Holocaust and Society





Most of the world will no longer deny the mass murder of millions of Jews during World War II (1939-1945). The Holocaust is not a secret anymore. But was the Holocaust the brainchild of a deviant individual or was it an event that came only out of “necessity”? Was the Shoah intentional or was it functional? Or will we ever know for sure? The answer to that question is no, at least not presently.
Historians searching for answers to the question of how the murder of a nation came about are often led into a dead end. Why? Because there is not a single document to be found affirming that genocide of the Jews was the original plan. What documents can be located are filled with ambiguities and illusive language. The Jews were often referred to as the “Jewish problem” or the “Jewish Question” and to solve this the Germans concocted the “Final Solution”. What exactly did the Final Solution entail? Perhaps the world will never know. The only thing for certain is that over ten million Jews were exterminated starting as early as the 1930’s.
There are two fundamental arguments for how the Holocaust was put into play: intentionalism and fundamentalism. Intentionalists argue that the extermination of the Jews was the plan of Hitler from the very start of his dictatorship and his annexation of Europe. Fundamentalists argue that, though a figurehead, Hitler was not directly responsible for the mass killings that occurred during the course of World War II. Instead, they believe that a series of events led to the decision of mass extermination. But as different as these explanations for the actions of the Nazis are, there a few things that are undisputable.
Yes, the Nazis systematically murdered millions of people driven by an ideology of a supreme human race, an Aryan nation. An Aryan, described in Adolf Hitler’s infamous book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), being a blond hair, blue-eyed German, was the master race. And yes, there were death camps built specifically constructed to kill and dispose of the unwanted, the useless. Yes, the Nazis were extreme anti-Semitic propagandists. But what divides the functionalists from the intentionalists are the interpretations of three major points: (1) How one chooses to judge Hitler, (2) The time span between March of 1941 and the following autumn, (3) How one follows the rhetoric of the Nazi party.
First, one must take a close look at the leader of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler. He became chancellor in 1933 and Fuhrer in 1934, but his anti-Semitic propaganda began long before then. The Nazi campaign against the Jews started as early as 1929. There is no argument that Hitler hated and blamed the Jewish people for Germany’s economic downfall following World War I; he even went so far as to blame them for the loss of the war itself. According to intentionalists “Hitler is seen as the driving force of Nazi anti-Semitic policy…” (Marrus, 35).
Intentionalist Lucy Dawidowicz argues that starting with Hitler’s attack on Poland in September 1939, he used the war to create confusion, to cover up his intentions of mass murder (Marrus, 35).
Hitler ran the Third Reich through verbal orders, rarely communicating with underlings, rather than official documentation. Raul Hilberg refers to this as “government by announcement” (Marrus, 34). Hitler’s obsession with Jewish genocide became clearer as his plan to overthrow Russia evolved (Krausnick, Marrus, 34). Helmut Krausnick claims, “It could not have been later than March 1941, when he openly declared his intention…he issued his secret decree-which never appeared in writing though it was mentioned verbally on several occasions-that the Jews should be eliminated.”
Functionalists argue that the Third Reich was a constant power struggle between individuals and political groups. They portray Hitler to be an uninvolved, often unattainable leader that intervened sporadically and unpredictably. He was irrational, no doubt, but was he capable of making and executing plans to wipe out an entire race? Some think that the killings started because of the competition of rival [Nazi] groups to impress their Fuhrer, while Hitler remained in the background having little to no knowledge or involvement. But to form such an effective operation would require planning and cooperation. As Marrus puts it, “ Nazi genocide was truly a monumental task, requiring great