Part II. The 3rd Reich & the Holocaust Era, Jan 1933-May 1945
Murderous Racism and Antisemitism - Bureaucracy of Evil
Perpetrators, Collaborators, Victims, Bystanders, Resisters, Rescuers

B. World War II, Sept. 1939-May, 1945: “New Order” & Holocaust
1. 1939-41: Exporting Nazism - Lebensraum, Racism, Antisemitism & Dehumanization
2. 1941-45: Death by Design & Shoah

The War agains the Jews - Annihilation, “Final Solution” (1)

Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now, Himmler

Introduction - 1941-45: Death by Design & Shoah

“People were taken from their homes or hiding places and murdered, for no apparent reason but the consensual will of a murderous society.”1

Bauer 209-227
Scope: Examining the systematic planning and implementation of a government policy to kill millions of people; the use of technological advances to carry out mass slaughter; the role of Nazi collaborators, resisters and rescuers; and the role of bystanders around the world who chose not to intervene in the persecution and murder of Jews and other victims.


The context of war
“The twentieth century ... has ... been the century of unrestrained global warfare in which the value of individual human life has been alarmingly cheapened ... The First Word War of 1914-18 inflicted massive casualties ... and with ... pointlessness, that the continent of Europe became desensitized ...

Under cover of that war, in 1915, the Ottoman Turks massacred over a million Armenians in the century’s first systematic genocide. ... As the Second World War progressed towards its third year, the Nazis’ seeming invincibility strengthened their arrogant belief that nothing could stand in the way of their establishing the ‘Thousand Year Reich’ Hitler had promised them. The brutalizing theater of war, could provide them with the context in which their ... ugly theories of racial domination could be put into practice. ...

The Nazis, under cover of the war, developed the technology, bureaucracy, and psychology of hate to efficiently murder millions of ‘undesirables’ & Jews. Mass extermination of million by shooting & gassing characterizes this 2nd phase, 1941-1945, of the period of World War II.

In the months following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, Jews, political leaders, communists, and many Gypsies were killed in mass executions -at improvised sites throughout the Soviet Union by members of mobile killing squads (Einsatzgruppen). The overwhelming majority of those killed were Jews.

By 1945, six million Jews were dead. About 5.5 million political dissidents, members of the resistance, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses & others, were also caught in the Nazis' murderous net. Millions of ordinary citizens were conscripted as laborers for the German war effort. The priority target, however, was the Jewish population. It was targeted for total annihilation.*

Conceptual Framework - When persecution became the Holocaust.

Reflections on theories about Nazi policy, and the contesting interpretations of intentionalist & functionalist historians - to the question of whether or not the Nazis already had a genocidal plan to destroy European Jewry.The chapter ‘discusses the intentionalist and functionalist approaches to the development of the Final Solution. We discuss Hitler’s intent to make the world Judenrein and introduce the heated debate among scholars whether the Shoah was the result of a particular “intention” (genocide) or whether of “non-intentional” functionalist realia and concerns.

The road to destruction: twisted or straght?
The nature of the National Socialist drive to exterminate the Jews.
Was it built into the structure of the movement, or did it evolve after all other possibilities of “removing the Jews from Germany society” has been exhausted?
Was it ideologically enunciated, or a product of practical developments?’

The process of persecution and destruction from the discriminatory legislation to the death camps, is examined. The students are taken step by step from the invasion of Russia and the deadly work of the Einsatzgruppen, through the construction of the death camps and their actual functioning.

‘The central issue of the Holocaust: how it was possible, from both an institutional and a human point of view, to commit genocide and kill many 'others,’ is discussed with reference to the Nazi perpetrators and their victims.

‘Technology, Bureaucracy, Ideology: Here we ask the students to consider how such an event as the Shoah was possible. In trying to answer this question, we make a close analysis of the logic and ontological character of technology and bureaucracy and, very importantly, indicate how technology and bureaucracy, even though they have a dynamic of their own, are ultimately subject to ideological direction; thus, the ideological superstructure directing the technology and bureaucracy is of prime importance.’

In dealing with the wartime period, the behavior of 3 constituent elements is examined: the perpetrators, the victims, and the bystanders. An attempt is made to analyze the action or inaction of all 3 groups in the light of knowledge available to them at the time, rather than to pass judgment with the benefit of post-Holocaust hindsight. Special attention is given to the varieties of resistance manifested by the victims despite the desperate circumstances in which they found themselves.’


- How the solution of the Jewish Question (the Jews preceived by the nazis as the source of antinatural universalistic ideologies) became the focus of Hitler’s expansionist policy;
- Ideology & Victimization - Poles, Gypsies, handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses
- willingness of other groups and nations to acquiesce in persecution as long as only the Jews are affected
- the variety of responses and forms of resistance to Nazism;
- the problems and price of powerlessness.

Study Questions

1. When and why did the Germans go to war against the Soviet Union?

2. What was the impact of Operation Barbarossa on the Jews?
3. Who were the Einsatzgruppen and what was their role? How did they deal with their targets?
4. Who were the killers? Who collaborate? What kind of language did they use?
5. What was the Wannsee Conference? Who were the major figures who attended? Analyze its role in implementing the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” Examine the role of Nazi bureaucracy in implementing policies of murder and annihilation (e.g., the development and maintenance of a system to identify, isolate, deport, enslave, and kill targeted people) and in the exploitation of the victims and their property.

The War agains the Jews - Annihilation, “Final Solution”
From Isolation to Shoah

Yehuda Bauer, pps. 13-15: “... ... Against the background of the crisis of modern Western society, against the background of political and economic dislocations, as well as of the specific impact of these crises on German society, Nazi antisemitism was the central motivation that drove the regime into the murder of the Jews ... “the Holocaust is the logical consequence of ideological antisemitism.”2 “The Holocaust was perpetrated by the Nazis for very specific reasons. They saw the Jews the ultimate enemy ... Murder him ... And it wasn’t directed against the Jews of country ‘x’ but against the concept of the Jew. The Jew. Anywhere. Everywhere.”3 .

The Final Solution - Introduction by Baustin

The ‘Final Solution’ was the code name of the Nazis' plan to kill all the Jews. “The extermination of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust was the end product of such a complex labyrinth of social, political, economic and military courses of action which coalesced in Hitler's Germany that it is very difficult to sort out all of its parts. To a large extent, it is this complexity which has, for a half-century now, made the Holocaust so incomprehensible. Slowly, however, there has emerged an outline of events, decisions, motivations and realities which permit at least an historical understanding of what took place between 1932 and 1945. Grasping the Holocaust on any moral, spiritual or emotional basis, however, becomes increasingly elusive as the factual account becomes more transparent.”

*The Final Solution - The Nazis' Plan to Kill the Jews (encyclopedia of the Holocaust)

*The Nazis' Plan to Kill the Jews -
(Ger., Endlosung). The Nazis' comprehensive program to solve the "Jewish question" by murdering every Jew. Initiated by Adolf HITLER in the summer of 1941 in the euphoria of his greatest successes and his seemingly imminent victory over the Soviet Union, the "Final Solution" was the culmination of a long evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy - from Hitler's earliest articulation of a solution to the "Jewish question" in 1919, through the Nazi attempts to coerce Jewish mass emigration in the 1930s, to the schemes for mass expulsion after the outbreak of war, and finally, the leap to mass murder with the EINSATZGRUPPEN assault on Russian Jewry in from the middle of 1941. The emergence of the "Final Solution" as both concept and program was a complex phenomenon conditioned by Hitler's ideology and manner of governing, by the nature of the Nazi regime, and by the changing circumstances in which the Nazis found themselves.


In the earliest document of Hitler's political career, a letter written on September 16, 1919, he articulated the view that the "Jewish question" would be solved not through emotional antisemitism and pogroms but only through an "antisemitism of reason" that would lead to a systematic legal struggle. "The final goal, however, must steadfastly remain the removal (Entfernung) of the Jews altogether." The "Jewish question" remained central for Hitler in the 1920s. For Nazis, he declared, the "Jewish question" was the "pivotal question" (Kernfrage), and the party was therefore determined to solve it "with well - known German thoroughness to the final consequence." For the most part the "final consequence" was expressed in terms such as "removal" (Ausweisung), "expulsion" (Austreibung), and "exclusion" (Ausschaltung). Occasionally, however, the language became more ominous, particularly when he made the analogy between the tuberculosis bacillus, which had to be destroyed (vernichtet), and the Jew - the "racial tuberculosis" (Rassentuberkulose) of peoples who had to be removed if the German Volk were to recover its health.

