Responsibility for the Holocaust
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Responsibility for the Holocaust is the subject of an ongoing historical debate that has spanned several decades. Intentionalist historians such as Lucy Dawidowicz argue that Adolf Hitler planned the extermination of the Jewish people from as early as 1918, and that he personally oversaw its execution. Functionalists such as Raul Hilberg have argued that the extermination plans evolved in stages, as a result of initiatives from bureaucrats who were responding to other policy failures.
Historical and philosophical interpretations
The enormity of the Holocaust has prompted much analysis. The Holocaust has been characterized as an industrial project of extermination. This led authors such as Enzo Traverso to argue in The Origins of Nazi Violence that Auschwitz was "an authentic product of Western civilization". Beginning his book with a description of the guillotine, which according to him marks the entry of the Industrial Revolution into capital punishment, and writes: "Through an irony of history, the theories of Frederick Taylor" (taylorism) were applied by a totalitarian system to serve "not production, but extermination." (See also Heidegger's comments). In the wake of Hannah Arendt, Traverso describes the colonial domination during the New Imperialism period through "rational organization", which led in a number of cases to extermination. However, this argument, which insists on the industrialization and technical rationality through which the Holocaust itself was carried out (the organization of trains, technical details, etc.—see Adolf Eichmann's bureaucratic work), was in turn opposed by other people. These point out that the 1994 Rwandan Genocide mostly used machetes.
Others have presented the Holocaust as a product of German history, analyzing its deep roots in German society: "German authoritarianism, feeble liberalism, brash nationalism or virulent anti-Semitism. From A. J. P. Taylor's The Course of German History fifty-five years ago to Daniel Goldhagen's recent Hitler's Willing Executioners, Nazism is understood as the outcome of a long history of uniquely German traits", writes Russell Jacoby. Furthermore, while many pointed out that the specificity of the Holocaust was also rooted in the constant antisemitism from which Jews had been the target since the foundation of Christianity (and the myth of the "deicide people"), others underlined that in the 19th century, pseudo-scientific racist theories had been elaborated in order to justify, in a general way, white supremacy. In his works on "biopolitics", philosopher Michel Foucault also traced the origins of "state racism" to the eugenicist policies invented during the 19th century.
Who authorized the killings?
Hitler authorized the mass killing of those labelled by the Nazis as "undesirables" in the T-4 Euthanasia Program. Sometime between late June 1940 when planning for Operation Barbarossa first started and March 1941, orders were approved by Hitler for the re-establishment of the Einsatzgruppen (the surviving historical record does not permit firm conclusions to be drawn about the precise date). Hitler encouraged the killings of the Jews of Eastern Europe by the Einsatzgruppen death squads in a speech in July, 1941, though he almost certainly approved the mass shootings that occurred earlier. A mass of evidence suggests that sometime in the fall of 1941, Himmler and Hitler agreed in principle on the complete mass extermination of the Jews of Europe by gassing, with Hitler explicitly ordering the "annihilation of the Jews" in a speech on December 12, 1941, by which time the Jewish populations in the Baltic states had been effectively eliminated. To make for smoother intra-governmental cooperation in the implementation of this "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Question", the Wannsee conference was held near Berlin on January 20, 1942, with the participation of fifteen senior officials, led by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann, the records of which provide the best evidence of the central planning of the Holocaust. Just five weeks later on February 22, Hitler was recorded saying "We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew" to his closest associates. Nevertheless, no written order from Hitler exists.
Allies knowledge of the atrocities
Some claim that the full extent of what was happening in German-controlled areas was not known until after the war. On 24 August 1941, in a radio broadcast, Churchill, who was privy to intelligence reports derived from decoded German transmissions, said:
Whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands – literally scores of thousands – of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police-troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the sixteenth century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale, or approaching such a scale. — Winston Churchill, 24 August 1941.
Since the early years of the war, the Polish government-in-exile published documents and organised meetings to spread word of the fate of the Jews (see Witold Pilecki). In the summer of 1942, a Jewish labor organization (the Bund) leader, Leon Feiner got word to London that 700,000 Polish Jews had already died. The Daily Telegraph published it on 25 June 1942 and The BBC took the story seriously, though the United States State Department did not.
On 10 August 1942, the Riegner Telegram described the Nazi plan to murder all the Jews in the occupied states, by deporting them to concentration camps in the east, where they will be exterminated in one blow, possibly by prussic acid, starting at autumn 1942. In the United States, in November 1942, it was released by Stephen Wise of the World Jewish Congress, after a long wait for permission from the government. This led to attempts by Jewish organizations to put Roosevelt under pressure to act on behalf of the European Jews, many of whom had tried in vain to enter either Britain or the U.S.
On 13 November 1942, 78 Jews with Palestinian passports arrived in Palestine from occupied Poland, as a part of civilian prisoners exchange. Their horrible stories of the Holocaust, as eyewitnesses, appeared in the Jewish Palestinian newspapers on 23 November 1942.
The allies received a detailed eyewitness account from Jan Karski. On December 10, 1942, the Polish government-in-exile published a 16-page note addressed to the Allied governments, titled The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland.
On December 17, 1942, the Allies issued the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, a formal declaration confirming and condemning Nazi extermination policy toward the Jews, and describing the ongoing events of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Europe. The statement was read to British House of Commons in a floor speech by Foreign secretary Anthony Eden, and published on the front page of the New York Times and many other newspapers.
The death camps were discussed between American and British leaders at the Bermuda Conference in April 1943.
On May 12, 1943, Polish government-in-exile member and Bund leader Szmul Zygielbojm committed suicide in London to protest the inaction of the world with regard to the Holocaust, stating in part in his suicide letter:
I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being killed. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave.
By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.
The large camps near Auschwitz were finally surveyed by plane in April 1944, many months after the German air force ceased to be a serious danger. While all important German cities and production centers were bombed by Allied forces until the end of the war, no attempt was made to collapse the system of mass annihilation by destroying pertinent structures or train tracks, even though Churchill was a proponent of bombing parts of the Auschwitz complex. The US State Department was aware of the use and the location of the gas chambers of extermination camps, but refused pleas to bomb them out of operation.
Throughout the war, Britain also pressed European leaders to prevent "illegal" Jewish immigration and sent ships to block the sea-route to Palestine (from which Britain withdrew in 1948), turning back many refugees.
The Holocaust: What the average Germans knew
Debate also continues on how much average Germans knew about the Holocaust. Recent historical work has found that the majority of Germans knew about the concentration camps and that Jews were being indiscriminately killed and persecuted in the death camps:
“Hitler exterminated the Jews of Europe. But he did not do so alone. The task was so enormous, complex, time-consuming, and mentally and economically demanding that it took the best efforts of millions of Germans... All spheres of life in Germany actively participated: Businessmen, policemen, bankers, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, railroad and factory workers, chemists, pharmacists, foremen, production managers, economists, manufacturers, jewelers, diplomats, civil servants, propagandists, film makers and film stars, professors, teachers, politicians, mayors, party members, construction experts, art dealers, architects, landlords, janitors, truck drivers, clerks, industrialists, scientists, generals, and even shopkeepers—all were essential cogs in the machinery that accomplished the final solution.” – Konnilyn G. Feig
In an entry in the Friedrich Kellner diary, "My Opposition", dated October 28, 1941, the German justice inspector recorded a conversation he had in Laubach with a German soldier who had witnessed a massacre in Poland.
Robert Gellately, a historian at Oxford University, conducted a widely respected survey of the German media before and during the war, concluding that there was "substantial consent and active participation of large numbers of ordinary Germans" in aspects of the Holocaust, and documenting that the sight of columns of slave laborers were common, and that the basics of the concentration camps, if not the extermination camps, were widely known. The German scholar, Peter Longerich, in a study looking at what Germans knew about the mass murders concluded that: "General information concerning the mass murder of Jews was widespread in the German population."
Who carried out the killings?
