots and issued instructions designed to impose some degree of order on the
disorders that were coordinated by the SA, local Party and other organisations. The
instructions stipulated that:
a) Only such measures are to be taken as so not endanger German lives or property
(i.e., synagogues (i.e., synagogues are to be burned down only where there is no danger of
fire in neighboring buildings).
b) Places of business and apartments belonging to Jews may be destroyed but not looted.
The police is instructed to supervise the observance of this order and to arrest
c) In commercial streets particular care is to be taken that non-Jewish businesses are
completely protected against damage.
On the assumption that the guidelines detailed under para.1 are observed, the
demonstrations are not to be prevented by the Police, which is only to supervise the
observance of the guidelines.
Although the SA were the main activists in the rioting that ensued, ordinary members of
the public joined in virtually everywhere. Hundreds of synagogues were smashed to
pieces and burned, hence the name Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken
Glass", Jewish businesses and shops were also destroyed, and 91 Jews lost their
lives. In addition to the destruction, injury and loss of life that accompanied the
pogrom, the Jews of Germany were subjected to a 1 billion Reichsmarks fine and 30,000
Jewish males were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. International opinion
was condemnatory, but, as usual, made little difference. [Source: J Noakes and G Pridham
(eds.). Documents on Nazism 1919-1945 London: Jonathan Cape, 1974; Y Arad, et.al.
Documents on the Holocaust. London: Pergamon Press, 1981; M Gilbert. The
Holocaust. London: Collins, 1986; A Farmer. Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1998]
November 12, 1938 Regulation for
the Elimination of Jews from the Economic Life of Germany
1) From January 1, 1939, Jews are forbidden to operate retail
stores, mail-order houses, or sales agencies, or to carry on a trade independently.
2) They are...forbidden ... to offer for sale goods or
services, to advertise these, or to accept orders at markets of all sorts, fairs or
exhibitions. [Source: Y Arad, et.al. Documents on the Holocaust. London:
Pergamon Press, 1981,pp.115-16]
January 30, 1939 Hitler's Speech to
"If the Jewish international financiers inside and outside Europe succeed in
involving the nations in another war, the result will not be world bolshevism and
therefore a victory for Judaism; it will be the end of the Jews in Europe."
August 18, 1939 Euthanasia Circular Issued by Reich Interior Ministry
The causal matrix associated with the genesis of the euthanasia programs in Nazi
Germany remains to be clarified. Its origins has been widely reported by historians
as being traceable to a petition made to Adolf Hitler in connection with Knauer
case. The parents of a child that was seriously physically and mentally handicapped wrote
to the Chancellor requesting that the child's life be terminated. This, it has
frequently been argued, was the immediate circumstance that prompted Hitler to instruct Karl Brandt and Philipp
Bouhler to set in train procedures for the elimination of "life unworthy of
life." However, some historians specialising in the study of the origins of the
euthanasia program note that "the exact origins of the `euthanasia' programme are
complex, there being several versions of how it started. Depending on one's
intellectual predilections, one can stress the importance of Hitler, ideology, or
bureaucratic ambition." (M Burleigh. Death and Deliverance: `Euthanasia in
Germany 1900-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp.93-94)
At the end of October, 1939, the following order was signed by Hitler on a sheet of
personal notepaper, the order being backdated to September 1.
"Reichsleiter Bouhlder and Dr.med.Brandt are authorized to extend the
responsibilities of certain doctors, to be specified by name, so that they may grant
euthanasia to those who, so far as can be foreseen after the most careful consideration of
their illness, are incurable."
[Source: J Noakes and G Pridham (eds.). Documents on Nazism 1919-1945 London:
Jonathan Cape, 1974, p.614]
September 21, 1939
Reinhard Heydrich's Instructions to
Einsatzgruppen leaders begins ghettoization in German occupied Poland
November 23, 1939
Identifying Marks for Jews in the Government-General
All Jews and Jewesses within the Government-General who
are over ten years of are are required, beginning December 1, 1939, to wear on the right
sleeve of their inner and outer garments a white band at least 10 cm.wide, with the Star
of David on it. [Source: Y Arad, et.al. Documents on the Holocaust.