On one occasion in 1922, he fantasized about publicly hanging every Jew in Germany & leaving the bodies dangling until they stank. Such statements indicate the depth of Hitler's obsession with the Jews, & his determination to seek an uncompromising & comprehensive solution to this "Jewish question" by getting rid of the Jews one way or another; as well as his violent and murderous predisposition. They do not, however, constitute a grand design, blueprint, or decision for the "Final Solution" of 1941 to 1945: the comprehensive and systematic mass murder of all European & French North African Jewry.’

Hitler's Threat on the Eve of the War

See lecture 10a p. 2: Hitler’s speech to his generals: ... Who, after all, talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians? Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag on 30 January 1939: If international-finance Jewry inside & outside of Europe should succeed once more in plunging nations into another world war, the consequence will not be the Bolshevization of the earth & thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation [Vernichtung] of the Jewish race in Europe.’

Should Hitler's threats at this time be seen as a literal statement of his clear intention to kill the Jews upon the outbreak of war? They may have had other motives: on the one hand, a desire to exercise diplomatic blackmail against governments presumed to be under Jewish influence to accept Germany's impoverished Jewish refugees or to impart to Hitler's followers the notion that a policy more radical than emigration would be needed after the outbreak of war to solve the "Jewish question."

Anti - Jewish Policy Between September 1939 and June 1941

‘Several facts support the latter interpretation -that a policy more radical than emigration would be needed after the outbreak of war to solve the "Jewish question.".When war did break out in September 1939, Hitler did not immediately initiate the systematic mass murder of the Jews under German control. Instead, with his clear approval, Nazi Jewish policy became radicalized in a different way; solving the "Jewish question" still meant removing the Jews one way or another.

The conquest and partition of Poland brought an additional two million Jews into the German sphere, including more than one half million in the "incorporated territories" annexed directly to the Reich. According to a plan approved by Hitler in late September 1939, the Poles and Jews of the incorporated territories were to be expelled into the GENERAL GOUVERNEMENT, and the very concept of Polish nationhood was to be eradicated through the "liquidation, " including physical destruction of the Polish intelligentsia, deemed the bearers of Polish nationalism.

As for the Jews, they were to be expelled not just from the incorporated territories but from all of the Third Reich into a reservation on the outer edge of the German empire, at that time the Lublin region on the demarcation line with Soviet occupied eastern Poland. The Nazis set in motion a massive demographic upheaval, but the overall plan could not be realized. By the spring of 1940, Hitler let it be known that the Lublin Reservation was no longer the target of a solution to the "Jewish question." There was not enough territory in Poland to spare for the Jews. Himmler was receptive to this hint, and in late May 1940 he presented Hitler with a memorandum on the treatment of the population of eastern Europe that included the notion of expelling all the Jews to some colonial territory in Africa.

*A territorial ‘solution of the Jewish question’ - The 1940 Madagascar Plan

Within weeks, this notion of expelling the Jews overseas was concretized in the form of the MADAGASCAR PLAN, which Hitler discussed approvingly with Mussolini in late June (The expulsion of the European Jews to Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa, was a notion of that briefly dominated Nazi Jewish policy in the summer of 1940. Its ultimate impracticality helped pave the way psychologically among the Nazis for the "FINAL SOLUTION"). Until the German defeat in the Battle of Britain in September 1940 rendered its imminent realization impossible, the Madagascar Plan was briefly the centerpiece and preoccupation of Nazi Jewish policy. However ephemeral and unrealized the Lublin Reservation project and the Madagascar (island in the Indian Ocean) Plan proved to be, they represented an important stage in the evolution of Nazi Jewish policy. Therefore, by 1940, even before mass murder became the goal of Nazi Jewish policy, the Nazis were already committed to a way of thinking about the "Jewish question" that precluded any solution that was less than both "final" and trans - European.” (encyclopedia of Holocaust)

The decision

‘ Important questions remained unanswered: when & how did the Nazi government decide upon a policy of comprehensive extermination of ... Jewish population? Who actually made the decision to begin the process of systematic annihilation? ... no written document ... this operation was to be kept top secret; even close to the war’s end, it was ... referred to by means of obscure ... euphemisms.”4

The transition to a policy of annihilation

*Before the "Final Solution" was devised to murder all Jews in Nazi jurisdiction, the scheme the Nazis planned to rid their land of the Jews was forced emigration out of Germany. Baustin: Hitler's motivation seems to have been two-fold: to ensure the racial purity of Germany and to create lebensraum, "living space," for German nationals of "Aryan" blood. His obsession with the former is reflected in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. ...

So, “... until 1941 Nazi policy in the west continued to facilitate emigration ... Once war broke out, Germany had hoped to complete the process of Jewish emigration ... & arranging to transport millions of Jews to Madagascar. no peace with Britain emerged ... the scheme ... impracticable to export European Jewry ...

During the past decade, the whole question of the causes and origins of the Final Solution -the actual decision to murder every Jew- has been the subject of an intense debate which has split historians into two broadly distinct camps.”5

Intentionalists versus Functionalists - Intention versus improvisation

Baustin: Two historical schools of thought
have emerged around the question of the origins of "The Final Solution" (German, Enloesung)- the decision to completely obliterate European Jewry. Tim Mason (1981) has framed the debate in terms of "intentionalists" versus "functionalists.

The "intentionalists"

‘They contend that from very early on Hitler intended the Final Solution to be implemented at the earliest possible moment - and that this came about in 1941 when the bulk of east European Jewry could be exterminated under the camouflage of an enormous, brutal war against the Soviet Union (argued that it was Hitler's intention from the beginning ,even before his rise to power, to exterminate the Jews, and that the war with Russia was a pretext for that undertaking, at the very least, an integral part of it. Based on his avowed antisemitism as early as Mein Kampf (1923) and his early statements. (1939) that Jews would be completely destroyed if they plunged Germany into another world war, these historians have taken the view that all decisions, political and military, were made with an eye to the ultimate extermination of the Jews: Baustin). They maintain that it is Hitler -his rabid antisemitism, his obsessive personality, style, statements -who is the key to the decision to murder all the Jews

The "functionalists

This group of historians “assert that the decision to embark upon the Final Solution, far from being the logical product of a desire to translate deep-seated intention into policy, was haphazard, improvised and even ‘blundered into,’ after the alternatives of emigration had been exhausted.”6 (the other point of view, espoused by the "functionalists, argued that the "Final Solution" was decided upon only after many failed attempts to force Jews to emigrate from Germany and that the closure of possible destinations by the rest of the world combined with the logistical problems of such a massive deportation "forced" the "Final Solution" into existence. Further, these scholars suggest, Hitler's style of leadership, his demand for total loyalty from his subordinates (fuhrerprinzip) and the paranoia they engendered, caused subordinate SS agencies to come up with the Final Solution in early 1942.

[Serious readers are encouraged to take a careful look at Christopher Browning's The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution, 1992:86-121 for an excellent discussion of this controversy and the middle ground positions which have emerged in recent years.]

Baustin: Scholars differ as to whether Hitler's decision to exterminate the Jews was latent from the beginning of his career or developed incrementally in response to the failure of previous plans to eliminate them -- emigration, the Lublin reservation, and the Madagascar plan - the proposal by German Foreign Office bureaucrats in 1940 to resettle the Jews in a ghetto within a police-state on Madagascar was not entirely original; Poland had proposed forced resettlement of its Jews there in 1937.

Christopher Browning

reviewing the Foreign Office and SS correspondence in 1940, concludes that Hitler selected extermination as the Final Solution sometime between the fall of 1940 and the spring of 1941 after it became evident the war against Britain would be prolonged, forestalling naval access to Madagascar. Contemplating the invasion of Russia, Hitler decided to slaughter the Jews in Soviet territory systematically.

Others view the Madagascar Plan as a blind or way-station; in retrospect it appears both as a smokescreen and a strategic tactic to allow the German bureaucracies concerned to adjust by stages to their roles as white-collar executioners.

Lucy Dawidowicz

She emphasizes that `the Final Solution had its origin in Hitler's mind,' showing how his fantasy revealed in Mein Kampf (written in 1924) of gassing the Jews was related to their subsequent execution. She infers that Goering and Himmler were told of Hitler's plans around 1936, a plausible happening considering Hitler's habit of freely verbalizing fantasies for extermination, but a disclosure that is not possible to corroborate.