A wide range of German soldiers, officials, and civilians were in some way involved in the Holocaust, from clerks and officials in the government to units of the army, the police, and the SS. Many ministries, including those of armaments, interior, justice, railroads, and foreign affairs, had substantial roles in orchestrating the Holocaust; similarly, German physicians participated in medical experiments and the T-4 euthanasia program. And, though there was no single military department in charge of the Holocaust, the SS under Reichsführer-SS Himmler was the closest. From the SS came the Totenkopfverbände concentration camp guards, the Einsatzgruppen killing squads, and the main administrative offices behind the Holocaust, including the RSHA and WVHA. The Wehrmacht Heer (regular army), directly participated far less than the SS in the Holocaust (though it did directly take part in the massacre of some Jews in Russia, Serbia, Poland, and Greece). However, it supported the Einsatzgruppen, helped form the ghettos, ran prison camps, occasionally provided concentration camp guards, transported prisoners to camps, had experiments performed on prisoners, and substantially used slave labor.
German police units, all under the control of the Nazis during the war, also directly participated in the Holocaust; for example, the Reserve Police Battalion 101 of Orpo, in just over a year, shot 38,000 Jews and deported 45,000 more to the extermination camps. Even private firms helped in the machinery of the Holocaust. Nazi bankers at the Paris branch of Barclays Bank volunteered the names of their Jewish employees to Nazi authorities, and many of them ended up in the death camps.
Stanley Milgram was one of a number of post-war psychologists and sociologists who tried to address why people obeyed immoral orders in the Holocaust. Milgram's findings demonstrated that reasonable people, when instructed by a person in a position of authority, obeyed commands entailing what they believed to be the suffering of others. After making his results public, Milgram sparked direct critical response in the scientific community by claiming that "a common psychological process is centrally involved in both [his laboratory experiments and Nazi Germany] events." Professor James Waller, Chair of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, formerly Chair of Whitworth College Psychology Department, expressed the opinion that Milgram experiments do not correspond well to the Holocaust events:
- The subjects of Milgram experiments, wrote James Waller (Becoming Evil), were assured in advance that no permanent physical damage would result from their actions. However, the Holocaust perpetrators were fully aware of their hands-on killing and maiming of the victims.
- The laboratory subjects themselves did not know their victims and were not motivated by racism. On the other hand, the Holocaust perpetrators displayed an intense devaluation of the victims through a lifetime of personal development.
- Those serving punishment at the lab were not sadists, nor hate-mongers, and often exhibited great anguish and conflict in the experiment, unlike the designers and executioners of the Final Solution (see Holocaust trials), who had a clear "goal" on their hands, set beforehand.
- The experiment lasted for an hour, with no time for the subjects to contemplate the implications of their behavior. Meanwhile, the Holocaust lasted for years with ample time for a moral assessment of all individuals and organizations involved.
In the opinion of Thomas Blass—who is the author of a scholarly monograph on the experiment (The Man Who Shocked The World) published in 2004—the historical evidence pertaining to actions of the Holocaust perpetrators speaks louder than words:
My own view is that Milgram's approach does not provide a fully adequate explanation of the Holocaust. While it may well account for the dutiful destructiveness of the dispassionate bureaucrat who may have shipped Jews to Auschwitz with the same degree of routinization as potatoes to Bremerhaven, it falls short when one tries to apply it to the more zealous, inventive, and hate-driven atrocities that also characterized the Holocaust.
Herding and other factors
The Holocaust is a clear example of two factors at work. One is described by the "boiling frog" theory, which says that an enormous change will not be noticed if it occurs in gradual steps. The other factor is the primal and powerful mechanism of herding, which has its home in the limbic system and ensures that individuals conform to the group. This mechanism has evolved through natural selection to ensure that human groups survive. Together, these factors make conforming to the group a stronger impulse than breaking out, even if the individual does not agree with what the group is doing. So long as the gradual changes in group behaviour are small, herding can eventually take the group towards a state that is far removed from past behavior and is more and more extreme. Thus, participants in the Holocaust may have privately felt horror or disgust at what they were ordered to do but stayed in line with the group. These effects have been exploited many times in history by demagogues and revolutionaries; they are also seen in bullying.
Studies of mass psychology, kick-started by Carl Jung but currently being developed under various labels, suggest that the causal mechanism for crowd behaviour is the reverse of what is commonly believed. The socionomic perspective says that, rather than persecution making people fearful and downtrodden, fearful and downtrodden people look for someone to persecute.
The Jungian-socionomic analysis says that after the humiliation of World War I, the economic ruin of the Weimar Republic, being forced to pay war reparations and the Great Depression, it was natural for the German people to become angry and look for someone on whom to vent their anger; herding behaviour amplified this anger and the Holocaust was the result.
Religious hatred and racism
The Nazis considered it their duty to overcome natural compassion and execute orders for what they believed to be higher ideals. Crowd psychology has attempted to explain such heinous acts, although Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895) was also a major influence of Mein Kampf, in particular relating to the propaganda techniques described in it. Sadistic acts were perhaps most notable in the case of the genocide committed by members of the Ustashe, whose enthusiasm and sadism in their killings of Serbs appalled Germans, Italians, and even German SS officers, who even acted to restrain the Ustashe. However, concentration camp literature, such as the writings of Primo Levi and Robert Antelme, describe numerous individual sadistic acts, including some committed by Kapos.
Martin Luther (a German leader of the Protestant Reformation) made a specific written call for harsh persecution of the Jewish people in On the Jews and Their Lies, published in 1543. In it, he urged that Jewish synagogues and schools be set on fire, prayerbooks destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. Luther argued that Jews should be shown no mercy or kindness, should have no legal protection, and that these "poisonous envenomed worms" should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. American historian Lucy Dawidowicz concluded in her book The War Against the Jews that the line of "anti-Semitic descent" from Luther to Hitler is "easy to draw". Adolf Hitler wrote of his admiration of Martin Luther in Mein Kampf.
Some authors, such as liberal philosopher Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist or French historian Olivier LeCour Grandmaison have also linked the Holocaust to colonialism. They argue that techniques put in place during the New Imperialism period (first of all, concentration camps during the Boer War), as well as the pseudo-scientific theories elaborated during this period (e.g. Arthur de Gobineau's 1853 Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races) had been fundamental in preparing the conditions of possibility of the Holocaust. Others authors have adamantly opposed these views, on behalf of the "unicity" of the Holocaust, compared to any other type of genocide. Philosopher Michel Foucault also traced the origins of the Holocaust and of "racial policies" to what he called "state racism", which is a part of "biopolitics".
Finally, many have pointed the ancient roots of antisemitism, which has been present in the Western world since the foundation of Christianity. Modern efforts at ecumenism, in particular by the Roman Catholic Church which has asked the Jews for a pardon, are being made in order to avoid a repetition of such acts.
Functionalism versus intentionalism
A major issue in contemporary Holocaust studies is the question of functionalism versus intentionalism. The terms were coined in a 1981 article by the British Marxist historian Timothy Mason to describe two schools of thought about the origins of the Holocaust.
Intentionalists hold that the Holocaust was the result of a long-term masterplan on the part of Hitler, and that he was the driving force behind it. Functionalists hold that Hitler was antisemitic, but that he did not have a masterplan for genocide. They see the Holocaust as coming from the ranks of the German bureaucracy, with little or no involvement on the part of Hitler.
Intentionalists such as Lucy Dawidowicz argue that the Holocaust was planned by Hitler from the very beginning of his political career, at least from November 11, 1918. Other intentionalists, such as Andreas Hillgruber, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Gerhard Weinberg, and Klaus Hildebrand, have suggested that Hitler had decided upon the Holocaust sometime in the early 1920s. More recent intentionalist historians like Eberhard Jäckel continue to emphasize the relative earliness of the decision to kill the Jews, although they are not willing to say that Hitler planned the Holocaust from the beginning. Saul Friedländer has argued that Hitler was an extreme antisemite from 1919 on, but that he did not decide upon genocide until the middle of 1941. Yet another group of intentionalist historians, such as the American Arno J. Mayer, argue that Hitler first ordered the Holocaust in December 1941.
