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Ian Kershaw and the Final Solution

By Paul Grubach

Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, by [Sir] Ian Kershaw, International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2008, 394 pages.


KershawIAN Kershaw is a highly acclaimed historian and professor of modern history at the University of Sheffield (Great Britain). Widely considered to be an authority on Nazi Germany, his two volume biography of Adolf Hitler was favorably reviewed by numerous mainstream media sources.

According to the short statement on the book's jacket, this collection of essays brings together the most important and influential aspects of Kershaw's research on the Holocaust for the first time. The titles of the four sections reveal what topics are dealt with: "Hitler and the Final Solution": "Popular Opinion and the Jews in Nazi Germany": "The Final Solution in Historiography": "The Uniqueness of Nazism."

This very interesting book received flattering reviews from mainstream Holocaust historians such as Saul Friedländer, Christopher Browning and Deborah Lipstadt. The comments of Browning and Lipstadt are very instructive. After claming that Kershaw is one of the most insightful and productive historians of Nazi Germany, Browning then adds: "It is simply splendid that his many seminal articles are now available in one volume." Lipstadt also offers her praise for Kershaw and his book: "Having all these essays together in one volume enhances their importance and reaffirms Kershaw's place as one of the stellar historians of the period."

Considering Kershaw's stature in academia, one should take very seriously whatever he has to say about Hitler and National Socialist Germany. This review will briefly examine what Kershaw writes about The Final Solution.

The "Final Solution" Defined

Kershaw defines "the Final Solution to the Jewish Question" as "the systematic [Nazi] attempt to exterminate the whole of European Jewry [p.60]." Of course, this is the traditional view, the one currently accepted by mainstream historians.

Kershaw goes on to state the three major questions, which in his view, surround the Final Solution. They are: how and when the decision to exterminate the Jews came about; what was Hitler's role in this policy of mass murder; and whether the "Final Solution" followed a single order from a long-held program, or did it evolve in a haphazard and piecemeal fashion over a period of time (p.61).

After posing these questions, he states: "The deficiencies and ambiguities of the evidence, enhanced by the language of euphemism and camouflage used by the Nazis even among themselves when dealing with the extermination of the Jews, mean that absolute certainty in answering these complex questions can not be achieved [p.61]."

In simple language, he is saying there is room for doubt in regard to the answers mainstream historians have given to the previous questions.

The "Intentionalists" and "Functionalists"

Two camps have arisen among orthodox historians of the Final Solution. Holocaust traditionalist Deborah Lipstadt points out that "intentionalists contend that Hitler came to power intending to murder the Jews and instituted an unbroken and coherent set of policies directed at realizing that goal. In contrast, functionalists argue that the Nazi decision to murder the Jews did not originate with a single Hitler decision, but evolved in an incremental and improvised fashion."1

So who does our academic authority on the Final Solution think is right? Kershaw says that "one would have to conclude that neither model offers a wholly satisfactory explanation (p.269)." One paragraph later, he adds: "The vagaries of anti-Jewish policy both before the war and in the period 1939-41, out of which the 'Final Solution' evolved, belie any notion of 'plan' or 'programme.'"

So there you have it. The two orthodox/mainstream theories about the Final Solution are flawed, and, before the war and in the period 1939-41, there was no official, etched-in-stone plan or program to exterminate the Jews. Apparently, the latter assertion implies that the "intentionalist" theory has been falsified.

Did Hitler Order the Extermination of the Jews?

One of the standard dogmas of the traditional Holocaust story is that National Socialist leader Adolf Hitler personally ordered the complete extermination of European Jewry.

Nonetheless, Kershaw admits that a written statement from Hitler that orders the extermination of the Jews has never been found: "Predictably, a written order by Hitler for the 'Final Solution' was not found [p.96]." And then, one page later he again raises skepticism in the reader's mind in regard to Hitler's role in the Final Solution: "Research had, in certain ways, then, moved away from the differing hypotheses about the date of Hitler's decision for the 'Final Solution' by implying -- or explicitly stating -- that no such decision had been made [p.97]."

He throws even more doubt on the traditional view of Hitler's role in the Final Solution when he points out that the evidence upon which it is based is fragmentary and unsatisfactory: "It seems certain, given the fragmentary and unsatisfactory evidence, that all attempts to establish a precise moment when Hitler decided to launch the 'Final Solution' will meet with objections [p.100]."

