|Readings --- Hitler
Ruthie Grant, Student
Dr. David L. Heiftz, PhD, Instructor
July 22, 1998
Hitler’s Final Solution: Unmasking the Historical Truth
Ruthie Grant, Ph.D.
At the age of twelve, when I read about the Holocaust in the Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, I became haunted by two unanswerable questions about this atrocity: (1) How could the German nation be persuaded to participate in such unspeakable acts against fellow human beings? (2) How was the civilized world able to stand by and do nothing as an entire race of people faced a barbaric form of genocide in the 20th Century? (3) While Hitler proudly and publicly announced his intentions to eradicate the Jews from the face of the earth, why did the world turn deaf ears and eyes? (4) How could the League of Nations, (later renamed The United Nations) convene on the Jewish problem yet fail to act on it while member nations either turned their backs on Jews who were deported or failed to raise their immigration quotas to accommodate them? It was not until reading Gerald Fleming’s book, “Hitler and the Final Solution” that I finally stumbled upon answers to questions that even my visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D. C. did not satisfy.
Fleming is an author, professor, and historian who holds the title of “Emeritus Reader in German” at the University of Surrey. “Gerald Fleming, a scholar of great industry, accuracy, and perseverance … has followed every trail, even into the closely guarded archives of Riga, and checked every document, as far as is still possible, by personal interrogation and affidavit. His book is a model report on a long and profound search … It puts the record straight and adds many interesting new details to a terrible but still compelling story” (Hugh Trevor-Roper of the “Times Literary Supplement”).
Paul Roberts of the “Toronto Star” mirrors the sentiments of Hugh Trevor-Roper, when he says that Fleming’s book “will remain on the shelves as the definitive answer to questions that have been asked too long.” D. J. R. Brucker’s “New York Times” review of books states: “Fleming has done fine detective work on documentation. He has found surviving Nazis not previously heard from, and he analyzes the documentation and personal statements to produce satisfactory proof that the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe was Hitler’s decision.”
Fleming’s book is a brilliant and thoroughly researched analysis of old and new material on the Holocaust that disproves David Irving’s provocative theory. The impetus for Fleming writing this book was to see if he could shed new light on the British Historian, David Irving’s premise that Hitler was not aware of the actual extermination of the Jews from its beginning in early 1941, until late 1943 (David Irving, Hitler’s War London, 1977). Irving contends that the wholesale slaughter of Jews was an act of police terror carried out under the direct orders of Heinrich Himmler as Chief of Police for the SS. In Saul Friedlander’s introduction to Fleming’s book, Friedlander points out that Irving’s thesis created two different schools of thought: (1) The traditional school labeled Intentionalist believes that “there is a direct relation between Hitler’s ideology and Nazi policies” with an “absolute centrality of Adolph Hitler within the system" (ix). (2) The Functionalist “feel that there is no necessary relationship between the ideological dogmas of Nazism and the policies of the Third Reich; that decisions are functionally linked to one another and do not follow a pre-established plan” (ix-x). Friedlander feels that Fleming’s book is important “not only as a documentary achievement, but also as a timely resource in the growing debate among historians of Nazism” (viii). Gordon A. Craig of the “New York Review of Books” supports Friedlander’s opinion of Fleming’s work. He states that the book “should finally lay to rest David Irving’s provocative theory that Hitler neither ordered nor wished the destruction of the Jewish people.”
In reading the book, I found Fleming’s approach to history similar to Gustavson’s in his book Preface to History in that both took nothing for granted. Neither author simply accepted what was already recorded in history books as fact. Both utilized common sense, and undertook their own search for truth whenever confronted with an inconsistency between the affect of a specific or particular cause. For instance, if the cause presented for a certain event did not produce an effect that might be expected under normal circumstances, they assumed that the explanation for the cause might be incorrect and worthy of a new investigation. There were several instances in Gustavson’s book of mistaken causes; most notably the assumption that Columbus undertook his trip to the new world in search of a new spice route because the old one had been taken over. The natural effect of such a cause would have been a rise in spice prices, which would have been recorded in newspapers of that day. Investigation uncovered that the price of pepper had actually dropped during that time, thus, invalidating a long accepted belief based on a faulty premise as to causation.
Irving’s premise focused on the fact that no one was able to come up with an actual written document signed by Hitler himself ordering the extermination of the Jews. Fleming points out that “as Eberhard Jackel has said, scholarship proceeded perhaps too hurriedly over this complex of issue when no written liquidation order from Hitler regarding the Final Solution could be found after the war in the surviving documentary evidence” (42). Saul Friedlander comments in his introduction to Fleming’s book that “for the historian the only valid test is that of documentary evidence” (xviii). Rather than taking into account all of the evidence (verbal, first hand, eyewitness testimony and other written data referring to Hitler’s orders regarding the extermination of the Jews) Irving chose to base his premise upon a piece of missing documentation, as if in the absence of a written order from Hitler, that Hitler could not have given a verbal order directly to Himmler, who was second in the chain of command under Hitler.