Functionalists such as Hans Mommsen, Martin Broszat, Götz Aly, Raul Hilberg, and Christopher Browning hold that the Holocaust was started in 1941–1942 as a result of the failure of the Nazi deportation policy and the impending military losses in Russia. They argue that what some see as extermination fantasies outlined in Hitler's Mein Kampf and other Nazi literature were simply propaganda and did not constitute concrete plans. In Mein Kampf, Hitler repeatedly states his inexorable hatred of the Jewish people, but nowhere does he proclaim his intention to exterminate them.
They argue that, in the 1930s, Nazi policy aimed at making life so unpleasant for German Jews that they would leave Germany. Adolf Eichmann was in charge of facilitating Jewish emigration by whatever means possible from 1937 until October 3, 1941, when German Jews were forbidden to leave, Reinhard Heydrich issuing an order to that effect. Functionalists see the SS's support in the late 1930s for Zionist groups as the preferred solution to the "Jewish Question" as another sign that there was no masterplan for genocide. The SS only ceased their support for German Zionist groups in May 1939 when Joachim von Ribbentrop informed Hitler of it, and Hitler ordered Himmler to cease and desist, because the creation of Israel was not a goal Hitler thought worthy of German foreign policy.
In particular, functionalists have argued that, in German documents from 1939 to 1941, the term "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" was meant to be a "territorial solution"; that is, the entire Jewish population was to be expelled somewhere far from Germany. At first, the SS planned to create a gigantic Jewish reservation in the Lublin, Poland area, but the so-called "Lublin Plan" was vetoed by Hans Frank, the Governor-General of occupied Poland, who refused to allow the SS to ship any more Jews to the Lublin area after November 1939. The reason Frank vetoed the "Lublin Plan" was not due to any humane motives, but rather because he was opposed to the SS "dumping" Jews into the Government-General. In 1940, the SS and the German Foreign Office had the so-called "Madagascar Plan" to deport the entire Jewish population of Europe to a "reservation" on Madagascar. The "Madagascar Plan" was canceled because Germany could not defeat the UK and until the British blockade was broken, the "Madagascar Plan" could not be put into effect. Finally, functionalist historians have made much of a memorandum written by Himmler in May 1940 explicitly rejecting extermination of the entire Jewish people as "un-German" and going on to recommend to Hitler the "Madagascar Plan" as the preferred "territorial solution" to the "Jewish Question". Not until July 1941 did the term "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" come to mean extermination.
Recently, a synthesis of the two schools has emerged that has been championed by diverse historians such as the Canadian historian Michael Marrus, the Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer, and the British historian Ian Kershaw that contends that Hitler was the driving force behind the Holocaust, but that he did not have a long-term plan and that much of the initiative for the Holocaust came from below in an effort to meet Hitler's perceived wishes.
Another controversy was started by the historian Daniel Goldhagen in 1997, who argues that ordinary Germans were knowing and willing participants in the Holocaust, which he writes had its roots in a deep eliminationist German antisemitism. Historians who disagree with Goldhagen's thesis argue that, while antisemitism undeniably existed in Germany, Goldhagen's idea of a uniquely German "eliminationist" version is untenable, and that the extermination was unknown to many and had to be enforced by the Nazi apparatus.
Most historians take the view that Hitler was the opposite of a pragmatist: his overriding obsession was hatred of the Jews, and he showed on a number of occasions that he was willing to risk losing the war to achieve their destruction.
There is no "smoking gun" in the form of a document which shows Hitler ordering the Final Solution. Hitler did not have a bureaucratic mind and many of his most important instructions were given orally.
There is ample documentary evidence that Hitler desired to eradicate Jewry, and that the order to do this when he attained power did indeed originate from him, including the authorization of mass deportations of the Jews to the east beginning in October 1941. He cannot have imagined that these hundreds of thousands of Jews would be housed, clothed and fed by the authorities of the Government-General, and in fact Hans Frank frequently complained that he could not cope with the influx. Even Holocaust denier David Irving concedes that after Heinrich Himmler's speech at Posen in October 1943, Hitler must have known what was happening.
Historian Paul Johnson writes that some writers, such as Irving, have claimed that because there were no written orders, "the Final Solution was Himmler's work and […] Hitler not only did not order it but did not even know it was happening." Johnson states, however, that "this argument will not stand up. The administration of the Third Reich was often chaotic but its central principle was clear enough: all key decisions emanated from Hitler." Excerpts from the diary of Joseph Goebbels and Rudolf Höss also indicate that Hitler gave oral instructions for the extermination of the Jews.
According to Ian Kershaw: (p. 109) "Hitler's authority – most probably given as verbal consent to propositions usually put to him by Himmler – stood behind every decision of magnitude and significance...(p. 109) Hitler continued to be closely involved in the " Final Solution. " (p. 110)...In the wake of the German military ...catastrophe at Stalingrad, Hitler took a direct hand in trying to persuade them to be more cooperative. ... he pressed his Romanian and Hungarian allies to sharpen the persecution...(p. 111)... Hitler's role in the " Final Solution. " This role had often been indirect, rather than overt, frequently granting approval rather than initiating. The unparalleled outpourings of hatred were a constant amid the policy shifts. They often had a propaganda or mobilizing motive, and usually remained generalized. Even so, there cannot be the slightest doubt: Hitler's role was decisive and indispensable to the unfolding of the " Final Solution"
In 1922 Hitler told Major Josef Hell (a journalist at the time):
Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows—at the Marienplatz in Munich, for example—as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.
On 21 January 1939 Hitler spoke with František Chvalkovský and said:
We are going to destroy the Jews. They are not going to get away with what they did on 9 November 1918. The day of reckoning has come.
On 30 January at the Sports Palace in Berlin, Hitler told the crowd:
And we say that the war will not end as the Jews imagine it will, namely with the uprooting of the Aryans, but the result of this war will be the complete annihilation of the Jews.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler argued that a war against Jews would have saved Germany from losing World War I:
If at the beginning of the war and during the war twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain.
In the following widely cited speech made on January 30, 1939, Hitler says to the Reichstag:
Today I want to be a prophet once more: if international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe again succeed in plunging the nations into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and with it the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!
Hitler's choice of language in German in the final phrase of this passage is "die Vernichtung der jüdischen Rasse in Europa" - unambiguously meaning "the extermination [or annihilation] of the Jewish race in Europe."
Other Nazi leaders
The handful of men who actually carried out the extermination of millions of people included Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Odilo Globocnik, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Adolf Eichmann, Rudolf Höss, Heinrich Müller, and Oswald Pohl, head of the Economics and Main Administration Office (WVHA) of the SS. Fritz Sauckel, Hans Frank, the Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and the Labor Minister Robert Ley also played key roles. Other top Nazi leaders such as Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, and Martin Bormann knew in general terms what was happening.
The Nazi regime operated through vertical hierarchies. Officials carried out orders from above and did not ask questions about what was happening elsewhere. Only those at the very top had a broad view of what was going on across the German empire. But most senior SS officers and many officials of the various Reich ministries must have known in whole or in part what was happening. Millions of people were rounded up, bureaucratically processed and transported across Europe, an operation involving thousands of officials and a great deal of paperwork. This was co-ordinated by the Reich ministries, the police, and the national railways, as well as the SS and the Gestapo, all under the supervision of the Nazi Party. Most of the Party's regional leaders (Gauleiters) were present for Himmler's Posen speech. None of these people could plead ignorance after the event, although many did so.
Legal proceedings against Nazis
The juridical notion of crimes against humanity was developed following the Holocaust. The sheer number of people murdered and the transnational nature of the mass killing shattered any notion of national sovereignty taking precedence over international law when prosecuting these crimes. There were a number of legal efforts established to bring Nazis and their collaborators to justice. Some of the higher-ranking Nazi officials were tried as part of the Nuremberg Trials, presided over by an Allied court; the first international tribunal of its kind. Other trials were conducted in the countries in which the defendants were citizens — in West Germany and Austria, many Nazis were let off with light sentences, with the claim of "following orders" ruled a mitigating circumstance, and many returned to society soon afterwards.
