We do not know precisely when Hitler gave the orders to Himmler and Göring to carry out the Holocaust. Presumably the order was given verbably by Hitler to Himmler and Göring. Heydrich may have been present. There is no record of this meeting. None of these individuals left a record of any meeting with Hitler in whivh he gave the order. This is understandable as they planned to cover up the whole process and had begun to do so in 1944. It is possible, however, to reconstruct the process through changes in German policy and known meetings with Hitler. Whikle the four key figures did not leave aitten record, their underlings did. The decesion to kill Soviet Jews in large numbers was taken before Barbarossa. At that time the decesion to kill the Jews in the rest of Europe was postponed until the War was over, which Hitler thought would be only a few months--expecting the Red Army to collapse. As far as we can tell, the decession to
kill European Jews occurred in the aftermath of Barbarossa. And it was not so much a an order to kill, the NAZI intentions had become genocidal duriung the plannoing for Bsarbsarossa. The order given was that the killing in the rest of Europe should proceed before the end of the War and was indeed to be a central war goal.
Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, initiated the NAZI mass killing of Jews. The limited actions taken in Poland were enacted by additional Einsatzgruppen which had prefected their methods. The Einsatzgruppen were well equipped and organized and carried out massive killing actions with chilling barbarity as soon as the invasion began. The level of killing made it clear that the decesion to eliminate European Jews had been taken before the invasion. The variation in the approach of the killing groups, however, show that the the methods and goal had not been fully worked out. The killing groups did not operate under the same orders. Some groups killed all Jews they enciuntered. Others at first only killed the men, although this soon evolved into all Jews. The orders they were given did not specify killing all Jews. Rather they were couched more into killing political Commisars, Soviet officials, and regime supporters. As Jews were seen as the core of the Bolshevism, these orders were seen as authorizing the killing of Jews. This was not an authorization to begin killing the Jews in the Reich and occupied areas. Barbarossa was seen as opening up new areas sich as Siberia where Jews could be deported after the Soviet state had been destroyed. Here through forced labor, malnutrition, disease, and a histile climate they would gradually perish. Only the unexpected resistence of the Red Army made this fate for the Jews impossible. From the NAZI perspective, it would obviously make no sence to ship Jews who theu identified as Boshevik conspirators to the Soviet Union which was now their arch enemy. It is at this time that Hitler turned to other alernatives, althernatives the SS had been deligently pursuing. The bloody work of the SS as well as the mounting German casualties surely had the impact of radicalizing NAZI thought.
The first official document we know of came from Reich Marshall Herman Goering to Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's right-hand man and head of the Secret Police and SD as well as Eichmann's superior. The orer was dated on July 31, 1941, after the invasion of the Soviet Union was well underway. [Noakes and Pridham, pp. 485-489.] The first official document we know of came from Reich Marshall Herman Goering to Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's right-hand man and head of the Secret Police and SD as well as Eichmann's superior. The involvement of such NAZI luminaries as Goering (the second most important NAZI offical) and Heydrich indicated the full involvement at the highest levels of the NAZI regime. Goering woukd have never given such an order without Hitler's full knowlefge and approval. Both men had personal contact with Hitler. The order used the beaureacratic NAZI language roteinly employed in such documents, "As supplement to the task that was entrusted to you in the decree dated 24 January 1939, to solve the Jewish question by emmigration and evacuation in the most favorble way possible, I herewith commission you to carry out all necessary prepartions with regard to the organizational, substantive, and financial viewpoints for a total solution of the Jewish questiin in the German sphere of influence in Europe. In so far as the competencies of other central organizations are hearby affected, these are to be involved." [Goering, July 1941.] Although the order is written to avoid using the word kill, the key word is "total". It can mean but one thing--murder.
The first indication we know of a change in plans was a conversation between Himmler and the commander of the expanding concentration camp at Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess. Himmler informed Hoess in mid-1941 that the Führer had decided on the Final Solution of the Jewish question and the task had been entrusted to the SS. [Hoess, pp. 160, 205.]
Goebbels had direct access to Hitler. He was not only Propsaganda Minister, but Gauleiter for Berlin. He convened a meeting of fellow Gauleiters in Belin (August). At the meeting, his fellow Gauleiters complained thsat they were not being allowed to expel the Jews in their Gaus. Here there was compoetition to be beat the other Gauleiters in being Judenfrei. Also there was a good deal of money to be made in expelling Jews. This mean obtsainiong not only their personal possessions, but their remsaining houses, apsartments, and other property as well. Goebbelks must have reported their comments to Hitler.
Hitler had not approved the actions against Reich Jews that were adopted in occupied Poland (General Gocernmernt and the Arthegau)--deportsations and wearing Yellow Star badges. This only changed when he learned that in respoonse to Barbarossa and the Germsan drive into the Ukraine that Stalin had ordered that the Volga Germsans be deported east (September-October 1941). He abolished the Volga German ASSR and Russia's German population, not only the Volga Germans, was almost entirely banished to Kazakhstan, Altai Krai and other remote Eastern areas. Only the German communities in the western Ukraine that the advancing Wehrmacht reached were not deported East. Rosenbedrg, Himmler, and others involved in Generalplan Ost had planned on using this valuable racial stock. The principal imediment to Germany's ambitions in the East at this time was the shortsage of availsable Germans. Many NAZI actions against the Jews were jusrified as retalitory measures and this as one of many examples. Hundreds of thousands of potential new ciizens were involved, now lost to the Reich. Rosenberg came up with the idea of deporting central European Jews east. (Rosenberg, p. 20). Although it is entirely clear that he yet understood that this meant outright murder. Hitler was noiw ready to move against the Reich Germans and the Polish Jews. The problem was that with the Wehrmacht committed to the largest military operation in history, transport was alreach streached to the limit. Heydrich suggested at least making a beginning. He suggested that the deportion of Jews from the larger cities begin.
A very clear indication that the decesion had been taken was a message Heydrich sent to the Foreign Ministry. And also an indication that Foreign Ministry Von Ribentrop had not yet been iformed by Hitler or learned of Hitler decesions. Hitler had exeeted pressure on Franco to enter the War (Septemvber 1940). Franco had refused. But pressurecontinued and one of the demands was to turn over Spanish Jews in France. Actions against Spanish citizens made this a Foreign Ministry concern. Franco proposed depoorting them to Spanish Morocco as an alternsative. Heydrich in no uncertain terms that Reich policy was now to discourage emigration from Europe.
Cecil, R. The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology (London, 1972).
Goering, Herman, Order to Reinhard Heydrich, July 1941, International Military Tribunal xxvi, pp. 266-67.
Hoess, Rudolf. Commondant of Auschwitz (1960).
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