Goebbels on the Jews, Part 1
Thomas DaltonJoseph Goebbels was nothing if not disciplined. Since his 26th birthday in late 1923, he maintained a near-daily diary until his death more than 21 years later. These entries are at once unique and invaluable in their ability to provide insight into the Nazi hierarchy, ideology, and operation. Nothing else like them exists. No other leading Nazi figure recorded such personal and intimate thoughts on an on-going basis throughout the war. Hitler’s Mein Kampf was written in 1923 and 1924, but he published nothing later. The comments recorded in Hitler’s Table Talk (1953) are the closest to Goebbels’ writings, but these cover in detail only the period July 1941 to September 1942, and they furthermore have not much to add to the topic at hand. We of course have the speeches by Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and other leading figures, but such words were designed for an intended effect and did not necessarily give an honest and unvarnished representation of ideas or events. Goebbels’s diaries were held private for his entire life. He never intended to publish them, although he clearly expected them to survive the war as a permanent record of his thoughts, for posterity. They offer us an irreplaceable look at Nazi history and evolution, the lead-up and conduct of the war, and, especially, Nazi policy on the Jews.
Photo is in the public domain.Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The diaries themselves first surfaced a few years after the war. An unknown scavenger came upon the bundles of originals—some 7,000 pages in total—in the ruins of the official German archives. Pages were burned, soaked, and many were missing. They “passed through several hands,” eventually becoming acquired by an American diplomat. In 1948 a (very) partial English translation by Louis Lochner appeared, on selected entries from 1942 and 1943. Unknown at the time, the Soviets had acquired a full set of glass plate prints of the entire diary series, amounting to roughly 75,000 individual sheets. By various obscure means, portions leaked out over the years. Then in 1992, David Irving (re)discovered the full set in the Soviet archives, and was able to fill in all the missing gaps. These were put to good use in his 1996 work Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich—the only complete biography published to date.
Today, there are four English translations of different parts of the diary: (1) the original Lochner translation; (2) Oliver Watson’s “early entries,” from the years 1925-1926; (3) Fred Taylor’s translation of the period 1939-1941; and (4) Richard Barry’s “final entries” of 1945. These four books combined constitute not more than 10% of the total; a full 90% of the diaries have never appeared in English.
Fortunately, though, with Irving’s discovery in 1992, the German publisher Saur was able to produce a complete and authoritative set, in the German original: Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. The full set runs to 29 volumes of roughly 500 pages each, and is divided into 2 parts (or Teils): Part 1 from 1923-1941, and Part 2 from 1941-1945. The final volume was released only in 2006, and so the complete set is still relatively new to researchers. Very few have made good use of it.
Of particular interest here are Goebbels’s disclosures about Nazi policy toward a final solution (Endlösung) of the Jewish Question, which of course directly relate to our conception of the Holocaust. On the standard view, the entire Nazi leadership, Hitler above all, were rabid anti-Semites who would settle for nothing less than the mass murder of every Jew they could get their hands on. They allegedly pursued this objective even to the detriment of the war effort, and rounded up and gassed Jews until the final few months. Their alleged 6 million victims were burned, buried, or otherwise made to vanish, such that traces of a mere fraction of these bodies have ever been found.
There are, as we know, many problems with this account. First is the fact that no ‘extermination order’ from Hitler has ever been discovered—nor even any tangible reference to such. Hilberg was reduced to nonsense in his “mind reading” statement of 1983, and even as late as 2003 he was compelled to write:
The process of destruction…did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. … The destruction process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead. … In the final analysis, the destruction of the Jews was not so much a product of laws and commands as it was a matter of spirit, of shared comprehension, of consonance and synchronization. (2003: 50-52)Even preeminent British Hitler expert Ian Kershaw could not do much better. The Soviet archives were opened up in the early 1990s; “predictably, a written order by Hitler for the ‘Final Solution’ was not found. The presumption that a single explicit written order had ever been given had long been dismissed by most historians” (2008: 96). Rather, this most momentous destruction of human life occurred via “improvised bureaucratic initiatives whose dynamic prompted a process of ‘cumulative radicalization’ in the fragmented structures of decision-making in the Third Reich” (p. 94)—a statement hardly more coherent than Hilberg’s.
