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Longerich: Glossary of some terms used by the NS regime in connection with the murder of European Jews [continued]


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5. Vernichten (noun: Vernichtung).

5.1 Langenscheidt's Dictionary of the English and German languages of 1982 translates "vernichten" as "destroy", "annihilate" or "exterminate" (in the context of the Holocaust, the latter is in my opinion the most appropriate translation). If one takes the root "-nicht" (nothing), then "vernichten" means to transform something or somebody into nothing. Generally the use of the word "vernichten" in the German language implies a violent event. The result of this process, the "nicht" has no specific meaning: someone or something who or which has been "vernichtet" no longer exists. He or she or it can be destroyed, killed or violently "eliminated", "removed".

5.2 If an organisation is "vernichtet", this does not have to mean that each member of the organisation is killed. The word can also be used to mean that an organisation which is "vernichtet" no longer exists in its previous form and is no longer able to fulfil its former function.

5.3 The term "vernichten" was used in Germany during both world wars particularly in the military sphere. The idea of not only beating but annihilating the enemy forces was developed as a doctrine by the Prussian-German general staff. The idea of the "Vernichtung" of an enemy army was expressed by the most influential Prussian war theoretician von Clausewitz in his book "0n war" (1837) in the following terms: "The main purpose of war is the annihilation of the enemy forces, either by death or by injury or in any other way, either completely or merely to such an extent that the enemy no longer has the will to continue the fight".[19]

5.4 If one draws an analogy with the use of this term for the military sphere, then the "Vernichtung" of the "Jewry" (Judentums) the National Socialist sense does not necessarily mean the killing of all Jews, but can also be used in the ambivalent meaning described by von Clausewitz: death or debilitation by another means, to the extent that "Jewry" (Judentum) as a collective are no longer capable of action. The ambivalence of this term "vernichten" can certainly be asserted particularly for early statements made by leading National Socialists on the "Jewish question : Vernichtung des Judentums" can here mean the destruction of the allegedly dominant position of the Jewish minority in Germany, primarily by special laws or by expulsion.

5.5. However, it is also evident that the use of this term had from the outset a violent component, and that the proposed "Vernichtung" with respect to the position of the Jews in Germany implied the death of many Jewish people. (Thus Hitler, writing in, for example, "Mein Kampf", already speaks of subjecting 12,000 or 15,000 Jews "to poisonous gas and "eliminating" (beseitigen) them during the World War, although at this time he was in principle in favour of the expulsion of the Jews.)[20] By analogy with the use of the term "Vernichtung" introduced by Clausewitz in the military sphere, the National Socialists (who regarded themselves as being at war with the Jews) therefore wanted to annihilate Jewry "either by death or by injury or in any other way, either completely or merely to such an extent that the enemy no longer has the will to continue the fight".

5.6 However, with Hitler's announcement on 30 January 1939 that a new world war would lead to the "Vernichtung" of the Jewish race in Europe" the term acquires a new quality."[21] In this statement, Hitler declared not only the German Jews, but also all European Jews accessible to him now and in the future, to be his hostages, who would be threatened by him in the event of a major war with the Western powers. This was a threat of violence intended to influence the behaviour of the Western powers, the precise content of which was deliberately left unclear and incalculable. The same purpose was behind a statement made by Hitler a few days previously, on 21st January 1939, to the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky: "The Jews would be exterminated here. The Jews will not get away with 9 November 1918. This day would be revenged".[22]

5.7 In connection with the preparation and carrying out of the war against Russia, Hitler used the term "Vernichtung" unambiguously in the sense of systematic killing on a large scale. On 17th March 1941, Hitler said to the leaders of his army: "The intelligence used by Stalin must be "vernichtet". The leadership machinery of the Russian empire must be broken. In the territories of Greater Russia, the application of the most brutal force is necessary."[23] On 30 March 1941, he said to a meeting of generals: "This is a war of extermination)... War against Russia:. Extermination of the Bolshevist commissars and the communist intelligence."[24] These statements are directly related to the preparatory work for Hitler's directives ordering the systematic killing of the Soviet commissars (commissar order, 6.6.41) and the immediate killing of all Soviet civilians undertaking attacks on the Wehrmacht (jurisdiction decree, 13.5.41). Thus the term is here used unambiguously in the sense of mass killing.[25]

