Institute for Historical Review
A vigorous and protracted controversy has arisen over which key figures in the German leadership were supposed to have favored the mass extermination of European Jewry in the first instance. First and foremost it is necessary to consider the case of Hitler and to analyze the contention that Hitler was an active participant in a campaign to exterminate European Jewry.
Joachin von Ribbentrop, Zwischen London und Moskau (Between London and Moscow, Leoni, 1953, pp. 274ff.) noted that Hitler was convinced World War II would not have occurred had it not been for Jewish influence. Hitler regarded Germany's struggle with Great Britain and the United States as a disaster for western civilization and a triumph for Communism. He knew that President Roosevelt had worked with every available means to promote war in Europe prior to the English declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939. He did not believe that Chamberlain would have accepted war had it not been for the pressure from President Roosevelt. Further, Hitler did not believe that President Roosevelt would have worked for war had be not been encouraged and supported in his efforts by the powerful American-Jewish community.
Ribbentrop's view of the situation was more penetrating, realistic, and accurate. He did not believe that President Roosevelt would have been able to persuade Great Britain to move toward war against Germany had it not been for the pursuance by Lord Halifax of the traditional British imperialistic policy based on the balance of power. Ribbentrop reminded Hitler that Jewish influence in England was still very slight during the long struggle against Napoleon, who had adopted the traditional anti-Jewish position of Voltaire. The friendly position of Kaiser Wilhelm II toward the Jews had no influence whatever in preventing the British onslaught against Germany in 1914.
Ribbentrop engaged in repeated discussions with Hitler about the Jewish question during the war and even during their last meeting on April 22, 1945. He was convinced that Hitler never remotely contemplated the extermination of European Jewry.
The most comprehensive attempt to document the thesis that Hitler himself directed an effort to exterminate European Jewry was made by the English Jew, Gerald Reitlinger. An expanded German-language version of his major work appeared under the title Die Endlösung: Hitlers Versuch der Austrottung der Juden Europas, 1939-1945 (The Final Solution: Hitler's Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945, Berlin, 1956). This title was offered on the assumption that Reitlinger had succeeded in his effort. The full title of the earlier 1953 English edition of this work did not mention Hitler.
Reitlinger conceded that the term "final solution" of the Jewish question, as employed by German leaders in the period from the outbreak of war with Poland until war with the USSR, had nothing to do with a liquidation of the Jews. He then considered Hitler's order of July, 1941, for the liquidation of the captured political commissars, and he concluded that this was accompanied by a verbal order from Hitler for special Einsatzgruppen, to liquidate all Soviet Jews (Ibid., p. 91.) This assumption was based on sheer deduction and has been disproved above. Reitlinger himself cited the statement of the SS leader Karl Wolff, the chief of Himmler's personal staff, that Hitler knew nothing of any program to liquidate the Jews (Ibid., p. 126).
Reitlinger mentioned the indirect "proof" in Hitler's warning in his Reichstag speech of January 30, 1939, that a new European war would mean the end of the Jewish race in Europe. He failed to cite this statement within Hitler's context that the catastrophe of a new war would persuade other European countries to follow the anti-Jewish programs already adopted by Germany and Italy. In this sense, the end of the Jewish race in Europe meant something far different from the physical liquidation of the Jews. It meant only the elimination of their disproportionate influence as compared to their relative population. Reitlinger was guilty of another misinterpretation of this kind when he claimed that the SS newspaper, Schwarzes Korps, November 24, 1938, preached the liquidation of the Jews instead of the elimination of their influence (Ibid., p. 9).
Finally, Reitlinger claimed to have found conclusive proof of a Hitlerian liquidation policy in the protocol of a conversation between Hitler and Hungarian Regent Horthy on April 17, 1943. Hitler complained about the black market and subversive activities of Hungarian Jews and then made the following comment: "They have thoroughly put an end to these conditions in Poland. If the Jews don't wish to work there, they will be shot. If they cannot work, at least they won't thrive" (Ibid., p. 472).