An ongoing effort to pursue Nazis and collaborators resulted, famously, in the capture of Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann in Argentina (an operation led by Rafi Eitan) and to his subsequent trial in Israel in 1961. Simon Wiesenthal became one of the most famous Nazi hunters. Some former Nazis, however, escaped any charges. Thus, Reinhard Gehlen a former intelligence officer of the Wehrmacht, managed to turn around and work for the CIA, and created in 1956 the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German intelligence agency, which he directed until 1968.
Klaus Barbie, known as "the Butcher of Lyon" for his role at the head of the Gestapo, was protected from 1945 to 1955 by the MI5 and the CIA, before fleeing to South America where he had a hand in Luis García Meza Tejada's 1980 Cocaine Coup in Bolivia. Barbie was finally arrested in 1983 and sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in 1987.
The German Army
The extent to which the officers of the regular German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) knew of the Final Solution has been much debated. Political imperatives in postwar Germany have led to the Army being generally absolved from responsibility, apart from the handful of "Nazi generals" such as Alfred Jodl and Wilhelm Keitel who were tried and hanged at Nuremberg. There is evidence that the top officers of the Wehrmacht certainly knew about the killings and did approve of them, as the exhibit "War of Extermination. The Crimes of the Wehrmacht" showed, produced by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.
It was particularly difficult for commanders on the eastern front to avoid knowing what was happening in the areas behind the front. Many individual soldiers photographed the massacres of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen. Joachim Fest points out that one of the factors that led Claus von Stauffenberg and other German officers to plot the July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler was their growing awareness of the crimes that Hitler was committing in Germany's name. Stauffenberg argued that these crimes released German officers from the oath of loyalty they had taken to Hitler. If Stauffenberg and other officers in his circle were aware of the Holocaust, so must have been many others who did not act on that knowledge as Stauffenberg did, at the cost of his life.
Some generals and officers, such as Walther von Reichenau, Hermann Hoth, and Erich von Manstein, actively supported the work of the Einsatzgruppen. A number of Wehrmacht Heer units provided direct or indirect assistance to the Einsatzgruppen, supplying them with lorries that could be used for roundups. Many individual soldiers who ventured to the killing sites behind the lines voluntarily participated in the mass shootings.
Other front-line officers went through the war without coming into direct contact with the machinery of extermination, choosing to focus narrowly on their duties and not noticing the wider context of the war. On 20 July 1942, an extermination unit under the command of Walther Rauff was sent to Tobruk and assigned to the Afrika Korps led by Erwin Rommel. However, since Rommel was 500 km away at the First Battle of El Alamein, it is unlikely that the two were able to meet. The plans for Einsatzgruppe Egypt were set aside after the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein. Historian Jean-Christoph Caron opines that there is no evidence that Rommel knew of or would have supported Rauff's mission. Relations between the Army and the SS were not friendly, and some officers refused to co-operate with Himmler's forces. General Johannes Blaskowitz was relieved of his command after officially protesting about SS atrocities in Poland.
The German people
The responsibility of the German people as a whole for the Holocaust has once again become a matter of heated debate since the publication of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners in 1996. Goldhagen argues that the great majority of Germans (including Austrians) knew and approved of the extermination of the Jews, and that most would have actively participated in it had they been asked to do so. He provides extensive documention of the depth, ubiquity and antiquity of anti-Semitic sentiment in Germany, and of the equanimity with which large numbers of ordinary Germans obeyed orders to kill defenceless civilians, or even volunteered to do so, and how few Germans protested against what was going on.
Most historians are sceptical about Goldhagen's thesis that the majority of Germans subscribed to an "eliminationist" form of anti-Semitism and that they were not only aware of but in agreement with the extermination of the Jews. The most scathing attack on Goldhagen has been Norman Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn's book A Nation on Trial. Finkelstein and Birn examined Goldhagen's references and concluded that Hitler's Willing Executioners was (in the words of one reviewer) "not worthy of being called an academic text."
Goldhagen's critics point out that the Nazi Party did not advocate killing the Jews before they came to power, and that therefore even the minority of Germans who voted for the Nazis in elections before 1933 were not voting for a holocaust of the Jews. They point out that the regime went to considerable lengths to conceal the truth about what was being done not only from world opinion but from the German public. The official line that the Jews were being "deported to work in the east" was always maintained, partly to deceive the Jews about the fate that awaited them, but partly also to mislead the German public. In the mid 30's there were even groups of German Jews supporting the Nazi regime, e.g. the Association of German National Jews.
Nevertheless, knowledge about at least some aspects of the Holocaust must have been very widespread among Germans. As Paul Johnson points out, the SS had 900,000 members in 1943, most of whom participated in one way or another in actions against the Jews, and the German national railways, the Reichsbahn, employed 1.2 million people, the majority of whom helped process the lines of cattle-cars packed with suffering Jews being transported eastwards, and the car-loads of clothes, shoes and other goods coming back. Many other elements of the sprawling German civil service, from the Reichsbank which received tonnes of gold from the melted dental work of dead Jews to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture which employed slave labour on German farms, participated in various ways in the pillage and killing of the Jews, and many thousands of middle and low-ranking bureaucrats must have had some awareness of what they were doing.
It is frequently argued that even if ordinary Germans were aware of the extermination of the Jews, there is nothing they could have done to protest or prevent the actions of one of the most ruthless dictatorships of modern times, e.g. with Sondergerichte that killed 12,000 Germans for their opposition. Most writers have in general accepted this view. Goldhagen, however, raises some objections. He points out that it was not in fact impossible for German civil society to protest against actions of the Nazi regime. When the Nazis attempted to remove crucifixes from schools in Bavaria in 1936, and again in 1941, protests forced them to back down. Strikes by industrial workers on economic issues were common, at least in the prewar period, and were not seriously punished. The best known example of public protest was the campaign against the regime's programme of euthanasia of people with physical and intellectual disabilities, known as Action T4, which had to be abandoned in 1941 due to protests led by the Catholic Church and some parts of the medical profession. The euthanasia programme continued however, under a different guise, Action 14f13 using much the same personnel and methods of gassing, enforced starvation and injections. Attention was shifted to concentration camp victims, selected for Sonderbehandlung or "special treatment" (meaning murder). And mental patients were still murdered.
Even more notable, for its uniqueness, was the Rosenstrasse protest in Berlin in February 1943, led by over a thousand non-Jewish German women against the detention of their Jewish husbands (a category which had hitherto been exempt from deportation). While the event was clearly a courageous act on the part of the wives, historians disagree on both the reasons for summoning the husbands and the effects of the protest.
During the years 1945 through 1949 polls indicated that a majority of Germans felt that Nazism was a "good idea, badly applied". In a poll conducted in the American German occupation zone, 37% replied that 'the extermination of the Jews and Poles and other non-Aryans was necessary for the security of Germans'.
Sarah Ann Gordon in "Hitler, Germans, and the 'Jewish Question'" notes however that the surveys are very difficult to draw conclusions from. Respondents were for example given 3 options to choose from, for example question 1:
- Statement...........................................Percentage agreeing
- Hitler was right in his treatment of the Jews: 0%
- Hitler went too far in his treatment of the Jews, but something had to be done to keep them in bounds: 19%
- The actions against the Jews were in no way justified: 77%
To the Question whether an Aryan who marries a Jew should be condemned 91% responded "No". To the question: "All those who ordered the murder of civilians or participated in the murderings should be made to stand trial." 94% responded "Yes".
Sarah Ann Gordon singles out the question "Extermination of the Jews and Poles and other non-Aryans was not necessary for the security of the Germans", which included an implicit double negative to which the response was either yes or no. She concludes that this was confusingly phrased; "Some interviewees may have responded "no" they did not agree with the statement, when they actually did agree that the extermination was not necessary." She further highlights the discrepancy to the 77% percent who responded that actions against Jews were in no way justified. (See: Denazification)
Regarding German knowledge of the workings of the ordinary concentration camps, "Between 1933 and 1945 more than 3 million Germans had been in concentration camps or prison for political reasons" (See: German resistance)
Although the Holocaust was planned and directed by Germans, the Nazi regime found willing collaborators in other countries, both those allied to Germany and those under German occupation.