Nothing in Goebbels’s diaries changes this situation. As Irving (1996: 388) observes, “Nowhere do the diary’s 75,000 pages refer to an explicit order by Hitler for the murder of the Jews.” On the contrary: we find repeated and consistent reference only to expulsion and deportation.
Second, and more importantly, once the alleged extermination process was underway, we have no direct evidence that either Hitler or Goebbels knew anything about it—which is inconceivable. Below I consider the account given by Kershaw (2000). He undertakes an amazing series of gyrations to argue that Hitler both planned the genocide of the Jews and knew about its progress, despite the lack of any evidence. His points overlap with the diary entries, which I will cover below. Suffice to say here that, on Kershaw’s reading, Hitler was incredibly aloof on the Jewish Question. “Even in his inner circle Hitler could never bring himself to speak with outright frankness about the killing of the Jews” (p. 487)—in other words, he never, ever spoke openly about this most-vital aspect of the entire Nazi program. Hitler’s comments were always “confined to generalities,” sprinkled in with the “occasional menacing allusion.” Thus, with a mere wink and a nod, the mass murder of 6 million Jews was effected.
Given the striking lack of evidence, and the inconceivability that mass murder of millions was underway without awareness at the top, only two alternatives are possible: (1) the Nazi hierarchy knew all about the mass murder but mutually agreed to never discuss it, or to refer to it only in euphemisms and code language—even in the most private of settings; or (2) no systematic mass murder occurred at all, and the reality was in fact just as they said: expulsion and deportation, along with a certain degree of incidental death. I would suggest that a detailed look at Goebbels’s diary entries, in conjunction with the alleged ‘extermination’ actions that were occurring at the same time, may shine some light on this dispute.
* * * * *To the best of my knowledge only two English books cite the diary in any detail: Irving’s Goebbels (1996) and Kershaw’s Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (2000). Irving, especially in the longer Internet version, captures many important passages on the Jewish Question, but this is clearly not his main concern. Kershaw has a large number of quotations, but most are only partial, out of context, and designed to cast a certain light on Hitler. To his credit, and unlike many other works, Kershaw does a good job of including the original German words for the key terms, especially those relating to expulsion, evacuation, ‘elimination,’ and the like.
There are at least three concerns for any foreign-language translation, and these loom particularly large here. First, inclusion of the original language on key words and phrases is essential; it allows the reader to be fully informed about the actual original text. Second, passages should be cited as fully as possible, in order to retain context. Third is the translation itself, which is always problematic. Again, particularly so in this case, as many traditionalist writers are anxious to portray Goebbels’s language—which ranges from benign to ambiguous—in as ominous a light as possible. On these three counts, Irving does a reasonably good job, lacking only the extended quotations that are preferable. Kershaw does well on the first point, but fails on the other two—as I will show. Of the published (partial) translations, Lochner comes in for notable censure.
In what follows I cite Goebbels’s reflections on the Jews and Jewish policy in full. This is quite easy because, in virtually every case, the entry consists only of a few sentences or a short paragraph or two. I also include the German original for every contentious word or phrase. To maintain context, all entries are in chronological order. Following the date for each entry is original citation information from the Tagebücher: Part # (Teil), Volume # (Band), and page number. Hence, (II.3.478) refers to Part 2, volume 3, page 478.
In total, I include below the entries for 123 different days, ranging from May 1937 to April 1945. Of these, 43 appear in one of the published translation books; the remaining 80 entries are previously unpublished, and appear here for the first time in English. (Of course many scattered portions of these entries do appear elsewhere, primarily in the Irving and Kershaw books. But none in full.) Where the entries are those found in existing translations, I have identified them with asterisks (*=Taylor, **=Lochner, ***=Barry). Furthermore, I have maintained their wording, except when essential corrections were necessary—cited in the subsequent commentary.