5.8 According to a memorandum of the propaganda minister, Goebbels, Hitler spoke of the imminent "Vernichtung" of the Jews in a speech to the top functionaries of the party on 12 December 1941. Here also the term is without doubt used in the sense of "killing on a large scale", as can be seen from Goebbels' diaries: "If the German people have again sacrificed 160,000 in the eastern campaign, the originators of the this bloody conflict will pay for it with their lives."[26] The term "vernichten" is used just as unambiguously in the speech given by Hans Frank, the Governor General of occupied Poland, to his subordinates on 16 December 1941: "In Berlin they said to us: why are you going to all this trouble? We cannot do anything with them in the Eastern countries or in the Reichskommissariat either, liquidate them yourselves! Gentlemen, I have to ask you to arm yourselves against any compassionate considerations. We have to exterminate (vernichten) the Jews wherever we find them and wherever this is at all possible."[27]

5.9 The leader of the German Labour Front, Robert Ley, used the term "vernichten" openly on several occasions, also in the sense of "kill all, as far as possible". In making these public utterances, he clearly contravened the order of secrecy regarding the "final solution". At an operational inspection at a Berlin armaments factory, for example. he proclaimed: "We swear that we will not give up the fight until the last Jew in Europe is "vernichtet" and dead."[28] In a leaflet published in 1944, he wrote: "We National Socialists have "vernichtet" the Jewish spirit together with the Jews in Germany. Nor will we give up this fight until final judgement has been pronounced on the Jews. Judaism must die!"[29] In another speech in March 1944, Ley used the term "vernichten" with reference to the Jews, also unambiguously in the sense of "kill all, as far as possible".[30]


6. Ausrotten (noun: Ausrottung)

6.1 Langenscheidt's Dictionary of 1982 translates ausrotten", when used with respect to a people or a race, as "exterminate", "wipe out", "kill off', and in the more general sense, referring to an evil, as "eradicate', "extirpate", "stamp out", "root out". The term generally implies the use of force and is harsher than the more neutral term "vernichten ". In general usage, the term is frequently applied to the removal of pests or weeds. The word stem is related to the word "-rotten" (to uproot), and so the original meaning is "to remove together with the root" (Kluge's Etymological Dictionary of the German Language, 23rd ed. 1993). As used with respect to human beings, I consider the English word "extirpate" to be a better translation than "exterminate", which corresponds more to the German "vernichten."

6.2 Used with respect to a people, the term ausrotten does not necessarily have to mean that all members of this people are killed. The term could also be understood in the sense that the foundations for the existence of the people are destroyed, so that the nation ceases to exist as a nation. However, the term can also be understood as meaning that all members of a nation or the great majority of a nation are killed. The term is used in this second sense by Hitler and leading National Socialists during the Second World War and also in the years preceding the war. I have not yet found a single example of Hitler or Himmler using the term "ausrotten" during the Second World War with respect to human beings or a group of human beings other than in the sense of "to kill in large numbers or to kill all as far as possible".

6.3 In May 1940, Himmler gave Hitler a memorandum in which he expressed his hope "that, by means of the possibility of a large scale emigration of all Jews to Africa or to some other colony, I shall see the term 'Jew' fully erased". In the same document Himmler stated that he rejected "the Bolshevist method of physical extirpation (Ausrottung) of a people out of inner conviction as un-German and impossible"[31]. Thus, the term "Ausrottung" was here used in the sense of "kill in great numbers" and Himmler must have assumed that Hitler would also understand the term in this sense.

6.4 At dinner on 4th July 1942, Hitler stated that his threats to the Czech state President Hacha and his government had led to the Czech leadership understanding that they had clearly based their future policy on the principle that all (pro-Soviet) Benesch intrigues and Benesch people would have to be "ausgerottet"[32]. This statement is not to be understood as an abstract threat; rather it has a specific historical reference: in reaction to the attack on Heydrich, which had taken place on the authorisation of the Czech government in exile, and which had led to the death of the "Reich Protector" on 4 June 1942 the German occupying forces had killed several hundred Czechs in the village of Lidice. They began by sentencing large numbers of Czech citizens to death (in the course of this action a total of 1357 Czech citizens are said to have been condemned by the end of September 1942) and they had the former Prime Minister Elias (already sentenced to death because of his links with the exiled Benesch government) executed.[33]

6.5 At his round table meeting on 25 October 1941, having recalled his "prophecy" of 30th January 1939 again, Hitler made the following remark: "This criminal race has the two million dead of the World War on its conscience, and now hundreds of thousands more. Let no one tell me: but we can't just send them into the morass! Who cares about our people, then? It is good that the terror goes before us that we are extirpating the Jewish race."[34] In this case also the expression is clearly used in the sense of "kill in large numbers".

