By Gordon McFee
The first research in the late 1940s and early 1950s focused on the Jewishness of the Holocaust. Called the "Final Solution" by the Germans, it was the object of two pivotal studies, both of which had the Jews at the center of their treatment. The first was The Final Solution by Gerald Reitlinger and the second The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg. Most major studies since have had the same focus: Lucy Dawidowicz (The War Against the Jews; Leni Yahil (The Holocaust); Hilberg (Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders); Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler's Willing Executioners); Martin Gilbert (The Holocaust); Arad et al (Documents on the Holocaust); Yitzak Arad (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps) and so on.
Modern research has begun to deal more extensively with the suffering of other victims of the Nazi genocide. For example, homosexuals, Gypsies, prisoners of war, Russians, Poles, Catholic priests, Jehovah's Witnesses and others were more or less systematically murdered as the Holocaust continued. By the end of the war, as many as 6 million of these people had been killed, along with between 5 and 6 million Jews.
Does the focus on the Jewishness of the Holocaust take away from or minimize the suffering of the millions of non-Jews who were persecuted? Do the Jews, unintentionally perhaps, try to keep all the suffering for themselves? No. On the other hand, does the Holocaust have a particularly crucial and central Jewish element, even though millions of others died? Simply put, the answer is yes. The Holocaust, from its conception to its implementation had a distinctly Jewish aspect to it and, arguably without this Jewish aspect, there would have been no Holocaust. Most of the non-Jewish people would not have been killed because the killing machinery would not have been put into operation.
In this context, two points need to be examined: the particularly Jewish aspect of the Holocaust and the fact that this neither minimizes nor trivializes the suffering of others.
The Jewishness Of The HolocaustFaithful to Hitler, the Nazis picked out and specifically targeted the Jews, and they did this from the very beginning -- the Nazi Party Program of February 19201 to the very end Hitler's Testament of April 29, 1945.2 In fact, Hitler had written a letter to a Herr Gemlich in 1919 in which he called for the removal of the Jews if he ever took power.
Exactly when Hitler's eliminationist hatred of the Jews took form in his mind is still a matter of debate. Some accounts have him violently antisemitic when he still lived in Linz.3 Others equate it to his experiences in Vienna,4or to his gassing experience at the end of World War I,5 still others believe the antisemitism took on its virulent form in the early 1920s under the influence of Houston Stewart Chamberlain6 and Dietrich Eckart.7
In Mein Kampf, there are dozens of passages that vilify and demonize the Jews. A couple of examples suffice.
Was there any excrement, any shamelessness in any form, above all in cultural life, in which at least one Jew would not have been involved? As soon as one even carefully cut into such an abscess, one found, like maggots in a decaying body, often blinded by the sudden light, a kike.8
The Nazis harassed and brutalized the Jews throughout the 1920s during the "struggle for power." Speech after speech painted the Jews as Germany's "misfortune" and prophesied a time of reckoning.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Jews were their very first target. The infamous boycott against Jewish businesses took place in April 1933 and the first laws against the Jews were enacted as early as on April 7, 1933.10 Jews were progressively erased from almost every facet of German life.11 The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, further tightened the noose, depriving the Jews of almost every remaining right and freedom.12 This culminated in the bloodiest pogrom to date the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938. Over 100 Jews were murdered and a "fine" was levied against the Jews in excess of 1 billion RM.
By the outbreak of World War II, actions taken against the Jews included marking them13 and ghettoizing them.14 By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the decision had been taken to kill the eastern European Jews by shooting them where they were found (http://www.holocaust-history.org/hitler-final-solution/) and by the end of the year at the latest, the decision was taken to kill all European Jews. (http://www.holocaust-history.org/ december-12-1941/).
The one common thread throughout this "process of destruction," as Hilberg calls it, was the Jews. The Communists were often explicitly targeted as well, but the Nazis believed that Communism was a creature of the Jews in any event. The expression often used was "Jews and other undesirables," and the Jews were almost always the first group targeted in any initiative. There is no doubt that they were the focal point from beginning to end.
The Germans set up an office on the "Jewish Question" under the direction of Adolf Eichmann -- the infamous Bureau IV B 4. The name used for the ultimate killing action was "the Final Solution of the Jewish Question," Others were drawn in -- with horrific results -- but the key object and common thread was always the Jews.
There are thousands of captured documents dealing with the killing actions. Almost every one of them deals with the Jews and there are almost no documents that deal with another target that do not also address the Jews. The Einsatzgruppen reports almost always separate out the Jews from the other people shot, going so far as to break down the Jews by age and gender (http://www.holocaust-history.org/ intro-einsatz).15 And the Report 51, submitted by Himmler to Hitler in 1943, breaks down the victims into a variety of categories (bandits, partisans, etc.), but only lists the Jews as "Jews executed."16
Finally, the Korherr Report is entitled "The Final Solution of the European Jewish Question: A statistical report,"17 and once again, addresses virtually only the Jews.
Hitler said before the outbreak of the war that if there were another war, he would annihilate the Jews.18 He said during the war that he was in the process of annihilating the Jews.19 And he said in his Testament that he had done exactly what he had said he would do.20
The ultimate aim and the primary target never varied. Others were murdered in the course of the Final Solution, e.g. Gypsies, Russian POWs, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and so on, but the first and constant target was always the Jews. The Final Solution was intended for the Jews, was about the Jews and chiefly affected the Jews. There is no denying that, without the Jews, there is no Final Solution.
To minimize or trivialize the "Jewishness" of the Final Solution is to seriously understate, if not, unintentionally perhaps, deny its essence. This does not mean that the suffering of other groups is to be ignored; on the contrary, it was terrible. But without the Holocaust, without the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question", the others live. The term "holocaust" was coined to describe the uniquely Jewish aspect of the Final Solution. It does not seek to negate the suffering of the other victims.
Albert Speer put it well:
The hatred of the Jews was Hitler's driving force and central point, perhaps even the only element that moved him. The German people, German greatness, the Reich, all that meant nothing to him in the final analysis. Thus, the closing sentence of his Testament sought to commit us Germans to a merciless hatred of the Jews after the apocalyptic downfall. I was present in the Reichstag session of January 30, 1939 when Hitler guaranteed that, in the event of another war, the Jews, not the Germans, would be exterminated. This sentence was said with such certainty that I would never have doubted his intent of carrying through with it.21
It should be remembered that the centrality of the Jews in the Holocaust in no way lessens the killing of others. The Gypsies were marked for extermination in the same way as the Jews were and suffered terribly. (http://www.holocaust-history.org/ questions/gypsies.shtml)22 The testimony of Otto Ohlendorf at Nuremberg on this is chilling:
US prosecutor J. Heath: And what was the story with the Gypsies? I believe you have no idea how many Gypsies your commando killed?
Last modified: March 10, 2009