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David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

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3.6 Conclusion >>

3.1 Definition of 'The Holocaust'

3.1.1 Most historians, indeed most people who know anything at all about the Second World War, accept that an important part of it was the attempt by Nazi Germany, led by its 'Führer' or 'Leader', Adolf Hitler, to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. Since the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Hitler's government had passed numerous laws restricting Jewish rights in the professions, the economy, education and other walks of life. The notorious 'Nuremberg Laws' passed in 1935 banned intermarriage and sexual relations between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. In November 1938, the Nazis instigated and carried out widespread acts of destruction of Jewish property all over Germany, arrested over twenty thousand Jewish men, and imprisoned them under brutally harsh conditions for several weeks in concentration camps. Over ninety Jews were killed on the night of 9-10 November 1938 in the course of this action, which the Nazis cynically termed the 'Night of Broken Glass' (Reichskristallnacht), and there were many further deaths of Jews imprisoned in the concentration camps in the weeks following. After these events, Jews were fined an enormous sum of money by the Nazi government, effectively deprived of their citizenship, and almost completely removed from employment and other gainful economic activities. About half of Germany's Jewish community had emigrated by 1939 as a result of these policies.
3.1.2 In September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the invading forces encountered a society in which the Jewish minority was far larger than it was in Germany. Numbering nearly two million, the Jews of Nazi-occupied Poland were subjected to widespread violence, including mass shootings by special task forces (Einsatzgruppen), and large-scale deportations. The idea was already mooted in leading Nazi circles of deporting all German as   well as Polish Jews to a reservation in the General Government, a large part of Nazi-occupied Poland which had not been incorporated directly intothe Reich.
3.1.3 The nature of the proposed transportations was made clear by Hans Frank, the Governor of the General Government, on 25 November 1939: 'It's great to get to grips with the Jewish race at last', he said: 'The more that die the better...Get the Jews out of the Reich, Vienna, everywhere. We have no use for Jews in the Reich.'1 This plan was not immediately put into effect, however. The Jews of Nazi-occupied Poland were set to work in brutally run labour camps, and crowded into specially created ghettos in major towns such as Lodz and Warsaw. After the defeat of France in June 1940, Hitler and leading German officials for some time considered deporting all European Jews under German control to the French colony of Madagascar, which could in no way have supported millions of totally unprepared and unsupported European immigrants. Meanwhile, deportations of Jews to the General Government continued intermittently, while British control over the seas rendered the Madagascar Plan impractical and eventually forced its abandonment.
3.1.4 The German army was followed into Soviet territory by four Security Police and Security Service task forces (Einsatzgruppen), with orders to carry out mass executions of Communist officials, 'extremists', 'partisans' and Jews. 'The cleansing operation of the Security Police', wrote the Commander of Task Force A on 15 October 1941, 'had the goal of the most comprehensive elimination possible of the Jews'. Local antisemites were also encouraged to carry out massacres of Jews. Other German units, from the military and the police (the Ordnungspolizei, the Gendarmerie and the Schutzmannschaften), also took part in the killings.   Numerous reports from the task forces indicate that shootings took place on a considerable scale, and by April 1942, about 750,000 Jews had been murdered. By late 1943 the numbers shot by the task forces had reached over 2 million.
3.1.5 By this time, the shooting had been extended to German, Austrian and Czech Jews deported to Nazi-occupied territory in Eastern Europe, and mobile gassing vans were also being used; they had already been employed on the inmates of Polish mental asylums before the invasion of the Soviet Union. In the October 1941 Jews were finally banned from emigrating independently from Germany, and began to be deported to the East once more, both to the ghettos and also to specially built camps. In both these places of confinement they were kept on starvation rations and deliberately forced by the Nazis to live in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions which bred disease and led to very high death rates.
3.1.6 The complex legal and logistical issues raised by these actions were discussed at a conference in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942 to discuss 'the final solution of the European Jewish question'. The minutes indicated that 11 million Jews in 32 different countries, many not yet under German control, were being considered. The minutes, as Adolf Eichmann, who wrote them, reported under interrogation in 1960, had to use 'circumlocution', but at the meeting itself 'the talk was of killing, elimination, and annihilation'.
