The German victories in Western Europe, by 1941, brought more and more Jews from Norway, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Belgium and Greece under German rule. In June 1941 the German Army invaded the Soviet Union, immediately following the troops were special killing squads or Einsatzgruppen, whose orders were to murder Jews in every locality. This was the fourth 'solution' after expulsion, emigration, and ghettoization. It led, within six months, to the murder of as many as a million Jews.
By October 1941 each of the four 'solutions’ so far put into practice were still in effect. In Germany, towns still expelled Jews to the cities, in German-occupied Western Europe it was still possible, under special circumstances, for individual Jews to emigrate. In German-occupied Poland, more than two million Jews were still confined to ghettos. The daily slaughter and brutal nature of the killings in the east were often watched by curious bystanders, leading to several protests. Even as these protests reached Berlin, a fifth solution was under discussion.
At the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the German government and SS leaders met to coordinate the extermination of every Jew in Europe. From then until the end of the war in 1945, the Final Solution was official Nazi policy and meant one thing only – death to the Jews
This was intended to be the 'final' solution, the aim of which was the murder of all Jews living in Europe. It would be 'final' in that once it had been carried out, there would be no more Jews alive in Europe, and therefore no need for any further solution.
It is of popular belief that a growing following of antisemitism, the religious and racial prejudice against the Jews, led to the ‘Final Solution’ in 1941. This theory focuses on what can only be described as a particularly violent and deadly strain of antisemitism that is seen to be inherent in German society. From Luther to Hitler, it expresses itself on occasion in speeches, writings and in violent outbursts. When combined with the supposed authoritarian personality profile of Germans….
….the evolution of antisemitism to eliminationistantisemitism, and the ideology of the mass destruction of European Jewry, is most definitely the source of the Jewish Holocaust. Antisemitism was so strong in Germany, and with the emergence of Adolf Hitler as the political leader, antisemitism grew even stronger. It is this idea that the Holocaust cannot be denied, the unique form antisemitism that many of the Germans and Nazis shared led to the elimination of Jews.
But this idea tends to oversimplify too much, the idea that a single stereotype of hatred for Jews, strict obedience, blind discipline, homogeneous, constant and predetermined character that explains national behaviour is too narrow and too broad. Not all, or even the very worst, of the mass murders were Germans. The thought of a German national antisematic character may explain part of the reason for the Final Solution, but it cannot take all the blame. It is therefore believed that ‘antisemitism in Germany may have been a necessary condition for the Holocaust but it was not a sufficient one. Antisemitism was central because Hitler determined that it should be.’
The ‘Final Solution’ of 1941 is also explained as the personal mania of a totalitarian dictator, at that time, who manipulated people to do his bidding. Through the force of an unprecedented strong leader, it is assumed that Hitler was able to encourage others into blind obedience. Nevertheless his own antisemitic hatred was personal and may have been shared amongst some of his subjects but it was not shared widely. Regardless of the reasons for Hitler's obsession with killing the Jews, this theory assumes that he was able to impose his full agenda on a passive, submissive, hypnotized people. Hitler did carry some of the responsibility of the Final Solution of 1941 but he cannot take full responsibility. Clearly proponents of this theory must either rule out "free will", at least among people born in Europe, or assume that it was temporarily eclipsed under the Third Reich.
There is also the idea that the ‘Final Solution’ was a result of the Second World War. Assuming that all those involved in the war were troubled with their own responsibilities and were unable to respond quickly enough to the Final Solution. The war in the East was particularly brutal on all sides, surrounded by enemies who wished its destruction, the defenders of Germany were convinced that it was kill or be killed. Brutalized by the mass deaths of the First World War and numbed by the idea of death in modern warfare, a decisive pre-emptive strike was required: to attack the main source of the enemies of the Reich – The Jews. The fighters were told that the Jews were behind both plutocratic capitalism and godless communism, behind prostitution and international crime. The Jews were a powerful, yet invisible lobby that worked behind the scenes to exploit and pervert the people. Just as in previous theories and not discounting it completely, this theory is too all-encompassing, overgeneralized and inexact. Total war does not bring about scapegoating and an increase in inter-group hatred. More importantly, the Final Solution was not a result of World War II it was a separate war, arguably the core of the whole phenomenon. It was not a mere by-product of War but it is argued by many that the War developed out of Hitler's obsession with solving the Jewish Problem.