Kershaw concludes with this skeptical admission: "It seems impossible to isolate a single, specific Führer order for the 'Final Solution' in an extermination policy that took full shape in a process of radicalization lasting over a period of about one year [p.101]."

Throughout the book, Kershaw discusses the theories of various mainstream historians of the Final Solution. He points out that these scholars have inferred different interpretations from the same evidence, indicating that the very evidence upon which their interpretations are based is circumstantial. He is just one step away from admitting that their evidence is very weak, or even non-existent.

We quote Kershaw verbatim: "As these varied interpretations of leading experts demonstrate, the evidence for the precise nature of a decision to implement the 'Final Solution,' for its timing, and even for the very existence of such a decision is circumstantial. Though second-rank SS leaders repeatedly referred in post-war trials to a 'Führer Order' or 'Commission,' no direct witness of such an order survived the war. And for all the brutality of his own statements, there is no record of Hitler speaking categorically even in his close circle of a decision he had taken to the kill the Jews -- though his remarks leave not the slightest doubt of his approval, broad knowledge, and acceptance of the 'glory' for what was being done in his name. Interpretations rests, therefore, on the 'balance of probabilities'[pp. 256-257]."

Kershaw concedes that some post-war court testimony of German military officers about the existence of an order from Hitler to exterminate the Jews is bogus: "The early post-war testimony of Einsatzkommando leaders about the prior existence of a Führer order has been shown to be demonstrably false, concocted to provide a unified defense of the leader of Einsatzgruppe D, Otto Ohlendorf, at his trial in 1947 [p.258]."

So, after the reader is exposed to all of this skepticism and doubt, the question remains: what was the nature of the "Führer order" for the Final Solution? Kershaw claims it is not possible to provide an answer: "The nature and form of the 'Führer order', and whether it amounted to an initiative by Hitler himself or was any more than the granting of approval to a suggestion -- itself, in all probability, emanating from the local commanders of the killing units and broadened into a wider remit -- by Heydrich or Himmler, is impossible to establish [p.259]."

The Unreliability of the Testimonies of Rudolf Höss and Adolf Eichmann

One of the most important pieces of evidence traditionally adduced to "prove" the orthodox view of the Final Solution has been the testimony of the former commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, Rudolf Höss. Kershaw points out that Höss "recalled after the war receiving the extermination order [to exterminate the Jews] from [Heinrich] Himmler in the summer of 1941." Then, he immediately notes that Höss is untrustworthy as a witness: "But Höss's testimony cannot be relied upon, and in this case much points to the conclusion that he had erroneously pre-dated events by a year and was really referring to the summer of 1942 [p.261]."

Another "chief witness" was Adolf Eichmann, a National Socialist bureaucrat who is widely regarded as playing a seminal role in the Final Solution. Consider what Kershaw has to say about the reliability of Eichmann's testimony: "Eichmann's testimony in Israel in 1960 was also at times inaccurate. He claimed to remember vividly Heydrich communicating to him two or three months after the invasion of the Soviet Union that 'the Führer has ordered the physical extermination of the Jews.' But his memory was frequently wayward when it came to precise dates and time. In this case, too, it is as well not to build too much on such dubious evidence [p.261]."

Yet, on page 109, Kershaw makes this problematic statement: "Though their testimony is inaccurate in a number of ways and cannot be trusted with regard to detail, Adolf Eichmann, in effect the 'manager' of the 'Final Solution,' Dieter Wisliceny, one of his deputies, and Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, all asserted after the war that the orders passed on to them to implement the 'Final Solution' derived from Hitler himself. Second-and third-tier SS leaders directly implicated in the 'Final Solution' were in no doubt themselves that they were fulfilling 'the wish of the Führer.' There is no reason to doubt that they were correct, and that Hitler's authority -- most probably given as verbal consent to propositions usually put to him by Himmler -- stood behind every decision of magnitude and significance."

Does the reader see the predicament here? He says Eichmann's, Wisliceny's and Höss's testimonies are not reliable, and then he uses their testimonies as a part of an ensemble of testimonies to "corroborate" the orthodox view of the Final Solution.

Kershaw's "Definitive Claim" is Contradicted by the Evidence.

Amidst all the doubt and uncertainty that Kershaw has introduced into the traditional view of the Final Solution, he then makes a statement that is supposed to be "absolutely true." He states: "By March 1942 the 'Final Solution' as it is known to history was in full swing [p.78]." In other words, by March 1942 the alleged Nazi plan for the total extermination of Europe's Jews was fully operative.

