The Final Solution
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz is to be commended for her systematic demolition of the spurious arguments made by Arno J. Mayer and other revisionist historians concerning National Socialism in general and the Holocaust in particular [“Perversions of the Holocaust,” October 1989]. Of special interest to me were her refutations of Mayer’s interpretations of the role of anti-Semitism in National Socialist ideology and the motives which guided the Einsatzgruppen in their mass killings in the Eastern campaign in 1941.
That an educated, and I presume intelligent, scholar like Mayer could assert that anti Semitism was not a salient feature of National Socialist ideology from its inception, but rather a byproduct of Hitler’s ultimate motivation, the struggle against Bolshevism, simply runs counter to the evidence detailed so prophetically by Hitler in Mein Kampf.
While ruminating in his cell at Spandau prison following the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, the future Fuehrer laid out four major policy objectives which were to become the guiding cornerstones of National Socialist ideology. Briefly stated, these were: (1) undoing the Versailles Treaty; (2) a war of revenge against France; (3) securing and resettling European Russia (i.e., crushing Bolshevism and Lebensraum); and (4) the elimination of European Jewry (die Endlölsung der Judenfrage). Once the National Socialists came to power in 1933, these policy objectives formed the ideological timetable which Hitler’s minions followed with grisly efficiency.
What is significant about these policy objectives, a significance which Mayer chooses to overlook or dismiss totally, is that they were integral, mutually dependent elements of a complete ideological structure. In Hitler’s mind they formed a logical sequence of events to be undertaken once he came to power. Further, to assert that any one of these objectives was the ultimate guiding principle fueling Nazi aggression, as Mayer regards Hitler’s antipathy for Bolshevism, is absurd. Hitler regarded them all as extremely important components in the establishment of his Thousand Year Reich.
Finally, even a cursory examination of the Einsatzgruppen trial record, particularly the testimony of Otto Ohlendorf (who was, incidentally, an intellectual, as were the leaders of the other three Einsatzgruppen), proves unquestionably that these murder squads were ordered to liquidate both political commissars (i.e., Bolsheviks) and Jews
I suggest that Arno Mayer go back and review the basic sources in his field of inquiry, and even take up the “fetish” of footnoting, since his “careful intellection and rumination” have thus far yielded such dubious results.
Thomas D. Gordon
North Wildwood, New Jersey
To the Editor:
In her accustomed role of historian, Lucy S. Dawidowicz has done her usual professional job in her piece on Arno J. Mayer’s Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?: The “Final solution” in History. Perhaps it is asking too much of her to play (social) psychologist as well, exploring the motives behind Mayer’s extraordinary attempt to rewrite the history of both the Holocaust and the modern world. Yet the man who has put his name to that book, by her own reading of it would seem to compel such an exploration. There is no doubt that Mayer possesses the credentials of a European historian, as his position at Princeton, if nothing else, testifies. Yet it is reasonably clear from his remarks about dispensing with the customary scholarly apparatus of the historian, as well as the striking omission from his book of those genuinely authoritative sources to which Mrs. Dawidowicz points, that Mayer did not wish or even perhaps expect his professional historical works. . . .
Why then did Mayer do what he did, the non-historian finds himself wondering? For whom did he think of himself as doing it? Surely he realized that informed, serious historians would react the way they have (the book received unfavorable reviews in the New Republic and Dissent as well as COMMENTARY) and that he would find himself linked by them to the kind of merely clever men, functionalists and deconstructionists, who are out to make reputations regardless of whether the vehicle whereby they do so is the Holocaust or shrimp fishing in 19th-century Alaska.
Mrs. Dawidowicz links Mayer with Noam Chomsky, who has let himself be associated with some of the neo-Nazis that Mayer invokes among his “authorities” for the outrageous claim that the Holocaust had a different meaning (and Hitler a different intention for it) from what everyone had all along believed. Chomsky, in perhaps the single most notorious incident of its kind in the contemporary era, rationalized the mass murders perpetrated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, although without the courage to admit to responsibility for his action. Perhaps Mayer, although he stops well short of saluting Pol Pot, nevertheless wants his readers to bracket him with the ineffable Chomsky as . . . a Jewish apologist for those who deny the most absolute evil that the world has so far witnessed. . . .
Harold J. Harris
To the Editor:
In her continuing war against the “functionalist” historians, Lucy S. Dawidowicz demolishes Arno J. Mayer for arguing that Hitler’s policy was logical and again crushes Uwe Dietrich Adam for suggesting that other people besides Hitler had a hand in determining Jewish policies.
Mayer’s view that footnotes are a “fetish” deserves her scorn. To make claims about the role of anti- Semitism in Nazi policy but not to cite sources indicates attitudes that befit a propagandist, not a scholar.
Additionally, for Mayer to include books by Arthur Butz and Robert Faurisson in a bibliography for a work that purports to be a serious investigation of the Holocaust indicates something worse. What Mayer is evidently after is to prove German policy rational, given Hitler’s premises. Such an exercise does not appear useful to anyone who wants to understand what happened in the Third Reich—unless we first agree that mass murder can be a rational and acceptable response to perceived evil. Mayer has a long way to go before the rest of us will be convinced that Hitler’s attack on Russia and the destruction of the Jews were justifiable if ill-advised means to an end.