To be as thorough as possible, it was my original aim to include every significant entry on the Jews or the Jewish Question. But in a 29-volume set these proved too numerous for the present essay. Hence I will focus on the key time period, bounded by two significant events: Kristallnacht, and the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. Thus for the period from 1 September 1938 through 30 June 1944, I have included literally every noteworthy entry by Goebbels. This exhaustive survey, covering nearly six years, gives the most complete picture possible of his perspective on the Jewish holocaust.
Before addressing the central period I want to mention a few early passages. The first passing reference to the “Jewish Question” (Judenfrage) appears very early in the diary: 15 March 1924 (Part 1, vol. 1)—coincident with the first reference to Hitler. It was clearly a concern from his earliest days in the Party. But serious action against the Jews did not begin until more than a decade later, in the late 1930s. For example:
May 5, 1937 (I.4.124)
Nov 30, 1937 (I.4.429)Here we have, I believe, the first reference to the complete removal of the Jews—a full year prior to Kristallnacht. Then into 1938 we find the first mention of the ‘Madagascar plan’:
Apr 11, 1938 (I.5.256)
Apr 23, 1938 (I.5.269-270)At least into early 1942 (see entry for March 7), it was seriously proposed to round up all the European Jews and ship them to Madagascar, which was to be forcibly acquired from France. This fact, of course, is of central importance to the holocaust: if the Nazis wanted to ship them out, then obviously there was no plan for mass murder. To further complicate the traditional account, we need only observe that Chelmno, Auschwitz, and Belzec were all allegedly underway in March 1942. And in fact it is worse than this, because talk of deportation continues right up until the end of the war.
I would further note Goebbels’s use of the word ‘radical,’ which evidently means the mass expulsion of several million Jews, with little regard for their long-term well being. Also, the focus on Berlin: as local Gauleiter, Goebbels placed top priority on cleansing the city of its Jews. We see this over and over in the entries to follow. In fact this often seems to take priority over a total cleansing of the Reich—which again does not fit well with the exterminationist thesis.
I now begin with the entries from 1 September 1938. The first notable item is an early observation on America:
Sep 17, 1938 (I.6.95)In the run-up to Kristallnacht, we find evidence of Goebbels’s involvement with anti-Jewish actions the month before:
Oct 12, 1938 (I.6.142)Then we have the event itself, triggered in part by the murder of Ernst vom Rath, German diplomat in Paris. He was shot by a Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan.
Nov 10, 1938 (I.6.180-181)
We must not let this cowardly murder [of vom Rath] go unanswered. Let things follow their course. The Hitler Patrol cleans house in Munich. A synagogue is smashed to pieces. I try to save it from the fire; but I fail.
The Patrol has done some vicious work. A message runs out across the Reich: 50-75 synagogues burned. The Führer has ordered the immediate arrest of 25,000-30,000 Jews. That will have an effect. They will now see that our patience has run out.
When I go into the hotel, all the windowpanes rattle. Bravo! Bravo! In all large cities the synagogues burn. German property is not threatened.
The first reports come early in the morning. It has been a raging fury. Just as expected. The whole nation is in turmoil. This murder will be very expensive for the Jews. The dear Jews will think carefully in the future before shooting German diplomats.To this day it is unclear to what extent the riots were spontaneous outbreaks of anti-Semitism, or well-planned instigations by plain-clothed security men.