This "definitive statement" is contradicted by the evidence put forth by mainstream Holocaust historian Jeffrey Herf.

In the March 7, 1942 entry in Joseph Goebbels's diary, the National Socialist propaganda minister discussed an extensive memo concerning the Final solution to the Jewish question. The document referred to "more than eleven million Jews" in Europe who "must first be concentrated in the East" and in due course, "after the war, be sent to an island" such as Madagascar. Europe would not see peace until the Jews were "excluded from European territory." "Delicate questions" concerning half-Jews, relatives, and spouses, it noted, would be addressed. Goebbels then wrote: "[T]he situation is now ready to introduce a definitive solution to the Jewish question. Later generations will no longer have the energy and also the alertness of instinct to do so. Therefore, it is important that we proceed radically and thoroughly."2

Orthodox Holocaust historian Herf admits this passage contradicts the traditional Holocaust story. It speaks not of mass extermination, but of deporting the Jews to some place outside of Europe after the war is ended. Herf tries to explain this away by claiming that Goebbels is lying to his own diary for posterity's sake -- a bizarre rationalization if there ever was one.3

On the one hand Herf claims that Hitler, Goebbels and the Nazi hierarchy on numerous occasions publicly announced (!) to the world their policy to murder all the Jews of Europe.4 Yet, he then turns around and tries to make us believe that Goebbels tried to hide this extermination policy by lying to his diary for posterity's sake. Why would Goebbels and the Nazi hierarchy announce to the world their policy of exterminating the Jews, and then try to hide this same policy by lying in private diaries? It would not make any sense for Goebbels to lie about, cover up and conceal in his private diary the very thing that he honestly publicly announced! Here, it appears as though Herf concocted a convenient rationalization to "explain away" evidence that undermines the traditional view of the Final Solution.

Furthermore, this evidence from Dr Joseph Goebbels's March 7, 1942 diary entry defies Kershaw's claim that an alleged policy to exterminate the Jews was in full swing in March 1942. As of said date, Goebbels was still advocating the deportation of the Jews out of Europe when the war ended.

Kershaw and the "Nazi Gas Chambers"

Professor Kershaw, certainly no revisionist, clearly accepts the traditional view of the Holocaust, as he speaks of the "horror of Auschwitz" (p.237). Here, he is referring to the alleged systematic murder of European Jewry in the "Nazi gas chambers."

Despite that, he puts forth evidence that suggests certain "testimonies" to the "Nazi gas chambers" are highly questionable. He writes: "According to postwar testimony provided by his former personal adjutant, Otto Günsche, and his manservant, Heinz Linge, Hitler showed a direct interest in the development of gas-chambers and spoke to Himmler about the use of gas-vans [p.109]."

Buried in a footnote, Kershaw states the reason as to why the "testimonies" of Günsche and Linge in regard to the "Nazi gas chambers" are unreliable: "The passages in question make no mention of Jews and convey the impression that the victims of gassing were Soviet citizens. The text, whose provenance and intended recipient -- Stalin -- make it problematical in a number of respects, goes on…to claim that gas chambers were first established, on Hitler's personal order, at Charkov, though, in fact, no gas chambers were erected on the occupied territory of the Soviet Union [p.115, footnote 66]."

That is to say, it was claimed that homicidal gas chambers were used at Charkov -- where it is now known that they never existed.

But even more importantly, Kershaw substantiates what mainstream Holocaust historian Arno Mayer admitted as far back as 1988: "Sources for the study of the gas chambers are at once rare and unreliable."5

Kershaw concurs, for he writes: "Recorded comments about the murder of Jews refer almost invariably to mass shootings by the Einsatzgruppen, which in many cases were directly witnessed by members of the Wehrmacht. The gassing, both in mobile gas-units and then in extermination camps, was carried out much more secretly, and found little echo inside Germany to go by the almost complete absence of documentary sources relating to it [p.203]."

Not only does Kershaw confirm that reliable documentary sources relating to the "Nazi gas chambers" are almost non-existent, but he also points out that "gas chamber" rumors were circulating throughout Germany, and foreign language broadcasts may have been responsible for such rumors. "Even so," Kershaw writes, "the silence [in regard to the secrecy that surrounded the 'Nazi gas chambers' and the almost complete absence of documentary sources relating to them] was not total. Rumours did circulate, as two cases from the Munich 'Special Court' dating from 1943 and 1944 and referring to the gassing of Jews in mobile gas-vans, prove [p.203]."