3.1.7 In November 1941, construction work began on a camp at Belzec, in the General Government, built specifically in order to kill Jews. Specially constructed gas chambers began operating in March 1942 and by December 1942, when Belzec ceased operations, between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews had been killed there, including people transported from France, Holland, Germany and Greece for that purpose. A camp established at Chelmno, near Lodz, towards the end of 1941 also began killing large numbers of Jews in mobile gassing vans. By May, another extermination camp had been opened, at Sobibor, where between 150,000 and   250,000 Jews from a variety of European countries were killed, and in July 1942 a third camp in the General Government began killing Jews, at Treblinka, where 268,000 Jews, mostly from the Warsaw ghetto, which like the other ghettos was regarded by the Nazis as a stopping-place for Jews on their way to the camps, were gassed or shot between 23 July and 28 August. By 19 August 1943 the total killed in Treblinka numbered at least 750,000 and probably exceeded one million, including many from Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece and Germany. Another camp, at Majdanek, in the Lublin district, although primarily a labour camp, also used gas chambers, where about 50,000 people were killed; another 150,000 were shot, or died from illness, malnutrition and overwork; 60,000 of this total were Jews.2
3.1.8 The most notorious of the camps in Nazi-occupied Poland was situated at Auschwitz. This was a vast complex, established by the SS early in 1940, and covering nearly eighteen square miles. It included a large synthetic rubber factory run by IG Farben, the German chemical company, with slave labourers drawn from a variety of European countries under German control. In the autumn of 1941, gassing facilities were built in the camp, and used on Soviet prisoners of war. Shortly afterwards, gassing operations were transferred to a second camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, built in October 1941, some three kilometres from the main camp: both camps are customarily referred to by historians under the general heading of 'Auschwitz'. Transports of Jews began to arrive there early in 1942. From the Summer of 1942, those deemed fit to work were taken to the main camp and enrolled as slave labourers, while the rest were gassed in Auschwit-Birkenau immediately on arrival without being registered. Periodic 'selections' in the main camp would weed out those whom the SS considered poor workers and consign them also to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The bodies were disposed   of in crematoria and burnt in open pits when the crematoria were unable to cope with the numbers.
3.1.9 Unlike the pure extermination camps at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, therefore, where virtually no inmates survived the war, there were many survivors of Auschwitz, including the Birkenau camp (where there were also numerous accomodation barracks, including living quarters for Gypsies, another racial group subjected to extermination by the Nazis), the main camp (where most of the slave-labourer inmates were not Jewish) and some forty subsidiary camps, mostly associated with factories working for the German war effort. Altogether, the camp records list 400,000 prisoners who were registered in the Auschwitz system, of whom perhaps around half were Jews; half of these died in the camp; the others were mostly transferred to other camps, where many of them died, but some at least managed to survive. Some 8,000 inmates were also liberated by the Rad Army. More than twice as many Jews, however - some 865,000 - were not registered in the camp, but were killed immediately on arrival. These included many thousands of Jews transported by the Nazis from countries as far away as France, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Norway and Greece.3
3.1.10 It is the fact that Auschwitz formed the killing centre for Jews from many countries, added to the fact that many more survived than in the other extermination centres, that accounts for the subsequent notoriety gained by Auschwitz in contrast to Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka or indeed the shooting campaigns carried out by the task forces and military and police units. Many more Jews and other prisoners died on the brutal 'death marches' carried out after the evacuation of the camps in the face of the advancing Allied armies in 1944-45. Altogether between five and six million Jews had been killed, by gassing,   shooting, or deliberate starvation and neglect, by the Nazis, by the time the war came to an end in the Spring of 1945.4
3.1.11 A large volume of scholarly writings by historians in America, Britain, Israel, Switzerland, Germany and other countries has documented this massive act of genocide.5 Amongst those who have studied the history of these events, there is widespread disagreement about the motivation of the Nazis, the reasons why the genocide took place, the precise dating and timing of its inception, and many other issues; but on the central fact of the systematic killing of millions of Jews from a variety of European countries, by shooting and gassing, organized and supervised by Nazi Germany, there is no dispute.
