As can clearly be seen from this overview of the main developments of the Second World War, by April 29, 1945, Germany’s defeat was obvious. The Third Reich was crumbling. Hitler, in his bunker under Berlin, realized the end was near. Sitting in his bunker, on the brink of committing suicide, he wrote his political will.
He concluded it with the following words: “But before everything else, I call upon the leadership of the nation and those who follow it to observe the racial laws most carefully, to fight mercilessly against the poisoners of all the peoples of the world - international Jewry.” By the time Hitler wrote these words, millions of Jews had been murdered across Europe. Yet mere hours before his suicide, Hitler was still convinced that the fight against Jews was of the utmost importance. This worldview based on the Redemptive Antisemitism that characterized the Nazi ideology, was an essential component to the genocide of the Jews – that which today we call the Holocaust , and which the Nazis called the “final solution to the Jewish problem.”
We have already discussed how policy against the Jews was determined as one of the main principles of the ideological “New World Order” that Nazi tried to establish and that it accompanied each stage of the war, at times even serving as a driving force of the war itself. The essence of the Jews, as perceived and presented by Nazi ideology, was evil and could spread endlessly. Consequently, there was no place for them in the “New World Order.” Thus between 1933 and 1945, ever worsening anti-Jewish policies were formulated, culminating in the decision to actively exterminate the Jews living either directly under Nazi rule or the rule of their allies.
The result was the systematic murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. The Holocaust or the Shoah in Hebrew was the Nazi attempt to murder all the Jews, first in Europe and, if they could, all around the world and everything Jewish as well - to wipe out the Jews completely from the world. The Holocaust was derived from Nazi ideology and their belief that the Jews constituted a threat of cosmic proportions to the entire world and the Nazis had set out to deal with that threat and to relieve the world of that problem.
From the beginning of the Nazi regime in 1933 - and indeed 1933 can be viewed as a kind of a turning point in history, with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party to power - the Nazis sought some kind of solution to their imagined problem regarding the Jews. During the 1930s until the beginning of World War II, that policy search revolved around getting the Jews isolated in Germany and ultimately out of the Third Reich.
Once Germany invaded Poland on September the 1st of 1939, they embarked on a massively violent program against Poland and, in particular, against the Jews and they found themselves, much to their chagrin, suddenly ruling some roughly 2 million additional Jews, on top of what they already had in the Third Reich. And then with their conquests in Western Europe and Scandinavia in 1940, by the time the dust settled from those battles, they found themselves in the summer of 1940 with nearly 4 million Jews under their rule. What could they do with all these Jews? They felt themselves almost trapped and they began searching for solutions.
Perhaps they could isolate all the Jews and concentrate them in some massive ghetto or a “reservation,” as they called it, near the city of Lublin or perhaps they could shove all of the Jews into the Soviet Union if the Soviet Union would be willing to accept millions of additional Jews; or perhaps, even better, they could isolate the Jews in some isolated island off the coast of Africa - the “Madagascar Plan.” All these ideas that the Nazi regime entertained quite seriously during the course of 1940 and even into the beginning of 1941 failed for a variety of reasons but that did not stop the Nazis from continuing their relentless search for some solution to the “Jewish problem.”
Within the context of the Nazis looking for a solution to their Jewish problem in the first part of World War II, they needed to deal with the Jews that they already had under their rule immediately, to do something that would contain them temporarily; and that something for Jews in Poland at least was restrictions on their movement and in many places, such as Warsaw and Lodz and other places, putting the Jews into ghettos. The ghettos were designed as temporary holding areas from which the Jews would ultimately be sent out, once the Nazis figured out what their solution was going to be.
Although the ghettos were meant as temporary holding areas for some future policy - moving the Jews somewhere, the conditions within ghettos, many of them were horrendous. Particularly in Warsaw and in Lodz, the Nazi authorities, regional authorities, determined that the Jews did not need to have sufficient food or sufficient living conditions, in which they could live normal lives, and the result of those conditions, in which they lived day to day, resulted in massive death in those two places as well as in several of the other ghettos.