The civil service and police of the Vichy regime in occupied France actively collaborated in persecuting French Jews. Germany's allies, Italy, Finland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, were pressured to introduce anti-Jewish measures; with the exception of Romania, they did not comply until compelled to do so. Bulgaria and Finland refused to co-operate, and all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews survived (though most lost their possessions and many were imprisoned), but thousands of Greek and Yugoslavian Jews were deported from the Bulgarian-occupied territories. Although Finland officially refused to participate in the Holocaust, and even operated a field synagogue for its Jewish soldiers some of whom were offered military decorations by Hitler (which they refused), it secretly extradicted 8 Jewish refugees to the Germans in November 1942. The Hungarian regime of Miklós Horthy also refused to cooperate, but after the German invasion of Hungary on March 18, 1944, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz by the newly instated Döme Sztójay regime, fully knowing that they will be exterminated. The Romanian regime of Ion Antonescu actively collaborated, but its inefficiency meant that only a half of Romania's 600,000 Jews were killed. The German puppet regime in Croatia actively persecuted Jews on its own initiative.
The Nazis sought to enlist support for their programs in all the countries they occupied, although their recruitment methods differed in various countries according to Nazi racial theories. In the "Nordic" countries of Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, and Estonia they tried to recruit young men into the Waffen SS, with sufficient success to create the "Wiking" SS division on the Eastern Front, many of whose members fought for Germany with great fanaticism until the end of the war. In Lithuania and Ukraine, on the other hand, they recruited large numbers of auxiliary troops that were used for anti-partisan work and guard duties at extermination and concentration camps. Most of these recruits were peasant boys, who enlisted simply to gain a ration card, but the Germans were able in these countries to appeal to long traditions of local antisemitism.
In recent years, the extent of local collaboration with the Nazis in eastern Europe has become more apparent. Historian Alan Bullock writes: "The opening of the archives both in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe has produced incontrovertible evidence [of] ... collaboration on a much bigger scale than hitherto realized of Ukrainians and Lithuanians as well as Hungarians, Croats and Slovaks in the deportation and murder of Jews." Historians have been examining the question "Was the Holocaust a European Project?" Historian Dieter Pohl has estimated that more than 200,000 non-Germans "prepared, carried out and assisted in acts of murder." That is about the same number as Germans and Austrians. Historian Götz Aly has concluded that the Holocaust was in fact a "european project that cannot be explained solely by the special circumstances of German history."
Some states, often while decrying Nazism publicly, closed their borders to Jewish immigrants and refugees, usually for fear of attracting the unwanted attention of Germany. These include powerful and influential countries including the United States. Other places such as Shanghai gave as much help to Jewish refugees as was possible.
Lithuanian and Latvian auxiliary military units (Schutzmannschaften) with Nazi Einsatzgruppen detachments participated in the extermination of the Jewish population in their countries, as well as assisting the Nazis elsewhere, such as deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Arajs Commando, a Latvian volunteer police unit, for example, shot 26,000 Latvian Jews, at various locations after they had been brutally rounded-up for this purpose by the regular police and auxiliaries, and was responsible for assisting in the killing of 60,000 more Jews.
In Lithuania the racial principles of the Third Reich were installed after instigating by Nazi forces since June 25. Within the last 6 months of 1941 following the June invasion by Germany, the majority of Lithuanian Jews were executed. The remnants trapped in ghettos were killed in occupied Lithuania and sent to death German Nazi camps in Poland. Almost all Lithuanian Jews died during the Holocaust. Scholars believe the death rate in Lithuania was 96 percent, making Nazi-occupied Lithuania the European territory with the lowest number of Jewish survivors of World War II. Additionally, Lithuanian auxiliary police troops assisted in killing Jews in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. Further, Jews from France, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were murdered at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. Pro-Lithuanian activists decried Soviet trials of collaborators following the war but independent Lithuania following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been slow to prosecute cases against Nazi collaborators since then. To date three men have been tried and convicted, but all were excused from punishment due to health and age. In 2008, Lithuanian prosecutors began investigations into war-time atrocities against civilians allegedly committed by Lithuanian Jews who escaped from the Lithuanian ghettos to take up arms against the Nazis. Targets of the Lithuanian investigation included Yitzhak Arad, former partisan in Lithuania, Holocaust scholar and founder of the Yad Vashem institution in Israel, causing a flurry of negative media publicity for Lithuania in Israel and abroad.
About 75% of Estonia's Jewish community, aware of the fate that otherwise awaited them, managed to escape to the Soviet Union; virtually all the remainder (between 950 and 1,000 people) were killed by Einsatzgruppe A and local collaborators before the end of 1941. There were, prior to the war, approximately 4,300 Estonian Jews. After the Soviet occupation many Jewish people were deported to Siberia along with other Estonians. It is estimated that 500 Jews suffered this fate. With the invasion of the Baltics, it was the intention of the Nazi government to use the Baltics countries as their main area of mass genocide. Consequently, Jews from countries outside the Baltics were shipped there to be exterminated. and an estimated 10,000 Jews were killed in Estonia after having been deported to camps there from elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Seven ethnic Estonians: Ralf Gerrets, Ain-Ervin Mere, Jaan Viik, Juhan Jüriste, Karl Linnas, Aleksander Laak and Ervin Viks have faced trials for crimes against humanity committed during the Nazi occupation in Estonia.
In 2002 the government decided to officially commemorate the Holocaust. In the same year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had provided the Estonian government with information on alleged Estonian war criminals, all former members of the 36th Estonian Police Battalion. After investigation, the Estonian government concluded that there was insufficient evidence and deferred on the center's demands to try the veterans. Wiesenthal Center called the Estonian statement "false". In the same year, calls of Simon Wiesenthal Center to intensify prosecution of the Nazi war criminals were criticized by the Estonian media and the general public, prompting anti-Semitic messages toward the Jewish community. However, in 2003, the National Coalition Supporting Soviet Jewry said that antisemitism in Estonia was not a major problem, and the Estonian government committed itself to a swift and thorough response to incidents.
Estonia and Lithuania (together with Austria, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Syria and Ukraine) have been given the grade Category F-2: Failure in practice by the Simon Wiesenthal Center Status Report on Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals for both 2005–2006 and 2006–2007.
In Belgium the state has been accused of having actively collaborated with Nazi Germany. An official 2007 report commissioned by the senate concluded that:
The Belgian authorities “anticipated and went beyond” the demands of occupying German forces in segregating, rounding up and dispossessing Jews. Belgium “adopted a docile attitude providing collaboration unworthy of a democracy in its treatment of Jews”.
- Autumn 1940 when they succumbed to the order of the German occupier to register all Jews even though it was contrary to the Belgium constitution; this led to a number of measures including the firing of all Jews from official positions in December 1940 and the expelling of all Jewish children from their schools in December 1941.
- Summer 1942 over one thousand Jews were deported to the death camps, particularly Auschwitz during the month of August. This was only the first of such actions as the deportations to the east continued resulting in the death of some 25,000 people.
- End of 1945 the Belgian state decided that its authorities bore no legal responsibility for the persecution of the Jews, even though many Belgian police officers participated in the rounding up and deportation of Jews
However, collaboration is not the whole story. While there is little doubt that there were strong antisemitic feelings in Belgium, after November 1942, the German roundups became less successful as large-scale rescue operations were carried out by ordinary Belgians. This resulted in the survival of about 25,000 people, roughly half of the Jewish population of Belgium.
Bulgaria, mainly through the influence of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, saved all of its own Jewish population from deportation and certain death. Civil and military administration for parts of Northern Greece and Macedonia had been turned over to Bulgaria by Germany. Bulgarian and German authorities deported the Jews from those territories to the concentration camps. In all, Bulgaria deported over 11,000 Jews to German-held territory.