London: Pergamon Press, 1981,pp.178-79]
May 25, 1940 Himmler Memorandum to
Hitler on Treatment of Ethnic Groups and Jews in the East
This memorandum can potentially be considered significant in the
context of the controversy surrounding the question of when German Jewish policy was
emphatically set upon direct physical extermination. The memorandum is concerned
with the treatment that should be afforded to the various ethnic peoples that compose the
population of German occupied territories in the East.
I wish to say ...that we have the greatest interest in not uniting the
population of the East, but, on the contrary, in dividing it into as many parts and
splinters as possible.
I hope that the concept of Jews will be completely extinguished through
the possibility of large-scale emigration of all Jews to Africa or some other colony.
It must also be possible, in a somewhat longer period of time, to let the national
concept of Ukrainians, Gorals and Lemcos disappear in
our territory. Whatever is said concerning these splinter peoples applies on a
correspondingly larger scale to the Poles.
Cruel and tragic as every individual case may be, this method is the
mildest and best if, out of inner conviction, we reject the Bolshevist method of physical
destruction of a people as un-Germanic and impossible...
[Source: Y Arad, et.al. Documents
on the Holocaust. London: Pergamon Press, 1981,pp.198-99]
March 13, 1941 Instructions on Special Matters Attached to Directive
Christian Streit, along with a significant number of
other historians, is of the view that the specific policies included in the military
orders worked out between the political and military leaders of the Third Reich for the
future treatment of Soviet prisoners of war, those continuing to resist the German forces
behind the front lines, and captured civilians that occupied certain political positions
in the USSR, were critical in leading "to the development ofa situation in which the
Final Solution became possible." On 26 February, Göering had made a statement
stressing the need to eliminate quickly Bolshevik leaders. This was followed shortly
by a directive from Hitler that stipulated that the Jewish-Bolshevik leaders should be
eliminated as "former oppressors of the people." As this was a very
difficult task, he concluded, it could not be demanded from the army. This was the
background to the issuing of the order ten days later. The order itself does not
make transparent precisely what the fate of these leaders would be. What it does do
is assign responsibility for this matter to the Reichsführer SS. The relevant part
of the Instructions is Paragraph 2(b), apparently dictated by Hitler:
In order to prepare the political and
administrative organization the Reichsführer-SS has been given by the Führer
certain special tasks within the operations zone of the army; these stem from the
necessity finally to settle the conflict between the two opposing political systems.
Within the framework of these tasks the Reichsführer-SS
will act independently and on his own responsibility. This is, however, without
prejudice to the over-riding plenary power hereby accorded to the Commander-in-Chief,
Army, and the authorities to whom it may be delegated by him. The Reichsführer-SS
is responsible for seeing that military operations are not affected by any measures
necessary to carry out this task. Details will be settled direct between OKH and the Reichsführer-SS.
According to Arad, et.al (The Einsatzgruppen
Reports. New York: Holocaust Library, p. iii), the reference in the above to "special
tasks" refers "implicitly to the elimination of the Jews for which the SS
under Himmler, and through them the Einsatzgruppen, would be the instruments in
Soviet territory." On the other hand, Streit states quite emphatically that the above
instruction "can, of course, in no way be equated with the decision to exterminate
the Russian Jews." (below, p.3)
[Sources: Christian Streit. "The German Army
and the Policies of Genocide.", p.2 In G Hirschfeld (ed.) The Policies of
Genocide. Allen and Unwin, 1986; Y Arad, et.al. Documents on the Holocaust.
London: Pergamon Press, 1981, p.375; Helmut Krausnick. "The
Persecution of the Jews.",p.78 In H Krausnick and M Broszat (eds.) Anatomy
of the SS State. London:Paladin, 1973]
March 30, 1941 Hitler primes
senior military commanders on the nature of the impending conflict with the USSR
In his diary, General Franz Halder, Chief of the Army General Staff (OKH)
1938-1942 recorded his understanding of Hitler's delivery: "Struggle
between two Weltanschauungen (world views). ... It is a
war of extermination. If we do not regard it as such, we may defeat the enemy, but
in thirty years' time we will again be confronted by the Communist enemy. ...
Fight against Russia: destruction of the Bolshevik commissars and
the Communist intelligentsia. A new intelligentsia must be prevented from emerging.
... Commissars and G.P.U. people are criminals and
must be treated as such. That does not mean that the troops need get out of hand.