It is also commonly believed that the ‘Final Solution’ was the result of xenophobia, opportunism, personal gain and ambition. Xenophobia dictates that evil is in the basic nature of all people, we all hate people that are different from ourselves. However this can easily be argued - if it is natural for people to be evil, to hate, to attack and to be cruel to those that are different, then why were German perpetrators against the Jews? Given the fact that German Jews, assimilated into German culture and were strong local patriots. This theory assumes that the Holocaust occurred because of fear and personal interests of the perpetrators, mostly greed, ambition or the settling of accounts.
Thousands of men participated in Hitler's killing machine. What were their motives? Some, no doubt, were fanatical anti-Semites and sadists. Others appear to have had no history of anti-Jewish hatred and to have been coldly uninvolved with their victims. It's likely that, Hitler's executioners came in all sorts of varieties: psychopaths and conformists, fanatics and opportunists, adventurers and time-servers.
Whereas it may explain some of the actions, it does explain all of them. It may explain some of the antagonists but it does not explain the ideologically committed, or the comprehensive bureaucratic machine, or the passion of the top-level planners who did not need to kill Jews in order to gain personally.
Holocaust, Functionalist and Intentionalist arguments must also be included in the discussion of the Final Solution. Intentionalists believed that Hitler was the sole strategist, with authority and determination he was the driving force of Nazi antisemitic policy and able to implement the Final Solution. Whereas, oppositely, Functionalists believed that the Third Reich was a range of competing power groups, forceful personalities, competitive bureaucracies, and diametrically opposed interests engaged in interminable conflict with each other. They perceive Hitler to be a brooding and sometimes distant leader, who intervened only sporadically. Once again, solely the Intentionalists nor the Functionalists views can explain the Final Solution. It was not exclusively the conditions of Germany, the desperation of its people or competing powers after the First World War that was responsible for the mass murder of European Jews, nor did Hitler suddenly convert an entire nation into cold-blooded Jew-hating killers through brainwashing. Both Hitler’s dictatorship and the response of the German people to the Regime were necessary to produce a highly organized, sanctioned torture and killing that characterized the Final Solution. German culture was willing to accept the ultra-conservative ideals and promises of the Nazis, but these ideals were ultimately more destructive than most people imagined.
The Nationalist Socialists definitely contemplated ideas about eliminating the Jews and indicated putting these ideas into practise well before 1941 thru forced migration and slow annihilation but as with many developing policies the extermination of Jews came from many sources. Before these ideas could be acted upon in any organised manner the National Socialist system required a leadership decision by Hitler. There is no one theory that can be held responsible for the timing of the Final Solution. Ultimately, if we combine elements from antisemitism, totalitarian leadership, the timing of World War 2, xenophobia and opportunism and also look at the views of Intentionalists and Functionalists then we can go a long way towards explaining the ‘Final Solution’ in 1941. But the bottom line remains that it happened because those who had the power to do it wanted to and those who had the power to stop it reacted too little and late, and those who were targeted could not stop it from happening to them.
Aly G, Final solution: Nazi population policy and the murder of the European Jews Arnold (1999)
Bartov O, The Holocaust Routledge (2000)
Browning C, The Path to Genocide: essays on launching the Final Solution Cambridge University Press (1992)
Edelheit A. J, History of the Holocaust Westview Press (1994)
Marrus M. R, The Holocaust in History Penguin Group (1993)
Mommsen H, The Realization of the Unthinkable: the Final Solution of the Jewish Question in the Third Reich (offprint)
Rothkirchen L, Final Solution In Its Last Stages (offprint)
Rozett R and Spector S, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust Fitzroy Dearborn (2000)
Jewish Virtual Library
German Antisemitism Perpetuating the Final Solution
Lecture 18 from the University of California Santa Cruz titled ‘The Holocaust’
Edelheit, History of the Holocaust pg. 3
Rozett and Spector, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust pg. 215
Website, German Antisemitism Perpetuating the Final Solution
Marrus M. R, The Holocaust in History pg. 18
Website Lecture from UCSC titled ‘The Holocaust’