Nov 13, 1938 (I.6.185)Again, more talk of the ‘radical’ solution as total exclusion from public life. Then two follow-up entries:
Nov 22, 1938 (I.6.195)
Nov 26, 1938 (I.6.202)In late November, two more interesting observations on America:
Nov 27, 1938 (I.6.203)
Dec 17, 1938 (I.6.223)The year 1939 opened with this entry, as a follow-up to the 5 May 1937 comment:
Jan 26, 1939 (I.6.239) *Four days later, on January 30, Hitler gave his famous Reichstag speech of 1939. This was remarkable on several counts. It was sprinkled with many references to international Jewry (internationale Judentum), the Jewish world-enemy (jüdischen Weltfeind), and the Jewish Question generally. It was a grand event, the equivalent of a presidential joint session of Congress. The cameras and microphones were running. Among some initial remarks on the Jewish Question, he states that the “foreign peoples” must be “pushed out” (abzuschieben) in order to allow the Germans to arise. The key section occurs in the middle of the speech: “Europe cannot find peace until the Jewish Question is resolved.” Jewry too often lives off the work of others; unless they begin to perform true, productive work, they will sooner or later “succumb to a crisis of unimaginable proportions.” He continues:
Many times in my life I have been a prophet, and was often laughed at. At the time of my struggle for power, it was primarily the Jewish people who accepted my prophecies with laughter. … I believe that this time the laughter of the Jews in Germany is stuck in their throats. Today I will again be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Germany should succeed in plunging the nations once again into a world war, then the result will be not the Bolshevization of the Earth and with it the victory of Jewry, but rather the destruction (Vernichtung) of the Jewish race in Europe.Here, for all the world to see, Hitler is predicting the ‘destruction,’ or perhaps ‘annihilation,’ of the Jews. At issue is the meaning of this word Vernichtung. Its root, nicht, means ‘none’ or ‘nothing’. Bilingual dictionaries translate it as either ‘destruction’ or ‘extermination.’
So what can the “Vernichtung of the Jewish race” mean? On the standard view, of course, this means mass murder: literal genocide, the killing of every Jew. But there are two problems here. First, Vernichtung, along with the English equivalents ‘destruction’ and ‘extermination’, are inherently ambiguous. To ‘destroy’ is literally to ‘de-structure’ or ‘deconstruct’ (Latin: de-struere). To destroy an individual person or animal is to kill it, but to destroy a collective—a city, a nation, a race—is to ruin its structural coherence, and cause it to cease to exist as a collective entity. This of course would happen if every individual member were killed, but it in no way demands this. Likewise with ‘extermination’, which means, literally, to ‘push beyond the boundaries’ (Latin: ex-terminus). To exterminate is simply to ‘get rid of completely’, by whatever means. And in fact the leading traditionalists evidently agree with these benign interpretations. Kershaw, for example, goes to great pains to argue that there was neither plan nor intention of mass murder prior to September 1941. Browning (2004: 371) comes to a similar conclusion.
The second problem is this: How likely is it that Hitler would declare to the world his intention to murder an entire race? Kershaw (2000: 522) pointedly emphasizes Hitler’s “intense preoccupation with secrecy”; the mass murder scheme was “a secret to be carried to the grave.” But wait—he already announced it to the world in January 1939! Does it even make sense to then keep such a thing secret? Or perhaps there was no secret to keep.
For some unknown reason, Goebbels does not comment on the Reichstag speech—at least, in the days and months that followed. (Down the road he would see it as something of a milestone.) In fact for the next 10 months one finds no substantial reference to the Jewish Question at all. Perhaps pressing matters of war intervened. Czechoslovakia disintegrated in March and Germany was thereby compelled to occupy the territory. With much inducement from England, Poland undertook a series of belligerent actions, resulting in the German-Polish war that began on September 1. Two days later this regional war became a European one, when France and the UK declared war on Germany. Comments by Goebbels resumed in October:
Oct 7, 1939 (I.7.141)
Oct 17, 1939 (I.7.157)…taking a cue, perhaps, from Hitler. The remainder of the year includes comments again consistent with removal, and no evidence of contemplated murder. The mention of typhus (December 6) is significant; as we know, this was undoubtedly the cause of death for many in the ghettos and camps, both Jews and non-Jews.
