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Defense Documents

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

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(d) Hitler's decision-making process.

1. Irving's argument that Hitler and his entourage did not know about the extermination of the Jews rests not only on a manipulation and suppression of specific sources, but also on a much larger contortion of the realities of the power structures and decision-making process in the 'Third Reich'. This distortion too involves suppressing or ignoring general statements by members of Hitler's entourage about his way of taking decisions and issuing orders.
2. Irving's thesis that Hitler was ignorant of the final fate of those deported east is a corollary of his general idea that 'while Adolf Hitler was a powerful and relentless military commander, the war years saw him as a lax and indecisive political leader who allowed the affairs of state to rot. In fact he was probably the weakest leader Germany has known this century. [...] Domestic   policy was controlled by whoever was most powerful in each sector, [...].'290 The logical consequence of this was that ' " He knew even less than the rest. He allowed himself to be taken for a sucker by everyone" '(SS General 'Sepp' Dietrich quoted by Irving). Likewise Karl Krause, whom Irving quotes as having said: 'It can be added in this context that Hitler lived in a sort of illusory world. He believed good rather than evil.'291
3. This is contradicted by what is generally known about Hitler's personal style of decision making.292 It is also contradicted by what others amongst Hitler's staff said. For instance von Sonnleithner wrote that 'The threads of the military and civilian leadership always converged in Hitler'293 In fact, Nazi decision making was a synthesis of initiatives from below and set priorities and decisions from above. A legacy of the Kampfzeit and the early years of power was that the Nazi party was essentially a 'Führer party' in nature, tied to emotionally powerful but loosely defined aims embodied in the person of the Führer and held together by a Führer cult. The path to power and advancement lay in anticipating the 'Führer's will', and, without necessarily waiting for explicit orders, to promote what were presumed to be Hitler's wishes. In this way a continuum of radicalisation was assured and sustained, precisely in those areas most closely associated with Hitler's own ideological fixations.
4. One part of this political system was neatly outlined by the State Secretary in the Prussian Agricultural Ministry, Werner Willekens, when he said in 1934:  
Everyone with opportunity to observe it knows that the Führer can only with great difficulty order from above everything that he intends to carry out sooner or later. On the contrary, until now everyone has best worked in his place in the new Germany if, so to speak, he works towards the Führer. Very often, and in many places, it has been the case that individuals, already in previous years, have waited for commands and orders. Unfortunately, that will probably also be so in the future. Rather, however, it is the duty of each single person, in the spirit of the Führer, to work towards him. Anyone making mistakes will come to his notice soon enough. But the one who works correctly towards the Führer along his lines and towards his aim will in the future as previously have the finest reward of one day suddenly attaining legal confirmation of his work.294
5. The reverse side to this was Hitler's own style of leadership. Linge wrote:
Hitler mostly outlined tasks and aims very vaguely and happily left everything else be taken out of his hands if "it" went "in principle" as he had imagined it. Thereby he preferred to allow two authorities or people to undertake the same thing and to observe who asserted themselves better (or also against competitors). It was obvious that this policy had too often lead to friction, delays, double the strain, and contrary results.295
6. The sociologist and historian Rainer C. Baum commented:
That this [style of leadership] was just an accident of personal idiosyncrasy, moreover seems rather doubtful. More likely it derived from an astute appreciation of how one could combine rule by interest constellation with the dynamics of a social movement forging east, for this style of leadership involved a structural preference for disorder at home. Interinstitutional, interorganisational, and interpersonal conflicts and competitions were encouraged. Attempts to delineate clear lines of authority and responsibility were discouraged, as were traditional jurisdictions of offices.296
 
