The Jewish media and the New York Times received Dr Gerald Fleming's book well.

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December 28, 1984



Date: December 28, 1984, Friday, Late City Final Edition Section C; Page 32, Column 5; Weekend Desk Byline:

By D. J. R. Bruckner


By Gerald Fleming. 219 pages. University of California Press. $15.95.


IN "Hitler's War," published in 1977, the English historian David Irving argued that Hitler did not know of the extermination of European Jews until late 1943, two years after it had begun. His thesis is provocative; it throws light on a battle among serious historians about how the Nazi Government in Germany worked from 1933 to 1945. Text:

One school of thought, represented by such German historians as Klaus Hildebrand and Karl Dietrich Bracher, holds that Hitler absolutely dominated the Government and that what distinguished his dictatorship from all others was precisely his personality. On the other side, historians like Hans Mommsen and Martin Broszat argue that the Nazi regime was chaotic and that local initiatives were later expediently woven into strands of national policy. Mr. Mommsen, among others, has doubts that there ever was an order from Hitler for the Final Solution.

In "Hitler and the Final Solution" (originally published in German two years ago), Gerald Fleming of the University of Surrey sets out to prove Hitler's personal responsibility for the extermination of the Jews. His sometimes flamboyant writing and the structure of his book as a kind of thriller will annoy some historians, but he certainly succeeds in his purpose.

No written order from Hitler commanding the Final Solution has survived. That problem is compounded by a directive issued in 1941 by Martin Bormann, Hitler's deputy, that "only written Führer orders" should be followed on racial policies.

Mr. Fleming points out that Bormann is not to be believed on this question; Bormann, he says, was a key figure in an elaborate effort to disguise any participation by Hitler in the mass murders, an effort that even included the invention of code words in official documents. In fact, Mr. Fleming's demonstration of the sanitation of the language used in reports on the progress of the Final Solution is one of the more telling items in his indictment, and it goes a long way toward supporting his contention that a search for a written order from Hitler is a wasted and distracting effort.

His argument that the timing of changes in Hitler's racial policies cannot be understood except as part of a deliberate policy of extermination is also persuasive. By the end of 1941, the notorious Einsatzgruppen under the command of Heinrich Himmler had shot to death one million Jews during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Himmler had even watched the execution of 120 at Minsk in August of that year, after which he ordered his men to find a more efficient means of killing. The better means was gas; it was to be used on at least four million people in the next four years.

When the war began in 1939, emigration of Jews from Germany and areas it controlled was halted, and by late 1941 even sanitized Nazi documents began talking about a "final territorial solution" - deportation of Western European Jews to nations in Eastern Europe that the Nazis had conquered. But, of course, exterminations had already begun there, not only in the Soviet Union, but also in Latvia and Poland. In January 1942, there was a conference of leading military and nonmilitary Nazi chiefs at Wannsee; Adolf Eichmann said the talk was about extermination, and it was clear to everyone that the order for it came directly from Hitler. By that summer, Eichmann had scheduled trains to deliver 1,000 Jews a day to Auschwitz from the Netherlands, France and Belgium. The transportation of German Jews there and to other locations, under the guise of sending them to work camps, was already well under way.

Some revisionist historians have argued that it was Himmler who devised and ordered the Final Solution. Mr. Fleming uses previously known testimony, supported by that of German participants who are still living, to demonstrate that Himmler on several occasions, in front of witnesses who included hundreds of army officers, said specifically that the mass murders were a "terrible duty" imposed on his men which had to be carried out because the orders came directly from Hitler.

Mr. Fleming even produces a typed report sent directly by Himmler to Hitler in December 1942 in which Himmler reports 363,000 Jews executed in the Soviet Union between August and November. This kind of evidence he supplements with sworn testimony about coded signals being received in the Ukraine over Hitler's name specifically ordering liquidation of all Jews in the area, and a recently unearthed report on Auschwitz written in May 1943 by a Nazi S.S. officer in which the extermination of up to 10,000 Jews a day is specifically said to be done on Hitler's own orders.

There is much more evidence here. Mr. Fleming has done fine detective work on documentation, he has found surviving Nazis not previously heard from, and he analyzes the documentation and personal statements to produce satisfactory proof that the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe was Hitler's decision, that he ordered it and kept close watch on its progress. The revisionist historians may go on arguing about the nature of the Nazi regime, but on this question it is hard to imagine they can find much room to argue unless they can produce documents and testimony to specifically refute Mr. Fleming point by point.square

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