Vol. 52, no. 6 (June 2002), page 56.
Unwritten Order: Hitler's Role in the Final Solution
The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution Mark Roseman Allen Lane: The Penguin Press 152pp £9.99 ISBN 0-713-99570-X
ADOLF HITLER'S ROLE and that of other Nazi leaders in the decision-making processes of the Nazi Third Reich that eventually resulted in that regime's attempted mass murder of European Jewry during the Second World War is the subject of the two books reviewed here. Both cover the same ground, but in a far from satisfactory manner.
At first sight both books appear as good examples of compact, erudite, and informed history writing in tracing the meandering evolution of Hitler's and the Nazi Third Reich's anti-Jewish policies from the 1920s through to their European-wide genocide of the Jews that finally commenced in two stages during 1941-42 and lasted until near the end of 1944. Erudite and informed, that is, until one probes deeper. Given the scientific precision with which one must approach these subjects today, Mark Roseman and the Penguin Press make astonishing claims that their book offers 'fresh insights' when it is based almost entirely on published monographic and other printed sources.
Given that one of the books that Roseman relies upon is [Peter] Longerich's original study, Politik der Vernichtung. Eine Gesamtdarstellung der nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung (1998), the basis for Longerich's new book discussed below, it is hardly surprising that Roseman often parallels Longerich and that at key points he, like Longerich before him, fails adequately to weave together key elements in the analysis. The nadir is the gross misreading by both authors about what Hitler meant on December 18th, 1941, when he told Himmler that Jews were to be exterminated 'like partisans'.
While Longerich, whose book is misleadingly described by the publisher as 'the definitive study of Adolf Hitler's role in the planning and implementation of the greatest act of genocide in the twentieth century', at least bases his work on archival research, that does not excuse the confusing manner in which he presents much of his evidence and arguments. Longerich argues that there would appear to have been no single Hitler order for the Nazi genocide of the Jews and that there was never any real need for such, given that the European-wide mass murder which finally took place was almost a 'natural' progression from the cumulatively radicalised anti-Jewish policies that began after the German invasion of Poland, and more particularly after the Soviet Union was invaded on June 22nd, 1941.
Time and again both authors contradict themselves, sometimes within a few lines. This is particularly the case when both speak of the 'indiscriminate' shooting of Russian Jews after June 22nd, 1941 -- it was far from being that -- and then very quickly talk of how they were systematically murdered. Roseman compounds these basic errors by stating that such things happened in the 'lawless conditions behind the military front' and how this was so very different from the 'project expressed in the [January 20th, 1942] Wannsee Protocol of systematically extracting and murdering Jews all across Europe'. Roseman would do well to learn more about the manner of the German control 'behind the military front' in the east.
What Roseman fails to understand, and Longerich is not far behind him in this, is that there was no difference in principle and ideological intention between the systematic genocide of Russian Jewry -- which Roseman tries to devalue as 'mass murder' when compared to the subsequent 'genocide' of European Jewry -- and the subsequent pan-European practice of the Nazis. The difference between the two came to be one of the means of execution and the fact that for the pan-European practice of genocide, unlike in Russia, the terrible twins of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and the Chief of the Security Service, Reinhard Heydrich, were forced to take into account the positions and polices of a whole range of other German State and Party authorities. The complications posed by the search for a satisfactory resolution of these two interrelated elements -- satisfactory, that is, to Himmler and Heydrich -- is not at all well explored by either author. It is that process which delayed the convening of the Wannsee Conference to January 20th, 1942, not any 'hesitation' or 'uncertainty' about the intended policy of extermination.
Both authors appear mesmerised by the many statements of Hitler and other leading Nazis during 1941, especially, about 'deporting' German and European Jewry to Soviet territories 'after the war' as one version of the Nazi 'Final Solution' of the European Jewish Problem. Consequently, both spend a great deal of time trying to show how such ideas unravelled into a policy of European-wide genocide.
Those historians who rely on the 'deportation' to the east argument miss a crucial point. The deliberately planned and implemented Nazi genocide of European Jewry began with that of Soviet Jewry as of June 22nd, 1941, because those Jews were seen as the carriers of the ideological and racial enemy of National Socialism, Judeo-Bolshevism. But since it was also an integral part of Nazi anti-Jewish ideology that all Jews carried the same racial blood of the hated Ostjuden, National Socialism could never rest easy until the rest, too, had been disposed of.
Consequently, one does not exterminate one part of one's biological and racial enemy within the context of war, only to consider more complicated and uncertain 'solutions' of arranging European-wide 'deportations' to some fanciful far-off reservation in the east for the others within the context of an on-going and increasingly losing war in the Soviet Union. Talk of 'deportation' was the usual Nazi practice of deception since at the same time they were searching for far more efficient means of exterminating European Jewry than shooting. Longerich is wrong in suggesting that the Nazis' exterminatory policy of Euthanasia from the winter of 1939-40 was some kind of 'rehearsal' for the Nazi Final Solution of the Jewish Question. No, it was not, it was a programme pursued in its own right.
Both books should carry with them a prominent sale of goods caveat emptor.
John P. Fox