7. This form of rule had a number of practical consequences beyond mere bureaucratic chaos. It invited radical initiatives from below and offered the prospect of them being taken up in as far as they conformed to Hitler's broadly defined goals. Four examples have been cited of Hitler as the adjudicator in this radicalisation process: Engel on the deportation of the Jews from Salonika, Linge on Hitler's enthusiasm for the 'hard' line followed by Greiser in the Warthegau, Linge on politics in the occupied Ukraine, and Bräutigam on Rosenberg's retaliatory deportation plans. Both Engel and Linge commented on Hitler's anger at army unease with the actions of the SS.
8. This system also promoted ferocious competition amongst rival institutions, and the individuals within them, to anticipate and fulfil the Führer's will. No single institution or organisation could accumulate a reliable power base for its operations. The leaders of such institutions had to exert all their energies to maintain and expand their control over resources and to maintain their political relevance. Hitler himself welcomed these overlappings in competence, the lack of clarity, and the resultant unending demarcation disputes. He consciously avoided all attempts to produce a more rational authoritarian state structure because the process cemented his own autonomy within the regime in his position as Führer.
9. This command technique of deliberately leaving it up to the executive organs (for example the Einsatzgruppen) to place limits on how an order was interpreted was a form of issuing orders which relied upon an interaction as almost old as the Nazi party itself. The Nazi Party Supreme Court [Oberstes Parteigericht der NSDAP], which was given the task in 1938 of deciding what was to be done to those party members who had committed crimes during the Reichskristallnacht pogrom, explained that it was
[...]obvious to active National Socialists from the Kampfzeit [...] that orders for campaigns in which the party does not want its role as organiser to be known need not be completely clear and detailed. They are   also accustomed to reading more into such an order than is written or said, just as the issuer of this order has often become adept, in the Party's interest (especially in the case of illegal political rallies), at leaving the order unclear and at merely sketching out its aim.297
10. Von Below gave a clear picture of this interaction between Führer and subordinates:
Until Autumn 1941 though, Hitler had very rarely given a direct order. He confined himself to convincing those listening, so that they realised his ideas on there own initiative. This explains the often lengthy discussions with Hitler. As of December 1941, when Hitler took over the leadership of the armed forces, he slowly started to implement his ideas by giving direct orders. He also continued to try and win over those he talked to his views with partly lengthy explanations. Only in the last year of the war did he make more use of clear orders, at a time when the possibility of carrying out orders in the sense he intended was already very limited.298
11. In this light the testimony of Krause cited by Irving becomes understandable: 'Hitler thought and said that if the report [about a radio transmitter in Warsaw] were true then punitive intervention would have to be undertaken. However there was no clear-cut order. It remained up to Bormann, Himmler, and the commander of Warsaw, how punishment would take place.'299 This suggests strongly that some similar kind of arrangement was involved in the genesis   of the 'Final Solution', personally sanctioned by Hitler but not necessarily ordered by him in detail or method.
12. In exculpating Hitler from the murder of the European Jews the onus was on Irving to find another culprit. His choice fell naturally on the Reichsführer SS[RFSS] Heinrich Himmler. Yet as head of the powerful SS imperium Himmler was personally subordinate only to Hitler, an autonomy that was repeatedly confirmed by Hitler himself. The SS as an organisation saw the realisation of Hitler's Weltanschauung as its central aim. Quoting a speech by Himmler on 5 May 1944 in which Himmler referred to 'executing this soldierly order' in solving the 'Jewish problem', Irving added 'Never before, and never after, did Himmler hint at a Führer Order [...]'.300 This assertion is wilfully wrong. It is highly improbable that a written order will ever be found". As Eichmann told his Israeli interrogator:
A Reich law is not necessary, Herr Captain. There are also decrees. There are orders. It was said ... it was not only said, it was a certain fact that - quotation marks - "the Führer's words have the force of law". Orders given by a commanding general also don't appear in law gazette.301
13. Although the decision itself may never be conclusively dated, Irving chose to ignore abundant evidence that it was indeed Hitler who entrusted Himmler with the murderous 'Final Solution'. Himmler realised the full horrors of the task Hitler had assigned him, but resigned himself to his task in the belief that it was deigned by the Führer and therefore ordained by providence.
 