What seemed naïve and irresponsible about Irving’s approach is that although it was true that no written order was ever recovered, there did exist logs, notes, diaries, affidavits, testimonies and confessions by high ranking SS police officials, such as Himmler, and army Field Marshals Rommel and Keitel, who stated that the order to exterminate the Jews came from Himmler as a direct “wish” of Hitler’s. The word “wish” was a known code word. “The formula ‘the Fuhrer’s wish’ was understood by everybody concerned to mean a Fuhrer-order” (xxvii). This evidence was available to Irving at the time he wrote his book.
Unlike Irving, however, Fleming went to the trouble of personally re-examining old evidence for himself. This is a prudent course of action in that in relying upon someone else’s account of historical documents, one risks the information getting filtered through the writer’s personal interpretation, biases and/or prejudices. Fleming interviewed first hand Nazi eyewitnesses who were still alive, thereby obtaining a fresh perspective on old information.
Irving also failed to take into account the matter of Hitler’s ingenious, ambitious, cunning, delusional, and duplicitous personality. Hitler had a master plan aimed at making himself not only the savior and liberator of Germany, but a Messianic World Ruler. Moreover, Hitler was shrewd enough to know, particularly after “prominent clerics had vociferously protested against the liquidations carried out” (23) as part of his euthanasia project, which murdered over 90,000 aged and mental patients, that he could expect a similar response from other churches around the world. “This public outcry caused Hitler to rescind … and to order the immediate stoppage of Action T4” (23). It was at this point that Hitler switched gears and embarked upon what Fleming labels the covert “art of dissembling.” Fleming’s research revealed that “Hitler was politically too shrewd to assume that the majority of Germans would, in the last analysis, share his unbounded hatred for the Jews and be willing to grant him carte blanche in the Final Solution.” As a result, Hitler “considered it absolutely imperative that the ‘total solution’ of the Jewish question be painstakingly masked – only thus could he indulge his destructive impulses” (30).
In regards to Gustavson’s Great Man Theory, while Hitler may not have been a great man, he certainly had a great impact upon the world. Further, he fits the description. For example, the theory states that great men “seem to exert an almost superhuman control over the fate of their generation.” Moreover, these men “seem to tower over the men of the times in their vision and ability to lead others. They frequently are so gifted … that ordinary rules of behavior do not apply to them” (Gustavson 123).
Certainly, all of the above can be said of Hitler. He, in fact, made the rules, broke the ones he made, then defied anyone to figure out the working of his devious mind, or to discover the cunning of his plan to have Germans rule the world as a master race. For example, Hitler once boasted to his new Chief of Staff: “You should know first of all that you will never be able to discover my thoughts and intentions until I give them out as orders … You will never learn what is going on in my head. As for those who boast to being privy to my thoughts – to them I lie all the more” (Fleming 18).
Hitler’s genius under the Great Man Theory lies largely in (a) his knowledge of history; (b) his ability to understand, predict and manipulate human nature; and, (c) his capacity for mesmerizing the public with provocative, impassioned speeches that first hypnotized, then inflamed his audiences. Hitler himself admitted that his “definitive decision to pursue a political career came … when he discovered that he was a uniquely gifted public speaker … that he could convince the German masses of his entitlement to power and leadership” (Fleming 10).
Regarding Hitler’s knowledge of history, which he used to create a master plan for Germany at the expense of over 5 million lives, Gustavson says: “an author can never be certain how his ideas will be used by posterity” (156). Hitler used his study of history and revolution to devise a means to create “first rate revolutionary upheavals” (Fleming 28).
When asked by a journalist, why he wanted to destroy the Jews, Hitler answered in a sober and dispassionate manner: “It is manifestly clear and has been proved in practice and by the facts of all revolutions that a struggle for ideals, for improvements of any kind whatsoever, absolutely must be supplemented with a struggle against some social class or caste” (28).
The astonishing revelation Hitler gave, regarding his decision to persecute and later eradicate the Jews, makes his decision seem calculating and ambitious, as opposed to a personal hatred for the Jews. In fact, Fleming points out that throughout his life, Hitler was indebted to Jews for kindness he received from them, particularly his landlady and his mother’s doctor, whom he wrote notes of gratitude and helped to leave Germany. The foregoing, coupled with the following explanation, make Hitler’s decision more premeditated with the goal of selfish gain, rather than personal animosity towards Jews. Hitler states:
With this very thing in mind, I scanned the revolutionary events of history and put the question to myself: against which racial element in Germany can I unleash my propaganda of hate with the greatest prospects of success? I had to find the right kind of victim, and especially one against whom the struggle would make sense, materially speaking … I examined every possible and thinkable solution … [and] came to the conclusion that a campaign against the Jews would be as popular as it would be successful … Disproportionately to their small number they account for an immense share of the German national wealth, which can just as easily be put to profitable use for the state and the general public. Once the hatred and battle against the Jews have been really stirred up, their resistance will necessarily crumble in the shortest possible time. They are totally defenseless, and no one will stand up to protect them” (28-29).