Nov 3, 1939 (I.7.179-180)
Dec 5, 1939 (I.7.220-221)
Dec 6, 1939 (I.7.222)
Dec 19, 1939 (I.7.236-237) *
My thoughts on the Jewish Question in wartime meet with the Führer’s approval. He intends to clear (heraushaben) all half-Jews from the Wehrmacht. Otherwise there will be continual ‘incidents.’Through the entire first half of 1940 we find, again, no entries on the Jews. Germany was racking up military successes, culminating in the invasion of the Low Countries on May 10 and the push to the Channel. France was quickly overwhelmed, and German troops marched into Paris on June 14. Things were going very well; the war appeared to be heading toward a rapid conclusion; and then the Jewish Question could be addressed in earnest.
Jun 6, 1940 (I.8.159)
Jul 6, 1940 (I.8.207)
Jul 20, 1940 (I.8.229)By July the question of Berlin had again arisen, as had the Madagascar plan:
Jul 26, 1940 (I.8.238)
Aug 17, 1940 (I.8.276) *
Sep 2, 1940 (I.8.301)
Nov 2, 1940 (I.8.406)We see here a growing vocabulary of terms relating to the status of the Jews. The large majority refer to removing, deporting, or expelling: aus-heraus, herausdrängen, ausscheiden, abschieben, evakuieren, verfrachten,deportieren. Later we find other related terms: beseitigen, herausbringen, aufräumen, herausschaffen, and others—some 18 in total, by my count (not including conjugates). This group is the most numerous, and the most benign. Two of these, evakuieren (evacuate) and abschieben (expel or push out), are especially popular with Goebbels.
A second group of terms include those that I will call ‘ambiguous’, in the sense that they have somewhat more ominous implications: vernichten (verb form of Vernichtung), ausrotten, liquidieren, eliminieren, and auslöschen. I’ve discussed the first of these already, and in the July 6 entry Goebbels first uses a form of ausrotten. This word, literally meaning ‘to root out’, translates to the ambiguous ‘exterminate’ or to ‘eradicate’ (ex-radix, lit. ‘up-root’). Once again, none of these meanings entail death, killing, or murder. A plant that is ausrottet can be replanted and live; a family can be ‘up-rooted’ and reestablished elsewhere. The exterminationist suggestion that eithervernichten or ausrotten necessarily imply murder is, quite literally, nonsense.
I should note, by the way, that the German language does indeed have words for ‘killing’: morden, ermorden, töten, totschlagen, totschiessen. Goebbels had no shortage of alternatives if he wished to discuss literally killing the Jews. This is, after all, a personal and private diary. Consider his situation: Should the Germans win, he has nothing to fear. Should they lose, he must have known that his own death awaited, along with the ‘destruction’ of greater Germany—again, nothing to fear. Why hold back? So the reader might be wondering: Does Goebbels ever use such explicit terms? In fact he does: once. If I may temporarily leap ahead to one of his final entries, 14 March 1945, we read that certain soon-to-be-victorious Jews are calling for no mercy on the Germans—to which Goebbels replies, “Anyone in a position to do so should kill (totschlagen) these Jews like rats.” There we have it—an unambiguous call for murder. Except that it’s three years too late. One wonders, though, why, on the exterminationist thesis, Goebbels didn’t resort to such language much sooner. Perhaps it was only at the end, when the Jewish-backed Allies were slaughtering innocent Germans by the tens of thousands, that the Nazis began calling for their deaths. And perhaps by then it was justified.
