Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Judgment: Electronic Edition, by Charles Gray

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Hitler's knowledge

6.23 Was Hitler aware what was going on and did he approve of it? Although (as I have already indicated) Irving was prepared at one stage of the trial to agree that in broad terms the answer to this question is in the affirmative, he later shifted his ground. In these circumstances it is necessary for me to rehearse the rival arguments on this issue.
6.24 The Defendants' answer to this question is, firstly, that the scale of the killing was so immense and its effect on the war effort so great, that it is difficult to conceive that Hitler was not consulted and his authority sought. The Defendants adopted the evidence of Sir John Keegan, summoned to give evidence by Irving, that it was perverse to suggest that Hitler was unaware until October 1943 what was happening to the Jewish population: it defies common sense. But the Defendants assert that there was what Browning described as incremental decision-making process. Browning gave evidence that in his view Hitler had made clear to Himmler and to Heydrich what he wanted done in terms of ethnic cleansing and then left it to his subordinates to carry out his wishes. I shall summarise the stages by which on the Defendants' case the programme was set in place.
6.25 According to Himmler, Hitler commented that a memorandum which Himmler had presented to him on 25 May 1940 was "very good and correct". The memorandum had expressed the hope that by means of a large emigration of all Jews to an African colony, "the concept of the Jew will be fully extinguished". Although the memorandum described the physical extirpation of the Jews as "un-German and impossible", Browning pointed out that this exchange took place at a time when the ethnic cleansing of the Jews (as he described it) had slowed down markedly at the instigation of Goering and Frank, who were concerned to give priority to the war effort. Browning asserted that, with a Nazi victory in France apparently assured, the memorandum indicates that Himmler approached Hitler to obtain his approval for the revalidation of the programme of ethnic cleansing. He needed Hitler's approval in order to counter any moves by Goering or Frank to block the programme.
6.26 In the spring of 1941, whilst preparations were under way for Barbarossa (the invasion of Russia), Hitler made clear his view that a war of destruction was about to start and called for the destruction of the Judaeo-Bolshevik intelligentsia. This sentiment generated proposals for the establishment of the Einsatzgruppen and the programme of mass shootings   as I have already described. That programme was not, as Browning put it, "micro-managed" by Hitler. But he claimed that it was Hitler whose vision and expectation created a genocidal atmosphere which brought forth concrete proposals for its implementation. Browning argued that Hitler wanted his generals to see the war against Russia as embracing a very strong ideological dimension and not just a conventional war. Having been effectively invited to do so by Hitler, the SS together with the military planners produced concrete plans to turn Hitler's vision into reality.
6.27 The Defendants recognise that the documentary evidence for implicating Hitler in any policy for the systematic shooting of Jews is sparse. There is no "smoking gun". A large number of documents were destroyed, many of them on the orders of Heydrich, so the documentary picture is a partial one. However, the Defendants do highlight a number of documents which, they contend, point, albeit not unambiguously, to Hitler's complicity.
6.28 The starting point for the documentary pointers towards Hitler's complicity is the record of the instructions given by Hitler to General Jodl, Chief of the Army Leadership Staff, on 3 March 1941 in relation to revised guidelines to be followed in the areas of Russia expected to be conquered. Hitler ordained:
"This coming campaign is more than a struggle of arms; it will also lead to the confrontation of two world views. In order to end this war it will not suffice merely to defeat the enemy army ..... The Jewish-Bolshevik intelligentsia, the hitherto oppressor of the people must be eliminated (beseitigt)"
These instructions, together with other similar utterances by Hitler at this time, evidence the central role which, according to the Defendants, Hitler played when it came to converting Nazi ideological thought into concrete action. According to Browning, it is discernible that Hitler was talking not only of military, but also ideological, necessity. As Longerich put it, Hitler was laying the ground for a racist war of extermination.
6.29 There followed what Longerich described as a package of measures, with which Hitler was intimately involved, for the implementation of that war. Following on the heels of Hitler's instructions to Jodl, on 13 March 1941 Jodl issued a directive which stated:  
"In the operation area of the Army, the Reichsfuhrer SS is granted special responsibilities by order of the Fuhrer for the preparation of the political administration; these special responsibilities arise from the ultimate decisive struggle between two opposing political systems. In the context of these responsibilities, the Reichsfuhrer SS will act independently and at his own risk".
Longerich infers that the reason why Himmler was being given these undefined special responsibilities was that the Army was not willing to be radical enough in carrying out the policing and security operations.
6.30 Hitler made a similar statement, albeit one not explicitly directed at the Jews, to senior army officers on 17 March 1941 when he said:
"The intelligentsia installed by Stalin must be destroyed (vernichtet). The leadership machine of the Russian empire must be defeated. In the Greater Russian area the use of the most brutal force is necessary"
He spoke in similar vein to a meeting of generals on 30 March 1941, when, according to the abbreviated record of General Halder, Hitler said:
"Communism unbelievable danger for the future ... The Communist is not a comrade, neither before nor after. We are talking about a war of extermination ... We are not waging war in order to conserve the enemy ... war against Russia: extermination of the Bolshevik Commissars and the Communist intelligentsia".
