May 16, 2024
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The Shoah: An Unprecedented Historical Event in Perspective

In the most clinically objective and statistical way, the Nazi state orchestrated the attempted mass murder of every person with at least three Jewish grandparents. Jews were sentenced to die merely for being born Jewish. The Nazis sought to murder the entire 17 million Jewish population alive in 1939, wherever they or their allies could apprehend them throughout the world. All other examples of genocide were committed in a specific area, even if the territory might have been quite large, whereas murdering of the Jews became a universal goal.

To the Nazi leadership, the Jews were a satanic force that controlled both the East and the West and posed a physical threat to the German nation. Jews were a cancer, a dangerous virus, a bacillus that, if left unchecked, would allow the Jews to dominate the world completely. There was no way to stop this alleged international Jewish conspiracy, the Nazis reasoned, except to physically destroy every Jewish man, woman and child. Jews. Failure to do so, Hitler believed, “would not lead to a Versailles treaty but the final destruction, indeed, to the annihilation of the German people.”

Hitler’s Obsession With the Jews

Hitler’s obsession with the Jew is vividly illustrated in Volume One of “Mein Kampf,” where he described the Jew in a very clear terms: “The Jew as a maggot in a rotting corpse, he is a plague worse that the Black Death of former times, a germ a carrier if the worst sort; mankind’s eternal germ of disunion; the drone which insinuates its way into the rest of mankind; the spider that slowly sucks the people’s blood out of its pores; the pack of rats fighting bloodily among themselves; the parasite on the body of other peoples; the typical parasite; a sponger who, like a harmful bacillus, continues to spread; the eternal bloodsucker; the peoples’ parasite; the people’s vampire.” Practically all these terms are from parasitology; the Jew was isolated from the rest of humanity; and “the use of language suggests the methods of his elimination.”

In Hitler’s Table Talk of February 22, 1942, Hitler told Heinrich Himmler: “The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world, the battle in which we are engaged today is one of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by [Louis] Pasteur and [Robert] Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jews! We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew. Everything has a cause; nothing comes by chance.”

Historian Jeffry Herf explains that one of the fundamental objectives of the war, was the “removal” (Beseitigung) of European Jewry by extermination, as historian Peter Longerich described in “The Unwritten Order: Hitler’s Role in the Final Solution.” The Nazis defined this policy as “defense against the Jews” or “hostility to the Jews” (Judengegnerschaft), while they described themselves as Judengegner (“adversaries of the Jew”).

Herf said to ensure the German public understood the Jews were responsible for the war, Nazi officials made this clear: “By unleashing this war, world Jewry completely misjudged the forces at its disposal. Now it is suffering a gradual process of annihilation that it had intended for us and that it would have unleashed against us without hesitation if it had had the power to do so. It is now perishing because of its own law: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

“In this historical dispute every Jew is our enemy, whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or scrapes out his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows the trumpets of war in New York or Washington. Due to their birth and race, all Jews belong to an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany. They wish for its defeat and annihilation and do everything in their power to help bring [them] about.”

Did the Nazis Actually Believe in the Racial Theories They Espoused?

In the thousands of wartime documents and in private memos, such as found in Joseph Goebbels’ diaries, one does not find any proof that Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Jacob Otto Dietrich (who served as the press chief of the Nazi regime) or any of their staffs, had the slightest doubts about what they wrote, or considered their antisemitic declarations as a cynical strategy to dupe the naïve and easily deceived public. However bright or astute these men were, they were so obsessed with their racial ideology, that it deeply distorted their perception of reality, Herf noted.

This fixation with destroying the Jewish people can be seen in Hitler’s Political Testament. In his last communication with the German people, written on April 29, 1945, at 4 a.m., just before he and his mistress Eva Braun committed suicide, Hitler avowed, “Above all I charge the leadership of the nation and their followers with the strict observance of the racial laws and with merciless resistance against the universal poisoners of all peoples, international Jewry.”

Justification for Murdering Every Jewish Man, Woman and Child

The late German historian Helmet Krausnick added that in a speech on October 16, 1943, to the Reichsleiter (the second highest political rank of the Nazi Party, NSDAP, next only to Hitler’s office) and Gauleiter, regional Nazi party leaders, about the necessity of murdering every Jewish woman and child, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, said that he would not have been “justified in getting rid of the men—in having them put to death, in other words—only to allow their children to grow up to avenge themselves on our sons and grandsons. We have to make up our minds, hard though it may be, that this race must be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Whatever initial reservations there might have been about murdering Jewish women and children, which Himmler’s speech suggests, this hesitancy did not prevent the approximately 3,000 Kommandos of the Einsatzgruppen (four mobile killing units) from killing them as part of their mission to annihilate the Jews, Gypsies, communist officials, and anyone deemed an enemy of the Nazi regime in the eastern front. This area extended from Estonia in the north to the Crimea and the Caucasus in the south.

A Final Note

Political scientist Raul Hilberg observed that the uniqueness of the Shoah presented him with a challenge since “No literature could serve me as an example. The destruction of the Jews was an unprecedented occurrence, a primordial act that had not been imagined before it burst forth. The Germans had no model for their deed, and I did not have one for my narrative.”

Although he did not predict the Holocaust, Sigmund Freud understood how precarious life had become when in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” first published in 1930, he said, “The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.” His concern was that “Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety.”


Dr. Alex Grobman is senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).

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