The leader must draw up his orders in accordance with the sentiment of his troops."[J
Noakes and G Pridham (eds.). Documents on Nazism 1919-1945 London: Jonathan Cape,
April 28, 1941 Order
Issued by Commander-in-Chief of the Army "On Cooperation with the Security Police and
SD in the Eastern War".
This order was drafted in discussions between the the
Quartermaster-General of the Army, Wagner, and Reinhard
Heydrich, Chef der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, representing the SS (i.e., Himmler), to provide detail to the Instructions on Special Matters Attached to
Directive 21 (Barbarossa). .
most authorities it was issued on April 28, 1941, although Arad et al., date it as March
28, 1941. The Order, which was designed to formalise the relations between the Army
and the Einsatzgruppen, (1) (2) stipulated that the Sipo and SD in the army zone of operations would be governed by the
Section 1. Tasks
In the army's rear area, prior to the initiation of
operations: listing of selected objects (material archives, card indexes of anti-German or
anti-Government organizations, associations, groups, etc.) ...
To discover and stamp out anti-German and
anti-Government movements insofar as these are not part of the enemy's armed forces:
provision of general information to the zonal communications commander regarding the
Cooperation with the field security officers of the
Secret Field Police [GFP] will be governed by the `Principles for cooperation between the
State Security Police and the field security units of the Wehrmacht' agreed to by the
security branch of the Reich War Ministry on January 1, 1937.
The special detachments [Sonderkommandos]
of the Sicherheitspolizei [Sipo] will carry out their duties on their own
responsibility. They will be controlled by the armies' movements in the following
matters: movement, rations and accommodations.
This does not affect the authority of the Chief of
Sipo and SD in matters of discipline and jurisprudence. They will receive their technical
instruction from the Chief of Sipo and SD but, when necessary, their activity will be
restricted by orders from Army headquarters.
A representative of the Chief of Sipo and SD will be
placed in each army area to centralize the direction of these detachments. It will
be his duty to inform the appropriate Army commander as soon as possible about the
instructions he receives from the Chief of Sipo and SD. ...
The Sonderkommandos are authorized, with reference to their tasks to take administrative measures
affecting the civilian population on their own responsibility.
In this connection, it is their duty to work in closest cooperation with the field
security service. Any measures which which may effect operations must be agreed to
by the commander of the army concerned.
[Source: Y Arad, et.al., The
Einsatzgruppen Reports. New York: Holocaust Library, 1989, pp.i-v]
June 6, 1941 Guidelines for
the Treatment of Political Commissars , the Kommissarbefehl
The rationale for these guidelines is given in the preamble: "In the
fight against Bolshevism it is not to be expected that the enemy will act in
accordance with the principles of humanity or international law. In particular, the political
commissars of all kinds, who are the real bearers of resistance, can be expected to
mete out treatment to our prisoners that is full of hate, cruel and inhuman."
This was quite a common pre-emptive rationale for SS and military
excesses. The reports sent back from the Einsatzgruppen, for instance, frequently
included statements that placed responsibility for the "need to exterminate"
Jews on the behaviour of the Jews themselves, in much the same way as the need to
liquidate the ghettoes was attributed to the irresponsible behaviour of those confined
within them, their contracting typhus, for instance.
The Kommissarbefehl instructions specify:
1. In this battle it would be mistaken to show mercy or respect for
international law towards such elements. They constitute a danger to our own
security and to the rapid pacification of the occupied territories.
2. The barbaric, Asiatic fighting methods are originated by the political
commissars. Action must therefore be taken against them immediately,
without further consideration, and with all severity. Therefore, when they are
picked up in battle or resistance, they are, as a matter of principle, to be finished
immediately with a weapon.
Christian Streit points out that the
changing content of the various orders and instructions issued between March 13 and June
6, 1941, meant that "the circle of potential victims had grown
enormously. Where originally `only' the liquidation of the `Bolshevik leaders' had
been mentioned, with the Commissar Order it extended to all the commissars, and with the
Barbarossa Directive to all those who resisted in any way." He also notes that
"Judging from the surviving records, by the beginning of June 1941 there had been no
suggestion that Jews should be among the victims."