There never has been the slightest proof that these comments of a vexed Hitler were followed by an actual order to shoot Jews who would not work. Reitlinger conceded that Hitler was then seeking to persuade Horthy to release 100,000 Hungarian Jews for work in the "pursuit-plane program" of the German air force at a time when the aerial bombardment of Germany was rapidly increasing in intensity (Ibid., p. 478). This indicated, at most, that the idea of compulsory labor for the Jews had taken precedence in Hitler's thinking over the emigration plan. Hitler's purpose in arguing with Horthy was obviously to increase his labor force rather than to liquidate Jews.
The prestige and impact of Reitlinger's work has been very great in Jewish circles. The Jewish Year Book (London 1956, pp. 304ff.) notes that it is commonly stated that six million Jews were "done to death by Hitler", but that Reitlinger has suggested a possible lower estimate of 4,194,200 "missing Jews" of whom an estimate one third died of natural causes. This would reduce the number of Jews deliberately exterminated to 2,796,000.
Some 2,500,000 of the alleged victims in Reitlinger's lower estimate are supposed to have come from Poland and Rumania, and yet he has stated that all figures from these countries are largely conjectured. Moreover, the German defeat at Stalingrad prevented them from interfering extensively with Rumanian Jews. In point of fact one could also add that all the statistics employed by Reitlinger, even though they are more reasonable and reliable than those of any other Jewish statistician dealing with the extermination problem on a large scale, are "largely conjectural", and that he failed dismally in his attempt to prove that Hitler was personally the director of an attempt to exterminate European Jewry.
The impression of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler was my Friend (London, 1955, pp. 191ff.) was that Hitler was almost exclusively preoccupied with military affairs during World War II, and that his interest in the Jewish question was very distinctly subordinated to the German war effort. This situation seemed to change only in April, 1945, when Hitler confronted the nightmare of future Soviet domination of Europe. In those last days be turned his full attention again to the activities of the Jews (Ibid., p. 227).
Hoffmann was a close personal friend who enjoyed Hitler's extraordinary confidence. Hitler said in August, 1939, that both he and England were bluffing about war. The war came, and Hoffmann revealed how Hitler did everything possible to evade pressure for an invasion of Great Britain in 1940. Hoffmann was understandably plunged into gloom by the outbreak of war with the USSR on June 22, 1941, but Hitler patiently explained to him at length why he considered the preventive war in the East indispensable for German security. The key reason, of course, was the failure of Hitler to achieve a compromise peace in the West (Ibid., pp. 115ff.).
Sven Hedin, Ohne Auftrag in Berlin (In Berlin without Assignment, Buenos Aires, 1949) had frequent contacts with Hitler during the period 1933-1942. Hitler knew that the great Swedish scientist-explorer, who was partly Jewish himself, was opposed to persecution of the Jews in any form. Hedin's Germany and World Peace (London, 1937) had been banned in Germany, although the author, on the strength of Hitler's and Göring's friendship, had hoped to make his principal future income for scientific purposes out of the German edition of the book. Hedin admitted that the Germans before 1933 had understandable grievances against their small Jewish minority. The Jews, although only .8 per cent of the population, supplied 23.07 per cent of the lawyers of Germany and enjoyed a major share of income from German trade and industry. Nevertheless, he believed that Germany would have "overlooked" the Jewish question had it not been for her defeat in 1918 and her subsequent misfortunes. It is easy to see why Hedin's adoption of the "scapegoat" theory to explain the National Socialist anti-Jewish policy did not please the National Socialists.
In Berlin without Assignment, Hedin gave expression to the fear that people and events of the Hitler era would be depicted solely in the perspective and interests of a later period for years and years to come. The facts have borne out this prediction. The attitude of the West has remained identical with that of the USSR so far as National Socialism is concerned. Despite the Cold War and sharp disagreements on other subjects, there is complete unanimity about what happened in Germany down through 1945 and in hostility to National Socialism.
