Causes and Effects of the Holocaust

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The Holocaust was the most catastrophic mass murder ever known in human history. So catastrophic that new words had to be invented to describe it (genocide). It is estimated that over 6 million Jews, gypsies, disabled, and mentally ill people were murdered. The word Holocaust stands for destruction or slaughter on a mass scale. The Nazis were trying to wipe out all the Jews in Europe in order to create their “master race” and purify the German people of the Jews. However, Historians argue as to the extent of planning for the Holocaust and as to whether the Nazis always intended it, particularly on such a scale.

That is the question I look at here, To what extent was the Holocaust a long-term plan? There are several differing theories on whether the Holocaust was a long-term plan and who was responsible for carrying it out. Historian Christopher Browning is an advocate for the Structuralist argument. In his arguments, Browning says that Hitler was only a small cause of the Holocaust and he looks on at the lower-ranking Nazi officials such as SS leader Himmler and SS-Obergruppenführer Heydrich.

Christopher Browning believes that it was a rivalry within the unstable Nazi power structure that provided the major driving force behind the Holocaust as each official tried to beat the other in pleasing the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. He also says believes that it was largely the failures in Russia and the turning of the war that stopped the exportation and shooting of the Jews and so the Nazis turned to the death camps as a way to exterminate them quickly before they could be stopped. Intentionalist Daniel Goldhagen has very different views. He believes that a plan for mass extermination was always on Hitler’s agenda and that popular opinion in Germany was already sympathetic to a policy of Jewish extermination before the Nazi party came to power. He blames the German people of the era for accepting Jewish discrimination and he combines this with Hitler’s early speeches and intentions as justification for his view. Historian Ian Kershaw is the key figure in the Synthesis argument. He argues that Hitler was an indirect cause of the Holocaust. He says that Hitler set out the vision for the Holocaust and that it was taken from there by the German people as they were already very anti-Semitic against the Jews and were looking for someone to blame for their problems. He suggests that the Holocaust was an attempt by the lower officials in the German Army to please Hitler based on what he said in his discriminating speeches. He bases his theory on the year-by-year actions of the Nazis coming from the propaganda, letters, diaries, and documents.

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In my view the Holocaust was to a certain extent a long-term plan, Hitler had spoken for years of his hatred of the Jews, but I do agree that a rivalry in the German army pushed the brutality of the Holocaust forward as Nazi officials tried to outdo each other and please Hitler in order to boost their careers.

There are many themes we can use to spot differences and similarities in the three different theories regarding the Holocaust. Firstly we can look at how the three theories see the role of Hitler in the Holocaust, From this we can trace how long-term they believe, the plan was for the holocaust. Both the intentionalist and synthesis arguments of Goldhagen and Kershaw place great importance on the role of Hitler in the conception and implementation of the final solution. This is based on his known hatred for Jews before he entered politics. Goldhagen and Kershaw do not however agree on how this happened. Kershaw dates Hitler’s hatred of Jews back to the end of WW1. He believes that the German defeat was “traumatizing” for Hitler and that Hitler blamed the Jews for what he believed to be a “stab in the Back”[footnoteRef:1]. From this Kershaw believes that Hitler became totally obsessed with “revenge”. Kershaw believes that for Hitler this could only be achieved by warlike means. For example, Kershaw says “The German cause, had given him a purpose for the first time in his life. In one of the few letters he wrote from the Front, in 1915, he spoke of the huge human sacrifices being worthwhile to produce a post-war Homeland (purer and cleansed of alien influence)”.

This is a good argument based on facts which makes it very plausible. Intentionalist Daniel Goldhagen takes a slightly different stance on the role of Hitler, He believes that the extermination of Jews was always on Hitler’s mind and that he was the driving force behind the Holocaust. In his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Goldhagen says that “The most appropriate, indeed the only appropriate general proper name for the Germans who perpetrated the Holocaust is “Germans”. They were Germans acting in the name of Germany and its highly popular leader, Adolf Hitler”[footnoteRef:2]. What Goldhagen is suggesting is that Hitler was the popular figurehead of the Holocaust, whom the Germans willingly obeyed as he tried to exterminate Jews. Goldhagen is giving a much larger role in the Holocaust to Hitler than the Synthesist and structuralist arguments. This is an extreme and controversial argument. Browning’s Structuralist argument takes a very different stance. Browning pushes more of the blame on the subordinates under Hitler as the driving force behind the Holocaust. In his book “The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy” Browning writes that “Hitler’s prophecies and exhortations transformed by his eager subordinates, especially Heinrich Himmler and Heydrich[footnoteRef:3]”. This argument sheds new light on the Holocaust. Browning believes that while Hitler held a vision of ridding Germany of Jews it was those under him who took it to much more extreme levels. This is an often controversial theory as it allows Hitler to escape most of the blame. [1: Hitler’s role in the Final Solution p9-10] [2: P7 Hitler’s willing executioners ] [3: P1 The evolution of Nazi Jewish policy]

The role of others, those outside Hitler; is certainly just as important, possibly even more significant. The Key players such as Himmler and Heydrich played a huge role in creating and implementing the final solution and responding to Hitler’s wishes. I think it is safe to say that the idea of Jewish extermination originated from Hitler and his racial thinking, but it was those around him who thought up the ways to make it happen. They did this not because they feared Hitler, but because they believed in him and what he was doing. In Browning’s work he believes that “to know what Hitler was thinking, one should look at what Himmler was doing”. Browning places great importance on Himmler being a key player “Himmler responded to (Hitler’s) signals with extraordinary alacrity and sensitivity”. Browning supports the idea of Hitler being the inspiration while others implemented his vision “he (Hitler) would give signals in the form of relatively vague and inexplicit statements, exhortations and prophesies[footnoteRef:4]”. [4: P425 The Origins of the Final Solution]

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Causes and Effects of the Holocaust. (2023, December 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
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