Regarding the role of ideas, Gustavson says: “a suppressed group may well accept almost any doctrine that challenges the dominant group and offers a rational reason for opposition” (161). How well Hitler knew and used this historical fact to his advantage. Germany was in an economic slump from World War I. As a result, the people were eager to find someone to blame for their problems. Hitler conveniently gave them a common enemy to fight against. And nothing bonds people closer together than a common enemy. More importantly, animosity has always existed between the “have’s” and the “have not’s”. Hitler helped the Germans see the Jews as “having” what they were entitled to have. Envy of Jews and their accomplishments was raised by the journalist above, who interviewed Hitler. This journalist prefaced his question, regarding why Hitler wanted to destroy the Jews, by describing the Jews as an “undeniably intelligent race – a race to which the Germans and all other Aryans, if not the entire world, owed an incalculable debt in virtually all fields of art and knowledge, research and economics” (Fleming 28).
Regarding the dissemination of ideas, Hitler created his own “climates of opinion” (Gustavson 155) through propaganda and complete control of the media – radio and print. He even gave German households free radios so that they could be constantly bombarded by propaganda. He invented the news and disseminated it publicly and through the meda. He held large public rallies with drums, pageantry and music to mesmerize the crowds and keep them worked up and excited about their cause. He also reinvented the Jews to make them enemies of the state by first generating anamosity and jealousy towards them, then inciting fear and hatred against them. For example he made the crowds feel that the Jews thought that they were better than everyone else and entitled to special privileges because they were “descendants of the eldest nobility on earth …they overreach themselves …The Jew whistles, the Germanic people dance” (12) Hitler repeated Richard Wagner’s yearning for “the emancipation from the yoke of Judaism” (8). After succeeding in inciting resentment towards Jews, Hitler broadened his ideas to encompass making “them all criminals,” (3) falsely accusing Jews of ritual murders. Ultimately by branding Jews “enemies of the state” Hitler was then able to “represent his policy of annihilation as a measure of self-defense” (30). It was absolutely necessary for Hitler to succeed in the latter in order for the Germanic people to feel justified for participating in the persecution and murder of millions of people. After, murder in self-defense is not a crime.
Hitler was a single individual whose ideas confront historiography “with an anomaly that defies the normal interpretive categories.” Even though the “profound dynamics of the phenomenon escapes us” (xxxii), the above explanation by Hitler goes a long way towards helping use understand “why” he chose the Jews and how he was able to carry out his plan with the cooperation and support of the German people. The whole Aryan racial superiority doctrine (with its inherent prejudice and discrimination) was necessary in order for the German people to deal with and overcome their feelings of inferiority against the Jews for their accomplishments and perceived birthright as God’s chosen people. After all, that’s all that prejudice is: self defense against an inferiority complex born out of ignorance and fear.
Saul Friedlander, in his introduction to Fleming’s book, adds that “what likewise escapes us is the almost immediate disintegration of the German political, institutional, and legal structures, as well as of the moral forces that by their very nature ought to have been important obstacles to the Nazi in Germany, in the other European countries, and in the entire Western world” (xxxiii). Certainly, not only Germany, but other European countries joined Hitler in his persecution of Jews and most closed their doors to them when Hitler expelled Jews from Germany. The United Nations did not rally to defend the Jews either, even though it convened on the issue and took it under advisement. Nor did the U.S. increase their immigration quotas to accommodate the large number of Jews deported from Germany prior to Hitler changing his mind about allowing the Jews to leave freely. In effect, the free world sat back for a while and watched the sideshow, ignorant to the fact that Hitler was using the backs of the Jews as a stepping stone to world dominion. The Jews were a sideline attraction designed to distract the world from seeing Hitler’s overall aim. And it worked. France, England and the United States did not collectively join forces until their countries were in genuine jeopardy from the combined forces of Germany and Japan. At that point, however, millions of Jews were dead. Ultimately, the final liberation of the few remaining Jews from concentration camps, was a by-product of winning the war. No one actually fought to liberate them. Therefore, regarding the Jews defenseless, and having no one to come to their aid, Hitler was right.
The lessons of history, misused by one man, show us just how powerful historical knowledge can be. Particularly, when used against the masses, who generally have no respect for, nor appreciation of the danger their ignorance of history places them in.
There are those who say that ignorance is bliss. History proves that ignorance can be deadly.