The Holocaust: The development of Nazi German Holocaust policy
Nazi is a term used to refer to the Nazi Party of Germany- the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, whose members referred themselves National Socialists and rarely as Nazis. Nazism has generally been considered a type of fascism, with the emphasis being laid in the Volk (or the Aryan race) principle where the state is simply taken as a means by which this superior Volk is supposed to realize its true destiny above those proscribed by ideologies such as Marxism, democracy and liberalism. Many historians and writers have given detailed accounts of the chronological developments of this regime particularly endeavoring to unearth the real ideological forces that led to such a massive annihilation of a human race under the rule of Hitler. Rita Botwinick, in her book, A History of the Holocaust: From Ideology to Annihilation discusses several possibilities that could have led to this World War II phenomenon (Browning, 2007, pp. 24).
One of the major questions that comes to everyone’s mind when this issue is raised is whether Hitler wanted to make a Jews- free Germany or whether his master plan had been intended to systematically rid the whole world of the Jews. This therefore led to the paradox about whether Hitler had a functionalist or an intentionalist ideology. To those in support of an intentionalist perspective, Hitler had intent to effectively and systematically annihilate the entire Jewish race from the face of the world, long before the war started. On the other hand, those who support the functionalist ideology are of the opinion that it was not Hitler’s pre-planning to wipe out all the Jews population but the occurrence evolved as a result of many contingent factors that developed during the war (Botwinick, 2003, pp. 8).
Hitler had secured his dictatorial powers by persuading the then German President Paul von Hindenburg (who had been reluctant to put official measures against the Jews into power), to consent an emergency suspension of all civil societies as well as power stripping of all the German federal states after the Reichstag fire. This made opponents be imprisoned in wildeLager or improvised camps that were later developed into concentration camps. All Unions and political parties (other than the National Socialists), were abolished making it possible for Hitler to deal with his political rivals and after the president’s death on 2nd august, 1934, no one was left who could provide substantial resistance to the Nazi power. Hitler proclaimed the 1935 Nuremberg Laws which provided legal anti-Semitism signs and systematic persecution (Ortomann, 2004, pp. 96).
Nazism did not operate as a monolithic movement. It was a combination of several ideologies that were mainly German oriented and consisting of groups like the Black Front and the Strasserism. This was ignited by the anger towards the Versailles Treaty which had been considered as a communist/Jewish conspiracy at the World War I end directed to humiliate Germany. The great depression aftermath led this party to seek a third alternative to manage the economy but its rule came to an end in 1945 when Germany was taken over by the Allied Powers (Botwinick, 2003, pp. 16).
This systematic killing of Jews in particular and some other non-Aryans during the holocaust represents the gravest crime against humanity that has ever been recorded in mankind’s history. Perpetrators of this scheme used very unique combinations of factors such as making sure that there was passive consent and active cooperation of a larger German population. They also took total control over the modern state machinery through the National Socialist’s totalitarian regime as well as tactfully creating collaboration among the regimes of like-minded in occupied territories. Furthermore, they instituted a deep rooted anti-Semitism that was common to majority of the European Christian countries. All this followed the German society’s catastrophic diminishing of universal humane standards which was as a result of the prolonged economic and political crisis in the 1920s.
Germany had become a democratic nation with liberal parties and the social democrats forming the new government after the First World War defeat. The enormous war costs caused rampant inflation in the country with the unemployment numbers rising to over 5 million and a large portion of the population living in prostrated fear of getting back to the 1920s poverty. Moreover, the new National Socialist German Workers Party and the Nationalist Parties were blaming the democratic constitution for the evils that were taking place. Furthermore, there was bad blood between them and those parties that were supporting the newly formed republic with claims of injustices due to the Versailles Peace Treaty’s provisions that were seen as the roots of all the chaos in the country. The most abhorred of all however, was the Jewish Capital that was blamed for ruining the German worker through its Jewish Bolshevism that was accused of intending to lead the German worker into slavery (Botwinick, 2003, pp. 13).
Hitler’s ruthless attacks on the Jews were based on crude 19th century pseudo-scientific studies that postulated racial theories that were influenced by romantic and mystic ideas. They comprised of political currents which rejected the principles of common humanness and equality as advanced by enlightenment. The central idea of the Nazi ideology was “race” signifying people sharing a common territory and culture. This also was characteristic of the continued struggle and competition between races for power and territory with only the fittest surviving. This is commonly referred to as social Darwinism with which Hitler suggested that only the pure races that didn’t mix with inferior groups were capable of creating civilizations that would last (Browning, 2007, pp. 29).