3.1.12 This central fact has been known variously as the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe' (Endlösung, the Nazis' own term), the 'Holocaust' or 'Shoah' (the term preferred by   many Jewish writers and historians), the 'Judeocide' (a term coined by the Princeton historian Arno Mayer but not widely used by others)6, the Nazi genocide of the Jews, or, most simply and neutrally, the Nazi extermination of the Jews. The term 'Holocaust' derives from an Ancient Greek version of the old Testament and originally meant 'a burnt sacrificed offering dedicated exclusively to God.' This meaning has given rise to a number of reservations about its application to the Nazi extermination of the Jews, who were not being sacrificed or offered to God, but were brutally murdered in the name of ethnic purity. Used in German, some have argued, the word also has a distancing and almost euphemistic effect. Others have expressed doubts on the grounds that it distracts attention from Nazism's many other victims, such as the disabled, the mentally ill, tuberculosis sufferers, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, gypsies, 'asocial' prison inmates and 'habitual criminals', all of whom were also deliberately murdered by the Nazis in large numbers. However, despite these reservations, the word has gained currency over the past twenty years or so and its use is now widespread among non-Jewish as well as Jewish historians, not just in English but also in German.7
3.1.13 The meaning of the term 'Holocaust' is thus metaphorical rather than literal; common usage has made what it refers to, however, abundantly clear. Thus for example the standard work by the distinguished Canadian historian Michael Marrus, The Holocaust in History (London, 1987) focuses on, to use his own words, 'the Holocaust, the systematic mass murder of   European Jewry by the Nazis'.8 Similarly, Sir Martin Gilbert, in his documentary compilation The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy (London, 1986), notes:
The systematic attempt to destroy all European Jewry - an attempt now known as the Holocaust - began in the last week of June 1941, within hours of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. This onslaught upon Jewish life in Europe continued without respite for nearly four years. At its most intense moments, during the autumn of 1941, and again during the summer and autumn of 1942, many thousands of Jews were killed every day. By the time Nazi Germany had been defeated, as many as six million of Europe's eight million Jews had been slaughtered; if the killing had run its course, the horrific figure would have been even higher. Jews perished in extermination camps, execution sites, ghettos, slave labour camps, and on the death marches.9
Another author, Ronnie S. Landau, put forward a similar definition on page 3 of his book The Nazi Holocaust (London, 1982): 'The Holocaust involved the deliberate, systematic murder of approximately 6 million Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe between 1941 and 1945.'
3.1.14 The use of the term 'Holocaust' is ultimately a secondary issue. The essential point is that there is wide agreement that there was a systematic attempt undertaken by the Nazi regime in Germany between 1941 and 1945 to kill all the Jews of Europe, and that it succeeded to the extent of murdering between five and six million of them in a variety of ways, including mass gassings in camps specially constructed for the purpose. These events are known about from a variety of sources. There is a massive quantity of testimony from Jewish survivors of the camps (principally, Auschwitz) and the ghettos. The Nazi authorities also left an enormous quantity of documentation providing details of the policy of extermination and its implementation; this is now preserved in a variety of archives, particularly in the German   Federal Archives in Koblenz and in Berlin. Many further documents were captured by the Red Army in the final stages of the war and taken to Moscow, where they have become available to historians after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, giving a new impulse to research.