The Croatian Ustaše regime killed thousands of people. The majority of which were Serbs, (estimates vary widely, but most modern and qualified sources put the numbers around 45,000 to 52,000), about 12,000 to 20,000 Jews and 15,000 to 20,000 Roma, primarily in the Ustase's Jasenovac concentration camp near Zagreb. Many Jews fled into neighboring regions while others were deported from the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. Croats were also victims of the Nazi regime and those who opposed it ended up in concentration camps. Many Croats risked their lives during the Holocaust in order to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis (see Croatian Righteous Among the Nations). According to the 2001 census in Croatia, only 495 Jews were listed of the 25,000 that had previously lived in the land before the second World War.
Most of the Danish Jews were rescued by the unwillingness of the Danish government and people to acquiesce to the demands of the occupying forces.
In France, Philippe Pétain, who became premier after Paris had fallen to the German Army, arranged the surrender to Germany. He then became the head of the Vichy government, which collaborated with Nazism, claiming that it would soften the hardships of occupation. Opposition to the German occupation of northern France and the collaborationist Vichy government was left to the French Resistance within France and the Free French Forces led by Charles de Gaulle outside France. The police, the Milice ("militia", which worked as the Gestapo's aid), as well as members of Jacques Doriot's Parti Populaire Français (PPF) rounded up 75,000 Jews for deportation to concentration camps. The Vichy regime attracted all of the far-right counterrevolutionary sectors of French society, monarchists and other pseudo-fascist movements. La Cagoule, a terrorist group and Eugène Schueller, the founder of L'Oréal, are examples of such groups. Antisemitism, as the Dreyfus Affair had shown at the end of the 19th century, was widespread in France, especially among anti-republican sympathizers. The Vichy government eagerly participated in the Holocaust, for example with the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup (rafle du Vel' d'Hiv) on July 16 and 17, 1942, in which 13,152 Jews were arrested, including 4,051 children which the German authorities had not asked for. They were held at the Winter Velodrome and Drancy transit camp, and nearly all were transported by rail to Auschwitz.
Klaus Barbie, a German member of the Gestapo also known as "the Butcher of Lyon", captured and deported 44 Jewish children hidden in the village of Izieu, killed Resistance leader Jean Moulin, and was responsible for the deportation of 7,500 people, 4,342 murders, and the arrest and torture of 14,311 resistance fighters were in some way attributed to his actions or commands.
Maurice Papon was the number two official in the Bordeaux region and supervisor of its "Service for Jewish Questions". In 1997, following revelations from Le Canard Enchaîné newspaper, he was finally charged with complicity of crimes against humanity. Papon was accused of ordering the arrest and deportation of 1,560 Jews, including children and the elderly, between 1942 and 1944; most of his victims were sent to Auschwitz. As during Adolf Eichmann's trial, one of the main issue was to determine to what extent an individual should be held responsible in a chain of responsibility. In 1998, he was given a ten-year prison term. However, he was released on grounds of poor health in 2002. Many people thought both the relatively light sentence and his release were scandalous, especially when it was known to all that following the war, Papon went on to enjoy a civil service career, which led him to be the chief of the Paris police, held by historian Luc Einaudi as being directly responsible for the 1961 Paris massacre during the Algerian War (1954–1962); Papon even became budget minister of president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s. He was finally arrested because of the Canard Enchaîné 's revelations, which themselves followed a fiscal control ordered by Papon with the aim of intimidating the satirical newspaper.
The Jews of Greece mainly lived in the area around Thessaloniki, where a large and influential Sephardi community had lived since the 16th century. When the city became part of Greece in 1912, the Jews formed the single biggest community. In the next decades, there had been occasional conflicts between Jews and Greeks. A minor antisemitic nationalist party called National Union of Greece (Ethniki Enosis Ellados, EEE) existed from 1927 to 1935, which was revived by Nazi authorities. Members of the EEE assisted the occupying forces in identifying Jews and collaborated on the deportation of local Jews with remarkable efficiency, either for ethnic hatred or for more prosaic reasons such as obtaining profits from the confiscation and sale of Jewish property. By the time of the German withdrawal from Greece in 1944, nearly 90% of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki had been annihilated.
Percentage of Holocaust victims in Greece were highest in Bulgarian occupied areas of Greece (Western Thrace), where Bulgarian authorities arrested and shipped on Bulgarian trains through Bulgaria to Nazi death camps in occupied Poland upwards of 95% of Jews in those regions.
Jews in Athens and other parts of Greece, on the other hand, went through a different experience. They were Romaniotes, who had been present in Greece since Antiquity, spoke Greek and were well-integrated in the Greek society. Many Jews eluded deportation by either being helped by Greeks into hiding or joining the Greek Resistance in the mountains. This, however, did not exempt Athenian Jews from organized crime against them. Just like the Nazi authorities had restored the EEE in Thessaloniki, in Athens the German occupation authorities created the ESPO (Ethniko-Socialistiki Patriotiki Organosis), whose members attacked or assisted Germans in locating local Jews. The ESPO's most notorious action was the ransacking of the synagogue on Melidoni Street, Athens. Other ESPO members were recruited as guards in the Haidari concentration camp, just outside Athens.
In any case, the three quisling governments headed by Georgios Tsolakoglou, Konstantinos Logothetopoulos and Ioannis Rallis to different extents were unable to stop (or participated) in the deportation or prosecution of Greek Jews. Rallis, for instance, was known to hold the view that the houses of deported Jews in Thessaloniki should be appropriated by the Greek Pontian refugees who came to Greece after the 1923 population exchange.
One tenth of the Holocaust's Jewish victims were Hungarian Jews, resulting in a total of over 550,000 deaths. The Hungarian Horthy regime deported 20,000 Jews from annexed Transcarpathian Ukraine who weren't able to account for Hungarian citizenship in 1941 to Kamianets-Podilskyi in the German-occupied Ukraine, where they were shot by the German Einsatzgruppen detachments. Hungarian army and police units killed 3000 Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad in January 1942. Horthy resisted German demands for mass deportation of Hungarian Jews until March 1944, when Nazis occupied Hungary. By the beginning of July 1944, 437,000 Jews had been deported to Auschwitz by the Hungarian authorities in cooperation with German Sonderkommando, including those 20,000 who were refugees from the neighboring countries. The mass deportations stopped in July when world leaders appealed to Horthy, following the escape from Auschwitz of Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, whose story about the mass murder taking place inside the camp was published in June by the BBC and The New York Times. In October 1944, the Horthy regime was replaced by the fascist Arrow Cross Party led by Ferenc Szálasi. Seventy thousand Jews were forced on a death march to Austria — thousands were shot on the way, and thousands more died of starvation and exposure.
In Fascist Italy, a law from 1938 restricted civil liberties of Jews. This effectively reduced the country's Jews to second-class status, though Mussolini never made it official policy to deport Jews to concentration camps. After the fall of Benito Mussolini and his creation, the Italian Social Republic, Jews started being deported to German camps. The deported numbered about 8,369, and only about a thousand survived. Several small camps were built in Italy and the so-called Risiera di San Sabba hosted a crematorium; from 2,000 to 5,000 people were killed in San Sabba, only a few of whom were Jews. It should be noted that the camp was constructed to kill prisoners, not by the Italians, but by the Nazis, and that many of the personnel of Aktion Reinhard worked at this camp.
Of the 140,000 Dutch Jews, the German occupiers deported about 107,000, of whom 101,800 were murdered. This death toll of 95% is the highest in Western Europe. Reasons that have been suggested to explain this phenomenon are: the occupation regime in the Netherlands was formed by fanatical Austrian Nazis; the degree of efficiency and the high level of administrative organization of the pre-war Dutch civilian administration; the typical Dutch landscape without mountains or woods made it practically impossible to find shelter; the majority of the Dutch Jews lived in the larger cities and thus they formed relatively easy targets for persecution and segregation; the Jewish leaders chose, "in order to prevent worse", a policy of collaboration with the Nazis; the Dutch pre-war society can be characterized as a conglomerate of different groups, which lived separately from another and this fact made it easy for the Germans to segregate and persecute the Jewish section of society; because the Jews were cut off from public life, they lost almost all of the support that could have been provided by other groups in society; active assistance by Dutch collaborators, such as the Henneicke Column group that hunted and "delivered" 8,000 to 9,000 Jews for deportation. All of these circumstances made it relatively easy for the SS, regularly aided by Dutch police officers, to round up the Jewish population.