It was through this ideology that he regarded the Jews as inferior and a contamination of the Aryans, resulting to the Aryans’ suffering. This, according to him was supposed to be reversed by the destined Aryans’ enslavement of the inferior Slavs, and to fulfill this historic destiny, Germans had to first cleanse themselves by shaking off the “alien” cultural and political ideas by purging themselves of the assumed inferior blood. This marked the German Jews as the first race that was to be subjected to Hitler’s program of “racial purification”. This was further to be extended to Jews of other countries under German occupation during the 2nd World War as a global notion of Europe’s “racial restructuring” that was aimed at destroying the Slavic elite and enslavement of the workers to make natural resources and the land available to the perceived superior race(Browning, 2007, pp.31).
This was done in Germany in the years between 1933 (when Nazi’s assumed power) and 1939 when Jews expulsion from Germany was made a top priority of the Nazi regime. Terror and propaganda campaigns of unprecedented violence and terror were used to stigmatize and isolate the Jews forcing them to emigrate. The Nazis also appealed to the anti-Jewish traditional attitudes to gain approval and popularity in their regime in the German Revolution. This began with a concerted call of boycott of all Jewish businesses and shops with constant propagandist successes being proclaimed in the radio and the press in every village and town.
A conspiracy was directed by Hitler to dress some concentration camp prisoners in polish military uniforms, shoot them and place them inside German border. This was to make it appear like Poland had attempted to invade Germany and thus Hitler found grounds on which to attack Poland. The September 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany was instigated through a German foreign policy that was directed towards uniting German settlement areas and gaining territory in the Eastern Europe region as a wider scope in this Jews elimination scheme. This marked the beginning of the Second World War with direct control and conquering of majority of the continental Western Europe. The only exceptions to this control were Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. By this year, the whole Czechoslovakia was invaded and dissolved with Moravia and Bohemia becoming German states (Botwinick, 2003, pp. 68).
Two million Jews out of the total 3.3 million in Poland were trapped within the German proclaimed areas. A directive was then issued from Berlin to the mobile SS units to move about 600,000 Jews into concentrated ghettos where they were to remain awaiting the “final solution”. This final solution was aimed at cleansing Poland of Jews, clergy, nobility and intelligentsia by decimating these Jews through starvation, forced labor and ghettoization. The belief among the Nazis was that Germany could not have lost the 1918 First World War if it were not for the internal sabotage which was mainly by the country’s Jews who were viewed as lacking patriotism as well as having other extra-national loyalties (Botwinick, 2003, pp. 70).
The Nazi rationale had a strong militaristic belief in the sense that great nations would not have grown without maintained order and military power. This was thus used together with the appeal to the ethnic Germans, who at this time had deep feelings and commitment to creation of a Greater Germany that could include the Austria’s German speakers. Eugenics was another major rationale that was used by the Nazi in their quest for a Greater Germany. The belief was that there was need to purify the Aryan German race, and this culminated in the disabled people’s involuntary euthanasia as well as the compulsory/ forced sterilization of persons who were purported to have hereditary illnesses and mental disorders (Ortomann, 2004, pp. 123).
Among other things, the concentration camps and the Nuremberg racial laws were the major extermination policies in which millions of Jews were killed during the holocaust. The Jews were forced to register themselves and wear identification tags while in the camps where they were starved, forced into labor and incinerated after grievous persecution. Hitler’s euphoria of territorial expansion and security of a Germany’s living space made many Germans to forget or overlook the persecutions of political dissidents and the churches.
Initially, Poland’s independence was guaranteed by France and Britain, an issue that made Hitler to sign a non-aggression and friendship pact with Soviet Russia as a cover-up with the intention of avoiding a two- front confrontation. German Blitzkrieg tactics and the Gestapo dominated the first phase of the 2nd world war in the invasion of Poland. These included sudden shock attacks were unleashed on airfields, military installations and communications. Furthermore, there was a scheme of using infantry follow up and fast mobile armor on fighter and bomber aircraft that saw Poland overrun in less than a month. Norway and Denmark were overrun in two months while Belgium, Holland, France and Luxemburg were taken in only six weeks. Britain was the only one that remained firm after the June 1940 fall of France (Botwinick, 2003, pp. 88).
