The Holocaust
The Holocaust

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The Holocaust

3.3 Factors leading to the ‘Final Solution’

Activity 4

Two questions:

  1. What was east of Nazi-occupied Poland?

  2. On what would this new resettlement depend?


  1. Soviet-occupied Poland, and then the USSR.

  2. On seizing and occupying Soviet territory.

Heydrich's new round of planning coincided with the preparations for Operation Barbarossa and depended on German victory over the USSR. In consequence it coincided also with the preparation of the Commissar Order. Historians, and others, have argued about the precise point at which the final decision to murder European Jewry was taken, but there does appear to be some tie-in with the brutality unleashed in the invasion of Russia. The problem is a lack of precise documentation. Much was destroyed on Himmler's orders in the closing stages of the war; other documents appear to have been destroyed as a matter of course as events progressed; and much is also obscured by the use of weasel words and euphemism. There are arguments for seeing a significant shift in policy towards the Jews during the preparations for Barbarossa in the spring of 1941, in Goering's instruction to Heydrich of 31 July 1941 to prepare ‘a comprehensive solution to the Jewish question’; in the increased exterminating fury (that is, killing women and children in equal numbers to men) among the Einsatzgruppen during the euphoria of the initial success against the USSR in August 1941; in Heydrich's meeting with government ministry representatives at the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942. But the German historian Götz Aly has argued that the search for an ‘order’ or a ‘decision’ essentially ignores the way in which the Nazi state bureaucracy worked (and, indeed, how any state bureaucracy works).

Political decisions generally are not made in a day, nor are they carried out in linear fashion; and they are not exclusively positively determined … [T]he course of political opinion formation – even under the conditions of the Nazi dictatorship – can be viewed as a more or less open process. The transitions between planning, decision-making, and practice were fluid, the boundaries between the participants and interested institutions permeable …

A Führer order was not needed … Hitler took part in building the consensus, made demands, and let the implementors know that they did not need to conform to any traditional norms; rather they could carry out any type of ‘solution’ at all …

The ongoing linkage between practice and planning was characteristic of the attempts to deport the Jews right from the start. Even in their first weeks on the job, the bureaucrats in Himmler's ‘resettlement’ institutions had resorted to mass murder. For their immediate purposes, they had patients in Pomeranian, Polish, and West and East Prussian psychiatric hospitals ‘cleared out’ to ‘accommodate’ ethnic Germans …

With the start of the Russian campaign, a second important practice joined the almost two years of practical experience of murder: the mass executions of Soviet prisoners of war, Jews, and suspicious civilians on the eastern front.

(Aly, ‘Final Solution’, 1999, pp.253–4)

The Einsatzgruppen followed the army into the Soviet Union, massacring Jews and Russians with their guns and their gas vans; but, as discussed above, the evidence suggests that the members of the German army too were fully prepared to become involved in the killing of a ‘race war’ (Rassenkrieg). In August 1941 the 6th Army headquarters, at the news that some off-duty soldiers had volunteered to help with executions, or had gone along to watch or to take photos, instructed that men should not participate in such executions unless ordered by a superior officer. Two months later Field Marshal von Reichenau, the 6th Army commander, backed by Field Marshal von Rundstedt, issued an order to his men explaining what made the war in the east different.

In this eastern theatre of war, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of war, but also the ruthless standard-bearer of a national ideal and the avenger of all the bestialities perpetrated on the German peoples. For this reason the soldier must fully appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry.

(Quoted in Beevor, Stalingrad, 1998, pp.56–7)


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