Into 1941 we start to move strongly toward—on the traditionalist view—systematic murder. But not until the second half of the year:
Mar 18, 1941 (I.9.193) *
Mar 19, 1941 (I.9.195)
Mar 22, 1941 (I.9.199)In the March 19 entry we find the first occurrence of another troublesome word, ‘liquidation’. It proves to be rather popular, appearing in eight different entries. The troublesome part is that, in many cases, it means something other than killing. Goebbels speaks of liquidating the “Jewish danger” (30 May 1942) and of liquidating Jewish marriages (6 December 1942). The word ‘liquidation’ means, primarily, ‘to make fluid.’ And this in fact is a fairly apt description of the deportation process: a large, entrenched Jewish community who had to be uprooted, made liquid, and then to flow out across the borders. Nothing in this entails killing. Nor at the time, in the 1940s, did the word necessarily mean murder. An article in the London Times had this to say: “The rest of the Jews in the General Government…would be liquidated, which means either transported eastward in cattle trucks to an unknown destination, or killed where they stood” (4 December 1942; p. 3). Holocaust survivor Thomas Buergenthal (2009: 49) writes of his experience in the Kielce ghetto: “The ghetto was being liquidated or, in the words bellowing out of the loudspeakers, Ausseidlung! Ausseidlung! (‘Evacuation! Evacuation!’).” And later he comments, “After the liquidation of the labor camp…” (p. 56). Clearly the word means, and meant, something other than killing.
Obviously, ‘liquidate’ can mean killing, as can a huge variety of words under contrived circumstances. In Mafia circles, a ‘kiss’ can mean death. Motion pictures use a variety of silly terms: whack, pop, bump, waste, take for a ride, off, do in, and so on. In the case of Goebbels, we must ask once again, why would he go to lengths to use euphemisms or silly code words in a personal diary? And one in which, when motivated, he was happy to call a spade a spade?
June 1941 was an important month: the Germans invaded Russia, and the Einsatzgruppen were activated to protect the troops from partisan attacks. Here I refer back to Kershaw’s account of events. Through mid-1941, Kershaw admits, there was no true genocidal plan—despite Hitler’s infamous prophecy of January 1939. As of June 1941, “shooting or gassing to death all the Jews of Europe…was at this stage not in mind” (p. 463). Even through the end of the year, the alleged physical extermination plan “was still emerging” (p. 492). Hence the plan in mid-1941 was just as Goebbels had recorded: one of confinement, deportation, and ethnic cleansing.
Anti-partisan actions of the Einsatzgruppen began in June and July 1941; Jews were prominent among the partisans, and hence they were prominent among the victims. Then “there was a sharp escalation from around August onward,” both in the death toll and in the ranks of the shooters. Allegedly, the 3,000 Einsatzgruppen men recruited large numbers of “native collaborators” to help with the slaughter; Kershaw cites Browning (1995: 106) as stating that the combined troop levels rose to more than 300,000 by January 1943!
Jun 20, 1941 (I.9.390)
Jul 13, 1941 (II.1.58)Kershaw then cites a mysterious meeting between Hitler and Himmler in mid-July, during which the former “effectively…placed the ‘Jewish Question’…directly in Himmler’s hands” (p. 469). After this, we are to believe that Hitler was content to speak only of deportations, removals, and evacuations, all of which allegedly reconfirmed the implicit genocide command. When Hitler is quoted as saying, “Where the Jews are sent to, whether to Siberia or Madagascar, is immaterial,” Kershaw offers an amazing response: “The frame of mind [here] was overtly genocidal. The reference to Madagascar was meaningless.” Evacuation to Siberia was “genocide of a kind” (p. 471). But never mind this; as of July 1941, “no decision for the ‘Final Solution’—meaning the physical extermination of the Jews throughout Europe—had yet been taken. But genocide was in the air.”
Aug 7, 1941 (II.1.189)
Aug 11, 1941 (II.1.213)A very important observation: the deaths of Jews in the Baltics were caused in large part by revenge-seeking natives, not roving German death squads. And in fact there was a good basis for this revenge, namely the murder and torture inflicted by the Jews of Stalin’s GPU intelligence unit.
