Hitler's Genocide Order: 5 Days After Pearl Harbor?
By ALAN COWELL
BONN, Jan. 20 -- For decades, it has been the ultimate enigma among historians of what the Nazis called the final solution: how can it be proved empirically that Hitler ordered the annihilation of Europe's Jews, and when did he do so?
Despite a half-century of research, no single document has provided evidence that the Nazi leader gave a written order for the Holocaust. Without that crucial piece of paper, generations of historians have veered from the right-wing revisionism of David Irving of Britain, who sought to discount Hitler's role, to a belief, embraced by American scholars like Richard Breitman and Daniel J. Goldhagen, that Hitler made the decision in early 1941 -- a thesis supported by the systematic killing of Jews later that year.
January 21, 1998
"Despite a half-century of research, no single document has provided evidence that the Nazi leader gave a written order for the Holocaust."
But now a 34-year-old German scholar, Christian Gerlach, has set off a debate among historians with a new and contentious theory, based on a notation by Heinrich Himmler, the SS chief, discovered in previously secret Soviet archives and on other documents. The documents supposedly establish that Hitler did, indeed, make a personal decision to put to death German and all other European Jews under Nazi occupation, and announced it to his most senior Nazi followers on Dec. 12, 1941.
In addition, Mr. Gerlach argued in a recently published article that the decision was touched off in part by America's entry into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
According to Mr. Gerlach, Hitler decided it was time to redeem a prophecy made in early 1939 that a new world war would mean the annihilation of all Europe's Jews, not just those in the Soviet Union.
The subsequent Wannsee conference -- chaired by Himmler's deputy, Reinhard Heydrich -- was therefore called to make clear that German Jews, many of whom had already been deported to concentration camps in Eastern Europe, were also to be included in the "final solution," Mr. Gerlach argued.
If borne out, the theory would provide new proof of Hitler's direct responsibility for the Holocaust and, therefore, overturn many post-war attempts to minimize his role in it. It would also cast new doubt on Mr. Goldhagen's contested explanation of the Holocaust -- put forward in his 1996 best seller "Hitler's Willing Executioners" -- as being primarily rooted in an "eliminationist" anti-Semitism among ordinary Germans.
Mr. Gerlach's findings seem to conflict with other historical versions. In November 1996, for instance, Professor Breitman of American University in Washington disclosed newly discovered documents from the National Archives showing that, as early as July 1941, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Jews were being systematically massacred, indicating that the decision to embark on the Holocaust was made earlier.
Against that, though, Mr. Gerlach argues that the behavior of German authorities toward Jews in occupied countries was uneven, suggesting that there was -- at that time -- no master plan.
In mid-to-late 1941, Mr. Gerlach wrote in a 44-page article in the, latest issue of the journal Werkstatt Geschichte (History Workshop), "a general order for the murder of German Jews had not yet been made," even though thousands of German Jews had been deported to concentration camps in Eastern Europe, some had been killed and Soviet Jews were already being methodically massacred.
On Dec. 18, 1941, however, Mr. Gerlach argued, Himmler met with Hitler and later noted that the discussion had covered "The Jewish question/to be exterminated as partisans," according to a document found in Soviet archives. [CLICK FOR ENLARGEMENT]
But some historians believe that Himmler's remarks could have alluded to the way Hitler wanted to publicly depict the systematic killing of Jews.
At the same time, the discovery of the Himmler note in the Soviet archive is seen as significant because of the overwhelming lack of documented evidence connecting Hitler to the Holocaust.
WEBSITE COMMENT: The Schlegelberger Note destroys all such speculation | See the Internet Debate generated by the above article
© Focal Point 1998 write to David Irving