Noakes and Pridham, in contrast, indicate that "according to one
witness [Reinhard Heydrich] had already given an order for the extermination of all
Russian Jews when he addressed the Einsatzgruppen commanders in Berlin on 17
June." However, they cite no source in support of this contention. Presumably they
are referring here to the testimony of Otto Ohlendorf
and others at the Einsatzgruppen trial.
Hilberg, relying to on the testimony of Ohlendorf, and on the affidavit of
SS-Sturmbanführer Regierungsrat Schellenberg, who negotiated in May the final agreement
with Wagner on the conduct of Einsatzgruppen operations in the various zones of army
responsibility, asserts that "the final text was no more precise than the earlier
one. However, it was generally understood that all Jews, Communist party
functionaries, insane people, and a few others of undesirable categories were to be killed
on the spot. A copy of the final text is not available, and our understanding
of its terms derives mainly from the statements by Schellenberg and Ohlendorf."
A word of caution is warranted. Ohlendorf and Schellenberg, both SS
officers, certainly had an incentive to imply that the orders to exterminate Jews en
masse came from higher authority prior to the invasion of the USSR, rather than being
a policy that evolved at the hands of commanding officers of the Einsatzgruppen, partly
because of the ambiguity of the orders they received, and partly because of their firm
[Sources: Christian Streit. "The German Army and the Policies of
Genocide." In G Hirschfeld (ed.) The Policies of Genocide. London: Allen & Unwin,
1986, p.4; J Noakes and G Pridham (eds.) Nazism 1919-1945, Vol. 3. University of Exeter
Press, 1991, p.1092; R Hilberg. The Destruction of the European Jews. New York: New
Viewpoints, 1973, p. 187, footnote 12]
June 22, 1941 - December 1941
Launch of Operation Barbarossa, codename for the invasion of the USSR
In this period Jewish extermination policy was evolving along two parallel
tracks. The relationship between the two remains to be established. One stems
from the Göering instruction to Heydrich
of July 31, 1941, which culminated with the convening and decisions of the Wannsee
Conference of January 20, 1942. This route led to the bureaucratised mass
destruction of European Jewry, in areas under German hegemony, in purpose built
extermination facilities. Most Jews liquidated were sent to the extermination centres from
points west of the German-USSR border of June 21, 1941.
The second track was forged from the directives and instructions listed
above bearing on the relations between the SS, OKW and OKH during the conduct of Operation Barbarossa.
Their product was the mobile killing units of the SS, the Einsatzgruppen.
Approximately 1.5 millions Jews were killed at their hands. Most of the victims were
caught east of the German-USSR border of June 21, 1941. Whilst it is perfectly clear
that prior to the Russian campaign the Einsatzgruppen were given orders to liquidate
some Jews, and that those targeted were predominantly Jews who occupied positions in the
USSR polity, it remains to be clarified why and how this policy rapidly netted Jews in
general, regardless of sex, position or age.
As noted earlier, what is not known as far
as the latter policy is concerned, is what were the components and their weighting in the
etiological equation that led from somewhat vague instructions concerning the role of the
Einsatzgruppen vis-a-vis the military, and their precise tasks, to the recurrent and large
scale massacres of Jewish populations throughout the conquered areas of the USSR.
Streit inserts in the equation the agreement between the SS and the OKH concerning the
liquidation by the Einsatzgruppen of Jewish and other prisoners of war. But he makes
a great leap from this, rather minor factor in terms of the numbers and demographic
characteristics of the Jews involved, to his conclusion that "by the late summer of
1941 a situation was reached in which it was possible for many hundreds of thousands of
Jews and Communists to be exterminated by the Einsatzgruppen with the help of the
Wehrmacht." (Source: Christian Streit. "The German Army and the
Policies of Genocide." In G Hrischfeld (ed.) The Policies of Genocide.
London: Allen & Unwin, 1986, p.10) Yaacov Lozowick, who studied the activities
of Einsatzgruppe C "found no evidence of preinvasion orders for the total
murder of Soviet Jews or of any early awareness within the unit that their killing of Jews
was part of a Final Solution." (quoted in C R Browning. The Path to Genocide.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.99)
At present the evidence suggests that regardless of whether prior to the
invasion a policy of mass extermination of Soviet Jewry had been agreed upon, until
approximately mid to late August, the Einsatzgruppen units stuck largely to the policy of
liquidating "male Jewish Bolshevik officials and prisoners of war." This
includes, however, the excesses carried out by these units over and beyond these
categories, which may have been in line with a policy that had been agreed upon for the
middle to longer term.