There is no question as to `the purpose of a reservation that can be derived from the report -- surely a sick joke -- that Philipp Bouhler, the head of Hitler's private chancellery, was slated to become governor of the Madagascar reservation. Bouhler headed the so-called Euthanasia Program, the first mass murder by gassing; an experience that doubtless qualified him to run a reservation of Jews that would become truly their final destination.'

Gideon Hausner, the Israeli prosecutor of Adolf Eichmann, also asserts that Reinhard Heydrich (RSHA head) was aware that extermination was to be the Final Solution by September 1939, based on his interpretation of Eichmann's pretrial police interrogation.

(In late September 1939... Heydrich began to place all Polish Jews in ghettos, where they could slowly die of hunger and disease.)”

The position taken here, by Baustin

is that the "Final Solution evolved between 1933 & 1941
as Hitler's political and military fortunes, shifted. Hitler's antisemitism is displayed as early as 1919 in a letter to Adolf Gemlich in which he stated that the Jewish problem would eventually be solved through a process of systematic deprivation of Jews of their privileges and having them classified as foreigners. He concluded by saying that "The final goal, however, must steadfastly remain the removal of the Jews altogether." (cf Christopher Browning, "The Final Solution, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (ed. Gutman), Vol.II, p.489).

The "final goal" was most often articulated in terms of removal of Jews from Germany or the exclusion of Jews from German economic and political life. There were times, however, when Hitler's language was more foreboding, e.g., his comparison of Jews to "bacilli" and his characterization of the Jews as "our greatest evil." His disbelief that Germany could have lost World War I led him to seek a scapegoat for Germany's ills. He found it in the Jews. In Mein Kampf, Hitler outlined his belief that if Germany were to be strong it must be united on the principle of racial purity. He made it clear as early as 1924 that it would be necessary to "rid Germany of all Jews."

But, despite the fact that Hitler was driven by a virulent antisemitism, there is little documentary evidence that his early thinking included the physical extermination of Jews as a matter of official policy. With Hitler's rise to political power, he was necessarily sensitive to world opinion and sought first to force the emigration of Jews to other parts of the world. His ultimate goal was to rid the Reich of Jews. When resettlement via emigration failed, he pursued the "final solution."

My position is tempered, however, by the distinct possibility, perhaps probability, that Hitler was well aware of the fact that Jews forced out of the Reich would not be favorably received around the world. The year before the publication of Mein Kampf, the United States passed the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) which set very restrictive quotas on foreign immigration. The isolationism following WWI made resettlement through emigration an unlikely prospect. It is not likely that Hitler was ignorant of these policies and the sentiment they represented. If he was unsure of world opinion prior to 1938, the Evian Conference (July, 1938) held at Evian, France should have left little doubt. The conference, called by Roosevelt to address the plight of Jewish refugees, was attended by the representatives of 32 governments -- 20 Latin American countries, Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark and the U.S. The conference ended without taking any significant action. Their resounding non-response sent a message not only to Hitler, but to all the nations around the world. Hitler knew by early summer, 1938 (more than a year prior to the beginning of World War II) that forced emigration would not solve the"Jewish problem." If this is true, all of Hitler's resettlement plans, (e.g., the Madagascar Plan) assume an ominous, hollow sound. Less than four months later, the dastardly events of Kristallnacht unfolded.

In any case, the ultimate destruction of the Jews unfolds in four major evolutionary stages

1.Forced Emigration and resettlement
2.Deportation to concentration camps
3.The ‘Einsatzgruppen’
4.The death camps” (from Baustin)


‘One of the major questions ... whether Hitler always intended to kill the Jews ... or was this policy of industrialized annihilation essentially improvised? ... when the historical evidence is examined, it becomes apparent that the chief thrust of Nazi governmental policy from 1933 to 1938 was to wage a legal war of attrition against the Jews; the objective was to invade the Jewish economy, to push the Jews out of the German economy and to deprive them of every opportunity & any possibility of participating in German national, civic and cultural life. ... life was to be made so unendurable that the Jews would ‘voluntarily’ leave the country. It was arguably only the reluctance of other countries to receive Jewish refugees that would lead to their ultimate imprisonment in Hitler’s European fortress in conditions of almost total isolation, powerlessness & choicelessness. ...’7

It was not until 1941 that Nazi bureaucrats were referring to the "Final Solution" (Gesamtlosung) in the context of genocide rather than a "Territorial Final Solution" (territorial Endlosung) in the context of forced emigration. Some historians believe that the Madagascar Plan was a smokescreen for Hitler's desire to murder European Jewry (see page 62 of Marrus' The Holocaust in History).

“What is clear, however, is that by mid-1941 the Nazi leadership knew that they would be fighting ... a racial/ideological war involving a planned policy of ‘depopulation’ of Slavs, Russians, and Jews. The aim of this policy was to plant new ‘Aryan’ settlements of warrior-farmers along the borders of Germanic civilization ...”8

‘I Only Gassed Them’

Erich Gnewuch testifies about gassings in Nazi-occupied USSR, 1942-3 [Quoted in "Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas", edited by E. Kogon, H. Langbein, and A. Rueckerl, Yale University Press, 1993, p. 57-9]
In the Nazis’ Words:

*The ‘Final Solution of the Jewish question’ as the Nazis euphemistically termed their brutal campaign against Jews within their sphere of influence & control, was consciously planned & implemented. Mechanical, technological, & bureaucratic, it was a coldly executed and deadly efficient system for mass murder carried out with the help of thousands of civil servants, soldiers, railroad employees, policemen, clerks, industrialists - ordinary people.*

“The murder of 6 million Jews would be designed & systematically implemented with all the legal, technological, bureaucratic & propagandist means available to the Nazi German state. -SS squads carried out atrocities, units of Wehrmacht -German army, also active participants. The destruction of the Jews would be so much desired by the Nazi state, that even when it was clear that Germany was heading for military defeat, her anti-Jewish policy would be carried out with even more rigor & determination - even against the German war interest.”


The ‘Final Solution’. Violence - Mass Execution, 1941-1942


The ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem’ began in June 1941, with the German invasion of the Soviet Union and ended with the German capitulation in May 1945. During these 4 years, Jews were savagely persecuted, subjected to every possible pain & humiliation, and murdered in mass shootings or in the gas chambers of extermination camps.9

*In the spring of 1941, the Nazis were poised to invade the western Soviet Union--home for 5 million Jews. The opportunity to carry out the "Final Solution"-- total elimination of Jewish life and culture --was now within reach. By the summer of that year the decision to kill the Jews was implemented.

July 31, 1941, Goering ordered Reinhard Heydrich to make "all necessary preparations with regard to organizational, substantive and financial viewpoints for a total solution of the Jewish question ..."* The details of the ‘Final Solution’ were worked out at the Wannsee Conference, January 1942. The ‘Final Solution’ was Nazis' plan to kill all the Jews. It was carried out mainly by mobile killing squads and in ghettos, concentration camps & death camps. All Jews were marked for eventual extermination.

All Jews in Germany & the occupied countries were deported to sealed ghettos as a holding area. Many were then shipped in cattle cars to labor camps where they lived under brutally inhuman conditions. Hundreds of thousands were forced in concentration camps. These became death camps -where Jews were starved, shot, & killed with poison gas. By 1945, six million Jews were dead through mass executions, starvation, slave labor, and in extermination camps.
Picture An SS trooper takes aim at a Jewish mother and child.

Instructional Objectives - Students will learn that:

1. An entire state bureaucracy was mobilized solely for the purpose of annihilating Jews.

2. German technological expertise was harnessed to make the mass murder as efficient and low-cost as possible.

3. The connection between the war in the Soviet Union and the Final Solution

Who were the figures involved in the decision of the Final Solution, and when was it taken?


The perpetrators - Dehumanization

Throughout the 1930s, Nazi domestic policy was aimed at stripping Jews of any citizenship rights, economic & political rights -depersonalization and dehumanization of the Jews, but first of all, dehumanization of the perpetrators.

‘Had Hitler ordered the destruction of all Jewish life within weeks or months of coming to power, such an undertaking would literally have been impossible to accomplish. By 1941, ... the process of ‘dehumanization’ of the Jews had gradually had its effect and progressively insinuated itself into the consciousness of many Germans ... The various legal measures had, over the years, reduced the Jews both in Germany and elsewhere to a pathetic group of paupers, utterly devoid of rights & dignity. To many Germans, the Jews now did more than merely resemble the grotesque and pornographic caricatures of the Nazi propaganda machine.