The treatment of the Jews in ghettos and in forced labor camps, to which many Jews were sent during this early part of the war and even later, were horrendous and caused massive death among the Jews. In the Warsaw Ghetto alone, nearly 100,000 Jews died of the conditions in the ghetto, even before Jews were deported from there to the Treblinka death camp. With the German invasion of the Soviet Union - “Operation Barbarossa” - on June 22nd, 1941, the Nazis embarked, on the one hand, on the conquest of millions more Jews. They anticipated conquering all of the Soviet Union and more than five million additional Jews in the territories of the Soviet Union at that time and
now they really felt themselves trapped by their own conquests: What to do with all these Jews? Where can you send them? What can you do? Immediately with the invasion of the Soviet Union, special murder units entered the Soviet Union and began murdering Jews on Soviet territory. That murder, that began as selective in the summer of 1941, developed into systematic total murder of Jews on occupied Soviet territory by the end of the summer of 1941.
And these special murder units, “Einsatzgruppen” or “mobile task forces,” as they were known, and police units and other units that entered the fray during the summer of 41 had succeeded in murdering at least 800,000 Jews in the territory of the Soviet Union by the end of 1941. But if we want to look at the development of the Holocaust and of the “Final Solution” beyond all of that, we also need to look at how all of this developed into, first of all, a continent-wide plan and then a plan that went beyond the European continent.
And we can see that Nazi plans for murdering Jews developed in parallel tracks in various places, whether it was planning for the deportation of all the Jews of the Third Reich and the rest of Europe towards Eastern Europe - ideas that began to be discussed at the end of the summer and beginning of the fall of 1941; or if it was Germany’s allies, Romania in particular, but also Croatia, beginning to murder Jews under their control already in the summer of 1941 parallel to the Germans; or plans within Poland, different plans that developed simultaneously by
regional German officials: whether it was the SS General Odilo Globocnik in Lublin, who by the end of the summer 1941 began to develop plans and a special strategic team to think about how can we murder lots of Jews here in Poland, where there are millions of them. And a plan developed to kill Jews in gas chambers, large gas chambers, using exhaust from diesel engines and Globocnik then brought this idea to Himmler for his approval and received approval in October 1941, to develop what became operation Reinhard.
Or, parallel to that, the development of gas vehicles, vans, to which several dozen people could be loaded and the exhaust channeled into the rear and they would be killed and that was developed during the course of the fall of 1941 and came into use in December 1941 in the camp of Chelmo, in particular, as well as in some other places. Or the development of a different kind of gassing method - Zyklon-B, a pesticide for agriculture that was experimented with in Auschwitz in early September 1941 against Soviet POWs with an eye towards using this pesticide towards killing more human beings; and ultimately that became the main murder method at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
By the end of 1942, through the various murder methods - the shooting, the gas vans, the gas chambers of different kinds - nearly 4 million Jews had been killed. And it was just at that time, as we enter 1943, that Auschwitz-Birkenau and its gas chambers using Zyklon B began to be developed and, by the summer of 43, Auschwitz-Birkenau was fully online and now killing most of the rest of the Jews of Europe, particularly in 1944, the Jews of Hungary, more than 400,000 of whom, were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. So that by the end of World War II with the Germans’ surrender in May of 1945, Nazi Germany had succeeded in murdering some 6 million Jews.
From a Nazi perspective, we might say, that was a tremendous success but, at the same time, it was a Nazi failure because they had intended to murder all the Jews of Europe during the war, to win the war, and then to proceed to murder the Jews in all the other continents of the world, and in that they failed. The Jews are still there. From a Jewish perspective though, that’s not a victory the Jews did not win World War II in the Holocaust. Indeed, the Jews never even replenished their numerical losses during the war. We can say that the Jewish people survived the Holocaust and World War II and in that, lies the Nazis failure.