Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Hitler's Comments of March 30, 1941

Historians debate the intentions of the Nazi leadership at the moment that Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941, disputing the extent to which an extermination of Soviet Jews had already been decided and, if so, whether this covered just Jewish men or also women and children. Important sources for deducing those intentions are starvation plans and Heydrich's instructions to the Einsatzgruppen and HSSPF, but a less explored source is Hitler's address to the military of March 30 recorded in the diary of Franz Halder. In this article, I analyze this source against other earlier and later statements made by Hitler.

For the relevant passage in this address, as summarized by Halder, I have relied on Roberto's translation given here:
Question of Russians getting away: not likely because they are tied to the Baltic and Ukraine.
If the Russians should try to get away, they would have to do it at a very early stage, otherwise they will no longer be able to withdraw in an orderly manner. After solving the tasks in the East 50 to 60 divisions (armoured) will suffice. It will be possible to release a part of the land forces to work in the armament industry for the air force and navy, another part will be requiredfor other tasks, for instance Spain.(Marginal note by Halder: Colonial Tasks.)
Two world-views fighting each other. Demolishing verdict about Bolshevism, which is equal to social criminality. Communism is an enormous danger for the future. We must depart from the standpoint of soldierly comradeship. The Communist is no comrade before and no comrade afterwards. This is a fight to annihilation. If we dont see it as this, we will defeat the enemy, but in 30 years we will again be faced with the communist enemy. We don’t make war to conserve the enemy.
Future order of states: Northern Russia belongs to Finland. Protectorates Baltic countries, Ukraine, Belorussia.
Fight against Russia:Annihilation of the Bolshevik commissars and the communist intelligence. The new states must be Socialist states, but without an intelligence of their own. It must be prevented that a new intelligence comes into being. A primitive Socialist intelligence is sufficient. The fight must be conducted against the poison of disintegration. This is not a matter for military tribunals. The leaders of the troops must know what this is about. They must lead in the fight. The troops must defend themselves with the means by which they are attacked. Commissars and GPU-people are criminals and must be treated as such.
For this the troops need not come out of the hands of their leaders. The leader must issue his directives in consonance with the feelings of the troops. This fight is very much differentiated from the fight in the West. In the East harshness means mildness in the future. The leaders must require themselves to do the sacrifice of overcoming their considerations. 
This passage needs careful unpacking because it is vital to what followed. Hitler is not just seeking victory but also an extermination that prevents a future revival. He does not specify Jews but he includes the sentence "We must fight against the poison of disintegration", which his speeches and writings make clear is a reference to Jews. For example, in Mein Kampf, Hitler had stated that the Jew was a "ferment of decomposition" (p.447) who "pursues his course, the course of sneaking in among the nations and of gouging them internally, and he fights with his weapons, with lies and slanders, poison and destruction, intensifying the struggle to the point of bloodily exterminating his hated opponents (p.661)." Although Hitler was not issuing a clear order to kill women and children in this statement, his reference to preventing a future threat "thirty years later" implies that he wishes to make Jewish-Bolshevik reproduction biologically impossible for all time, which could only be done by physical extermination either through shooting, sterilization of separation of the sexes until they had gone beyond their reproductive ages.

Mass shootings were most often framed by the term "the Jewish Question" and then eventually "the Final Solution of the Jewish Question." On July 8, 1941, two military commanders von Leeb and von Roques, discussed shootings and the latter lamented that "the Jewish Question could hardly be solved in this manner. It would most reliably be solved by sterilizing all Jewish males" (cited here, p.12). This makes no sense if the Jewish Question was merely a political or military one rather than a racial one. Sterilization would not address the partisan threat, nor would it assist evacuation. These commanders therefore clearly understood the Jewish Question to be the biological elimination of Jews.

The importance of antisemitism to the German understanding of the USSR was made clear by Hitler himself when, on October 2, 1941, he made a proclamation to the troops in the East which stated that the capitalist and Bolshevist systems both consisted of "Jews and Jews alone." Similarly, Himmler had referred to Communism as "Jewish-Bolshevistic revolution of sub-humans" in 1936 (1851-PS, NCA IV pp.488ff., here p.490), and a radio broadcast by Fritzsche on July 7, 1941, depicted Barbarossa as a war in which "culture, civilization, and human decency make a stand against the diabolical principle of a sub-human world" (3064-PS, NCA, vol. V, p.879). On July 22, 1941, he advised Kvaternik that one had to annihilate (vernichten) "criminal and anti-social elements" and also stated that Jews could be sent to Madagascar or Siberia. It is difficult to imagine that Jews would have been given a kinder fate than criminals given that Hitler believed Jews were themselves criminals and that the blood of German soldiers was on the Jews' hands.[1] This was also made clear by military orders issued in the Autumn of 1941. The Reichenau order, for example, called for a "severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry (see here)."

In conclusion, therefore, Hitler, other Nazi leaders and many Wehrmacht commanders were willing to countenance the extermination of Jews by the summer of 1941. Hitler had reached that point by the end of March but was not yet clear on the timescale (which depended on military circumstances) or the means (the degree of sterilization, starvation or shooting involved). By mid-July, Hitler had decided to escalate shooting, utilizing the massive expansion of shooting manpower that was already underway, in a way that became implemented as a total killing of Soviet Jews except for "work Jews and their families". The military supported these policies in most cases, including Reichenau and Manstein.

[1] Aufzeichnung des Gesandten Hewel [Pers.Stab RAM], 'Unterredung des Fuehrers mit Marschall Kvaternik im Beisen des Reichsministers des Auswaertigen und Generalfeldmarschalls Keitel am 22 Juli 1941 im Fuehrerhaptquartier', Akten zur deutschen auswärtigen Politik: 1918 - 1945 ; aus dem Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes; D,13,2, Anhang III, pp.835-838, here p.838.

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