How effective this process of dehumanization had been was particularly evident once the war was under way. ... once the invasion of the Soviet Union was in full swing. After all, in Nazi demonology, the Jew had been the principal architect of the Bolshevik Revolution and was the symbol of everything ‘unclean’ that Germany was pitted against in her righteous war of self-defense and purification.

To a small but decisive number of Germans & Austrians, the Jew in the east had become divested of most, if not all, of the attributes associated with human beings - qualities that would generally have invited a measure of identity, sympathy, gentleness and compassion. The Jew was no longer ‘one of us.’ He was the ultimate ‘other.’ He was both ‘our most dangerous enemy’ and contemptible, entirely expendable ‘vermin.’

In ones’ behavior towards the ‘sub-human’ Jew, therefore, all moral restraints could be cast aside - particularly when the state ideology demanded it, when the extremities of war sanctioned it, & when one’s career advancement depended on it. Not only that, but the chain of command, the bureaucratic system of which one was part and the collective group to which one belonged appeared to absolve the individual of all responsibility. What was important was to do one’s duty with skill & efficiency. ... In time, it was possible to grow accustomed to just about anything, especially if new styles of language & methods of implementation were devised which could help distance one from the horror, & even allow one to sustain a sense of moral purpose.’10

The path to the ‘Final Solution’

“Eight key developments ... led progressively ... to the decision which came to be known as the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question.’ ... from the ... unsystematic ... ‘liquidations’ in the front-line Baltic states during the early stages of the war with the Soviet Union, to the methodical extermination processes which were to apply to all Jews in countries under direct German occupation:

1. 6 March & 6 June 1941
Agreement was reached between the army and SS Reich Security Main Office for rules of conduct when the eastern front became active. Specifically, mobile killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) would operate in the rear of the forward line with the aim of ‘liquidating’ potential partisan fighters ... The Reichsfuhrer SS (Himmler) was empowered to act ‘independently’ ... in the execution ...

2. 2 July 1941 Heydrich issued guidelines t the higher SS & police leaders ... concerning actions of the Einsatzgruppen

3. 31 July 1941 Five weeks after the killing squads ... in the Baltic states, Goring, as second in command to Hitler, issued the following instruction to Heydrich: ... for a total solution of the Jewish Question:

4. Summer 1941 Heinrich Himmler, Head of the SS, instructed Rudolph Hoess to start preparing Auschwitz ... as a death camp

5. September 1941 Euthanasia program halted ... majority were gassed to death ... SS Major Christian Wirth was released from his duties ... as head of a euthanasia center and, ... was assigned to take over the supervision of Chelmno, the 1st of 6 death camps ... operational

6. Autumn 1941 The 1st experiment ... on Soviet prisoners of war with Zyklon B gas (hydrogen cyanide), an industrial cleansing & fumigation agent used to remove pesticides. ...

7. October 1941 The 1st deportations of German, Austrian & Czech Jews to Riga & Kovno ... after which they were ghettoized or shot en masse - a move which foreshadowed the transportation eastwards of Jews from all over ...

8. 20 January 1942 - The Wannsee Conference ... its purpose to coordinate the activities of all bodies & organizations whose participation would be needed for the Final Solution. ... Heydrich was able to gain unchallenged administrative supremacy for the SS in all matters ...

Secrecy & deception

‘The secrecy of the ‘operation’ was guarded. Correspondence on the Final Solution was classified top secret. Several devices were used to insure secrecy. The participants in the operation had to sign a special oath of absolute secrecy. Sophisticated methods of deception, fraud & camouflage, devices for presenting actions as harmless, and the special rules for the use of language were employed to prevent the victims & world from learning of the massacres. The secrecy was complete and, to a large extent, effective.’11

The Final Solution - Organs of Implementation

‘The entire Nazi hierarchy was aware of and actively worked to support the "Final Solution." Special departments were set up to deal with the administrative and technological needs of the murderous plans against the Jews. No one could claim they "didn't know."

[Concentration Camp Staff] [Department IV-B-4] [Governors of Occupied Areas]
[Nazi Doctors] [Nazi Leaders] [Nazi Supporters] [Other Pro-Nazi Leaders] SS Leaders
[Special Unit Commanders]

The chief executors of the Final Solution

the Reichsfuehrer-SS & chief of German police, Heinrich Himmler, and his lieutenant, Reinhard Heydrich, chief of security police, later followed by Ernst kaltenbrunner (Jan. 30, 1943). Accordingly, the main implementing agency was the Security Police -its central office, the R.S.H.A. (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), as well as its regional & local organizations, & in particular the department concerned with political enemies, the Gestapo (Amt IV), headed by Henrich Mueller. Section IVB4 of this office (later IVA4b in March 1944), called Jewish Affairs, was headed by Adolf Eichmann, the Referent fro the Final Solution, who dispatched emissaries all over Nazi occupied or controlled territories. An important role in this process was played by the S.S. and police leaders and their units in German-controlled territories, who had jurisdiction over the extermination camps.

SS Leaders

To its leaders, the SS was more than just a high-ranking group of zealots crushing the foes of the Third Reich (The "Third Reich" (third kingdom) was the Nazi name for Germany during the Nazi regime, from 1933-45. The Nazis assumed that the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806 was the First Reich; the German Empire from 1871-1918, the Second Reich; and the Nazi regime, the Third Reich. Hitler forecast that it would last for "a thousand years"). It was "a mystic brotherhood of Teutonic knights." SS leaders were ultimately responsible for the carrying out of the "Final Solution." Its leadership demanded absolute obedience.

The administration of the concentration camps including Auschwitz & Lublin -

Majdanek (Maidanek), was handled by the Main Office of the Administration of the Economy. The persons involved in these Aktionen, and in particularly the personnel of the Einsatzgruppen (in the USSR, mobile killing units), came from all branches of the Security Police, from various units & agencies of the SS, and from the Ordnungspolizei.

These above-mentioned were the main implementors -the agents immediately connected with the extermination process.

Other agencies & individuals, Party & governmental, cooperated to carry out the program:

1. the Chancellery of the the Fuehrer of the NSDAP, which supplied the the extermination camps with expertise and personnel, acquired and trained in the euthanasia operation;

2. the Foreign Office, through special department D III, headed by Martin Luther (its Jewish desk headed by Franz Rademacher), followed by Horst Wagner; and advisers on Jewish affairs of the Eichmann office attached to the embassies.

3. The Reich Chancellery
4. the Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan
5. the ministries of Occupied eastern Territories, Transportation, Economics, Justice, Interior, Propaganda, & Finance; and

6. the army. In addition to these German state & party organs there were:
7. volunteer units of Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Hungarians ...
8. local government forces, such as the Ustashi (Croatian fascist units), Hlinka Guard (Slovak fascist units), the police in ‘Greater Germany,’ & police units in areas under German control, sometimes called ‘willing to help.”12

Map Europe before the collapse of operation Barbarossa, 1941
Comment: Vichy, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria -in dark pink- were under Vichy France of Nazi collaborationist Petain.

The Course of the Final Solution

During the 4-year period from the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 to the German surrender in May 1945, the Jewish people were the helpless victims of a campaign of relentless humiliation, starvation, torture, persecution & slaughter. ... in mass shootings or in the specially designed gas chambers & crematoria of death camps ... Hundreds of thousands of Jews also perished through overwork, malnourishment, disease, on forced marches ... Even after liberation many Jews succumbed to the longer-term effects of their physical wounds & mental trauma.

Extermination strategy

The Holocaust, the actual mass annihilation ... took 2 forms:

1. Mobile killing operations in the Soviet Union (as part of Operation Barbarossa) ...
2. Systematic deportation from all parts ... under Nazi occupation or influence to extermination camps on Polish soil ...

In addition, ghettoization & the internment of Jews in a vast network of concentration & labor camps would end the lives of countless thousands through overwork, starvation & epidemic without the need for ‘evacuating to the East.”13

The German Invasion of the Soviet Union

Mar-Apr.1941: Agreement between high command of German army & Reichsfuehrer-SS Himmler, outlined the mission of the Einsatzgruppen in areas of anticipated German-Soviet hostilities. “Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union & the ensuing preparations for it in the spring of 1941 were especially significant in the accelerating movement toward the mass murder of European Jewry. The invasion of the Soviet Union promised to aggravate the conditions of the vicious circle in which the Germans had entrapped themselves, for each new military success increased the number of Jews under their control whom they were committed to get rid of through a ‘final solution’ of one kind or another. The campaign against Russia, as Hitler made clear to his generals, was to be not a conventional war, but a war of destruction against National Socialism's racial & ideological enemies. Not only was Lebensraum to be conquered, but Bolshevism & its Jewish progenitor were to be eradicated.”

