8.2: The “Rational” Final Solution
Starting in 1933 when he took power, Hitler went after the “parasitic” enemies to “the Aryan race,” as he saw it: beginning with the Communists and moving on to homosexuals, the disabled, Afro-Europeans, and eventually the country’s 1% Jewish population, Hitler segregated (separated) these “genetic criminal” minorities throughout the 1930s.
Hitler saw himself as the 20th century’s revolutionary: like Napoleon, he wanted to make a permanent lasting impact. Like Napoleon’s agenda, Hitler wanted to restore “the people” to their proper position of power. Unlike Napoleon, Hitler had a very specific, “scientific” way of defining which people should be in power: the Nazis were careful record-keepers, and looked into a person’s ancestry several generations back to determine “Jewish blood” and conducted studies on “Jewish features” like nose size, hair color, and eye color.
Originally, Hitler and the Nazis wanted to “get rid” of the Jews in the easiest way possible, the way that Middle Ages European countries did: kicking them out. However, no country would accept such a large number of refugees. So, in the beginning of the war with Russia, Hitler ordered “commando” squads to go through newly-conquered territories: with much help from anti-Semitic locals, they would “cleanse” the areas of Jewish population, shooting each Jew, male and female, adult and child, and burying them in common graves.
Even during this wave of executions, Hitler and the Nazi high command felt that this was not efficient enough: soldiers and bullets were “wasted” in these civilian killings, when they should be used to fight the enemy. The Nazi view was that these victims were not even worthy of a bullet per person. So, a more “industrialized” way that could “dispose of” millions of people was concocted. This final stage of The Holocaust was an “assembly line of death”: Jews and other “undesirables” were shipped to concentration camps, where they were either gassed immediately upon arrival or worked/starved to death. The inmates were sometimes used for sadistic “scientific studies.” Towards the end, the Nazis experimented in making products out of human bodies: soap from human fat or lampshades from treated human skin. The bodies of most of the victims were not buried, as burial was too inefficient and would spread disease. Instead, the bodies were set on fire in massive ovens called “crematoria.” The most “efficient” and largest camp, Auschwitz, killed and cremated 10,000 people per day at the height of The Holocaust. This was the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” conducted with the rationality and neutrality of a science experiment. This was not murder, from the Nazi perspective—it was doing the dirty work and killing the “pests” of human society.
That is what makes The Holocaust a genocide unlike any other: this was not irrational, but very systematic. Every inmate was recorded by tattooed number, as the Nazis wanted to be sure that they had rounded up every single “undesirable” in their territories. What is most horrifying is that the “experiment” was not conducted by monsters, but by human beings: people who fully embraced an advanced Western culture that was known for the best science, the best music, the best literature, the best industrialized economy on the continent.
The “experiment” was almost successful: 12 million people were killed in the death camps, 6 million of which were Jews. To put this in context, 16% of Poland’s entire population—nearly all of that country’s Jews—were killed.
At the end stages of The Holocaust, the Nazis, ever careful of their records, decided to destroy much of the evidence: they realized they could be tried for war crimes after the Allied victory. However, they could not destroy the survivors, discovered by the Allied troops in 1945 and freed (liberated). Nonetheless, with the survivor population dwindling in recent years, a new “conspiracy theory” has emerged: that the Holocaust never happened. As this is clearly not history, we will ignore these views here, but the danger going forward, after the last survivor passes, is that history will be re-written claiming that this section of this textbook is a lie. Hopefully, with you around, that won’t happen, though.
[The Holocaust (Greek for “sacrificial fire”)—a term used after-the-fact to describe the segregation, persecution, and mass-killing of Europe’s minority populations—most commonly the Jews—by the Nazis from 1933-1945
Genocide (literally, “race-kill”)—the killing or attempted killing of an entire ethnicity or other group]