14. In a letter to Otto Berger, head of the SS Main Office [SS-Hauptamt], dated 26 July 1942, Himmler wrote 'The occupied eastern territories will become free of Jews. The Führer has put the responsibility for completing this very difficult order on my shoulders. In any case no one can relieve me of the responsibility. So I forbid all discussion [Mitreden].'302 In an order of 9 October 1942, demanding that all Jews still at work in the armaments industry in the districts of Warsaw and Lublin be put in concentration camps, Himmler added 'But there too [in the General Government] the Jews will one day disappear, according to the wishes of the Führer.'303 Hitler's personal secretary Christa Schroeder has given us her version:
I can categorically affirm that Himmler meticulously informed Hitler about the events in the concentration camps. He regarded all the atrocities as measures necessary to maintain his regime. But here as in all other areas he was very concerned about his good reputation. He thought it unbearable that his name be brought into connection with the actions in the camps that flew in the face of all humanity. For this reason he played his most hypocritical role exactly here and abused the good faith of his numberless adherents. [...]
One day Himmler was confronted by a few generals about the atrocities committed in Poland. To my surprise Himmler defended himself with the assurance that he was only carrying out the 'Führer's' orders. But he immediately added: 'The Führer's person may on no account be brought into connection with this. I take on full responsibility.'304
 
15. Further evidence, from Bach-Zelewski and Bradfisch, is quoted above. Even Irving's witnesses themselves are incredulous that Himmler could have acted alone. 'Himmler's last adjutant, Werner Grothmann, whom I interviewed in 1970, felt it unlikely that the Reichsführer SS would have dared act on his own initiative, and Himmler's surviving brother Gebhard - formally a high civil servant - told me the same in 1968 [...].'305 And yet Irving, without explanation, decided that it was Wolff's account that was 'persuasive'. He paraphrased Wolff as having said that 'Himmler desired, in some bizarre way, to perform great deeds for the "Messiah of the next two thousand years" - without having to involve his Führer in them.' This is based on document 121, a page of Irving's hand-written notes on a statement deposited by Wolff in the Munich Institute for Contemporary History in 1952. Even allowing for the bias in Irving's note taking the passage in no way contradicts those documents and witnesses quoted above, rather it rounds out the picture.
Bormann and Hitler were [well] of the opinion that the Jewish question had to be dealt with, without Hitler getting his fingers dirty in the process.[...] Himmler was bizarre and religious in his own way and took the view that he had to assume tasks which had to be solved for the greatest commander [Hitler] in the greatest war of all times; to realise Hitler's ideas without involving him personally. Around August 1942 the RFSS [i.e. Himmler] gave dark hints: Wolff had no idea what one had to take on for the Messiah of the next 2,000 years [Hitler], so that he personally could remain free of sins. No one could help him (RFSS [Himmler]). He had had to take things on his shoulders for the German people and the Führer that no one dare know about. [...] Wolff tends towards the opinion that Hitler did not touch on the   question of the destruction of the Jews even with Himmler and in this sense kept his distance from the matter. The small group protected by Bormann and Himmler simply explained they were acting on an order by the Führer, without this having explicitly been given.306
16. In a record quoted in other respects by Irving, Bormann's adjutant Heinrich Heim was recorded as saying:
Bormann had the great gift to put himself entirely in Hitler's place, to fully adapt to him, and the ability to resolutely suppress all his own wishes and views in favour of him [Hitler]. In this way he was in a position to decide many questions of a lesser importance exactly as Hitler would have decided them. Bormann never did anything that was not in accord with Hitler and he was able to completely suppress his own intentions. His principle was not to trouble the Führer with anything that he could carry out himself, but also not to withhold anything that only the Führer could decide. [...] It fits that in the first years after the war Bormann was made into a scapegoat for Hitler. Even many old National Socialists painted Bormann in particularly black shades to exonerate Hitler.307
 
17. Von Sonnleithner wrote '...and another thing: the trained official who knows his master would never bother him with every detail. He would first try to resolve difficulties which arose himself.' Finally Hitler himself described his system of issuing orders in his table talk of 14 October 1941:
Where would I be if I did not find people I trusted to undertake the work which I cannot direct myself; hardened people of whom I know they take tough measures just as I would. The best man for me is he who troubles me the least in that that he undertakes 95 out of 100 decisions himself. To be sure, there are always cases that in the end have to be decided by me alone.308
18. The 'Final Solution' was surely one such case. Hitler did not want to 'get his hands dirty', Himmler was, it seems, resigned, but willing in his fanatical devotion to Hitler, to shoulder a task with which Hitler's name could not be associated for fear of destroying the myth of the Führer.

