Daily Archives: 8 June 2006

Holocaust a Contingent Event?

Thus the Holocaust was a contingent event, one not predestined by the intensity of Nazi anti-Semitism, virulent as it was, but facilitated by the exigencies of a world war that threatened to destroy the Nazi state, with the Jews perceived by Hitler as leading a vanguard of that destruction. Each step in the decision-making process concerning the Jewish Question was dependent on critical war-related events. After the defeat of France in 1940, Madagascar, a French colony, was chosen as the future “homeland” of the Jews. When the undefeated British navy made such mass shipping impossible, an area at the fringe of the German empire near Lublin was chosen, to be later changed to an unnamed destination in the soon-to-be-conquered Soviet Union. This harsher decision was made in March 1941 at the same time as the Lend-Lease Agreement between the United States and Great Britain. Difficulties in the invasion of the USSR led to the killing of Jewish women and children after August 15. As these difficulties became increasingly apparent to the Germans, harsher measures including deportations of Jews from Western to Eastern Europe were carried out, to be followed by the ultimate decision to commit genocide after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the first Russian land victory defending Moscow….

The dynamic approach adopted here helps explain an apparent anomaly. While there is clear evidence of virulent German anti-Semitism during the war even among “ordinary” Germans who behaved abominably toward Jews in the death marches from the concentration camps into Germany proper in 1944–45, the evidence of earlier German anti-Semitism is variable. German anti-Semitic political parties had declined precipitously in their share of the Reichstag vote prior to World War I, achieving only 0.86 percent in 1912 compared with 3.70 percent in 1898. Even after World War I and the rapid rise of anti-Semitism, reasons for joining the Nazi Party given by early members generally did not include anti-Semitism among the primary factors. The economic boycott of Jewish businesses called by the Nazi leadership for April 1, 1933, shortly after its accession to power, was generally regarded as a public relations failure, even by the Nazis themselves. Only after the events of World War II and the growing threat to the Nazi – by now identified as German – state did the German population behave in a deeply anti-Semitic manner. Thus one resolution of the apparent inconsistencies between Goldhagen‘s account and the many critics of his emphasis on “eliminationist anti-Semitism” can be found in the dynamics of the confrontation between Nazi Germany and its systemic environment.

SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 151-153

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