W hy did the Nazis end up killing six million Jews? This question is difficult to answer. Some historians believe that the Nazis had planned the extermination of the Jews since their takeover of power in 1933. Other historians believe that the extermination of the Jews was a result of the specific historical context, and thus not originally planned for.
According to the latter group of historians, the “race war” against the Soviet Union, which began in 1941, took place in a specific historical context, where it became possible to kill people – Jews, Poles and Russians – in a new and terrible manner.
The Nazi racial policy between 1933 and 1945 consisted of two elements: eugenics and racial segregation (later racial extermination).
The Nazis thus tried to keep their own “race” free from abnormalities and illnesses (eugenics) and keep the Aryan race closed to other ”inferior” races (racial segregation and extermination).
In the name of eugenics the Nazis initiated forced sterilisations of the hereditary ill and carried out euthanasia (emergency killings) on around 200,000 mentally and physically disabled Germans.
The other part of the racial policy, the racial segregation, was initiated in order to suppress and persecute all non-Aryans, first of all Jews. Later on the racial segregation was radicalised and became a policy of racial expulsion: Jews were forced to emigrate. This policy succeeded very well in Austria in 1938, and was then introduced in Germany itself under the slogan: Germany for Germans!
After occupying Poland in 1939, the policy of forced emigration became untenable for the Nazi regime. It was simply unrealistic to make more than 3 million Polish Jews emigrate. This led to ambitious Nazi plans for a solution to the ’Jewish Question’.
The racial policy reached its preliminary culmination in the period of 1939-1941. The Nazis began to deport Jews from the German-controlled areas to ghettos in Poland and Russia, beginning with the Polish Jews but soon including German Jews as well. The ghettoisation of the Jews took place while Germans living in the occupied areas (the so-called Volksdeutsche) were brought into the Third Reich. This demographic policy fitted in well with the overall goals of the Nazi racial policy: areas were made “free of Jews” while Volksdeutsche were rehoused in areas given up by the Jews.
In 1941 it looked as if the Nazi leadership had decided on the future of the Jews. Starting in 1941, Jews were executed and murdered on a scale utterly unknown up until then. The mass murders began in connection with the war of extermination against the Soviet Union, which began on 22 June 1941. Large-scale executions of Jews, Poles and Russians took place, most frequently carried out by the four so-called Einsatzgruppen.
A total of 1.5 million Jews were murdered in the occupied Soviet territories – with eager help from local anti-Semites. Almost simultaneously, mass executions were initiated in six “killing centres”, extermination camps situated in Poland. At least 3 million Jews perished in these camps. To this should be added another 1.5 million Jewish victims, who died in the concentration camps, the ghettos and elsewhere as a result of hunger, slave labour and random executions.
Consequently, the Nazi racial policy can be characterised as a policy of extermination beginning in 1941. It is demonstrably true that the Nazi regime was behind the murder of more than 6 million Jews between 1941 and 1945.