After Norway was invaded, the Nazis took control of the government and the true government went into exile. Power was given to the German Reichskommissar Josef Terboven and the Norwegian Fascist Party leader Vidkun Quisling. Quisling had attempted to establish himself as the leader of occupied Norway, but the Nazis only used him as leader of a puppet government. The Nazis, as well as some Norwegian police units, managed to round up over 750 Jews, of a total of about 1,800. However, the Nazis and their collaborators were very unpopular in Norway, causing a strong resistance movement, so the German government's aims for Norway were never fulfilled. Many Jews and other people were saved by the actions of Norwegians, including Norwegian police. Still, detailed lists of Jews existed at the time of the occupation. This caused the rounding-up of Jews in Norway to be much more efficient than in Denmark. Quisling and other Norwegians, who collaborated with the Nazis, were executed as traitors after the war, at least partly due to their involvement in the Holocaust. Also, 245 Sinti and Roma were deported to the Nazi extermination camps, of whom 190 were murdered.
A Palestinian Arab nationalist and a Muslim religious leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini worked for the Nazi Germany as a propagandist and a recruiter of Muslim volunteers for the Waffen SS and other units.
On November 28, 1941, Hitler officially received al-Husseini in Berlin. Hitler made a declaration that after "...the last traces of the Jewish-Communist European hegemony had been obliterated... the German army would... gain the southern exit of Caucasus... the Führer would offer the Arab world his personal assurance that the hour of liberation had struck. Thereafter, Germany's only remaining objective in the region would be limited to the Vernichtung des... Judentums ['destruction of the Jewish element', sometimes taken to be a euphemism for 'annihilation of the Jews'] living under British protection in Arab lands.."
The Mufti spent the remainder of the war assisting with the formation of Muslim Waffen SS units in the Balkans and the formation of schools and training centers for imams and mullahs who would accompany the Muslim SS and Wehrmacht units. Beginning in 1943, al-Husseini was involved in the organization and recruitment of Bosnian Muslims into several divisions. The largest of which was the 13th "Handschar" division of 21,065 men.
When the Nazis attacked the Red Army in Soviet-occupied Poland during Operation Barbarossa of 1941, a series of massacres of Jews have been committed by the SS-Einsatzgruppen in the new German Bezirk Bialystok district, such as in Jedwabne, Radzilow, and Kolno villages. The extent of local collaboration in these massacres is a controversial issue, an so is the pivotal role of the Nazi German Einsatzgruppe Zichenau-Schroettersburg under Hermann Schaper. According to Timothy Snyder, there were about a dozen German-instigated pogroms in Poland resulting in several thousand deaths, but these never evolved into the mass killings employing local collaborators as happened further north and east of Poland, because the Poles never looked upon the Germans as potential liberators from the Soviets. Snyder views this evolution to mass killings as the real beginning of the Holocaust.
There were, however, also multiple occurrences of individual Volksdeutsche turning in, chasing down, or blackmailing Jews; such people were condemned as collaborators and under threat of execution by the Polish resistance. Emmanuel Ringelblum wrote that he saw Polish Blue Police participating in beatings of Jews and street rounds up. But according to Raul Hilberg, "Of all the native police forces in occupied Eastern Europe, those of Poland were least involved in anti-Jewish actions.... They [the Polish Blue Police] could not join the Germans in major operations against Jews or Polish resistors, lest they be considered traitors by virtually every Polish onlooker." Holocaust historian Gunnar S. Paulsson agrees that the role of the Blue Police was minimal: "Keep this in mind – Paulsson wrote – the Jews in Poland were isolated in ghettos. They were rounded up by German police with the aid of Ukrainian and Baltic collaborators, and the enforced co-operation of the Jewish ghetto police, but very little participation by Polish police (mainly in the smaller centres). They were taken to killing centres staffed again by Germans, Ukrainians and Balts." The Poles never surrendered to the Germans so there was no collaboration on a national governmental level as took place elsewhere in occupied Europe. There also were no Polish SS battalions, though there were SS volunteer battalions from almost all of the Nazi-occupied countries. Attempts to organize Polish SS battalions resulted in immediate, large-scale desertions, and so these attempts were abandoned. Nechama Tec writes that she has never heard of a Polish concentration camp guard. In general the machinery of the Holocaust ran with little Polish collaboration, though collaboration did take place on an unorganized, individual level. Polish citizens have the world's highest count of individuals who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination during the Holocaust.
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The Romanian Antonescu regime was responsible for the deaths of between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews. An official declaration by the Romanian government that denied the existence of Holocaust within the country's borders during World War II led in 2003 to the creation of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania. The official report of the Commission released jointly with the Romanian government reads:
The Commission concludes, together with the large majority of bona fide researchers in this field, that the Romanian authorities were the main perpetrators of this Holocaust, in both its planning and implementation. This encompasses the systematic deportation and extermination of nearly all the Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina as well some Jews from other parts of Romania to Transnistria, the mass killings of Romanian and local Jews in Transnistria, the massive execution of Jews during the Iasi pogrom; the systematic discrimination and degradation applied to Romanian Jews during the Antonescu administration — including the expropriation of assets, dismissal from jobs, the forced evacuation from rural areas and concentration in district capitals and camps, and the massive utilization of Jews as forced laborers under the same administration. Jews were degraded solely on account of their Jewish origin, losing the protection of the state and becoming its victims. A portion of the Roma population of Romania was also subjected to deportation and death in Transnistria.
Jean Ancel, who headed the commission along with Elie Wiesel, spent his entire life researching Romania’s treatment of Jews. In his book he provides a confirmation using Romania’s own archives, made available in 1994–95 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with Nazi documents, survivor testimonies, war crimes trial transcripts, that Romania not only participated in but independently implemented its own autonomous genocide of Jews in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and in Ukraine — the only Nazi ally to do so during the war.
In cooperation with German Einsatzgruppen and Ukrainian auxiliaries, Romanian troops killed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and Transnistria. Some of the larger massacres included 54,000 Jews killed in Bogdanovka, a Romanian concentration camp along the Bug River in Transnistria, between 21 and 31 December 1941. Nearly 100,000 Jews were killed in occupied Odessa and over 13,000 were killed in the Iași pogrom of June 1941. Romanian troops also massacred Jews in the Domanevka, Pechora and Akhmetchetka concentration camps.
The protests of various public, political and religious figures (e.g. Queen Elena of Romania and Prince Constantin Karadja) against the deportation of the Jews from the Romanian Kingdom contributed to the change of policy toward the Jews starting with October 1942. The result of this change of policy and that of the actions of a relatively small number of individuals was that at least 290,000 Romanian Jews survived.
Serbia was occupied by Germany in 1941. It was established collaborator Government of National Salvation led by General Milan Nedić. The internal affairs of the Serbian occupied territory were moderated by German racial laws, that were introduced in all occupied territories with immediate effects on Jews, Roma people, as well as imprisonment of left oriented persons. The two major concentration camps in Serbia were Sajmište and Banjica. Of 40,000 Serbian Jews around one half lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps both in Serbia and the German Reich, where most of the captured Serbian Jews were transferred. Under Nedić, Belgrade was declared to be Judenfrei in 1942. Serbs were also victims of the Nazi regime, and most of the victims in Banjica were Serbian. Nazis had a policy of killing 100 Serbs for each killed German soldier and 50 killed Serbs for each wounded, resulting in widespread taking of hostages and executions such as the Kragujevac massacre. Despite these repressive measures, Serbs rebelled, and most Serbs saw Jews as their fellow victims in World War II, dying together in Nazi repression and genocide in Sajmište, Banjica and Jasenovac. Legends about Serbs saving the Jews in World War II are widespread in Serbia, and 132 Serbs have been honored as righteous Gentiles.