According to Hedin, Hitler did not wish to go to war with the West. The war forced upon Hitler by the West ended in a grandiose victory for Communism and in a crushing political and moral defeat for everyone else. Hence, an immense propaganda was maintained in the West after 1945 to keep people convinced that German National Socialism was infinitely worse than Russian Communism, even after Russian gains in the war.
It was rightly feared that Western policy prior to 1945 would appear as nonsense without such a thesis. Hence, an effort was launched to organize Western resistance to Communism as "the much lesser evil". But the role of the USSR was crucial in the defeat of National Socialism, and people in the West wondered how this later intense and alarmed resistance to "the much lesser evil of Communism" could be either legitimate or justifiable. The West could have presented a far more formidable and convincing moral resistance to Communism by admitting past mistakes in regard to the war and the preceding diplomacy.
Hedin's book shares the impression of Hitler's closest Austrian friend, August Kubizek, The Young Hitler I Knew (Boston, 1955, pp. 291ff.) that Hitler was sick of the war by 1940, and he wished either to retire or to concentrate on the completion of some internal reconstruction projects. He certainly did not impress either of them as a human fiend who believed that he was about to launch his truly major program of liquidating world Jewry. Hedin described Hitler as "a powerful and harmonious personality."
Hedin noted Hitler's wishful thinking in 1940 about Stalin, and his vain hope that the Soviet dictator would abandon ambitious plans for an ultimate world revolution in favor of a nationalist program for Russia. Later, in a letter to Hedin on October 30, 1942, Hitler attempted to rationalize a desperate situation by finding a new purpose in destroying Communism. He reminded Hedin that he had hoped for a compromise settlement with Poland in 1939. In accepting Hedin's thesis in Amerika in Kampf der Kontinente (America in the Struggle of the Continents, Leipzig, 1942) that Roosevelt was the major factor in producing war in 1939, he added that, perhaps, the American President had done the world a favor, after all, by forcing Germany to deal with the Communist threat before it was too late (Auftrag, pp. 281ff.).
Walter Schellenberg, The Schellenberg Memoirs (London, 1956, pp. 394ff.) revealed that Hitler learned almost immediately that Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed at Teheran in 1943 to permit most of Eastern Germany to be assigned to a Communist-controlled Poland in the event of Allied victory. The spy, Moyzisch, had obtained the complete record of the Teheran conference from British diplomatic sources in Turkey. Hitler became more convinced than ever that Communism would eventually win its struggle for the world if Germany went down. Schellenberg has testified that the future of the German people was the closest thing to Hitler's heart until the end, but Hitler's final despair became very great.
Achim Besgen, Der Stille Befehl (The Unspoken Command, Munich, 1960, pp. 229ff.) claimed without the slightest proof that Hitler in his despair in April, 1945, ordered a last-minute extermination of the Jews to accompany the Draconian measures which he was seeking to enforce on his own German people. This is the latest date offered by any author for a deliberate German effort to liquidate the Jews.
Besgen and Schellenberg agreed in their favorable opinion of genial Felix Kersten, the Baltic German physician who attended Himmler. Schellenberg recognized and approved Kersten as a moderating influence on Himmler. Besgen has celebrated Kersten as the great humanitarian who per suaded Himmler not to insist on the transportation of Finnish Jews for compulsory labor in Germany. Indeed, Himmler also desisted from his earlier efforts to persuade Bulgaria to send Jewish laborers to Germany. A few Danish Jews were forced to come to Germany, but most of them went to Sweden to evade German measures.
This pressure on countries allied or associated with Germany always had the same basis: the German Reich claimed, after the war became exceedingly critical, that the Jewish population throughout German-occupied Europe was a hostile force. The United States and Canada had begun to intern both Japanese aliens and citizens of Japanese ex'traction in internment camps before this became a German policy toward many German and other European Jews. There was no tangible evidence of disloyalty, not to mention sabotage or espionage, among these people of Japanese extraction.