Notes

290. Hitler's War, pp. xi-xii.
291. Document 134.
292. Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936. Hubris (London, 1998), chapter 13, 'Working towards the Führer', pp. 527-591.
293. 'Die Fäden der militärischen und zivilen Führung liefen immer bei Hitler zusammen.' (von Sonnleiter, p. 20).
294. Kershaw, Hitler, p. 529.
295. Linge, p. 266.
296. Rainer C. Baum, The Holocaust and the German Elite. Genocide and National Suicide in Germany, 1871-1945 (Ottowa/London, 1981), p. 275.
297. Der Oberste Parteirichter Walter Buch an Hermann Göring, 13 feb. 1939 (IMT Vol. XXXII, ND 3063-PS), quoted in Peter Longerich, 'From Mass Murder to the "Final Solution". The Shooting of Jewish Civilians during the First Months of the Eastern Campaign within the Context of Nazi Jewish Genocide' in Bernd Wegner (ed.), From Peace to War. Germany, Soviet Russia and the World, 1939-1941 (Oxford, 1997), pp. 253-275, p. 274.
298. 'Bis zum Herbst 1941 hat Hitler allerdings ganz selten einen direkten Befehl gegeben. Er beschränkte sich darauf , seine Zuhörer zu überzeugen, so daß sie von sich aus seine Ansichten verwirklichten. Das war auch der Grund für die oft sehr langen Gespräche bei Hitler. Ab Dezember 1941, als Hitler auch die Führung des Heeres übernahm, ging er nur langsam dazu über, durch direkte Befehle seine Ansichten durchzusetzen, und versuchte es weiter, seine Gesprächspartner mit zum Teil längeren Darlegungen für seine Absichten zu gewinnen. Erst im letzten Kriegsjahr machte er mehr Gebrauch von der klaren Befehlsgebung, zu einer Zeit, als die Möglichkeit, Befehle in seinem auszuführen, schon sehr begrenzt waren.' (von Below, p. 208).
299. Document 134.
300. Hitler's War, pp. 630-31
301. 'Das ist ja nicht notwendig. Ein Reichsgesetz ist ja nicht notwendig, Herr Hauptmann. Denn es gibt auch Erlasse. Es gibt Befehle. Und es hiess ja ... nicht nur es hies, es war eine feststehende Tatsache, dass - Anführungszeichen - "Führerworte haben Gesetzjkraft". Befehle, die ein kommandierender General gibt, stehen ja auch nicht im Gesetzblatt.' (von Lang, p. 196). J.von Lang (ed.),Das Eichmann - Protokoll: Tonbandaufzeichuungen des israelischen Verhöre (Berlin, 1982), p. 196.
302. 'Die besetzen Ostgebieten werden Judenfrei. Dei Durchführung dieses sehr schweren Befehls hat der Führer auf meine Schultern gelegt. Die Veranwortung kann mir ohnedies niemand abnehmen. Also verbiete ich mir alles Mireden.' (Faschismus - Ghetto - Massenmord, pp. 296).
303. 'Jedoch auch dort sollen eines Tages, dem Wunsche des Führers entsprechend, die Juden verschwinden.' (ibid., pp. 446-7; also in Third Supplemental Discovery List, Section 51 (b), letter dated Reval, 28 July 1942).
304. 'Ich kann mit Bestimmtheit versichern, dass Hitler von Himmler über die Vorgänge in den KZ-Lagern genaustens unterrichtet war. Er sah alle die Scheusslichkeiten als für die Erhaltung seines Regimes notwendige Massnahmen an. Aber auch hier wie auf allen anderen Gebeiten war er sehr auf seinen guten Ruf bedacht. Er hielt es für untragbar, dass sein Name mit den in den Lagern verübteen, aller Menschlichkeit hohnsprechenden Handlungen in Verbindung gebracht wurde. Deshalb spielte er grade hier seine grösste Heucherrolle und trieb Schindluder mit dem guten Glauben seiner zahllosen Anhänger.[...]