6.6 Himmler made the following note on a conversation with Hitler on 18th December 1941: "Jewish question / extirpate as partisans ."[35] Here also "ausrotten" is clearly intended in the sense of "kill in large numbers", since it accorded with the German policy, advocated by Hitler himself, of in principle not treating partisans as POW's but of killing them on the spot.

6.7 On 26th May 1944, in his speech to Wehrmacht officers, Hitler said: "Gentlemen, we are engaged in a struggle of life and death. If our opponents were to win in this struggle, the German nation would be extirpated (ausgerottet). Bolshevism would slaughter millions and millions and millions of our intellectuals. What does die from a shot through the neck would be deported. The children of the upper classes would be taken away and eliminated."[36]

6.8 In the same speech, Hitler recalled his prophecy of 30th January 1939 (which he dated 1st September 1939, the date on which the war began) and said: "I have taken action here also, and this problem also will now be solved, as I must indeed say: the Jews have established the extirpation (Ausrottung) of the German nation as their programme. I declared to the Reichstag on 1st September 1939: if anyone believes that the German nation can be extirpated by such a world war, he is mistaken; if the Jews are indeed working towards this end, it will be the Jews themselves that are extirpated."

6.9 Since in the same speech, only two pages previously in the manuscript, Hitler had defined "ausrotten" unambiguously as the "slaughter" of "millions and millions and millions", this second passage may be interpreted as an open admission of the killing of millions of Jews, which had in fact already taken place.

6.10 It is also of interest that, from February 1942 onwards, Hitler always used the term ausrotten when referring to his "prophecy" of 30th January 1939 of exterminating ("vernichten") the Jewish race in Europe. This clearly shows that he wanted to intensify the somewhat neutral term originally used, i.e. he wanted to make it reflect the murderous reality.[37]

6.11 Already eight years before, in his memorandum on the four year plan, Hitler had painted the same nightmare vision of an Ausrottung (extirpation) of the German people by Bolshevism: "For a victory for Bolshevism over Germany would lead not to a Versailles Treaty but to a final "Vernichtung" (extermination) indeed "Ausrottung" 38 (extirpation) of the German people."[38] Hitler then said a couple of sentences later that a Bolshevist victory would mean that the European states, including Germany, "would experience the most terrible catastrophe for its peoples since humanity was afflicted by the extinguishing of the states of classical antiquity."[39] Hitler was thus making it clear that he expected a Bolshevist victory to bring about a situation which would be far worse than the situation which arose as a result of the Versailles Treaty, i.e. the loss of Germany's position as a major power. The abstract term "Vernichtung" seemed to him to be inadequate to describe this situation; he made the term more precise with the (in his view) more radical word Ausrottung ("Vernichtung, ja Ausrottung" [extermination, even extirpation]). As a measure for comparison of the catastrophe envisaged by him he uses the fall of the states of classical antiquity. One cannot go too far in saying that, in Hitler's imagination, this "catastrophe for the peoples (of Europe)", this "Ausrottung" of the German people, would imply the violent death of a very large number of people. Whether in 1936 he understood the "extirpation of the German people" as being the violent death of all Germans or a majority of Germans, i.e. an event having the same dimensions as the Holocaust initiated by him five years later, can no longer be seen from the context of the 1936 text and the historical context in which the memorandum originated. This point is also purely speculative and irrelevant to the question of what significance the word "ausrotten" had for Hitler with reference to the Jews, at a time when the systematic murder of European Jews was actually taking place.