Between March and October 1942, the World War II Slovak Republic's Tiso regime deported approximately 57,000 Jews to the German-occupied part of Poland, and even paid the Germans for the Jews that were deported, where almost all of them were killed. The deportation of the remaining 24,000 was stopped after the Papal Nuncio informed the Slovak president that the German authorities were killing the Jews deported from Slovakia. However, 12,600 more Jews were deported by the German forces occupying Slovakia after the Slovak National Uprising in 1944. Around a half of them were killed in concentration camps. Some 10,000 Slovak Jews survived hidden by local people and 6,000–7,000 got official protection from the Slovak authorities.
During World War II, Francisco Franco remained silent in regard to Jewish matters, and Spain became an unlikely escape route and haven for thousands of Jews. They were mainly from Western Europe, fleeing deportation to concentration camps from occupied France, but also Sephardic Jews from Eastern Europe, especially in Hungary. Trudy Alexy refers to the "absurdity" and "paradox of refugees fleeing the Nazis' Final Solution to seek asylum in a country where no Jews had been allowed to live openly as Jews for over four centuries."
Throughout World War II, Spanish diplomats of the Franco government, as well as diplomats from Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal and the Vatican, extended their protection to Eastern European Jews, especially in Hungary. Jews claiming Spanish ancestry were provided with Spanish documentation without being required to prove their case and either left for Spain or survived the war with the help of their new legal status in occupied countries.
In the first years of the war, "Laws regulating their admittance were written and mostly ignored." Once the tide of war began to turn, and Count Francisco Gómez-Jordana succeeded Franco's brother-in-law Serrano Súñer as Spain's foreign minister, Spanish diplomacy became "more sympathetic to Jews", although Franco himself "never said anything" about this. Around that same time, a contingent of Spanish doctors traveling in Poland were fully informed of the Nazi extermination plans by the Gauleiter Frankel of Warsaw, who was under the misimpression that they would share his views about the matter; when they came home, they passed the story to Admiral Luís Carrero Blanco, who told Franco.
Diplomats discussed the possibility of Spain as a route to a containment camp for Jewish refugees near Casablanca, but it came to nothing due to lack of Free French and British support. Nonetheless, control of the Spanish border with France relaxed somewhat at this time, and thousands of Jews managed to cross into Spain (many by smugglers' routes). Almost all of these survived the war. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee operated openly in Barcelona.
Shortly afterwards, Spain began giving citizenship to Sephardic Jews in Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania; many Ashkenazic Jews also managed to be included, as did some non-Jews. The Spanish head of mission in Budapest, Ángel Sanz Briz, may have saved thousands of Ashkenazim in Hungary by granting them Spanish citizenship, placing them in safe houses, and teaching them minimal Spanish so they could pretend to be Sephardim, at least to someone who did not know Spanish. The Spanish diplomatic corps was performing a balancing act: Alexy conjectures that the number of Jews they took in was limited by how much German hostility they were willing to engender.
Toward the war's end, Sanz Briz had to flee Budapest, leaving these Jews open to arrest and deportation. An Italian diplomat, Giorgio Perlasca, who was himself living under Spanish protection, used forged documents to persuade the Hungarian authorities that he was the new Spanish Ambassador. As such, he continued Spanish protection of Hungarian Jews until the Red Army arrived.
Although Spain effectively undertook more to help Jews escape deportation to the concentration camps than most neutral and Allied countries did, there has been debate about Spain's wartime attitude towards refugees. Francoist Spain, despite its aversion to Zionism and "Judeo"-Freemasonry, does not appear to have shared the rabid anti-Semitic ideology promoted by the Nazis. Certainly, about 25,000 to 35,000 refugees, mainly Jews, were allowed to transit through Spain to Portugal and beyond. About 5,000 Jews in occupied Europe benefitted from Spanish legal protection.
However, while some historians argue that these facts demonstrate a humane attitude of Franco's regime, others point out that Spain only permitted transit and did not wish to increase its own small Jewish population. After the war, Franco's regime was quite hospitable to those who had been responsible for the deportation of the Jews, notably Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, Commissioner for Jewish Affairs (May 1942 – February 1944) under the Vichy Régime in France.
In 2010, a document was found in Spanish archives which revealed that Franco's government gave the architect of the Nazi Final Solution, Heinrich Himmler, a list of six thousand Jews living in Spain, as requested by Himmler. Jose Maria Finat y Escriva de Romani, Franco's chief of security issued an official order dated May 13, 1941 to all provincial governors requesting a list of all Jews, both local and foreign, present in their districts. After the list was compiled, Romani was appointed Spain's ambassador to Germany, enabling him to deliver the list personally to Himmler. Following the defeat of Germany in 1945, the Spanish government attempted to destroy all evidence of cooperation with the Nazis, but this official order survived. Spanish diplomats did save thousands of Jews, but it was done on their personal initiative.
In the German-occupied Soviet territories, local Nazi collaborationist units represented over 80% of the available German forces providing a total of nearly 450,000 personnel organised in so-called Schutzmannschaften formations. Practically all of these units participated in the round-ups and mass-shootings. The overwhelming majority were recruited in the western USSR and the Baltic region, areas recently occupied by the Soviets for which the Jews were typically scapegoated, which exacerbated pre-Nazi antisemitic attitudes.
Although Switzerland was the only land-adjacent neighbor of Germany not occupied, the Swiss government actively cooperated with the Nazi regime, particularly with respect to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.
While it is true that Switzerland was under strong pressure from the German government, long-standing antisemitism was prevalent in Switzerland and was also reflected in the Swiss government's border policy. The International Commission of Experts (ICE) set up in 1996 by the Swiss parliament to examine relations between Nazi Germany and Switzerland reported: "Anti-Semitic views were more or less widespread amongst the political classes, the civil service, the military and the church." While such views did not lead to violent persecution, it did provide a barrier to making policies for the protection of Jewish refugees.
Before 1938, Swiss alien and refugee policy was already restrictive toward certain people and groups, notably foreign Roma and Sinti. However, from that date, restrictions were intensified, particularly towards Jews. As part of that policy, the Swiss government requested the German government to mark the passports of German Jews with a "J" as they were not ready to grant asylum on the grounds of racial persecution.
In 1942 Swiss borders were completely closed to all Jewish refugees, which even included Jewish children who were in groups of children coming to Switzerland for holidays.
The ICE wrote: "by progressively closing the borders, delivering captured refugees over to their persecutors, and adhering to restrictive principles for far too long, the country stood by as many people were undoubtedly driven to certain death."
Although accurate statistics are hard to put together, the commission concluded that "It must therefore be assumed that Switzerland turned back or deported over 20,000 refugees during the Second World War. Furthermore, between 1938 and November 1944, around 14,500 applications for entry visas submitted by hopeful emigrants to the Swiss diplomatic missions abroad were refused."
The conclusions of the ICE report about refugees have been questioned, most notably by Jean-Christian Lambelet who criticises the statistical work and argues inter alia that there was a big gap between policy and actual practice. He believes that the figures of Jews that were sent back were overestimated.
The US policy towards Jews fleeing Germany and claiming asylum was restrictive. In 1939, the annual combined German-Austrian immigration quota was 27,370. A famous incident was US denial of entry to the St. Louis, a ship loaded with 938 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were German citizens, some were from Eastern Europe, and a few were officially "stateless." The ship's original destination was Cuba, but the Cuban government, after admitting 28 refugees, ordered the ship to leave. The ship continued to the US, sailing so close to Florida that the passengers could see the lights of Miami. Some passengers on the St. Louis cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge. Roosevelt never responded, though he could have issued an executive order to admit the St. Louis refugees. A State Department telegram sent to a passenger stated that the passengers must "await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States." Finally, the ship was forced to return to Europe.
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