The two schools of thought in contemporary studies of the holocaust origins fall under the categories of functionalism and intentionalism. Functionalists believe that Hitler was an anti-Semite yet held no permanent orchestrated plan to eliminate the Jewish race, rather that the vast genocide of the Holocaust was a result of the continual German anti-Semitic policy changing to become increasingly radical and the failure of the Jewish deportation plans.
In contrast Intentionalist Historians generally agree that Hitler did have a fixed long-term plan to kill the Jews from the beginning of his political career and that he was the dominant and driving authority force which encouraged the mass slaughter which occurred throughout the Holocaust.
The four sources offer conflicting viewpoints on the nature of Nazi plans against the Jewish race but in general the accepted view by the majority of historians which exists concludes that there was no long-term plan for the annihilation of the Jews and that deep and ancient rooted anti-Semitism irrefutably existed in Germany in the first half of the 20th century. Interpretation C and D are accepting of the view that the Holocaust was mainly the result of a long term plan by Hitler to eliminate the Jews.
In interpretation C it states that even before Hitler was propelled into Governmental power his eliminationist desire was ‘clear and constant’. Furthermore, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen suggests that the Nazi regime ‘came into power determined to undertake a task – the elimination of the Jews from all spheres of social life in Germany and also their capacity to harm Germany’. The genocide of the Holocaust was not ‘linear and unambiguous’ and did not come about as a simple progression due to the war circumstances or neither as an ‘outgrowth of Hitler’s moods’, but rather it was part of ‘Hitler’s long held ideal to eliminate all Jewish power’.
A fundamental theme of the book, ‘Hitler’s willing executioners’ that Goldhagen expressed is that the radical anti-Semitic ‘goal directed’ and premeditated Nazi policy and plans towards the European Jewry was supported by the public because of the long held widespread hatred of the Jews. Interpretation D holds similar, yet weaker beliefs that Hitler had a long-term plan to deal with the Jewish race. According to this Historian, here was no need for Hitler’s personal involvement in the Holocaust because he signalled his intentions in ‘unmistakeable terms’ about the fate of the Jews now that Germany was embroiled in another world war and by this time the ‘killing initiatives had already developed their own momentum’. The interpretation argues that the Nazi leader had an explicit and clear-cut plan to deal with the Jews which would eventually end in an extermination programme and that the Second World War was essentially the spark to alight and fire up the mass genocide which proved fatal to the Jews.
Hitler was not interested in detail but one significant aspect of his plan was that a war would add the impetus and momentum required to begin such a devastating plan to eradicate the Jews immediately. Interpretation A does not support the view that the Holocaust was a long-term plan and Berghahn seems to argue that the mass genocide was a war accelerated plan. The fanatical and ‘rabid’ anti-Semites, by 1939, gave the Jews good and genuine reasons to fear for their lives, however there is no implication that Hitler had decided to solve the Jewish problem by a mass slaughter programme before the occurrence of the war.
Furthermore, Berghahn suggests that the existence of total war ‘seriously weakened the Jew’s chances of survival’. Berghahn stresses that the German military victories added millions of Jews to the Reich and now the ‘resettlement plans’ had become a ‘major logistical and bureaucratic operation’ which were so vast it ‘helped tip the scales in favour of physical annihilation’. Interpretation A states that the outbreak of war significantly ‘weakened the Jew’s chances of survival’, indicating that the Holocaust was a situational response and not a long thought-out plan but a war-accelerated plan.
In interpretation B, Detlev Peukert does not imply or mention the idea that the Holocaust was a long-term plan, however he highlights the bitter natural hatred the Germans held against the Jews. The interpretation illustrates that the Holocaust was not just the Nazi party’s idea but that it was taken from policies and ideas of imperial Germany when there was ‘concern that middle-class German families were reproducing at a lesser rate than families from lower social groups’.
Hence, the source argues that even though Hitler had no early intentions of carrying out an ‘annihilation’ of the Jews, it was a follow-on from previous regimes. Clearly, the historian identifies how Jews were regarded as inferior and he outlines the growing feeling that the German people needed to be purified . The measures for racial purification would consist of preventing the reproduction of families which were regarded ‘alien’ or ‘asocial’ and there is no implication that Hitler had masterminded this policy to solve the Jewish question before the second world war.
Interpretations A and B are in agreement with the ‘functionalist’ point of view and hence imply that the Holocaust was a situational response and not a long-thought-out plan but a war-accelerated plan. Furthermore, they cast doubt on the idea that the mass slaughter of the Holocaust was Hitler’s personal idea. Interpretation A states that it was the SS who were the ‘only organization to take a systematic approach’ and introduce the concept of an emigration programme.