It also seems clear that by September a program of mass liquidation of
Jews was being implemented. As Krausnick notes, the four Einsatzgruppen had killed
hundreds of thousands of Jews by December
Einsatzgruppe A 229,052
Einsatzgruppe B 45,467 (14 November)
Einsatzgruppe C 95,000 (Beginning December 1941)
Einsatzgruppe D 92,000 (by April 8, 1942)
[Source: H Krausnick and M Broszat. Anatomy of the SS State. London:
Paladin, 1973. p.81]
July 2, 1941 Heydrich Guidelines to Higher SS and Police Leaders
(Höhere SS-und Polizeiführer) in the Occupied Territories
In the following I make known briefly the most
important instructions given by me to the Einsatzgruppen and Kommandos of the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) and the SD (Sicherheitsdienst), with request to take note of them.
All the following are to be executed:
Officials of the Comintern (together with
professional Communist politicians in general, top and medium-level officials and radical
lower-level officials of the Party. Central Committee and district and sub-district
Jews in Party and State employment, and other radical elements (saboteurs, propagandists,
snipers, assassins, inciters, etc.) insofar as they are in, any particular case, required
or no longer required, to supply information on political or economic matters which are of
special importance for the further operations of the Security Police, or for the economic
reconstruction of the Occupied Territories...
[Source: Y Arad, et.al. Documents
on the Holocaust. London: Pergamon Press, 1981,pp.377-78]
31, 1941 Hermann Göering
instructs Reinhard Heydrich to prepare a plan for
the "final solution of the Jewish question"
These instructions were of critical
importance as they set in motion, both the radicalization of Jewish policy and the
conference held at Wannsee on January 20, 1942. Göring had
assumed an important role in the formulation of the direction of Jewish policy since Kristallnacht in November 1939. Being in charge of the Four-Year
[Economic] Plan, he forced the Aryanization of the economy and the intensification of the
migration of Jews from Germany. "On January 24, 1939, he had instructed
Heydrich to set up a Reich Bureau for Jewish Emigration within the Interior
Ministry. With delegates from all interested government departments, this agency was
empowered to take financial and diplomatic measures to speed the Jewish exodus. ...
The Göring-Heydrich letter of July 31, 1941 explicitly referred back to the letter
of two and a half years [before], ordering the establishment of the special emigration
office." The full text of the letter was as follows:
This is to supplement the assignment given to you in the decree of January 24, 1939, to
solve the Jewish question by emigration or evacuation under the most favorable conditions
possible given present circumstances. I hereby charge you to make all the necessary
administrative, practical, and financial preparations for a Gesamtlösung [total/complete/comprehensive
solution] of the Jewish question throughout Germany's European sphere of influence.
Insofar as these preparations will touch on the jurisdiction of other government
agencies, these are to be asked to collaborate.
I further commission you to submit to me, before long, a master plan of the
administrative, practical, and financial measures that need to be taken [to carry out] the
sought-after Endlösung [final/definitive solution] of the Jewish question.
[Source: A J Mayer. Why Did the Heavens Not Darken: The "Final Solution" in
History. London: Verso, 1990, pp. 292-293]
The significance of this letter is disputed. Some historians regard
it as a clear indication that German Jewish policy was now set firmly on the track of
direct physical extermination. Others, Mayer, for instance, consider that the final
direction was not yet set, hence the reference in the letter to the previous policy of
intensified emigration. However, even Mayer concedes that the context was now vastly
September 3, 1941 Utility of Zyklon-B gas as an agent of mass killing tried out on Soviet
November 29, 1941 Proposed
date for conference to finalise details of Final Solution. Postponed to December 9
December 8, 1941 Chelmno Death Camp becomes operational
Situated near the Polish city of Lodz victims were killed by
driving them around in vans, the exhaust engine fumes being pumped into the hermetically
sealed load compartment. The victims came from the Lodz ghetto, and included 5000
Roma and Sinti who had been interned there.
December 9, 1941 Proposed date for conference to finalise details of Final Solution.