6.31 On 16 July 1941 a conference took place which was attended by amongst others Hitler and Rosenberg. According to a memorandum by Bormann, Hitler said:
"The giant area must naturally be pacified as quickly as possible; this will happen at best if anyone who just looks funny" (or in an alternative translation preferred by Irving "anyone who looks askance at us") "should be shot".
Longerich asserted that Hitler was thereby demonstratively endorsing the brutal massacres which were taking place and in effect authorising execution on suspicion alone. As Browning put it, it was an open shooting licence.
6.32 The Defendants attach considerable importance, in connection with the issue of Hitler's knowledge of the shootings, to an instruction issued on 1 August 1941 to the Einsatzgruppen by Muller, the head of the Gestapo within Heydrich's Security Police, in which he stipulated:
`"The Fuhrer is to be kept informed continually from here about the work of the Einsatzgruppen in the East"
The Defendants' case is that this document (to which I have already made refernce in the preceding section) shows that the reports from the Einsatzgruppen providing information about the executions carried out by them would at least be available on a continuous basis to Hitler. The distribution lists demonstrate how widely these reports were circulated. Copies went to the Reich Chancellery. According to Longerich, there is evidence that a copy of at least one such report went to Bormann. He concluded that it is inconceivable that Hitler did not see the reports. Muller's instruction coincided with the escalation of the shootings from selected groups to indiscriminate killing of Jews including women and children. The Defendants contend that Hitler's apparent wish to be kept informed will have meant that he would have received regular reports of the shooting of the Jews over the following months.
6.33 As I have already mentioned in section V(viii), on 25 October 1941, according to his table talk Hitler said:
"This criminal race [the Jews] has the two million dead from the World War on its conscience, now again hundreds of thousands. Noone can say to me: we cannot send them in the morass! Who then cares about our people? It is good if the terror (Schrecken) we are exterminating Jewry goes before us".
The Defendants say it is to be inferred from these words that Hitler was indeed receiving reports from the Einsatzgruppen as contemplated in Muller's instruction of 1 August.
6.34 On 30 November 1941 Himmler visited the Wolf's Lair. At 13.30, before meeting Hitler for lunch, he telephoned Heydrich in Prague about a transport of Jews from Berlin. Himmler's note contains the entry "Keine Liquidierung" that is in contention between the parties. I have set out the rival arguments in section V(vI) above. On the Defendants' interpretation of   that note, the likelihood is that Himmler discussed with Hitler the particular transport from Berlin to Riga. Although Himmler ordered that there should be no killing of the Jews aboard that transport, it is reasonable to infer that Hitler knew about and approved the shooting of other Jews in the East.
6.35 At paragraphs 5.127 to 131 above I have made reference to Goebbels's diary entry relating to his meeting with Hitler on 21 November 1941; the speech made by Hitler to the Gauleiter on 12 December 1941 and Frank's report of that speech on 16 December 1941. I shall not repeat myself, save to say that the Defendants these are relied on by the Defendants in support of their contention that Hitler was aware of and approved the policy of executing Jews and others in the East by shooting.
6.36 An entry in Himmler's appointment book for 18 December 1941 recorded that one of the proposed topics for discussion between himself and Hitler at their forthcoming meeting was the Judenfrage (the Jewish question). Against that entry, apparently (say the Defendants) following the discussion with Hitler, Himmler has noted "als Partisanane auszurotten" (to be annihilated as if partisans). According to the Defendants this shows that Hitler, expressly consulted, approved the killing of the Jews under cover of killing partisans as the solution to the Jewish question.
6.37 The Defendants argue that this interpretation of Himmler's note is confirmed by and consistent with a report no. 51 dated 26 December 1942 on the campaign against partisans in the Ukraine, Southern Russia and Bialystok, which was retyped three days later in larger type, in order, so the Defendants say, that Hitler with his poor eyesight could read it. In its retyped form it is headed: "Reports to the Fuhrer on combating partisans". It is endorsed on the front page "vorgelegt (laid before or submitted) 31.12.42". It reports the numbers killed over the preceding four months. The number of Jews executed is given as 363,211. Browning infers that this is but one of a series of reports which Hitler received in accordance with the instruction issued by Muller on 12 August 1941 that Hitler was to be kept well informed of the shootings being carried out by the Einsatzgruppen.
6.38 Longerich was clear in his conclusion that, if one takes account of the scale of policy of extermination and what it entailed in terms of logistics and expense, it is wholly inconceivable that Hitler was unaware of not only of the fact of the shootings but also of their scale. Such contemporaneous evidence as has survived confirms, according to the Defendants, that Hitler   knew and approved. Browning rejected as being absurd the notion that Himmler, who was always anxious to do his master's bidding, would not have discussed regularly with Hitler the wholesale executions of Jews and others by SS units.
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accessed 11 March 2013