In his “Table Talk” discussions of this time, Hitler argued that Germany was justified in deporting the Jews, and that furthermore they were doing it relatively humanely:
If any people has the right to proceed to evacuations, it is we, for we’ve often had to evacuate our own population. Eight hundred thousand men had to emigrate from East Prussia alone. How humanely sensitive we are is shown by the fact that we consider it a maximum of brutality to have liberated our country from 600,000 Jews. And yet we accepted, without recrimination, and as something inevitable, the evacuation of our own compatriots! (1953/2000: 24)There seems to be no independent verification of the 600,000 figure, so we cannot identify from where they would have been deported, unfortunately. Meanwhile Goebbels continued his actions in Berlin:
Aug 12, 1941 (II.1.218)Goebbels clearly does not want a repeat of Kristallnacht. Also, this is the first mention of the “badge”, or yellow Star of David, that the Jews were ultimately forced to wear.
Aug 18, 1941 (II.1.254)
Aug 19, 1941 (II.1.265-266)
We discuss the Jewish problem. The Führer is convinced that his prophecy in the Reichstag—that if Jewry succeeded in provoking yet another world war, it would end with their destruction (Vernichtung)—is confirmed. It is coming true in the following weeks and months with an almost uncanny certainty. In the East, the Jews must pay the price; in Germany they have paid in part already, and they will pay more in the future. Their last resort is North America, and there they will also have to pay before long.
Jewry is a foreign element among civilized nations, and its activities in the past three decades has been so devastating that the people’s reaction is understandable—indeed, one might say, a compulsion of nature. In any case, in the world to come the Jews will not have anything to laugh about. In Europe today there is a united front against Jewry. This is already apparent in the entire European press—and not only on this question, but also on many other matters there exists a thoroughly unified opinion.So here we have a clear and unambiguous statement: that the Vernichtung of the Jewish race meant the complete exclusion from society and, ultimately, its physical removal.
Aug 20, 1941 (II.1.278)
Although it will be very different when they wear a badge, we can leave it at that until they are removed. We have to approach this problem without any sentimentality. One need only imagine what the Jews would do to us, if they had the power to do so—as we have the power to do. In any case, I remain alert regarding further action on the Jewish Question. If one must also overcome bureaucratic and partly sentimental resistance in the higher Reich offices, I will be neither surprised nor deterred. I took up the fight against Jewry in Berlin in 1926, and it is my ambition not to rest until the last Jew has left Berlin.Throughout the summer Hitler resisted mass evacuations. Then, according to Kershaw: “Suddenly, in mid-September, Hitler changed his mind. There was no overt indication of the reason” (p. 477). Here’s one overt indication: on September 12 Roosevelt ordered the U.S. navy to begin sinking German ships. This was only the latest in a string of aggressive and provocative actions by the Americans, which began with their shadowing of German freighter and supply ships in late 1939, and included the Lend-Lease Act of March 1941 that authorized military assistance for the Allied nations, explicitly ending U.S. neutrality.
A Himmler letter from this time cites Hitler’s authorization to begin with an initial shipment of 60,000 Jews to the Lodz ghetto. This action was key to the “gathering whirlwind of extermination,” says Kershaw. But even this was no Final Solution order. “It is doubtful whether a single, comprehensive decision of such a kind was ever made.” Instead, “numerous local and regional Nazi leaders…seized on the opportunity…to start killing Jews in their own areas” (p. 481). The killing was as yet haphazard; a “coordinated, comprehensive programme of total genocide…would still take some months to emerge.”
Sep 24, 1941 (II.1.480-481, 485)
The Führer is of the opinion that the Jews must, after all, be removed from (herausgebracht) all of Germany. The first cities to be made Jew-free are Berlin, Vienna, and Prague. Berlin is the first in line, and I am hopeful that in the course of this year we are able to transport out (abzutransportieren) a substantial part of Berlin’s Jews to the East.The first trains left Berlin on 18 October 1941.