Adam and other “functionalists,” however, argue from different premises and cite sources which can be examined. Their main points are not that Hitler was unaware of or indifferent to Jews or that bureaucracies were indifferent to Hitler’s will but that there were power struggles among Nazis over such things as who would manage Jewish policies and who would get Jewish wealth. Hitler knew about these struggles—unless he was deaf and dumb, which even revisionists have not yet claimed—but, as was his habit in other areas, did not put his directives into writing. The misfits and human wrecks who ran Nazi agencies and ministries put the orders into writing after he told them what he wanted done. They then set about eliminating one another from Hitler’s favor and getting to the spoils.
Beyond that, Hitler did not live in a vacuum. Consider an early example of the effect of public opinion on the Fuehrer. On April 1, 1933, a little more than two months after he became chancellor, Germany had an anti-Jewish boycott called “National Socialist saturday.” Hitler certainly knew in advance what would occur, since he met with Goebbels the night of March 26 to plan it. But we know that events on April 1 raised serious concerns among Germans who wanted to believe that they lived in a Rechtstaat, or society based on law and order. SA troopers running wild did not enhance an image that the Fuehrer wanted to project.
Immediately after the boycott, Hitler began to follow a procedure vis-à-vis the Jews that he had earlier used with devastating effect on centrist and leftist political leaders. At his instigation, the rump Reichstag passed measures “legalizing” persecution. Germans took inspiration from the new measures. Just as he wanted to eliminate Jews from government positions, they wanted to eliminate Jews from professional and trade associations. Although Hitler may have applauded the ousting of Jews as business competitors, we have no evidence that he ordered these subsequent actions.
Mrs. Dawidowicz herself suggests the importance of the anti- Jewish laws on pages 58 to 61 of her book, The War Against the Jews. Yet if we accept her definition of “functionalist,” Hitler should not have taken into account the outlooks of ordinary people, the professional and trade associations should have awaited word from Berlin, and everyone should have operated strictly under the Fuehrer principle.
Tarrytown, New York
Lucy S. Dawidowicz writes:
I am grateful to Thomas D. Gordon for reinforcing my argument against Arno Mayer. Several readers wrote me privately expressing their astonishment at Mayer’s tampering with the historical record and they too voiced Harold J. Harris’s suspicion that dark personal motives underlay Mayer’s attempt to rewrite history. Every careful reader of Mayer’s book will surely recognize its misdirected rage. But in the absence of any evidence other than Mayer’s published work, it would be futile to speculate about the origins of that rage.
Milton Goldin seeks to instruct me in the basics of Nazi history, but it’s hard to learn from someone who, for starters, doesn’t seem to know that long before the functionalists appeared on the scene, every historian dealing with the Nazi era wrote about the rivalries among party and government bureaucrats. H. R. Trevor-Roper, in The Last Days of Hitler, first published in 1947, portrayed Hitler’s government not as a totalitarian machine but as a court operating like an Oriental sultanate. The courtiers often conspired against one another in order to win Hitler’s favor, mainly by anticipating his wishes.
Though Hitler was the Fuehrer, he was not very attentive to all aspects of administering the German state or the Nazi party, being lazy and easily bored. Hence, in matters in which he had no interest and rarely intervened, state and party bureaucrats often engaged in competitive operations, seeking to enhance their standing in Hitler’s entourage. But Hitler preempted two areas in which he himself directed state and party policies and made the ultimate decisions, once he actually embarked on operations. One area involved the conduct of the war, the other the fate of the Jews.
In The War Against the Jews I hypothesized that Hitler had been obsessed by a fantasy to murder the Jews as far back as 1918 and that, after the Nazis came to power, he converted his fantasy, step by opportune step, into an idea, then into a plan, later into a policy, and finally into nightmarish reality. The implementation of his plans was contingent on the opportunities of the moment or on the expedient need for delay.
The functionalists, given their mechanistic view of human behavior, cannot understand how intentions become transformed into decisions and then into actions. Consequently they have muddled three distinct stages in the decision making process to murder the Jews:
- The policy decision to murder the Jews, adopted by Hitler and his closest associates in the period between 1937, after they agreed on a policy of war, and September 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland.
- The promulgation of executive orders, oral and written, to carry out that policy decision, by Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and Heydrich during the months of preparation for “Barbarossa,” the code name for the invasion of Russia, which began on June 22, 1941.
- The actual killing, carried out in two steps, with improvisations all along the way. The first step, the mass shootings by the Einsatzgruppen, the SS special-duty forces, began in the summer of 1941. The second step, the mass gassings in specially constructed facilities, began at the end of 1941, after the preliminary experiments at Auschwitz in September 1941 on Russian prisoners of war.
In the course of murdering the Jews, the SS, the agency charged with that task, frequently encountered opposition to its policies from the top officials in the German armed forces and also in Germany’s agencies for industrial armaments and economic affairs who argued that Jewish slave labor was crucial to the German military effort. But all attempts to postpone the murder of the Jews in the interests of winning the war failed. The ultimate arbiter was surely Hitler himself.
Intentions matter, especially when the power of a state is harnessed to implement decisions to carry them out.