With whom does the responsibility of the holocaust ultimately lie?
The Holocaust was the end result of a long chain of events that lead all the way back to 1919 when Hitler became part of the Nazis. But to find out who was really responsible for the Holocaust, we shall need to go way back, back to 1918. In 1918, there was a small group of right-wing extremists formed a Nationalist party, which appealed to the working classes led by Anton Drexler. In 1919, Adolf Hitler joined as a member of the National Socialist Germany Workers Party (‘Nazi’ for short). In 1920 the Nazis put out a 25 point statement of their beliefs.
This programme was the work of Hitler. Its main ideas were nationalism, anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism. The Nazi programme called for the creation of a ‘Greater Germany’ in which all German-speaking peoples were united. It also called for the destruction of the Treaty of Versailles. There was nothing unique in these nationalistic ideas. They were shared by other German right-wing extremists. Anti-Semitism was widespread in the right-wing circles in Germany and Austria in the early 20th century. Hitler seems to have become infected with the idea in Vienna before 1914.
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By the early 1920s he was making speeches which contained frenzied attacks on Germany’s Jews. The Nazi programme of 1920 was openly anti-Semitic although it did not employ the violent language which Hitler used in is speeches. For nearly two decades after 1945 it was generally assumed that Hitler was totally responsible for the Holocaust – and everything else that happened in Nazi Germany. The Third Reich was seen as a one power state where all power was concentrated in the Fi??hrer’s hands. Hitler’s vitriolic hatred of all Jews was seen as sufficient on its own to explain the murder of millions of Jews.
Many historians still believe that Hitler was an all-powerful dictator whose will was translated into action. Some historians see him conceiving the idea of the extermination of the Jews in the 1920s and pursuing this intention remorselessly once he was handed power in 1933. But back in 1918, Anton Drexler was the key point that turned Hitler (and him being refused a place at the art school by the Jews at Vienna), so really, he played a massive part. Without him, there might have not even been a Nazi party at all. But on the other hand, Hitler was not the only one responsible for the industrial removal of countless numbers of Jews.
Nazi Germany was a ‘totalitarian’ country. Totalitarian countries can be thought of as ones which try to establish total control over the lives of their citizens. They always only allow one political party, the ruling party tries to force its ideas on the rest of society and tries to stop people believing in other ideas and the ruling party aims to control all aspects of people’s lives – there is no area where the citizen is left to think or act as he or she pleases. In Nazi Germany the tasks of detecting and stamping out opposition was the responsibility of the SS.
The SS was created in 1925. Its full name was the ‘Schutzstaffel’. This means ‘protection squad’. The purpose for which the SS was formed was to provide Hitler and other Nazi leaders with a bodyguard. Things changed when the SS got a new leader in 1929. This was Himmler. Himmler came from a well-off middle-class family. He joined the Nazi party in 1923 after service in the army and the Free Corps. In 1929 he was only 29 years old. Special SS units called ‘Einsatzgruppen’ (action squads) were set up to deal with resistance to Nazi rule in German-occupied countries.
These units were murder gangs. They went into invaded countries behind the German army and rounded up and killed anyone who was felt to be a threat. In Eastern Europe the Einsatzgruppen were responsible for hundreds of thousands of people. Their victims included Jews. This was another example of the SS and Himmler killing Jews, and overall contributing to the Holocaust. Himmler ensured that Hitler’s orders were carried out. An extreme racist who was totally loyal to Hitler, Himmler is often regarded as the ‘architect of genocide’.
However, Himmler delegated considerable authority in Jewish matters to Reinhard Heydrich, his loyal henchman. At the Wannsee conference in January 1942 it was Heydrich who formalised the administrative arrangements of the Holocaust. The SS was a perfect instrument for genocide. Its members were fanatical Nazis and had a grossly distorted sense of duty. Few doubt that Himmler, Heydrich and the SS played a vital role in the Final Solution. However, Himmler and Heydrich were not the only leading Nazis involved in anti-Jewish initiatives. Nor were the SS the only killers.