The Germans at least had a somewhat more plausible basis to press for the internment of Jews. Reference has been made to Chaim Weizmann's early declaration of war against Germany on behalf of World Jewry (Weizmann was the principal Zionist leader). The following version of his statement, which was first announced in the London Times on September 5, 1939, appeared in the London Jewish Chronicle, September 8, 1939:
I wish to confirm in the most explicit manner, the declaration which I and my colleagues made during the last months, and especially in the last week: that the Jews "stand by Great Britain and will fight on the side of the democracies." Our urgent desire is to give effect to these declarations. We wish to do so in a way entirely consonant with the general scheme of British action, and therefore would place ourselves, in matters big and small, under the co-ordinating direction of His Majesty's Government. The Jewish Agency is ready to enter into immediate arrangements for utilizing Jewish manpower, technical ability, resources, etc.
Weizmann had effectively declared all Jews within the German sphere to be subjects of an enemy power, and to be willing agents in the prosecution of the war against Germany. He had obviously permitted his zeal for destroying Hitler and the German Reich to triumph over his solicitude for the Jews in Hitler's domain.
Felix Kersten, Memoirs, 1940-1945 (London, 1956, pp. 119ff.) joined those who charged, on the basis of the German internment policy, that there was a deliberate German program to exterminate the Jews. But he did not attempt to implicate Hitler, and he was also emphatic in stating that Heinrich Himmler did not advocate the liquidation of the Jews but favored their emigration overseas. Yet there had to be an author of the alleged extermination policy. Kersten's fantastic attempt to provide an answer to this problem shattered the credibility of his narrative.
Kersten was born in Estonia in 1898, and he fought for the Finns against the Bolsheviks in 1918. He was a typically cosmopolitan Baltic German, and in 1920 be became a Finnish citizen. Later he studied medicine in Berlin and lived in various parts of Europe. His services as a physician were chiefly valued because of his skill as a chiropractor. He was being employed by the Dutch royal household in March, 1939, when a private German businessman suggested that he examine Himmler, who was plagued by stomach and muscular ailments. Kersten was reluctant to devote himself exclusively to Himmler because of his Dutch practice, but he agreed to do so after the German occupation of the Netherlands in May, 1940. He was convinced before the end of 1942 that Germany was heading for defeat in World War II. He informed Himmler that he was establishing permanent residence in Sweden, and that his presence in Germany would be limited to periodic visits.
It is not surprising, in view of the flow of world opinion, that Kersten, a notorious opportunist, implied after 1945 that there had been this campaign to exterminate the Jews. Any "proof" he might offer would be limited to his own private recording of alleged conversations with Himmler. Kersten gave the impression that he could say whatever he wished to Himmler about German policy. Himmler on many occasions reputedly said that he recognized Kersten as an enemy of National Socialism who desired the defeat of Germany in the war. Apparently, this did not trouble their professional relationship.
The German-Jewish historian, George Hallgarten, published his recollections of young Himmler in Germania Judaica (Cologne, April 1960). Hallgarten and Himmler were close acquaintances while both were students at Munich. Hallgarten found Himmler to be a tolerant and broad-minded person "comparatively free from anti-Semitism." This might explain why it was actually possible for Kersten to say what be pleased to Himmler about the Jews, Germany, and the war. Himmler was, apparently, willing to tolerate Kersten because he believed, and rightly so, that the Baltic German physician was not sufficiently heroic to use his position to aid the enemies of the German Reich in the prosecution of the war.
Some of the information supplied by Kersten is of passing interest. For instance, be confirmed the fact that the Belsen concentration camp achieved the unfortunate reputation of being a "death camp" solely because of the devastating typhus epidemic which erupted there in March, 1945, toward the end of an unnecessarily prolonged war. It was this same epidemic and its results which had greatly depressed Oswald Pohl.
