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Housden begins by focusing on the German conquest of Poland. Considering all of the decades-old whining, by certain Germans, about Allied bombing strategy, Housden makes it clear that this very policy originated from none other than the Germans themselves: "German military actions were staged deliberately to destroy civilian targets. Szymon Datner has detailed extensively the deliberate bombardment and destruction of towns and villages, even though no Polish troops had been defending them and there was no military rationale for the actions. Twenty-six centers in Warsaw province were treated in this way, 11 in Cracow, 17 in Lodz, and 21 in Lublin. Fighters strafed civilians." (p. 80).
Housden also debunks what has become a staple of Nazi German and subsequent German revisionist propaganda: "When, apparently, Polish troops killed a handful of ethnic Germans who had been shooting at them near Bromberg [Bydgoszcz], the story developed into a tale of a massacre of tens of thousands." (p. 80).
After the conquest, according to Housden: "At once, occupation became racially-driven and murderous in a way designed to destroy the Polish nation. Although the pursuit of Polish policy was different to the pursuit of Jewish policy, it was genocidal all the same. The scale of the vision was certainly astounding. It foresaw the enslavement of millions of Poles. They were to become illiterate and they would lose their sense of common history." (p. 116),
The later industrial genocide of Jews was actually the culmination of not one but a series of previous genocidal acts against both Jews and Poles. These acts, according to Housden, not only escalated progressively but often reinforced each other: "Most obviously, Jewish policy often was intertwined with Slavic or Polish policy, not least because both population groups lived in the area German authorities wanted for their own. In some ways, Nazi policy towards the Slavs led the field in the radicalization of policy against Europe's peoples. Hence as early as 1932 Hitler was talking about sending Czechs to Siberia and in 1939 the security police began the genocide of Poles. In other respects, Jewish policy led the drive." (p. 152). Also: "Policy towards the Jews jumped forward in a series of stages. Sometimes it was accompanied with a leap forward in Polish policy too." (p. 148).
Housden makes it clear that, neither Poles and Jews, nor resettlement and physical annihilation, can be dichotomized. In the period of 1939-1941, there was talk of completely resettling both Jews and Poles further east (p. 131, 142). In early 1940, Himmler dismissed the possibility of the mass annihilation of the Jews (p. 135). In 1940, "Hans Frank...often discussed Jews and Poles in close proximity." (p. 145). In May 1941, Gauleiter Bracht "...did not distinguish implicitly between future possibilities for Jews and Poles..." (p. 143). "Resettlement" subsequently evolved into a means of indirect genocidal murder. Housden cites Frank's 1940 "the more die, the better" comment regarding the proposed resettling of Jews in the Pripet marshes (p. 138). Had millions of Jews been sent to Madagascar, they would only have died there under the inhospitable conditions, just as surely as they did later at Auschwitz (p. 139). As for the significance of the Madagascar plan, Housden comments: "...it spoke of the dissolution of final and traditional restraints on action. The culling of Polish intellectuals opened the way for more general killing. Likewise acceptance of a resettlement policy likely to bring about extensive death indirectly prepared the way for something more direct. Deliberate and complete murder of men, women, and children belonging to a given racial group was set to be taken seriously." (p. 139).
Later, Siberia replaced Madagascar as a transitional step in Nazi thinking: "As Jewish policy moved on in Spring 1941, so Polish policy was pulled forward too. For the Poles, extermination of the elites, cultural genocide and slavery were being replaced by resettlement and, presumably, wider biological attrition in Siberia." (p. 142). By late 1941, Jewish deaths no longer were seen as a by-product of resettlement or slave labor (p. 149). They became an end in itself.
The reader can readily see that Jews and Poles were "unequal victims" not because Germans saw any intrinsic worth in Poles, but because pragmatic considerations had complicated the picture: "Frank believed that it was an error to murder all the Jews in German territory while the war was on...he made a case for considering the Poles in an analogous way...Even if the Government General became an entirely German land in the future, in the meantime the Poles were necessary workers...Less than ever was it possible to follow traditional Party thinking and consider the Poles simply in terms of resettlement or annihilation." (pp. 201-202). Also: "He [Frank] also reported to a police meeting that the population was under-fed and that Poles needed full stomachs to work properly...But a man had to feed his horse or it would die." (pp. 203-204).
Housden provides excellent detail, often from German sources, of the increasing scope and effectiveness of Polish guerilla warfare (p. 119, 181, 196-197, 209, etc.), notably that which caused the German fiasco (Housden's term) at Zamosc (pp. 186-191). This helped convince the Germans that a "Final Solution" to the Polish problem would have to await the end of the war.
Although Housden follows Yehuda Bauer in supporting the uniqueness of the Holocaust (pp. 115-116, 153), he recognizes the probable future extermination of Poles: "...the attempted murder of Europe's Jews was not the only attempted genocide at the time. It was not the first genocidal policy in the East; and had Globocnik's plan for a chain of population settlement to squeeze Poles to its west had time to be implemented more fully, the Holocaust would not have been the largest attempted genocide either...Had Germany won the war, the fate of the Jews coupled to the intrinsically radical nature of Hitler's system, pointed to the gravest consequences for other eastern populations as well." (p. 153).