6.12 In a speech on 10 November 1938, i.e. immediately after the pogrom against German Jews, Hitler said: "When I look at the intellectual classes of our society -- unfortunately we do need them, otherwise one day we could, I don't know, extirpate them or something like that -- but unfortunately we need them."[40] The important point here is that Hitler wanted to make clear to his audience that he had strong reservations about the intellectuals, but needed them and therefore could not "extirpate" (ausrotten) them. The slight hesitation in his speech before he pronounced the word "ausrotten", and the relativising "oder so was" (or something like that) at the end of the sentence shows that Hitler was using this term in order to make it clear to his audience how absurd, for him, the "Ausrottung" of the German intellectuals was at this time. Here also the term Ausrottung" is intended in the meaning of "kill in large numbers"; if Hitler had perhaps had the idea of removing the existing intellectual class by a process of social levelling or by removing their educational privileges, he would have announced this and given further details. In this speech, however, Hitler's purpose was to state precisely what he did not want to and could not do: namely, to "extirpate" (ausrotten) the German intellectuals, i.e. to kill them.

6.13 The term ausrotten was also used by other leading National Socialists during the Second World War unambiguously in the sense of "to kill in large numbers or to kill all as far as possible". For Himmler, in addition to the memorandum of 1940 already quoted above, a further example can be cited from his speech of 21st June 1944.[41] "It is good that we were tough enough to extirpate the Jews in our area." Two pages later Himmler gives an explicit justification of why he had not only men but also women and children killed ("umbringen"), to use his own terminology.[42] The meaning of the word "ausrotten" is thus just as clear here as in the other examples cited.

6.14 In a speech concentrating entirely on the "Jewish question", large sections of which were quoted in the periodical "Der Angriff' of 19th March 1944, Robert Ley similarly used the term ausrotten" unambiguously: "The conclusion from all this, however, is: that mankind will never have the peace necessary for it to develop and work, and will never be happy, until Judaism with its Bolshevism is thrown down and utterly exterminated (vernichtet) and extirpated (ausgerottet). Our National Socialist battle cry is therefore: Judaism must die and its accomplices and fellow travellers must be beaten if mankind is to live!"[43]

7. Entfernen (noun: Entfernung), English: to remove

7.1 The term "removal of the Jews" is used by Hitler in his early utterances in the sense of expulsion This corresponds more or less to the usage of Eugen Dühring, one of the leading anti-Semites of imperial Germany, in his widely circulated paper The Jewish question as a question of race, customs and culture (Karlsruhe/Leipzig 188]), where the word was already used in the sense of expulsion.[44]

7.2 Hitler can be found using the term "removal" as early as 1919, in his well-known letter to Gemlich of 16th September 1919:

"Anti-Semitism of the emotional sort finds its final expression in the form of pogroms. Rational anti-Semitism, on the other hand, must lead to a systematic legal opposition and elimination of those special privileges which the Jews hold, in contrast to the other aliens living among us (alien's legislation). Its final objective must unswervingly be the removal of the Jews altogether."[45]

7.3 By contrast, the term "removal" (Entfernung) was used by Hitler in autumn 1941 in the sense of "deportation". Whether Hitler was already at this stage thinking of having the persons to be "removed" (entfernt) murdered in the deportation areas can no longer be unambiguously retraced from the context. On 6th October 1941 he announced to his lunch guests, as he expatiated over the planned reprisals against the Czechs, that all Jews from the Protectorate must be "removed" (entfernt), and not just sent to the Polish territory but rather "straight on further east".[46] This, however, was not possible at that moment according to Hitler, due to the shortage of transport capacity. Together with the "Protectorate Jews", the Jews from Vienna and Berlin were to "disappear" (verschwinden).

7.4 In his speech to Wehrmacht officers on 26th May 1944, Hitler justified the "removal" (Entfernung) of the Jews from Germany, which he had himself undertaken:

"By removing the Jew, I abolished in Germany the possibility to build up a revolutionary core or nucleus. One could, naturally, say to me: Yes, couldn't you have solved this more simply - or not simply, since all other means would have been more complicated - but more humanely? My dear officers, we are engaged in a life and death struggle. If our opponents win in this struggle than the German people would be extirpated.'[47]

7.5 From the context of the speech it can be seen that Hitler now clearly meant the murder of the Jews, when he defends himself against the reproach that he had not undertaken the "removal" (Entfernung) "humanely" enough by arguing that the German people were engaged in a "life and death struggle" and would be "extirpated" (ausgerottet) in the event of defeat. Any other means for the solution of this question, he says, correcting the sentence he has started, would have been more complicated. He had chosen a comparatively "simple means" to solve the "problem".

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