Hitler and the Jews: Genesis of the Holocaust Paperback – 3 Feb 1994
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"A masterpiece."--Eberhard Jaeckel"A remarkable contribution to the history of the extermination of the Jews of Europe."--Saul Friedlaender
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Burrin makes a coherent, well-argued, and supported case that the decision for the Final Solution was finally and unequivocally not made until the autumn of 1941.
There is no doubt that Hitler had strong anti-Semitic views from a young age, but the thin documentary evidence does not indicate that he persistently and consistently had an exterminatory conviction against Jews in Europe. In the 1930s, and even in the initial stages of the Second World War, much of the evidence indicates that high-level Nazi opinion saw the fate of the Jews as being initial isolation in the east and then deportation to some isolated reservation, for example the Madagascar plan which was under serious consideration for some time. Hitler’s views seem to be that he did not wish to undergo the comprehensive extermination of the Jewish people unless it seemed that the war was turning against Germany, in which case he would need to take action to firstly, take revenge on global Jewry and secondly to ensure that in the event of Germany’s defeat, he would have eradicated the Jewish presence once and for all from Europe. Burrin demonstrates how the faltering campaign on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, which was becoming apparent to Hitler and the military leaders as early as August 1941, ignited Hitler’s determination to punish the Jews for their resistance to the Nazi world vision. Burrin therefore judiciously straddles the extremes of the functionalist and intentionalist theories about the Holocaust.
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Burrin attempts to give us a synthesis of the current debate. He agrees with the intentionalists, but as Christopher Browning has previously done, Burrin argues that a killing final solution "would be carried out only in the event of a well-defined situation such as the failure of his [Hitler's] planned world conquests" (p. 23).
Passing over much previously studied ground, Burrin argues that Hitler had developed a notion of `conditional mass murder' even before the Nazi Machtergreifung. This notion developed throughout the early years of Nazi rule. Further to this he cites a previously overlooked document written by Walter Gross, the head of the Nazi Bureau of Racial Policy. The document, dated 25 September 1935, is a record of a meeting between Hitler and his regional chiefs on the implications of the infamous Nuremburg Racial Laws. Gross recorded Hitler as saying that "in the event of a war on all fronts", Hitler "would be ready for any consequences" (p. 49). Burrin argues that in the context of the conversation, which focussed exclusively on the `Jewish Question', the statement is a barely veiled threat of conditional mass murder and that Hitler's infamous Reichstag speech of 30 January 1939 was merely a continuation of this idea. The problem with Burrin's interpretation is that it relies too much on language. The peculiarities and dualism of Nazi idiom have long been recognised. There is no doubt that the document cited may be a `signpost' on the path to destruction, but it is not a smoking gun.
Burrin argues that the decision to implement full-scale mass murder came from Hitler in mid-September, 1941. There are two central turning points: the first is that by August, the killing of Soviet Jews had reached genocidal proportions; the second is that the decision was made to deport Jews to the East was made in mid-September. It is at this point, Burrin argues, that the final decision was made (p. 134).
The major piece of evidence that Burrin uses to come to this conclusion is another previously overlooked document. Burrin analyses a communication from Reinhard Heydrich (Chief of the Security Police and Security Service) to OKH (High Command of the Army) dated 6 November 1941. In the letter Heydrich takes responsibility for the destruction of Paris synagogues on 2-3 October. The attack took place as a retaliation against assaults on sympathetic French politicians. Heydrich states that he accepted assistance from French collaborators (in attacking the synagogues) "only from the moment when, at the highest level, Jewry had been forcefully designated as the culpable incendiary in Europe, one which must definitely disappear from Europe" (p. 124). Burrin interprets the passage as meaning that "the deportation order had been, simultaneously, an extermination order" (p. 124). Burrin interprets the language as indicating that the order came from Hitler. The problem with this argument, once again, is that it relies on the Nazi idiom too much. In the end it is no more and no less inflammatory than any Nazi rhetoric either proceeding or following it.
Burrin has not pushed forward the debate-most of his findings have been previously aired. In the end, he has only reconfirmed the findings of other scholars. These criticisms aside, Burrin has done scholarship a service by mining the archives for under-utilised documentation. Burrin's work should be read as a synthesis of the available views, not for new insights. As a work of this sort Hitler and the Jews performs admirably.
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