The crucial point in Kersten's entire book is the claim that Himmler told him on November 10, 1942, that Joseph Goebbels was the driving force behind an alleged campaign of Jewish extermination. But Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel, Dr. Goebbels, His Life and Death (N.Y., 1960, pp. 187ff.) have successfully defended the thesis that Goebbels had little to do with any specific phase of German policy after the outbreak of World War II. It was not difficult for them to sustain their point. Goebbels was the enthusiastic advocate of a "Free-Russia" movement as early as the summer of 1941, but his recommendations were summarily rejected. The German Government favored a wait-and-see policy pending a military decision, and the plans of Alfred Rosenberg for self-determination to the Soviet subject nationalities were also rejected.
Goebbels had done what he could to maintain normalcy in the cultural sphere of German life until the outbreak of the Russian war. Manvell and Fraenkel note that in 1940-1941 there were 355 state theatres, 175 independent theatres, and 142 open-air theatres in operation in Germany, "an incredibly large number even for the country which supported the largest number of theatres in Europe" (Ibid., p. 182). Goebbels was opposed to World War II from the start, and he deplored the continuation of the war. Nevertheless, when war with Russia commenced, he made recommendations for greater military preparations, but his advice in a specific sphere of public policy was, as usual, rejected. Goebbels hoped to retire after the war to write a monumental multi-volume biography of Hitler and a history of Germany since 1900.
The authors cite a memorandum written by Goebbels as late as March 7, 1942, in favor of the Madagascar plan as the "final solution" of the Jewish question (Ibid., p. 195). In the meantime, he approved having the Jews "concentrated in the, East" as a measure to guarantee German war-time security. He concluded that "there can be no peace in Europe until every Jew has been eliminated from the continent." Later Goebbels memoranda comment on the transportation of the Jews to the East and emphasize the importance of compulsory labor in that area. The authors, in considering these memoranda, flatly refuse to imply, even remotely, that Goebbels was a force in initiating wartime measures against the Jews. His earlier initiative in peacetime measures, such as the November, 1938, demonstrations calculated to accelerate emigration of the Jews, belonged to a by-gone era.
It must be conceded that this allegedly definitive work on Goebbels contains more than its share of colossal errors. The authors claim there "can be no doubt at all" that Göring and Goebbels were behind the 1933 Reichstag fire, although Fritz Tobias, "Stehen Sie auf, Van der Lubbe!" (Stand Up, Van der Lvbbe, Der Spiegel, Oct. 23, 1959 ff.) has proved conclusively that none of the National Socialists had any connection with the Reichstag fire. Equally wrong is the contention that Herschel Grynszpan, the Jewish assassin of Ernst von Rath, was executed during World War II at the behest of Goebbels. Grynszpan is at present living in Paris (Ibid., pp. 115, 149).
In short, there is no proof that Hitler knew anything of a plan to exterminate the Jews. Himmler favored Jewish emigration rather than a program of extermination. Goebbels, who also favored emigration, was in any case unable to exert a determining influence on the pursuit of public policies during wartime. Martin Bormann, who succeeded Rudolf Höss as Hitler's personal deputy and chief of the NSDAP chancellery, was notoriously dependent on Hitler for all initiative in larger questions. Important private confirmation on this point from Martin Bormann himself is contained in The Bormann Letters: Private Correspondence between Martin Bormann and his Wife from January 1943 to April 1945 (London, 1954, pp. 26ff.).
Alan Bullock, Hitler, a Study in Tyranny (N.Y., 1952, pp. 558ff.) failed to uncover any important information on Hitler's wartime policy toward the Jews, and, indeed, he was unable to transcend the moral and mental attitudes of the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials. Hugh Trevor-Roper, "Hitlers Kriegsziele" (Hitler's War Arms, in Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 1960/2) has pointed out that Bullock's work has been crippled by an underestimation of Hitler's intelligence and a lack of understanding for his ideas.