In autumn 1943, a middle-aged Munich woman confessed to have said: "Do you think that nobody listens to the foreign language broadcasts? They have loaded Jewish women and children into a wagon, driven out of the town, and exterminated (vernichtet) them with gas [p.203]." For these remarks and for derogatory comments about Hitler, she was sentenced to prison (p.203). Another man was also indicted for having claimed in September 1944 that Hitler was a mass-murderer who had Jews killed by having them exterminated by gas in a "gas-wagon" (p.203).

Kershaw further points out that because the sources for the study of the Final Solution and the "Nazi gas chambers" are so inadequate, mainstream historians have inferred very different interpretations from the same evidence: "The inadequacy of the sources, reflecting in good measure the secrecy of the killing operations and the deliberate unclarity of the language employed to refer to them, has led to historians drawing widely varying conclusions from the same evidence about the timing and the nature of the decision or decisions to exterminate the Jews [pp. 254-255]."

One would think that after admitting that sources relating to the "gas chambers" are very rare and inadequate, and rumors about "the Nazi gas chambers" were circulated by foreign language broadcasts, Kershaw would at least give some consideration to the Revisionist theory that these "Nazi gas chambers" never existed and were the creations of Allied and Zionist war propaganda. But clearly, this is not possible. The book was published by the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem, in Israel. No further comment necessary

Was Hitler's Brutality a Response to Stalin's Brutality?

Kershaw implies that Hitler's brutal plan to deport Jews was a response to Josef Stalin's wicked plan to deport ethnic Germans, for he writes: "Now, aware that the war would drag on and conscious that the USA would probably soon be involved, he [Hitler] agreed to demands from a number of Nazi leaders -- exploiting Stalin's deportation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans from the Volga region to the wastes of western Siberia and Kazakhstan to press for retaliatory measures -- to deport Germans, Austrian, and Czech Jews to the east even though the war was not over [p.105]."

Here, Kershaw raises anew this question: to what extent was Nazi brutality a response to Soviet, British and American brutality?

Kershaw's Misleading Claims about David Irving

Kershaw's treatment of maverick historian and expert on the leaders of the Third Reich, David Irving, is very misleading, to put it mildly. One would think that after all of the doubt and uncertainty that Kershaw admits exists in regard to the traditional view of the Final Solution, he would personally give Irving's view of the matter a thorough examination. No such luck.

Kershaw refers to "David Irving's apologist claims in Hitler's War (p.13)"; to "David Irving's attempt to whitewash Hitler's knowledge of the 'Final Solution (p. 239)'"; and finally, to "David Irving's attempted exculpations of Hitler's role in the 'Final Solution' (p. 329)."

In essence, Kershaw is claiming that Irving attempted to downplay and even hide Hitler's role in the Final Solution, which is blatantly false. What Irving has done is to bring to light what Kershaw unwittingly admitted in this book! That is, there is no real evidence to prove that Adolf Hitler ever ordered or knew of a plan to completely exterminate the Jews in "gas chambers" or by other means. Furthermore, Irving has called attention to authentic wartime German documents that strongly suggest that Hitler never ordered the extermination of the Jews.

As far back as 1977, Irving called attention to Hitler's brutality in regard to the Jews, thus falsifying Kershaw's claim that Irving was somehow trying to "whitewash" Hitler's involvement with the Jewish tragedy in World War II. Consider this description of Hitler's meeting with Admiral Miklos Horthy, regent of Hungary, in 1943. Irving wrote: "Poland should have been an object lesson to Horthy, Hitler argued. He [Hitler] related how Jews who refused to work there were shot; those who could not work just wasted away. Jews must be treated like tuberculosis bacilli, he said, using his favorite analogy. Was that so cruel when one considered that even innocent creatures like hares and deer had to be put down to prevent their doing damage? Why preserve a bestial species whose ambition was to inflict bolshevism on us all? Horthy apologetically noted that he had done all he decently could against the Jews: 'But they can hardly be murdered or otherwise eliminated,' he [Horthy] protested. Hitler reassured him: 'There is no need for that.' But just as in Slovakia, they ought to be isolated in remote camps where they could no longer infect the healthy body of the public; or they could be put to work in the mines, for example. He [Hitler] himself did not mind being temporarily excoriated for his Jewish policies, if they brought him tranquility. Horthy left unconvinced."6

