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Posted Monday, May 10, 2004

London, Monday, May 10, 2004

Book Review


Slow Route to Murder

A new history offers two explanations for the Holocaust

THE ORIGINS OF THE FINAL SOLUTION: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy 1939-1942 by Christopher R Browning with a contribution by Jürgen Matthäus (Heinemann, £25)

by David ["Ratface"] Cesarani

CHRISTOPHER Browning is no ordinary historian. His appearance as an expert witness [initial fee paid him by Lipstadt: £27,632.12] in the libel case that David Irving launched against Deborah Lipstadt was one nail in Irving's legal coffin. Whatever tricks Irving tried, he could not derail Browning's calm, precise delivery of facts establishing that the genocide happened.

Browning, who had previously given expert testimony in the trials of Nazi war criminals, presented a winning combination of forensic precision with the historian's skill of telling a story clearly and powerfully

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David Irving comments:

AS I pointed out in my comment on his article in the Atlantic Monthly, Browning has finally come round to the solution that I first proposed in Hitler's War in 1977 -- that Hitler was largely in the dark about what is now called the Holocaust, and certainly issued no order for the systematic extermination of the Jews.
   I am not aware that I tried any tricks in cross-examining Browning; in fact I assured him in my opening remarks that there were no hidden traps in my questions of him. He was one of the most respectable witnesses, and hearing him testify was an enjoyable experience for myself and the defence alike (if not for Lipstadt, who appeared thoroughly bored throughout the entire three-month proceedings).
   That said: What an extraordinary thing, that in this book Browning reproduces two different, wildly conflicting, irreconcilable opinions on the all important question, whether the mass killing of Jews was systematic or not. That was one central point of the Lipstadt trial, in fact.
   "Ratface" Cesarani writes: "The fact remains that until spring 1942 Jews in one part of Europe were being slaughtered while others were left unmolested."
   That is true. It was shown quite clearly at the trial that this moratorium on killing German Jews in the east resulted from an explicit order from Hitler's HQ that such mass liquidations had to cease.
   Eventually even Browning and Cesarani will have to reproduce what the signals intercepted from Nov 30 to Dec 3, 1941 by British codebreakers show on this score.


Christopher Browning

Historian Christopher Browning was the only expert witness hired by Deborah Lipstadt who impressed by his obvious knowledge and objectivity.

This blend of talents is perfectly displayed in his analysis of how, in only two years, Nazi "Jewish policy" went from coerced emigration to industrial genocide. Although his book is one in a multi-volume history planned by Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial and research institute, it smashes many nostrums about the Nazi "war against the Jews". Unlike Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's simplistic indictment of the Germans, for many people it will make uncomfortable reading.

Browning shows that the German conquest of Poland was decisive in radicalising Nazi policy. But this was "not the result of any long-held blueprint". Hitler and his minions made up policy as they went along, with chaotic results. They wanted to shove all German and Polish Jews into a "reservation" in south-east Poland, but they also wanted to evict Poles from areas annexed to the Reich and settle ethnic Germans in their place. More than half a million Poles were brutally removed to provide homes and farms for these Volksdeutsche. By comparison the highly urbanised Jews got off lightly

Nazi plans went awry because not even the ruthless SS could move millions of Poles and Jews simultaneously and Himmler realised there was a limit to the displaced humanity that he could dump in the laps of other Nazi satraps. For, at this stage, the Nazis did not intend genocide against the Jews. They herded them into squalid city districts and segregated them from the population, but only until they could be shifted elsewhere.

When the Germans overran western Europe, the Nazi leadership anticipated sending the additional Jews to Madagascar, then a French colony After that plan failed, thanks to the defiance of the Royal Navy they looked eastward again. Nazi race planners confidently expected that the coming war with the Soviet Union would be a walkover, leaving them free to ship all of Europe's Jews to Siberia.


THE war against the USSR was always going to be genocidal but the primary victims were destined to be the Russians. Nazi economists blithely calculated that 30 million Russians would starve to death in the occupied territory while food and raw material were extracted for the German army and the home front.

Hitler dreamed of Russia becoming a Garden of Eden for the Aryans. Of course, there would be no room for Jews. During preparations for the onslaught, SS killing squads were briefed to shoot communist officials and Jewish men. Yet weeks passed before selective mass shooting turned into annihilation. German historian Jürgen Matthäus contributes a frightening chapter on this phase. From a scrutiny of the available sources, he detects, contrary to Browning, an incoherent, locally and regionally varied sequence of measures" against the Russian Jews. According to Matthäus, there was no clear order to wipe out entire Jewish communities until late August 1941. The turning point came partly as a response to German military reverses and security fears.

In a demonstration of what good history is about, even if it may perplex some readers, when Browning resumes the story he presents a different explanation of the same events.

He argues, from an equally close reading of the documents, that Hitler simultaneously decided to escalate the killings in Russia and commission a plan to exterminate every Jew in Europe. He did this in mid-July 1941 when he was intoxicated by the prospect of imminent victory.

Browning acknowledges that other historians disagree with him and admits to a "seeming ambiguity" in what followed, possibly because it took time to devise mechanisms to carry out genocide on the scale envisaged at the Wannsee Conference. The fact remains that until spring 1942 Jews in one part of Europe were being slaughtered while others were left unmolested.

There can be little dissent from his damning verdict on the pusillanimous response shown by the German army -- the only force capable of opposing Hitler's will, -- or the compliance of the German people. When it came to the mass murder of Jews, "there was no political cost to the popularity of the regime".

David Cesarani's book Eichmann:His Life and Crimes will be published by Heinemann in August.



Our dossier on Christopher Browning



Christopher Browning was one of the expert witnesses hired by Prof Deborah Lipstadt for her defence in David Irving's libel action
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