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Himmler Tagebuch debate

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"Samuel Crowell" has more on the origins of the wartime decision to kill Jews


Wednesday, 12 May 1999 1:30 May 10, 1999


Some Thoughts on "Judenfrage | Als Partisanen auszurotten"

I WOULD like to take this opportunity to ventilate my opinion on the by now well known Heinrich Himmler daybook entry, "Judenfrage | als Partisanen auszurotten." The Christian Gerlach thesis is that this entry of December 18, 1941 indicates that Hitler gave the order to exterminate the Jews a few days prior.

The thesis of Dr. John Fox, on the other hand, is that the formulation pertains to the future shooting of German Jews who were the first deportees to the Eastern Marches.

I find neither of these explanations satisfactory, but in order to explain why, I would like to explain a few other dates on the timeline that are significant to me.

The first of these are the various versions of the Commissar Order, in the Spring of 1941, which directed the Einsatzgruppen to destroy the communist cadres of occupied Russia. It seems to me that, given the tendency of the Nazis to identify all Jews as "biological Bolsheviks" this order easily could be interpreted to give license to any Einsatzgruppen- or police commander to kill any Jews at any time. The implementation of this order would help explain why in fact many Jews -- chiefly males in the first weeks -- were routinely massacred.

The next milestone is a bit harder to date but I would place it around late August, and this pertains to the extension of the killing of Jews from males and some females to all Jews, including men, women, and children. The most spectacular murders in this respect appear to have taken place in the Baltic states, and are summarized in the "Jäger Report", which, as already indicated, shows mostly men, and then women, and finally men, women, and children to a total of about 140,000 by the end of 1941.

What was the purpose of this change of policy, and who inaugurated it? I believe a key episode concerns the massacre of about 90 Jewish children in Byelaya Tserkov in Ukraine in the late Summer. In this instance, the parents had been slain, apparently as reprisal, or as hostages, or as a punitive measure. But the children -- initially -- survived, and were crammed into an orphanage without any care. Surviving documentation shows that several Wehrmacht chaplains passed on the complaints of the ordinary soldiers at such maltreatment, then that the decision was made to eliminate the children, and then that no one could be found to perform the act, since the SS and the SD both refused to do it.

Post-war testimony in fact suggests that the children were killed reluctantly by Ukrainian auxiliaries. If there had been a general policy of massacring Jewish children prior to Byelaya Tserkov (which means "Whitechapel", by the way), then the wide-spread demoralization among the ranks never would have occurred, at the same time, precisely because this episode did demoralize so many, one can begin to see why the decision was made to murder whole families in order to prevent any further episodes of this kind.

Therefore I believe the decision to massacre whole Jewish families was made at about this time, and was passed along orally, because the Jäger Report indicates that the policy was soon implemented with a vengeance in the Baltics soon after. But who gave the order? I think it is rather clear that the order came from Himmler, who at any rate sanctioned it, if it first came from below.

In his Posen speeches of 1943 Himmler goes to some trouble to justify the murder of whole Jewish families with reference to the need to protect against the children rising up to exact revenge in their adulthood, and in later speeches in 1943 and early 1944 Himmler also makes clear that these whole family massacres are related to the anti-partisan war. But most importantly, in all cases, Himmler takes complete personal responsibility for the decision: at no time does he attribute it to Hitler, or to a "Führer-Befehl", (Führer Order) although it would be easy to do so; on the contrary it is always described as "his" "difficult" decision.

So far we can see how the original Commissar Order mutated by the end of 1941 into an order giving license to local commanders to massacre Jewish men, women, and children with impunity, and that this alteration -- though not documented -- appears to have come from, or been sanctioned by, Himmler in late Summer of 1941.

No doubt the rest of the anti-partisan war -- involving Jews or non-Jews -- was fought with similar ferocity.

The next matter that has to be engaged is the question of the Jews deported to occupied Russia -- starting with German Jews, that is, Jews from the 1939 Reich, and extending in the Spring and Summer of 1942 to Jews from Poland and Western Europe. These deportations, to my mind, are best regarded as the interim deportations of the Final Solution, that is, the removal of the Jews from Europe but not yet a truly Final Solution, insofar as the warehousing of the Jews in the ghettos of the East was not viewed as a permanent solution.

The support for this interpretation of the deportations and of the term "Final Solution" is supported by a number of documents and references that indicate that no one felt that the Final Solution itself had been implemented even by July, 1942, while the deportations were in full swing but rather that it was to be postponed for a later time.

This is the reason why I don't accept Dr. Fox's interpretation, because like most students of the Holocaust he tends to conflate the Wannsee Conference (which describes the general policy of deportation and forced labor) with the "Final Solution" which he considers a code word for gassing.

But I do not consider the Final Solution to have meant the final solution of the Jewish question through extermination, but rather through post-war expulsion, the wartime deportations to the East and the forced labor utilization were, I believe, meant to be provisional measures. Further on Dr. Fox's interpretation, I cannot see how the "als Partisanen auszurotten" is supposed to pertain to the early waves of German Jews, since with the exception of the November 30, 1941 transport, the German deportees to the Baltic states were not routinely massacred at all, but were rather consigned to ghettos and work camps, such that significant numbers were still around to be evacuated back to Germany in late 1944 and early 1945.

Therefore, I must conclude that "Judenfrage | als Partisanen auszurotten" cannot pertain to wholesale massacre of German (or other western) Jews. But at the same time we have to note that the harassment and occasional massacres of deported western and Polish Jews continued periodically from the beginning of the deportations right up to the end of 1943, as such episodes as the "Ernte Fest" shootings in the Lublin district indicate.

On the other hand, Herr Gerlach's thesis, that the order to exterminate all Jews was made around December 12, 1941, and that this is the meaning of Himmler's phrase, also makes little sense, because it contradicts the aforementioned documentation describing the implementation of forced Jewish labor and the warehousing of Jews in the Eastern ghettos well into the summer of 1943, when the ghettos began to be disbanded before the advancing Red Army.

In fact, I would contend that the very existence of these ghettos and work camps right up to just before their capture by the Red Army is among the strongest pieces of evidence to indicate that the deportations and forced labor were in fact part of an interim solution to the Final Solution of continental expulsion, not part of a conspiratorial plan to concentrate the Jews in the east before secretly exterminating them with poison gas.

If, by my reasoning, the interpretations of Fox and Gerlach both founder on the documentary record, what then is the meaning of "Judenfrage | als Partisanen auszurotten"?

I believe it means simply that, to the extent that the Jews in the East pose a partisan threat, to that extent they will be neutralized, either by killing or confinement, but in any case the possibility of a partisan threat from the Jewish quarter must be nullified. This is the interpretation that seems the most natural to me...

Samuel Crowell

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