In addition, Irving has called attention to evidence that is incompatible with the claim that Hitler ordered the wartime extermination of the Jews. Consider the "Schlegelberger document." This March 1942 memorandum of Nazi State Secretary Franz Schlegelberger reads as follows: "Reich Minister Lammers [Hitler's top civil servant] informed me that [Hitler] had repeatedly explained to him that he wanted the solution of the Jewish Question put back until after the war. Accordingly the present discussions possess merely theoretical value in the opinion of Reich Minister Lammers. But he will be in all cases concerned that fundamental decisions are not reached by a surprise intervention from another agency without his knowledge."7

Irving correctly argued that this document shows that Hitler had no plans to exterminate European Jewry; it is incompatible with the notion that he had ordered an urgent liquidation program. Not only was this document hidden by Allied prosecutors, but Kershaw has failed to take it into account.8

Kershaw and the Religion of the Final Solution

Kershaw admits the Jewish experience in WWII has been elevated to the status of a sacred religion, as the very term "Holocaust", he points out, was initially adopted by Jewish writers and "has been taken to imply an almost sacred uniqueness of terrible events exemplifying absolute evil, a specifically Jewish fate standing in effect outside the normal historical process…[p.237]." He then quotes Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer, who claims the "Holocaust" is now viewed as "a mysterious event, an upside-down miracle so to speak, an event of religious significance in the sense that it is not man-made as that term is normally understood [p.237]."

Kershaw appears to gently reject this "mystification" of the Holocaust, as he does not even find Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer's attempt to make the Holocaust appear "unique" as "very convincing or analytically helpful"(p.271, footnote 2).

Even though Kershaw rejects the state religion of the Holocaust, his mind is still locked up in a dogmatic slumber in regard to the Final Solution.

In regard to Hitler's writings, speeches and ideas, Kershaw writes: "And, however repulsive, and whatever their irrational basis, they did constitute a circular, self-reinforcing argument, impenetrable by rational critique, something which we genuinely call a Weltanschauung, or ideology [p.90]."

This criticism of Hitler hurls right back at Kershaw and the coterie of traditional historians of the Final Solution. As Kershaw has clearly demonstrated in this book, the traditional view of the Final Solution is clearly faulty and questionable. Yet, it is dogmatically believed and promoted anyway. Kershaw's traditional view of the Final Solution -- a Weltanschauung if there ever was one -- is a circular, self-reinforcing argument, non-falsifiable and impenetrable by rational refutation.

Kershaw is just one step away from admitting that, maybe, just maybe, there was no Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews, and maybe, just maybe, the "Nazi gas chambers" never existed. Maybe the Final Solution was, after all, a policy of deportation and ethnic cleansing, where Europe's Jewish population would be removed from Europe by brutal and ruthless means. Maybe the "Nazi gas chambers" were, after all, the creations of Allied and Zionist war propaganda.

But because of the dogmatic restraints that surround mainstream historians of the Final Solution, Kershaw just cannot take this most logical step.


  1. Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving (Harper-Collins, 2005), p. 23.
  2. Jeffrey Herf, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust (Belknap Press, 2006), p. 146.
  3. Ibid., p. 147.
  4. Ibid., pp. 5, 12, 110, 167, 267.
  5. Arno Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?: The "Final Solution" in History (Pantheon, 1988), p.362.
  6. David Irving, Hitler's War: 1942-1949 (PAPERMAC, 1977), p. 509.
  7. Quoted in Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial (Basic Books, 2001), p. 83. For another discussion of this document, see Paul Grubach, "Holocaust Revisionism vs. Richard Evans." Online:
  8. See David Irving, Nuremberg: The Last Battle (Focal Point, 1996), pp. 91-92; David Irving, Hitler's War, 1991 ed., p18.
Our dossier on Ian Kershaw
Extracts from David Irving's diary referring to Kershaw
Sir Ian Kershaw reviews Prof Richard Evans' book Telling Lies about Hitler
David Irving's letters:
Oct 21, 1998: Offers Kershaw advice and assistance for his latest volume
Mar 14, 1999: Asks about an expert witness on German language
Apr 3, 1999: Mr Irving invites Kershaw to be expert witness in Lipstadt trial [Kershaw refused, explaining that his knowledge of German was not good enough]
Mar 2001: David Irving challenges Ian Kershaw in March 2001: did he really claim to be the first to use the Goebbels Diaries from the Moscow archives? (He was not) | And again
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