The war against the Soviet Union was therefore marked by 2 different kinds of objectives:
1. a genocidal racial war primarily against the Jews & others, such as the Gypsies, who were viewed as racially expendable, & the more conventional objective of
2. reducing the Soviet population by 30 million make room for German settlers.’14

Death by Design: The Invasion of the Soviet Union

"The fight will be very different from the fight in the West. In the East, harshness is kindness toward the future. The commanders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of overcoming their scruples." Adolf Hitler, March 30, 1941

*On June 22, 1941, Hitler ignored a non-aggression pact he had signed with the Soviet Union in August 1939, & Germany invaded the Soviet Union, to save Europe from ‘Jewish Bolshevism;’ by September, the German army was approaching Moscow. Operation Barbarossa, surprised Stalin. Soviet Union was caught off guard. In the months preceding this invasion, Nazi leadership had decided to destroy all the Jews of the Soviet Union. Immediately behind the invading forces, specially trained mobile assault units of the SS (Einsatzgruppen), with the assistance of local populations, police & civil authorities, began the systematic murder of Jews. Mass shootings in open trenches or pits were often carried out in full view of local populations, Wehrmacht soldiers and military officials. A policy of annihilation was visible fact by 1941.

*In 1941, the Nazis made plans for what they called a ‘Final Solution’ to the Jewish ‘problem.’

Hitler’s forces conquered grain producing Ukraine, moved on the oil wells of the Caucasus. By Sept. ‘41, Germans neared Moscow, pushing more than 600 miles to the gates of Moscow & Leningrad, by Oct. By the end of 1941, Hitler’s forces had taken extensive areas of Russia’s western empire, including most of the Ukraine.

*The fate of the Jews in occupied territories often varied according to local attitude. In the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) as well as in the Ukraine, local populations collaborated in the persecution of Jews. Confiscation of property, slave labor, random violence, and murder were commonplace. *

Einsatzgruppen: Mobile Killing Squads or "Special Action Squads" - death squads

"The place of the execution was isolated in order to avoid that the civilian population would unnecessarily become witness of a spectacle. The execution commando was posted on the other side of the antitank ditch and the persons which were designated to be executed were shot dead from behind as quickly as possible." Dr. Werner Braune, Head of Einsatzgruppe D, Nuremberg, July 8, 1947

In the beginning of the systematic mass murder of Jews, Nazis used mobile killing squads, Einsatzgruppen, specially trained units of the S.S. By 1941, the focus & function of the Einsatzgruppen, had changed significantly. With the initiation of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's assault on the Soviet Union, the mobile killing units operated over a wide area of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Ukraine, & Black Sea.

*In the spring of 1941, the SS organized 4 SS Action Groups -mobile killing squads (main divisions, between 500 and 900 men each) of the Einsatzgruppen for the occupied Soviet Union & Baltic regions: Groups A, B, C and D. These specifically trained murder units followed invading troops to capture and eliminate ‘Jews, communists, and other Soviet officials’ - their orders were to execute on the spot all undesirables: political "criminals,’ Communists, Polish governmental officials, Gypsies & mostly, Jews, in mass executions, at improvised sites throughout German-occupied Soviet Union. These groups, all under Heydrich's general command June-Dec. Hitler, distrustful of the will of his generals to carry out his intended ‘war of annihilation,’ appointed Heinrich Himmler to carry out ‘special tasks’ on the eastern front. *

July 31, 1941 - The Authorization for the "Final Solution"

As Poland ghettos more crowded, Nazis considered program of genocide -plan to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe. In 1941, the Nazis made plans for what they called a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish ‘problem.’

When did Hitler decide on the Final Solution: One of the most interesting, and hotly debated, aspects of the Holocaust is when Hitler ordered it to begin. As far as is known, there is no document extant which shows who decide, when and how, to commence the total extermination of the Jews. Many historians believe that no such order was ever put down in writing.

“Precisely when and how instructions were given is not known, but Goring, Himmler, and Heydrich now knew what Hitler expected of them. On July 31, 1941, Heydrich visited Goring and had him sign an authorization to prepare and submit "an overall plan of the organizational, functional, and material measures to be taken in preparing for the implementation of the aspired final solution of the Jewish question." (Encyclopedia)

Order from Hermann Göring to Reinhard Heydrich
Berlin, July 31, 1941
To Gruppenführer Heydrich:
Supplementing the task assigned to you by the decree of January 24, 1939, to solve
the Jewish problem by means of emigration and evacuation in the best possible way
according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as
regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution
(Gesamtlösung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under
German occupation.

Where the competency of other central organizations touches on this matter, these
organizations are to collaborate.

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the
administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the
desired final solution (Endlösung) of the Jewish question.

“With the formation of the Einsatzgruppen, systematic mass murder as a method of solving the Nazis' self - imposed "Jewish question" began. Even then, however, the evolution to the ‘Final Solution’ was not yet complete. The Einsatzgruppen were targeted against Jews in the newly occupied territories only, and moved into their tasks gradually as their commanders tested the limits of their men and of army cooperation, as well as the usefulness of local collaboration.

Only in late July or early August 1941, did all the mobile killing units begin the systematic mass murder of all Jews in the Russian territories, including women and children. At this point, Hitler stood at the pinnacle of his success. Victory seemed imminent, and Hitler faced the intoxicating prospect of having all of Europe at his feet. In the euphoria of the conquest of Poland, he had approved plans for a massive demographic reorganization on Polish territory, including the expulsion of Jews to the Lublin Reservation. With victory over France, he had approved the Madagascar Plan. Now, with the seeming victory over Russia, his last inhibitions fell away.”

was stopped on October. 1, 1941.
“It is good that we are preceded by an aura of terror for our plans to exterminate Jewry.”
Adolf Hitler to Heydrich and Himmler, Octover, 25, 1941.

Babi Yar

"By reason of their birth and race. all Jews are part of an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany....The treatment we give them does them no wrong. They have more than deserved it." Josef Goebbels, November 16, 1941

The procedure was similar throughout German-occupied Soviet territory. Local populations were encouraged to murder Jews and seize their abandoned property. At the same time, the Waffen SS and local collaborators rounded up groups of Jews (men, women & children) in every village, transported to a wooded area, or a ravine -either natural or constructed by Jewish labor; & they removed them to mass burial pits; the Jews were stripped, shot dead & buried. The most famous (or infamous, as the case may be), is Babi Yar, near Kiev, where an estimated 33,000 persons, mostly Jews were murdered, then buried.

Sachar provides a description of one of the most brutal mass "exterminations" -- at a ravine named "Babi Yar," near the Ukranian city of Kiev: "Kiev ... contained a Jewish population of 175,000 on the eve of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The Nazi forces captured the city in mid-September. Within less than a fortnight, on the 29th. and 30th., nearly 34,000 Jews of the ghetto of Kiev were rounded up by the Einsatzgruppen for ‘resettlement.’ Thousands of Jews with such pathetic belongings as they could carry, were brought to a suburban ravine known as Babi Yar, near the Jewish Cemetery; they were herded into barbed-wire areas at the top of the ravine, guarded by Ukrainian collaborators. There they were stripped of their clothes and beaten, then led in irregular squads down the side of the ravine.

The first groups, men, women, and children, were forced to lie on the ground, face down, and were systematically machine-gunned by the Germans who kept up a steady volley, in a two-day orgy of execution. The riddled bodies were covered with thin layers of earth & the next groups were ordered to lie over them, to be similarly killed. Many who were not wounded, including thousands of children, were thrown into the pit of bodies and were buried alive. To carry out the murder of 34,000 human beings in the space of 2 days could not assure that all the victims had died. Hence there were a few who survived &, though badly wounded, managed to crawl from under the corpses & seek a hiding place.

According to an account in The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, Ukrainian militia men joined in the slaughter. The records of the Einsatzgruppen unit which participated in the executions recorded 33,771 Jews killed at Babi Yar on September 29-30. In all, more than 100,000 persons, most of them Jews, were executed at Babi Yar between 1941-1943 by the Nazis - in subsequent months, most of the remaining population was exterminated. In the summer of 1943, the bodies were dug out by slave labor and burned to hide the evidence of the slaughter.