Hence the SS provided a solution to the Jewish question and were the compelling force with the driving momentum to work towards a final Jewish solution instead of any personal input of ideas by Hitler. Interpretation B signals that the Holocaust wasn’t Hitler’s plan but that it was taken from ideas of imperial Germany (1871-1914). It is clear that racism was widespread during the Nazi era and ‘even the non-fascist theorists argued in favour of a population policy to encourage better genetic stock’.
Therefore Hitler’s policies were likely to have been radicalized until the Final Solution arrived to meet the strong demand for severe policies of an anti-Semitic nature. Additionally, interpretation D states that Hitler may not have even known that the Wannsee conference was taking place. The Wannsee conference was a meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime where Heydrich presented a plan to deal with the Jewish question which was debatably approved by Hitler. Radical anti-Semites worked for Hitler as senior officials to organize the policies which he permitted.
Hitler never became concentrated on detail and rather left these to his officials. Heydrich, the chief executioner of the “Final solution to the Jewish question” used Hitler’s general ‘blanket authorization of deportations’ to develop the programme of genocide. There has been no solid evidence to link the Holocaust with being a personal plan of Adolf Hitler’s because no document exists which Hitler signed committing to the Holocaust. Christopher Browning believes that Hitler’s intentions came out of a ‘logical and coherent ideology’, only realized due to an ‘all powerful totalitarian dictatorship’.
Hence Hitler’s totalitarian state meant that he must have made the final decision to execute the Holocaust himself as he was the supreme commander and his actions and orders were obeyed. As Hitler himself stated in 1933, ‘Every bullet that is now fired from the barrel of a police pistol is my bullet. If that is called murder, then I have committed murder, for I have ordered it all; I take the responsibility for it’. Furthermore Hitler, in a letter to Gemlich in 1919 claimed that 3 ‘the final objective must be the complete removal of the Jews’ and that as soon as he has the power, ‘the Jews will be hanged one after another until they stink’.
Interpretation D says that Hitler ‘signaled in unmistakable terms in December 1941 what the fate of the Jews should be now that Germany was embroiled in another world war’. Moreover, Ian Kershaw quotes Hitler to have said that the war would end with the ‘annihilation of the Jews’. Similarly, Goldhagen highlights Hitler’s intentions in Interpretation C when he labels the Nazi leader’s eliminationist desire as ‘clear and constant’ and mentions ‘Hitler’s long held ideal to eliminate all Jewish power. In Hitler’s earliest political ramblings it was clear he wanted a Germany rid of all Jews when in 1922 he described them as, the ‘ferment of the decomposition of people’ and his suggestion that the best policy to deal with the Jews in Munich was to ‘hang them. ’ Furthermore, the Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 and signed by Hitler prohibited marriages and extra-marital intercourse between Jews and Germans and showed Hitler’s infatuation with discriminating against the Jews. Many historians are split over the idea that Hitler considered an emigration programme before arriving at the Holocaust as a solution.
In interpretation A the historian states that an emigration programme to ship Jews off to Madagascar was being discussed as late as 1941 and was named ‘the territorial final settlement’. This illustrates that the Holocaust was not a long-term plan and was only carried out when other options such as the territorial plans were exhausted. The existence of ‘total war’ after the USA entered the global fight provided Hitler with the situation to justify the introduction of a plan of mass genocide and remove the ‘psychological barriers’ which were present.
The typical view is that it was not a long-term plan of Hitler’s, however it is clear he was a strong anti-Semite. In contrast historians such as Goldhagen argue against the mainstream stating that Nazi policy was goal directed and the genocide was not just the ‘outgrowth of Hitler’s moods’ but of his long held desire to kill off the Jews. To conclude, the interpretations collectively argue most compellingly that the Holocaust was not a long-term plan with A and D at opposite ends of the spectrum.
A common feature of both these sources is the idea that the war absolutely sped up plans or even changed plans to a more radical policy of mass Jewish genocide. The Second World War contributed to the Holocaust for a number of reasons, another war would provide the extreme and radical situation and the ‘excuse’ in which the Holocaust could be carried out because of the gravity and instability of the circumstance and the distortion in people’s moral compasses.
The war disrupted the Nazi’s emigration programme, war brutalized people, added Jews to Germany when Nazi’s were trying to remove them, and it encouraged extremism. D insinuates that the war gave Hitler the excuse he needed to pull off such a policy and A shows there was a lack of any other possible options available due to the war climate. Interpretations A and B strongly agree that there was no evidence of a long-term plan from Hitler but that there was instead a long held racism directed against the Jews.
Interpretations C and D agree that there was a long-term plan held by the Nazi’s directed at killing off the Jewish population but differ on their opinions regarding Hitler’s role in the Holocaust proposals. Interpretation D states that Hitler signaled his authorization to Heydrich who would put the plans into practice but interpretation C suggests Hitler was more involved in the detail of his policies. Therefore after analyzing the interpretations it is possible to deduce that there was no long-term plan but there was racism and it was the war which transformed this racism into a full-out attempt by the Nazi’s to exterminate the Jews.