The reasons for the Holocaust
Why did the Nazis direct all their anger and all their accusations against the Jews?
The answer to this question lies in the strong anti-Semitic tradition in Europe, which predated the Nazis’ rise to power. This was not a specifically German phenomenon. A widespread hatred of the Jews can be found in the writings of Martin Luther and it was an important part of the self-perception of many Christians.
In a more modern form, at the end of the 19th century, a racist-biological anti-Semitism was developed, where the Jews were perceived as a ‘deformity on the body politic’. The Jews were also increasingly perceived as a specific problem to society, a problem that needed solving if the nation were to survive.
In Germany, Hitler and the Nazis succeeded in segregating the Jews from the rest of the population, despite the fact that German Jews were among the best assimilated in Europe. Jewry was also linked to communism (in ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’), thus making the Nazis capable of presenting the Jews as one the German middle class’s greatest fears.
There has been much debate among historians as to why the Nazis set out to exterminate the Jews. Some have stated that it had always been Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews, while others have perceived the mass murders as a result of a long and curved process, where the Nazi Jewish policy was gradually radicalised.
The Jews’ presence in the German-occupied parts of Europe was seen as a problem and a great annoyance. At best, they were to disappear from the face of the earth, so that the Nazis could reach their goal: a Greater Germany free from Jews. Different solutions were tried: voluntary immigration, forced immigration, and several different plans for deportation. Plans surfaced to deport all the Jews to the east, first to eastern Poland, then to Siberia. Serious plans were also developed that included deporting all European Jews to the east African island of Madagascar.
All these plans had to be dropped, however, because of the war that started in Europe in 1939. At the same time, the Nazis had gained experience with systematic mass murder in the form of the Euthanasia Programme, where physically and psychologically disabled were killed by the state. This constituted the crossing of an important psychological barrier. Another such barrier was crossed with the beginning of the Germans’ cruel war of extermination against the Soviet Union, which commenced in June 1941. All usual conventions for warfare were dropped at the beginning of this ‘the final battle against Judeo-Bolshevism’.
The result of the frustrations with the unsuccessful deportation plans, of the experiences with the euthanasia actions, of the war with the Soviet Union, and not least of the wish to find the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ – all these elements led to the systematic mass murder of approximately 6 million Jews.