This, the most appalling massacre of the war, is often alluded to as a prime example of utter Jewish helplessness in the face of disaster. But even the few desperate attempts, almost completely futile, to strike back served as a reminder that the difference between resistance and submission depended very largely upon who was in possession of the arms that back up the will to do or die.

“They broke out crying wailed, screamed. Some tried to escape on the way there but they were shot dead....The condemned were stripped of their clothes. and in groups of three hundred they were forced into the ditches. First they threw in the children. The women were shot at the edge of the ditch, after that it was the turn of the men. Many were covered while they were still alive." Dr. Helen Kutorgene, Survivor, Kovno, Lithuania, October 28, 1941

After the main massacre, the site was converted into a more permanent camp to which thousands of victims from other parts of the Ukraine could be sent for extermination. It became known as the Syrets camp, taking its name from a nearby Kiev neighborhood. Several hundred selected prisoners were quartered there -- carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, and other artisans -- to serve the needs of the SS men and the Ukrainian guards. They were usually killed within a few weeks and replaced by others who continued their duties. In charge of the administration and ultimate killing was Paul von Radomski, who seemed to crave a reputation for outdoing his sadist colleagues in other camps." (from Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983).

“In towns & villages throughout the occupied territories of the Soviet Union -in eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Byelorussia, Ukraine & the Crimea- the same dreadful picture emerged. ... over 1,300,000 Jews were shot to death by the Einzatzgruppen within 18 months of the invasion of the Soviet Union.”15

The Einsatzgruppen & the Order Police

‘Operating in concert with the Einsatzgruppen in the massacre of Jews were the regular German police units known as the Order Police (ORPO), who were commanded by Kurt Daluege. The approximately 100,000 members of the Oder Police were used for the roundup or killing or Jews. ... In the invasion of the Soviet Union, ORPO units were found in all 4 of the Einsatzgruppen formations & participated in the massacres of Jews & communists. ... Unlike the SS & its Einsatzgruppen formations, Order Police units were not necessarily motivated by ideological or even antisemitic convictions ... they appeared to be ordinary Germans ...

In other part of the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen were aided by the Romanian forces ... & local auxiliaries.’16

or click on ‘map’ at:

It is estimated that by the end of 1942, they had killed more than a million Soviet Jews. These victims were shot or loaded into enclosed trucks modified for the introduction of carbon monoxide to asphyxiate its victims - in sept. 1941, Nazis began using vans-trucks. An additional 400,000 were killed by other S.S. units, antisemitic native civilians, police units, and the German army.

The gassing vans-trucks were used until the completion of the 1st death camp, Chelmno, which began operation in late 1941. Under SS supervision, mobile vans equipped for the purpose of mass murder were first used in December 1941 at the Chelmno camp, to gas Jews.

‘On orders from my department, I too drove a gas-van from Berlin to Minsk. These vans had been constructed with a lockable cargo compartment, like a moving van... I was detailed with the gas-van to about twelve convoys of arriving Jews. It was in 1942. There were about a thousand Jews in each convoy. With each arrival I made five or six trips with my van. Some of the Jews were shot. I myself never shot a single Jew; I only gassed them...

A ghetto operation took place in the autumn of 1943. I was put into action only once with the gas-van. I made three trips with it to the execution site. I gassed about 150 to 180 people.’ Erich Gnewuch testifies about gassings in Nazi-occupied USSR, 1942-3 [Quoted in "Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas", edited by E. Kogon, H. Langbein, and A. Rueckerl, Yale University Press, 1993, p. 57-9]
*By 1943, over 1,400,000 Jews were executed in the occupied Soviet Union*

Entire communities were literally erased. Towns disappeared. German execution of the handicapped & institutionalized made its way into the Soviet Union as well. As a result, more than 3 million Soviet prisoners of war were murdered. Indeed, the Germans were effective. According to historian, Raul Hilberg, the mobile killing units murdered 1.4 million Jews in occupied territories of the USSR, between 1941 and the end of the war in 1945.

The killers used language to distance themselves, referring to these executions as "special actions," or "special treatments," so that they could distance themselves from it; many drank to help ease their minds. Keep in mind that these killing squads were not angry rioters, nor gangs of street thugs, but ordinary people who were "just following orders," indeed, Nazi training taught that this was a task of eliminating enemies of the state, not a racist plot.

Himmler’s order for construction of annihilation camps

Despite the effectiveness of the Einsatzgruppen, & the large numbers of Jews murdered in mass shootings 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 & regular Wehrmacht (regular German army) troops (there was in fact the active participation of considerable numbers of regular German soldiers; many of whom volunteered to help the SS). 2nd, there are indications that such firing squad activities were having a demoralizing effect on those military personnel who participated. Some could only cope by drinking a lot, because it was too messy a business - particularly the close-range shooting of women & children.

Once the decision had been reached to kill all the Jews, a more discreet method had to be devised. Himmler suggested that an efficient, "more humane" & "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, specially trained staff for mass extermination, and using poison gas. It is believed that his order for construction of annihilation camps was issued the late summer of 1941.

Euthanasia program & success of Einsatzgruppen had 2 important consequences for German policy: 1) extermination was not a viable option;
2) the technology of gassing had already been successfully tested & demonstrated.

‘The decision to introduce the gas chamber & the crematorium as the most efficient means of murder marks the unprecedented characteristics of the Holocaust. The technology, the chemicals, & the willingness of the Nazis to use both in behalf of their ideological objectives already had been demonstrated in the euthanasia program, as well as in the liquidation of the Polish leadership. The turn to genocide appears to have been made with little hesitation.’17

The System of Extermination

‘The physical setting of the concentration camp, the killing methods of euthanasia, and the deportation programs were combined to create a system of execution of extermination. In relative secrecy, a small number of camp personnel using assembly - line techniques could kill millions of victims, brought trainload by trainload, day after day, to these factories of death. A bureaucratic apparatus, detached from direct contact with the killing process but long inured to the notion that the Jews had to be removed one way or another, could perform all the diverse functions necessary to uproot and ship to their death millions of people. The German population in general, accepting the notion of the Jew as an enemy against whom it was legitimate for the state to take preventive measures, looked on with indifference.

The first gassing experiment was conducted in Auschwitz in early September and construction of 2 extermination camps at Belzec & Chelmno began in late October or early November 1941. The first mass murder of German Jews took place in Kovno & Riga in late November and early December, and the first extermination camp, at Chelmno, began full - time operations also in early December.”

On October 23, 1941, S.S. head Heinrich Himmler issued an order down the Nazi chain of command which heralded a major change in Nazi policy with respect to the ‘Jewish problem.’ Until then, the Nazis worked vigorously to encourage Jews to emigrate. This shift in policy resulted in the deportation of Jews to camps & ghettos in the East. (The ghettoization process was merely a necessary 1st step in organizing the extermination operation; then the incorporated territories could be re-populated with ethnic Germans (Ger. volksdeutsche from the Baltic states, Austria, etc). The policy to "resettle" Jews to ghettos & camps was a significant step in what was to become the "Final Solution" the systematic murder of millions of Jews (Grobman).

Deportations to the East

In response to the new ‘resettlement’ policy (the ‘Final Solution’ - Gesamtlosung, in the context of genocide), the 1st death camps were designed. Chelmno was the site of the first gassing of Jews, which occurred on December 8, 1941. The Nazi war machine had limited resources, including slave labor, much of it Jewish. Even so, the Nazis made a decision that the annihilation of the Jews of Europe was a more important achievement than the value of their labor. Similarly, the Nazis made a decision not to let the need for transport for the war effort interfere with the need for trucks and rail cars to carry the Jews to concentration camps and death centers.

Deportation was the 1st step in the ‘Final Solution.’ ‘In Germany, the process that led to the liquidation of German Jewry began in October 1941, when transports of Jews were sent to the Lodz & Warsaw ghettos, as well as to Riga, Kovno, & Minsk in the German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union. In Riga & Minsk, the Jews were killed on arrival.’18

The Trains

*The Nazi strategy to accomplish efficiently the "physical extermination" of European Jews required mass deportation & transportation of Jews; they were sent to ghettos, concentration camps & killing centers*

Typically, the Jews were informed that they were going to be resettled for work. Each was told to take some clothing, blankets, shoes, eating utensils (but no knife), a bowl, & some money. Rounded up, they were herded into trucks for the trip to the rail station, or were forced to walk. The rail cars were often strategically located at a distance from the passenger terminals, so that this scene would not arouse the ire of the local populace. Many who did see chose not to protest. The deportees were forced into rail cars, most of which were windowless, unheated cattle cars, & squeezed in so tightly that most were forced to stand. The doors were then sealed shut from the outside. Neither drinking water nor sanitary facilities were available.