Hitler made the most crucial decision in his career by attacking the Soviet Russia after a rational idea that destruction of Russia would make Great Britain abstain from war. His belief was that the whole communist rule edifice would tumble after this anti-Bolshevik Russian invasion that would see to it that all European Jewry’s fate was sealed off. He attributed British refusal to Germany’s continental European hegemony right to the influence of the Jews, which made him resolve to implementation of the “final Jewish question solution” which had been put on hold since 1939. This implied application of the “Germanization policies” after the implications of the genocidal Nazi-style aimed at annihilation of bolshevism’s biological roots-the liquidation of all Jews.
Hitler’ decision making was greatly deranged by the fact that Russia was not as easily conquered as he expected and this led to premature conclusions, blind outbursts, misanthropic brooding and hysterical fury directed to his General staff whom he perceived as indecisive and weak. The “Final Solution” was a determined Jewry clean-up plan in which 60% of the Jews were to be liquidated while the remaining 40% were to be put into forced labor. Many others were deported or forced to emigrate. Special Schultz Staffeinel (SS) units were set up to affect this extermination process under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler. The victims were initially shot but due to increased nervous breakdown of the killers, extermination camps were developed for a more efficient impersonal method (Ortomann, 2004, pp. 101).
At the beginning of 1942, more than 500,000 Russian and Poland Jews had been killed by the SS. These extermination camps which were established in the east included Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek, and Treblinka, which had the capacity to systematically kill 20000, 15000, 25000 and 25000 Jews a day respectively. Historians estimate that about 18 million Jews were sent into the extermination camps between 1942 and 1945, and approximately 5-11 million were killed. There are claims that Hitler used to laugh when Jews’ sufferings were described to him. Even Germans’ deaths didn’t arouse any concern or remorse feelings in him except for Ernst Roehm’s execution (Browning, 2007, pp, 33).
The SS men had been instructed to follow behind the advancing army troops and take all the Jews by surprise in their populations, outside their towns, shoot them and thereon bury them in mass graves. This happened at the rate of 100,000 Jews per month in the first few operation months. This was done with additional forces from local volunteer helpers who had been indoctrinated with the Jewish anti-Semitism propaganda. A new method was designed in 1941 summer. Killing camps were constructed in the occupied Poland to ease the transportation burden and to make it easier for all Jews in the German controlled Europe to be locally and more efficiently killed with gas in the camps that were ready by summer of 1942 (Browning, 2007, pp. 42).
The elderly and women with children would usually die within few hours of their arrival in the camps. The SS doctors selected those fro immediate gassing and the able-bodied were slave- labored in German industrial workshops in the camps. These camps were also used to hold war prisoners with a small number of them being forced in the extermination program. Deportation collaboration and the Jews’ killings were done as a master participation plan in the ‘Final Solution’ by civil administrations or regimes under the ideological motivation agreements. This was done through the racist Nazi policies, material considerations or through political considerations. These, together with the deep rooted European Christian anti- Jewish traditions made it possible for the enormous voluntary and passive support to exclude the Jewish population from human solidarity (Browning, 2007, pp. 53).
A policy was effected that would put all clergy under Nazi payroll so that they could only teach what the Nazi wanted. Their tasks included mainly keeping the poles stupid, dull-witted and quiet and those who opposed were killed and many sent to the concentration camps. Several institutions and seminaries used for religious instructions were closed down and this had devastating effects considering the highly catholic populace in Poland.
In conclusion, this holocaust legacy represented violence that was increased beyond the accepted levels. It proved modern man’s vulnerability to the totalitarian state’s overbearing power. This simultaneous and collusion existence was a product of several conditions including: the overt and latent anti-Semitism, iconographic Hitler phenomena, the rise of the totalitarian German state, the formation of the Hitler’s private SS army and the 2nd World War paroxysmal violence. It therefore calls for concerted efforts by all and sundry to prevent future holocausts repetitions like the Rwandan genocide (Botwinick, 2003, pp. 74).
This can be done through fostering development of democracies that are stable and which allow free media and independent strong judicial systems. Private armies should be discouraged by all means and weaponry should be available only to law enforcement institutions to curb such gruesome enterprises. Furthermore, overt and latent anti-Semitism that corrodes free societies should be eliminated since no racial group is more superior to the other. The global humanity is not the animal farm where some animals were more equal than others.
Botwinick Rita (2003). A history of the Holocaust: From Ideology to Annihilation. New Jersey. Prentice Hall Pp. 8, 13, 16, 68, 70, 74, 88
Browning, Christopher (2007). The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. University of Nebraska Press pp. 24, 29, 31, 33, 42, 53
Ortmann Susan (2004) The Holocaust and its Religious Impact: A Critical Assessment and Annotated Bibliography. Praeger pp. 96, 101, 123