Eines Tages wurde Himmler von einigen Generalen wegen der in Polen begangenen Greuel zur Rede gestellt. Zu meiner überraschung verteidigte er sich mit der Versicherung, dass er nur die Befehle des 'Fuhrers' ausführe. Aber gleich darauf fügte er hinzu: "Die Person des Führers darf aber auf keinen Fall damit in Zusammenhang gebracht werden. Die volle Verantwortung übernehme ich."' (Zoller, pp. 194-5.)
305. Hitler's War, p. 851.
306. 'Bormann und Himmler vertraten [wohl] die Ansicht daß die Judenfrage erledigt werden müsse, ohne daß sich Hitler dabei die Finger schmutzig mache. [...] Himmler war in seiner Art bizarr und religiöus und vertrat den Staandpunkt, daß er für den grossten Feldherr [Hitler] im grössten Krieg aller Zeiten Aufgaben übernehmen müsse, die gelöst werden müssten, um Hitler's Ideen zu verwirklichen, ohne ihn persönlich zu engagieren. Etwa August 1942 macht RFSS dunkle Andeutungen: Wolff habe keine Begriff was man für den Massiahs der nachsten 2000 Jahren übernehmen musse, damit eser persönlich sundenfrei bleibe. Ihm (RFSS) könne kein Mensch helfen. Für das deutsche Volk und seinen Führer habe er Dinge auf seine eigenen Schultern laden müssen, von denen niemand etwas wissen dürfte. [...] Wolff möchte die Meinung zuneigen daß Hitler die Frage der Judenvernichtung auch mit Himmler nicht berührte und in diesen Sinne sich aus der Sache heraushielt. Die kleine Gruppe unter Himmlers und Bormanns Deckung erklärte einfach, sich auf einen Führerbefehl zu berufen, ohne dass diesen ausdrücklich gegeben war.' (document 121).
307. 'Bormann hatte die grosse Gabe, sich ganz in Hitler einzufühlen, sich völlig auf ihn einzustellen, und die Fähigkeit, seine eignen Wünsche und Ansichten demgegenüber konsequent zurücktreten zu lassen. Auf diese Weise war er in der Lage, viele Fragen minderer Wichtigkeit so zu entscheiden, wie Hitler sie entschieden haben würde. Bormann hat nie etwas getan, was nicht in Hitlers Sinn gewesen wäre; und er vermochte seine eignen Intentionen ganz und gar zurückzustellen. Sein Grundsatz war, den Führer mit nichts zu belasten, was auch er selbst erledigen konnte, dem Führer aber nichts vorzuenthalten, was nur der Führer entscheiden konnte. [...] Es passt dazu, dass Bormann in den ersten Jahren nach dem Krieg zum Sündenbock für Hitler gemacht worden its. Auch viele alte Nationalsozialisten malten Bormann besonders schwarz, um Hitler zu entlasten,' (IfZ ZS-243/I, protocol of a conversation with Heinrich Heim and Dr. Mau, 17 July 1953 2, pp. 4-5)
308. 'Wohin käme ich, wenn ich nicht Leute meines Vertrauens fände zur Erledigung der Arbeiten, die ich nicht selbst leiten kann, harte Leute, von denen ich weiß, sie greifen durch, so wie ich das tun würde. Der beste Mann ist für mich der, welcher mich am wenigsten bemüht, indem er 95 von 100 Entscheidungen auf sich nimmt. Freilich gibt es immer Fälle, die letzlich nur von mir entschieden werden müssen.' (Monologue, pp. 90-91). 'Und noch etwas: Der geschulte Beamte, der seinen Herrn kennt, wird diesen nicht mit jeder Kleinigkeit belästigen. Er wird versuchen, auftauchende Schwierigkeiten zunächst selbst zu uberwinden.' (von Sonnleiter, p. 78).
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