Each car held more than 120 people, & many froze or suffocated to death or succumbed to disease during the trip to the camps - *the trains were so tightly packed, and food so meager, that many, especially the children and the elderly, died of suffocation, starvation, and exposure.* The dead were not removed from the cars during the journey because the Nazi bureaucracy insisted that each body entering a car be accounted for at the destination. (Grobman) *German railroad personnel carried out the tasks in an efficient manner. They acted as proper bureaucrats striving to do the best job possible. *

Pictures: Deportation of German Jews from Bielefeld to Riga, December 13, 1941.
Deportation of Jews to concentration camp. CL:Wiener Library, London
A French railroad car carries Jews to Auschwitz- Birkenau in the late summer of 1944. *

Adolph Eichmann

Transporting enough Jews to feed the death camps was a major logistical undertaking. Nazi officer in charge of this duty: Adolf Eichmann, masterminded the logistics of the deportation of Jews; he traveled from country to country that was under German occupation to systematically plan the deportation of the local Jewish population to the death camps.

Eichmann received various levels of cooperation from each of the various occupied governments. But in countries such as Holland, Belgium, Albania, Denmark, Finland and Bulgaria, some Jews were saved from their deaths by the action of the sympathetic populace & government officials. Denmark's government & populace were exemplary in their heroism in saving Jews. In other countries such as Poland, Greece, France, and Yugoslavia, the deportation of Jews to the death camps was facilitated by the
cooperation of the government.

Methods of psychological warfare to conceal mass murder

‘In implementing the Final Solution, including the deportations to the death camps, the Nazis ruthlessly used terror & various methods of psychological warfare. Random shooting ... The Nazis were as deceitful in their conduct toward the victims, their relatives, & their leaders as they had been in their general strategy of concealing the extermination program and all traces of their crimes from the public.

The deliberate deception started with the first news of impending deportation which leaked into the ghetto & did not end even at the entry to the gas chamber. When ghetto inmates learned of deportations & of the fate of the deportees, they appealed to their leaders. Nazis authorities forcefully expressed denials ... When Jews were collected for deportation, they were told that they were being sent, e.g., for agricultural labor in the Ukraine, that “superfluous elements, unemployed, were being resettled in the east, where they would find work. ... In Western Europe, they were told of Jewish ‘settlements’ in the east;”19 that this was the 1st & last deportation ... The German went so far as to charge Jews for a one-way train fare. Railway personnel reported to deportees’ relatives about their ‘good life’ in new places ... to transmit letters to them. Deportees from Hungary to Auschwitz were made to write to their relatives that they were in Waldsee, a summer resort in Austria.’20

“The Nazi pretense and camouflage were successful in deceiving the Jews until the very last moment. Rumors about the death camps were met with skepticism. no one with any common sense could believe such a gruesome possibility. ... The pretense & deception continued to the end, to the very threshold of the gas chambers.”21 Upon arrival in the extermination camp, the victims could detect no visible signs of the disaster. The chambers were camouflaged & the entry was made to look like a disinfection shower.

Regarding the 'camouflage' of/during the Holocaust, I should like to quote a perpetrator (Henri Nannen): ‘...when they were picked up, where were they taken? The many families from my hometown Emden, the Weiss', Levi, Cohn and others with German names like Windmueller and Visser and Gloess---whatever their names. Where did they go? Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek -- did anyone really believe these were the true destinations of racially different neighbors? The selection ramps at the Polish railroad stations; some sent to work because they were still able to do that, the others into the gas chambers, immediately. This must have been discussed in the (various) hometowns. Maybe not in every detail, thanks to the discretion with which the murderous machinery was operated.

But, those who did not cover their eyes and ears or disconnect their brain had to know that the most perfect of all possible crimes was conducted here. We had to know if we wanted to know. The soldiers at the Eastern front had to know about mass shooting of Jews, about mass graves. I knew it. I knew that helpless people were destroyed like one would exterminate insects, in the name of Germany. And I wore the uniform of an officer of the Luftwaffe. Yes, I knew it and I lacked the courage to protest....."

Dec. 7, 1941: Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor US enters war

Italy, Rumania, & Hungary all had joined the Axis Powers by this time, led by Germany (the Axis refers to the political, military, & ideological alliance of Nazi Germany, Italy, & Japan. During WWII, the term, ‘Axis countries.’ also came to be applied to other states allied with Germany, which had joined the anti-Comintern Pact. These included, Hungary, Rumania, Slovakia, & Bulgaria).

President Franklin D. Roosevelt & isolationism: Europe’s wars were of no concern to US. US Lend-Lease program helped Allies. Aug. 1941, Churchill & Roosevelt agree to the Atlantic Charter -statement where the war aims of the democracies were expressed.
Dec. 7,1941: Japan attacks Pearl Harbor in Hawaii -American naval base , Malaya, Hong Kong, forcing US to enter the war against Japan & Germany; H. declared war on US 4 days later. The Allied Powers consisted of the British Commonwealth, Free France, the United States, & the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, together with Great Britain and the United States, turned the tide of battle against Germany.

The Wannsee Conference, Jan 20, 1942 - The Final Solution, a cooperative effort
Intention & Improvisation. German bureaucracy & mass murder

The Wannsee Protocol - Document

Re-examining the Wannsee Conference:

The last step in turning the idea of the ‘Final Solution’ (code name assigned by the German bureaucracy to the annihilation of the Jews) into reality was the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942. At this conference, Reinhard Heydrich & his Jewish expert, Adolf Eichmann, met with the state secretaries of the ministerial bureaucracy - high ranking government & party officials. Most of those attending were already aware that Jews were being killed, but the full scope of the mass - murder program was only now revealed. .... Heydrich requested the support of the state secretaries, was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm for the project. In 1942, with victory postponed, the Nazis made a virtue of necessity, proclaiming that the "Final Solution" had to be effected during the war to avoid an outcry from abroad:

*The plan for the total annihilation of European & French North African Jewry was formalized at the Wannsee Conference, convened in Wannsee, a Berlin suburb, by Reinhard Heydrich, Security Service head -head of the S.S. main office, & S.S. Chief Heinrich Himmler's top aide, to discuss the administrative policies for implementing the "Final Solution." *

The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate the activities of all agencies concerned with the Final Solution and the methods to be used -the Nazi bureaucracy required to carry out the "Final Solution," which provided for:

- Mass deportation of Jews to killing centers.
- Immediate death for those who were unable to work or the very young, the old, and the weak
- Segregation by gender of the remaining Jews.
- Decimation through forced slave labor with insufficient nourishment.
- Eventual death for the remnant.

*At the conference, Heydrich made it clear that the "Final Solution" would involve shipment & death for all Jews incapable of slave labor. The remainder would be worked to death.* Heydrich S.S. proposed mass killings of Jews. It was official state policy, the 1st ever to advocate the murder of an entire people. It was also the 1st time non-Nazi leaders were entirely informed of the Nazi plan- not one spoke out against it.

At Wannsee, the Nazis also noted the number of the Jews to be killed: At this meeting, the Nazi officials agreed to SS plans for the transport and destruction of 11 million Jews, from Ireland to the Urals and from Scandinavia to Spain & North Africa, were the intended victims. The Nazis would use the latest in twentieth century technology, cost efficient engineering and mass production techniques for the sole purpose of killing off the following racial groups: Jews, Russian prisoners of war, and Gypsies (Sinti-Roma). Their long range plans, unrealized, included targeting some 30 million Slavs for death.

