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Dr. Catherine Chatterley



 
DR. CATHERINE CHATTERLEY: ANTISEMITISM AND THE HOLOCAUST: THE HISTORICAL CONNECTION

By Dr. Catherine Chatterley, April 24, 2012

[Editor's note: Dr. Catherine Chatterley is the guest speaker at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Annual Woemn's Endowment Fund Luncheon this year on May 10, 2012 at the Fort Gary Hotel. To get our tickets to this event ,see Advertisment on this website in the top right hand caorner of the website or go to www.jewishfoundation.org .]

 

Holocaust history and the history of Nazi Germany are two of the most solidly established and thoroughly documented fields in our study of the human past. Among the reasons for this reality are: 1) the enormous evidentiary record provided by the Germans themselves, which includes 12 years of fastidious documentation as well as an elaborate photographic and film record, and 2) the legal and testimonial record based upon the experiential witnessing of Nazism’s Jewish victims and survivors. Here there is the public witnessing of the postwar period and also an internal process in the form of Jewish Historical Commissions in Europe from 1943-1949 and the reams of Yizkor Books produced after the war. 
 
The consensus among historians of the Holocaust and of historians of Nazi Germany is that antisemitism was a central fixation for Adolf Hitler and that his obsessionwith “the Jews” determined Nazi anti-Jewish policy from 1933-1945. Hitler’s antisemitism is clearly documented in writing from his Letter to Herr Gemlich (September 16, 1919), throughout his autobiography Mein Kampf, in his electoral campaigns, his speeches, in Nazi propaganda and legislation, to the final words of his Last Will and Testament (April 29, 1945).

Through the work of historians, we now know that Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies evolved over time, with changing circumstances and new possibilities given those changes. Looking at the history of the period one sees the policy evolving in Germany from 1933-1939 from one of social and economic death (Marion Kaplan clearly illustrates this process in her book Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany) to expropriation (better known as Aryanization) and forced emigration. The idea was to make life so impossible for Jews in Germany—who constituted less than 1% of the population—that they would leave. All of these policies were legal in Germany under the Nuremberg Laws, which were first passed on September 15, 1935, and then supplemented by numerous anti-Jewish decrees until the end of the war. Almost half of German Jewry had left the country by Kristallnacht, the pogrom of November 9/10, 1938, which convinced the remaining Jews that there was no future for them in Germany. 

As Hitler occupied other European countries, beginning in the fall of 1939, he came to control millions of Jews. The regime began to plan for the removalof these Jews, first to the far reaches of the eastern end of the Reich, then to the French island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, where they would be forced to live under a German mandate. That plan was finally discarded when the Germans failed to cow the British into submission in September 1940. The Nazis forced the large Jewish populations of Eastern Europe into over 1,100 ghettos and sealed them from the outside world. With the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Jews were murdered en masse by mobile killing units of the Einsatzgruppen, who followed the German army into Eastern Poland and the USSR.

That fall, probably in October, the decision was made to annihilate the Jews of Europe. We have no written order from Hitler (as we do with the so-called Euthanasia program signed in October 1939 and backdated to September 1939). Historians believe Hitler gave an oral order to begin the complete destruction of Europe’s Jews, which can be followed through subsequent correspondence between Goering, Heydrich, and Himmler. Again, we know from Sir Ian Kershaw, the leading historian of Hitler, that “Hitler’s personalized form of rule invited radical initiatives from below and offered such initiatives backing, so long as they were in line with his broadly defined goals.”(Kershaw, Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris, p. 530)Think of a CEO providing ten managers with a demand to find the best, most efficient, least expensive, strategy to achieve his increased profit margins for the next year. “Working toward the Führer” is how it is understood.

The coordination of this continental strategy to annihilate an estimated 11 million European Jews was announced and discussed among the Nazi administrative leadership at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Prior to this, approximately one million Jews had been murdered. 

After experimenting on Jews with a number of killing methods—including mass shootings and gas vans—the Germans settled on an industrialized assembly line process and built six killing centers in Poland for the specific purpose of exterminating the Jews of Europe. The three Operation Reinhard death camps were named for Reinhard Heydrich, head functionary of the Nazi Final Solution and host of the Wannsee Conference. Belzec began killing operations in March 1942; Sobibor in May 1942; and, Treblinka in July 1942 (with mass deportations out of the Warsaw Ghetto). Over two million Jews were murdered in these camps by November 1943. Birkenau was designated a killing facility in the spring of 1942, and this site at Auschwitz would facilitate the murder of one million Jews. On July 19, 1942, Himmler had ordered that the Final Solution to the Jewish Question be completed by December 31, 1942 in the region of the General Government. This order explains the “eleven-month wave of murder,” between mid-March 1942 and mid-February 1943, during which 80% of the Jewish Holocaust victims were killed.

One cannot possibly explain the Holocaust of 1933-1945, which historian Christopher Browning defines as “the total historical experience of the Nazi persecution of the Jews culminating in the Final Solution, "without accounting for the specific targeting of Jews. (Browning, Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies) In a recent lecture in Florence, Professor Browning, stated that the genocide and colonialist frameworks that are sometimes employed today to try to explain the Holocaust fail to account for the specific targeting of European Jewry. 

Indeed. 

While Nazi Germany was no doubt imperialist, colonialist, racist, and genocidal within Europe, why would we look to examples of European colonialism outside Europe to understand the Nazi desire to annihilate the Jews of Europe and not to the history of the millennial phenomenon of antisemitism?  The continuum of European thought and feeling about Jews is not colonial but antisemitic, as Raul Hilberg made clear in his study, The Destruction of the European Jews:

“Since the fourth century after Christ there have been three anti-Jewish policies: conversion, expulsion, and annihilation. The second appeared as an alternative to the first, and the third emerged as an alternative to the seco
 
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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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