3.1.15 After the war, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg presented a mass of testimony and documentation in a series of trials both of leading Nazis and of lesser but still important figures; this evidence was subsequently published in a large, multi-volume compilation of documents. The trial, in Jerusalem, of Adolf Eichmann, one of the principal organizers of the extermination, in 1961 furnished yet more evidence, including Eichmann's own confessions. In 1964 there was a major trial, in Frankfurt, of former officials and guards at the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, which brought before the public a large quantity of further evidence. Many important institutions have devoted their efforts to gathering and analysing material on the Nazi extermination of the Jews, including the Munich-based Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History), the Israeli Yad Vashem Institute, the Zentralstell der Landesjustiz and the research branch of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.. The quantity of research by individual scholars on aspects of the topic has been enormous. A bibliography published in 1985 listed nearly two thousand books on the subject and over ten thousand publications on Auschwitz alone.10 Since then the pace of research has if anything quickened rather than slackening off. There are specialized journals on Holocaust research, such as Holocaust and Genocide Studies; conferences, seminars and scholarly meetings, studies of particular aspects or countries, documentary editions, general   surveys, museums and exhibitions and much more. This is, in short, one of the most extensively documented and intensively studied episodes in human history

Notes

1. T. Berenstein et al. (eds.), Faschismus-Cetto-Massenmord. Dokumentation uber Ausrottung und Widerstand der Juden in Polen während des Zweiten Weltkrieges (Frankfurt am Main, 1960), p. 46, translated and quoted in Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham (eds.), Nazism 1919-1945, Vol. 3: Foreign Policy, War and Racial Extermination (Exeter, 1988), p. 1,055.
2. G. Schwarz, Die nationalsozialistischen Lager (Frankfurt am Main, 1996), pp. 250-251; E. Kogon et al. (eds.), Nationalsozialistische Massentötungen durch Giftgas (Frankfurt am Main, 1986), pp. 151-4, 165.
3. See the Expert Witness Report by Professor Robert Jan Van Pelt.
4. This brief summary follows the account in Noakes and Pridham, Nazism, Ch. 38-39, based on a variety of documents including those printed in A. Rückerl (ed.), NS Vernichtungslager im Spiegel der deutschen Strafprozesse. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno (Munich, 1977), E. Kogon et al., Nationalsozialistische Massentötungen durch Giftgas (Frankfurt am Main, 1986), and L. Poliakov and J. Wulf (eds.), Das Dritte Reich und die Juden (Frankfurt am Main, 1983).
5. A small sample of the leading works would include, besides those mentioned below: Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (revised edn., 3 vols., NewYork, 1985); Nora Levin, The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry, 1939-1945 (New York, 1973); John Mendelsohn (ed.), The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes (New York, 1982); Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945 (New York, 1961), and Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 (New York, 1975); and, on individual countries: Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (2 vols., New York, 1981); Frederick Chary, The Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution, 1940-1944 (Pittsburgh, 1972); Michael R. Marrus and Robert 0. Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews (New York, 1981); Meir Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews: German-Italian Relations and the Jewish Question in Italy, 1922-1945 (Oxford, 1978); and Susan Zuccotti, The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival (New York, 1987). The most recent, outstanding survey of Nazi policy towards the Jews up to 1945 is Peter Longerich, Politik der Vernichtung. Eine Gesamtdarstellung der nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung(Munich, 1998).This is only a small sample of a very considerable scholarly literature.
6. Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The "Final Solution" in History (New York, 1986).
7. See Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler's "Final Solution" (London, 1980), p. 7; Geoff Eley, 'Holocaust History', London Review of Books, 3-17 March, 1982, pp. 6-9; Richard J. Evans, In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past (New York, 1989), p. 142; and Preface by Eberhard Jäckel to Eberhard Jäckel, Peter Longerich, Julius H. Schoeps (eds.), Enzyklopädie des Holocaust. Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der Europäischen Juden (3 vols., Berlin, 1993), p. xviii. The conference papers collected in David Cesarani (ed.), The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation (London, 1994) offer a compendium of relatively recent research.
8. Michael R. Marrus, The Holocaust in History (London, 1989), p. 1.
9. Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust. The Jewish Tragedy (London, 1986), p. 18.
10. Vera Laska, Nazism, Resistance and Holocaust in World War II: A Bibliography (Meuchen, New Jersey, 1985), p. xvii.
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3.6 Conclusion >>