The Wannsee Conference as a cooperative effort

“The cooperation displayed by German government officials attending the Wannsee Conference (WC) was necessary for implementing the Final Solution. The killing process required the participation of the bureaucratic apparatus of the German state, and the consensus reached at the WC ensured this cooperation. German sociologist Max Weber wrote ... that when fully developed, bureaucracy stands for the principle of ‘without scorn and bias.’ Weber observed that to the degree that the modern bureaucracy eliminates from its duties love, hatred, and other emotional and irrational elements, it fulfills its functions. “Precision, speed, unambiguity ... strict subordination ... -these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization.’ ... (that was) the role of the Nazi bureaucracy in the Holocaust

The logistics required to murder millions of people necessitated that German bureaucrats implement directives that came from the architects of the Holocaust. German railway officials ... scheduled the trains that carried Jews to extermination camps in Poland. The confiscation of Jewish property ... required assistance from the Finance Ministry ... armament inspectorates ... concerned with forced labor. Christian ministers provided baptismal certificates that allowed Nazis to determine Jewish ancestry. The medical profession sanctioned the medical experiments ... in the concentration camps. Architects & civil engineers designed & constructed the installations for efficient mass annihilation. The Degesh (German Vermin-Combating Corporation), supplied the Zyklon B that made the gassing process possible. The planned murder of million of Jews was a major government project that required the assistance of many segments of German society. ’22

For Heydrich the Wannsee Conference was a success, and as chief planner for the Final Solution, he began preparations for the deportation of the Jews to the extermination camps.


January, 30, 1939, Hitler publicly signified his intent in a speech to the Reichstag
Eve of invasion of Poland, September 1, 1939, Hitler’s speech to his generals

Who, after all, talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?

Oct. 1940, Madagascar Plan

Jan. 21-26 Iron Guard (Rumanian fascist organization) butchers hundreds of Rumanian Jews Mar-Apr. agreement between high command of German army & Reichsfuehrer-SS outlined

the mission of the Einsatzgruppen in areas of anticipated German-Soviet hostilities

March Adolf Eichmann appointed head of Gestapo department for Jewish affairs
April 6 Germany attacks Yugoslavia and Greece, occupation follows

Spring 1941: four Einsatzgruppen

by May 1941 - the order to destroy existed

May 15, 1941, Vichy govt. sends 5,000 Parisian Jews between 18 & 40 to labor camps
May 27, sinking of the Bismark by the British Navy
June 13, Vichy reports the deportation of 12,000 French Jews to concentration camps
for interfering with Franco-German cooperation.
June 22, Germany invasion of the Soviet Union - Operation Barbarossa begins
Summer - Himmler summons Hoss to Berlin & tells him: Fuhrer ordered the Final Solution
June, Nazi SS Einsatzgruppen begin mass murder
June-Dec. Nazi Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squad) conducts mass murder of Jews
in German-occupied Soviet territory
July 3, Stalin calls for a scorched earth policy
July 8, 41: Wearing of the Jewish Star was decreed in the German-occupied Baltic states.
July 10, German cross the River Dnipper in the Ukraine
Jul. 21, Majdanek, Poland, concentration camp operational
July 31 - Goring instruct Heydrick to prepare for ‘Final Solution
S.S. Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich was appointed by Goering who
instructs him to carry out the "Final Solution", the murder of all the Jews.
Aug. 1941 Babi Yar. Jews of Kiev
Aug. 20, Nazi siege of Leningrad begins
Sept. 1, Nazis order Jews to wear the yellow Star of David decreed in the Greater Reich
Sept. 3 - the 1st gassing experiment - test use of Zyklon-B gas, at Auschwitz

Sept. 17, beginning of general deportation of German Jews
Sept. 19, Nazis take Kiev

Sept. 28/29, SS Einsatzgruppen murder 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev

Oct. 1, - All Jewish emigration was halted.
Oct. 8, Auschwitz II (Birkenau), established for the extermination of Jews; Gypsies,
Poles, Russians, and others were also murdered at the camp
Oct. 14, Mass deportation to concentration camps of Jews from all over
Nazi-controlled Europe began.
Oct, transports of German Jews to the Lodz & Warsaw ghettos, Riga, Kovno, & Minsk
Oct. 23, Nazis forbid emigration of Jews from the Reich

Oct. 23, S.S. head H. Himmler issued order -deportation of Jews to camps & ghettos

October 23, 1941 - 34,000 were massacred in Odessa.
Oct. 28, 1941 - 34,000 were massacred in Kiev.
Nov. 6, 1941 - 15,000 were massacred in Rovno.
Nov 24, Theresienstadt ghetto established

Dec. 7 Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Next day, the US & Britain declare war on Japan

Dec. 8, 1941 - Chelmno (Kulmhof) death camp on Ner River, Poland begins operations:

1st gassing took place; 340,000 Jews, 20,000 Poles and Czechs murdered by April 1943

Dec. 8 - 27,000 were massacred in Riga.
Dec. 11, Germany declared war on the US. Roosevelt declares war on Germany
*Dec. 12, ship ‘Struma’ leaves Rumania for Palestine carrying 769 Jews but is later denied
permission by British authorities to allow the passengers to disembark.
1942 Jan liquidation of the Lodz ghetto; Jews transported to Chelmo death camp

Mass killings of Jews using Zyklon-B begin at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Bunker I
Jan 20, Wannsee Conference in Berlin

Heydrich outlines plan to murder Jews, & to coordinate the ‘Final Solution.’

Feb. the ship ‘Struma’sails back into the Black Sea where it is intercepted by a
Soviet submarine & sunk as an ‘enemy target.’


Auschwitz - The most infamous and largest of the Nazi death camps, located near Cracow in Southwestern Poland. The camp was expanded in August, 1942. Camp II was named Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Babi Yar - An area in the Soviet Union near Kiev, where thousands of civilians, most of whom were Jews, were murdered by the Nazis.

Belzek, Death Camp located in the Lublin District of Poland. More than 600,000 Jews were gassed at Belzek between 1941 and 1943.

Chelmo, generally thought to be the first of the six death camps in Poland to become operational. At the beginning, the camp was under the direction of SS Major, Christian Wirth, formerly administrative head of the Euthanasia Program. Located in the Wartheland. Between December 1941 and fall 1942 and again from May until August 1944 gassings by means of carbon monoxide from motor exhaust gas took place. Altogether more than 150,000 Jews as well as 5000 gypsies died at Chelmo.

Concentration Camp: Any internment camp for holding "enemies of the Third Reich." The construction of concentration camps began almost immediately after Hitler gained power in Germany. There were several kinds: labor camps, prison camps and death camps.

Dachau,a concentration camp located in Upper Bavaria, northeast of Munich. In 1942 a gas chamber was established at in connection with the medical experiments of the chief company commander of SS Dr. Rascher also a few experimental gassings were undertaken.

Death Camps, or Killing Centers, a concentration camp, in mostly rural areas, the distinct purpose of which was the extermination of its inmates -for mass murder. Almost all of the German death camps were located in Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzek, Chelmo, Madjanek, Sobibor, Treblinka. Maidanek, Chelmno and Belzec) were established solely for the extermination of Jews.

Einsatzgruppen - "Special Action Squads" of the S.S. which had as their mission to seek out and murder Jews, Communists and Gypsies.

extermination - Mass murder, in the context of the killing of Jews in a manner which would be no less heinous than the killing of insects.

Final Solution - The term used by the Nazis to describe their program of mass murder of the Jewish people.

labor camp - A prison camp where the prisoners were used as slave labor for German industry and war machine.

zyklon B - A cyanide gas developed to kill Jews at Auschwitz in a manner which was more efficient than using carbon monoxide gas.

Copyright Fall 1999, November 2003, January 2004 Edith Shaked
Credit/source: Gary M. Grobman, The Holocaust - A guide for Teachers, 1990

1 Bauer, Yehuda, A Past that Will Not Go Away, in The Holocaust and History - The Knowon, the Unknown, the Disputed and the Reexamined; eds: Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck; published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; 1998

2 Y. Bauer. “Genocide: Was it the Nazi’s Original Plan?

3 Bauer interviewed by michael Dunn in 1993

4 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 162

5 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 163

6 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 163

7 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, pp. 116-117

8 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 163-4

9 The Holocaust, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Martyrs & Heroes Remembrance Authority

10 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 184-85

11 Jacob Robinson, The Holocaust, p.26

12 Jacob Robinson, The Holocaust, pp. 29-30

13 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 164

14 Jack R. Fischel, The Holocaust, p. 38

15 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 172

16 Jack R. Fischel, The Holocaust, p. 41

17 Jack R. Fischel, The Holocaust, p. 43

18 Jack R. Fischel, The Holocaust, p. 60

19 The Holocaust, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Martyrs & Heroes Remembrance Authority

20 Jacob Robinson, The Holocaust, pp. 35-36

21 The Holocaust, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Martyrs & Heroes Remembrance Authority, pp. 50, 48

22 Jack Fischel, The Holocaust, pp. 53-54