Postponed to January 20, 1942
January 1942 Killing
of Jews at Auschwitz Birkenau using Zyklon-B.
January 20, 1942 Convening and
Decisions of Wannsee Conference
In addition to SS officials it was attended by representatives from the Party
Chancellery, the Reich Ministry for the Eastern Territories, the Reich Ministry of the
Interior, the Office of the Controller of the Four-Year Plan, the Reich Ministry of
Justice, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the Reich Chancellery. Minutes of the
meeting were taken by Adolf Eichmann, and have
Heydrich, who chaired the meeting, made it clear
that responsibility for implementing the Final Solution, would rest with the Reichsführer-SS
und Chef der Deutschen Polizei, that is, Himmler.
As with other instructions and orders considered above, there is nothing in the
minutes that directly specifies that under consideration is a plan that involves the
extermination of all Jews in areas under German hegemony. That this was in fact the
objective of the decisions taken needs to be inferred in the context of the word-plays
that charaterised German official documentation on this subject.
Until this point, according to Heydrich, one of the main axis of Jewish policy had been
emigration. Conquest of new territories in the east opened up other opportunities.
In particular, a "further possible solution, to which the Führer has already
signified his consent" was "deportation to the east." In point of
fact, this was not a particularly new policy as it had been under consideration, and
implemented to some limited degree, ever since the conquest of Poland.
According to Krausnick, the most pertinent paragraph in the minutes was the following:
In pursuance of the final solution, special administrative and executive measures will
apply to the conscription of Jews for labour in the eastern territories. Large
labour gangs of those fit to work will be formed, with the sexes separated, which will be
directed to those areas for road construction and undoubtedly a large part of them will
fall out through natural elimination. Those who remain alive-and they will certainly
be those with the greatest powers of endurance-will be treated accordingly. If
released they would, being a natural selection of the fittest, form a new cell from which
the Jewish race could again develop.
According to Krausnick it is particularly significant because the inference can clearly
be drawn that the Jews will either "fall out" because they cannot meet the
labour requirements, or be eliminated because they fall into the category of "natural
selection of the fittest." In any event, such a policy would temporarily, and
with some tension, meet two German objectives: (1) increasing support for the war effort
by harnessing Jewish labour, and (2) ridding areas under German hegemony of the racial
enemy, albeit after utilising their labour potential. These two policies were
supported by different branches of the SS: (1) by the race experts, who wanted to
eliminate the Jews once and for all, and (2) the WVHA, the SS Economic and Administrative
Office. The latter generally formed the view that until the war was won it was
expedient to use Jewish resources to that end. [Source: H Krausnick and M Broszat. Anatomy
of the SS State. London: Paladin, 1973. p.81]
Precisely because there were two strands to this policy it is possible to lend a
different interpretation to the Wannsee meeting than that offered by Krausnick.
Mayer, for instance, places emphasis on the harnessing of the labour potential of the
Jewish population of Europe, and concludes that there "was nothing definitive about
the Wannsee Conference, nor could there be. Whatever its origin, it was held at an
unexpectedly trying moment in the history of the Third Reich [Mayer refers to the reverses
of the Russian campaign, particularly the halting of the Wehrmacht at the gates of
Moscow]. War policy was in extreme flux, and so was Jewish policy."
Moreover, Hitler made statements subsequent to the Wannsee meeting which implied that
the die had not yet been cast. On January 25, 1942, he stated that:
The Jew must get out of Europe. Otherwise we will get no European understanding.
The world over he is the chief agitator against us. ...All I
say is that he must go away. If, in the process, he is bruised, I can't help it.
If he does not leave voluntarily, I see no solution other than extermination.
[Source: A J Mayer. Why Did the Heavens Not Darken: The "Final Solution"
in History. London: Verso, 1990, pp.306-307]
This statement was supposedly made in the presence of Himmler and Hans Lammers, from
neither of whom, presumably, he had any need to hide a decision on extermination if he had
already taken it. On the other hand, killings had already begun in Chelmno and
advanced experimentation had taken place at Auschwitz. Belzec would become
operational two months later.
March 1942 Belzec Death Camp
Initially victims are killed by using carbon monoxide pumped in from tank engines.
Subsequently change to using Zyklon-B as being more efficient.
March 24, 1942 Slovak Jews deported
March 27, 1942 French Jews deported