It was a combination of everyone in Germany who caused the holocaust. After 1937 relations between Hitler and his generals turned sour. The generals were unenthusiastic when Hitler told them of his plans for a war of conquest in Europe. Hitler decided that they were spineless.. During the war he took little notice of the expert advice of the Generals and was quick to sack them if they failed. It was once claimed that the German armed forces were untainted by Hitler’s racism and not responsible for the Holocaust. After 1938 Hitler treated the Generals with a certain amount of contempt.
In 1934 he had promised them that no military force other than the army would be permitted in Germany: he broke his promise when he allowed the Waffen SS to be set up . After 1945 many of Germany’s top officers claimed they were unaware of what was happening to the Jews. Most historians now, however, believe that the army was massively implicated in the Final Solution. German historians have argued that the bulk of leading army officers were anti-Semitic and, regarding the was against the USSR as a war to the death, were quite content to support the brutality of the SS.
The letters and diaries of ordinary German troops suggest that the majority were also extremely racist. Many seem to have carried out horrendous massacres with enthusiasm. In the 1920s and early 1930s foreigners working in Germany as diplomats or journalists sometimes suggested that of Hitler getting into power he would become respectable and leave anti-Semitism behind. In 1933 there were about half a million Jews living in Germany. When in power the Nazis put their anti-Semitic beliefs were savagely put into practice.
It should not be thought that they were a number of people who were somehow living apart from the rest of the population in Germany and else where . In the 1920s Jewish community provided the Weimar Republic with some of its most celebrated citizens . 100,000 German Jews had fought and died alongside non-Jews in the German army during the first world war. Most members of Germany’s population . Nazi claims that Jews controlled the political and economic life of the Weimar Republic were pure fantasy. The first official attack made on Germany’s Jews came in the form of a boycott of Jewish shops ordered by Hitler for 1 April 1933.
There were other anti-Jewish moves in 1933 apart from the one-day shops boycott. The most important of these was a law which forced Jews out of the German civil service. In the five years after Hitler came to power Jews in Germany were viciously persecuted. Over 200 were murdered. Large Numbers emigrated. In the 1930s half of Germany’s Jewish population left the country. Others Stayed. Perhaps they thought that after the Nuremberg Laws things could not get worse. After 1945 most Germans insisted they had no idea of what was happening to Jews in the east.
Many may have been telling the truth. There is no doubt that the Holocaust was implemented with the utmost secrecy. There are no public opinion polls results to tell us so it is very hard to say how much opposition there was to Nazism in Germany after 1938. It is most likely that the number of people who disliked Nazism was very large, although people wouldn’t come forward to admit it. There is, however, a difference between disliking something and actively opposing it. The number of people who either protested openly against Nazism or who tried to overthrow it was very small.
These people were people of extraordinary bravery. The penalty for resistance was at very least detention in a concentration camp and was normally death. Most people who disliked but did not resist Nazism appear to have tried to shut themselves off from what was happening. This became known as ‘inner emigration’. In 1963 the Jewish scholar Hannah Arendt claimed that: ‘if the Jewish people had really been unorganised and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and a half and six million people’.
Arendt charged Jewish leaders with helping the process of destruction by complying with Nazi orders to supply names and groups of Jews for transportation to the death camps. Many scholars have rejected this thesis. Isaiah Trunk, for example, focused attention on the dilemma confronting Jewish leaders in the Polish ghettos. His Conclusion was that they were in an impossible position. Having little option but to obey Nazi commands, they did their best to protect their communities. So, in conclusion we can see that there were many areas were people have helped along the Holocaust, and some who tried to stop it.
It is a difficult question to answer, as responsibility lies in many areas. If you are talking about the killing in the concentration camps, then it would be the Nazis because they used the British idea and worked on it, then systematically moved allot of European Jews from their homes to the camps. If you are talking about the entire anti-Semitic campaign, then responsibility lies in many areas, the Nazis, even Jews themselves. So, in conclusion, I think that overall everyone in Germany at that time had a part to play in the way things went.