Oct 21, 1941 (II.2.169)Four days later Hitler made this well-known comment:
From the rostrum of the Reichstag, I prophesied to Jewry that, in the event of war’s proving inevitable, the Jew would disappear from Europe. That race of criminals has on its conscience 2 million dead of the First World War, and now already hundreds of thousands more. Let nobody tell me that, all the same, we can’t park them in the marshy parts of Russia! Who’s worrying about our troops? It’s not a bad idea, by the way, that public rumor attributes to us a plan to exterminate the Jews. Terror is a salutary thing. (1953/2000: 87)So we see here (1) continued endorsement for literal deportation, (2) no talk of killing, murder, gas chambers, etc, (3) an equation between ‘extermination’ and deportation, and (4) a minimal concern for secrecy. The fact that Hitler finds some use in the rumor mill is interesting, a kind of unanticipated fringe benefit. But he perhaps did not anticipate how talk of extermination would play in the Anglo world. Two months before he made the above comment, the New York Times (August 25; p. 3) reported that, “unless the Nazis were defeated, wholesale extermination would be the lot of all Jews” (…“including those in the United States and Britain”!)—and here, ‘extermination’ means murder, no doubt.
Then an important Goebbels entry that continues the account from August 11:
Nov 2, 1941 (II.2.221-222)
The city shows hardly any traces of war. But on a short drive through the ghetto, the view is horrifying. Here the Jews squat in rows, hideous forms, not to be looked at let alone touched. The Jews have created their own administration, which also has a police function. They stand at the entrance to the ghetto, which is separated from the rest of the city, on guard and at attention. Even 10 years ago I would not have dreamed that something like this would again be the case. Terrible figures lurk in the streets, which I would not like to meet at night. The Jews are the lice of civilized man. They must somehow be eradicated (ausrotten), otherwise they will again play their tormenting and troublesome role. Only if one advances with the necessary brutality can one be finished with them. When they are spared, one will later be their victim.
Nov 17, 1941 (II.2.304)
Nov 18, 1941 (II.2.309)So no evacuation either for workers or the elderly. One wonders if genocide was still ‘in the air’.
Nov 22, 1941 (II.2.340-341)On the first of December, Hitler offered some philosophical thoughts on the social effect of Jewry:
[The] destructive role of the Jew has in a way a providential explanation. If nature wanted the Jew to be the ferment that causes people to decay, thus providing these peoples with an opportunity for a healthy reaction, in that case, people like St. Paul and Trotsky are, from our point of view, the most valuable. By the fact of their presence, they provoke the defensive reaction of the attacked organism. Dietrich Eckart once told me that in all his life he had known just one good Jew: Otto Weininger, who killed himself on the day when he realized that the Jew lives on the decay of peoples. (1953/2000: 141)It is in this month, as we know, that the European war becomes a truly world war, as Germany—after some two years of provocation—declares war on the U.S. in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Also this month, on the orthodox view, a milestone occurs: Chelmno begins its extermination process, with gas vans powered by diesel engines. Evidently, then, genocide was more than in the air; it was on the ground running. And Goebbels, in truth, does seem to ramp up his rhetoric; he makes his first overt references to the deaths of Jews:
Dec 13, 1941 (II.2.498-499)
Dec 14, 1941 (II.2.503)If deportation is sometimes the “equivalent of a death sentence,” and many will “pay with their lives,” we are left wondering how, exactly, and in what numbers, they will die. I trust that there is a clear difference between (a)many dying from disease, exposure, lack of medical care, periodic shootings, etc, and (b) all dying in a complex and systematic gassing operation. There is no doubt that concentrating and deporting thousands or millions of people in wartime would lead to many deaths. But this is not genocide. The next entry is telling:
Dec 18, 1941 (II.2.533-534)“We are not very interested in what becomes of them after that.” Harsh and brutal, perhaps, but clearly far less than genocide. The same thought was echoed by Hans Frank, in a memo of December 16:
What is to happen to the Jews [after evacuation]? … We have in the General Government an estimated 2.5 million Jews—perhaps with those closely related to Jews and what goes with it, now 3.5 million Jews. We can’t shoot these 3.5 million Jews, we can’t poison them…Obviously he and Goebbels, at least, were unaware of any program of genocide.
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