Encyclopedia

Final Solution

(Endlosung), the Nazis' program to murder every Jew in Europe. Initiated by Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1941 in the wake of his advances into the Soviet Union, the Final Solution was the culmination of years of Nazi Jewish policy.

The phrase, "Final Solution," was just one of the euphemisms used by the Nazis to signify their program of murder. The Final Solution was a secret that had to be disguised in seemingly innocent sounding formulations. Other euphemisms for the mass murder were: "Liquidated" "Finished Off" "Special Treatment" "Cleansing" "Elimination" "Resettlement" "Treated Appropriately" and "Made Free of Jews.

As early as 1919 Hitler wrote that he advocated an "anti-Semitism of reason." His goal was the removal of Jews altogether from German society. The "Jewish Question" remained central to Nazi philosophy throughout the 20's and 30's. Hitler compared the Jew to a tuberculosis bacillus that had to be destroyed or they would destroy society. Hitler was obsessed with the Jews, who in his view were the prime destructive influence on the political, cultural and economic fortunes of Germany. In the view of the Nazi ideologues the removal of the Jews would allow Germany to realize her full potential and destiny.

At first Nazi policy was to coerce Jewish emigration. In the 1930's a series of discriminatory laws against Jews were adopted. On November 9 and 10, 1938, Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jewish lives and property, occurred within Germany and Austria. At the outbreak of WWII schemes for mass expulsion were still being discussed. On January 30, 1939, Hitler spoke before the Reichstag threatening that if war broke out it would mean "the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe." With the conquest of Poland millions more Jews were brought under Nazi control.

Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union was fateful in advancing the Nazi program from expulsion to mass murder. With each conquest of territory the Nazis controlled millions more Jews. Hitler made it clear to his generals that the invasion of the Soviet Union was a special kind of war, an ideological war against Bolshevism (which in his view was an offshoot of Judaism). With the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Hitler stood at the pinnacle of his power.

On July 31, 1941, Reinhard Heydrich met with Hermann Goring, then still official head of Nazi Jewish policy, to get his signature on a document authorizing a "total solution" to the Jewish question in Europe. The program of mass murder of men, women and children was begun in July and August of 1941. The Einsatzgruppen, killing squads roving behind the front lines, began the mass shootings of Jews in the captured territories.

There were numerous problems with the firing squad method. Bringing the killers and the victims eye to eye created psychological problems for the executioners. Secrecy was also a problem as the events attracted onlookers. Mass graves were evidence of the mass crimes and they were deposited in numerous locations. In the fall of 1941, some Nazis in Heinrich Himmler's organization began to develop a more efficient alternative.

The physical setting of the concentration camps could be combined with the techniques learned in the euthanasia program. The euthanasia program known as T-4 was developed in Germany to kill the mentally and physically defective. Add to this the deportation of victims using a modern transportation system and the Nazis developed an assembly line technique for killing thousands of victims, day after day. The first gassing experiments were conducted in Auschwitz in September 1941. In October and November, the construction of two extermination camps was begun at Belzec and Chelmno. Altogether, 6 extermination camps were constructed including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.

The Wannsee Conference was conducted in a villa in Berlin on January 20, 1942. Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's most effective agent, and Adolf Eichmann, the Gestapo's expert on Jewish affairs, met with the members of the most important civilian government ministries to secure their participation in the mass murder program. Various SS, including Heinrich Muller of the Gestapo, were in attendance. Most of those attending already knew that Jews were being killed but they did not know the scope of the program.

In his opening speech Heydrich reiterated his authority from Goring to effect a "Final Solution" to the Jewish question. He stated that instead of emigration the official policy would be deportation to the east for labor. These evacuations to the east would only be a temporary solution. There would be a natural diminution of population. He said a remnant who survived would have to be treated accordingly because it represented the "germ cell of a new Jewish reconstruction if released." There is no doubt that the audience understood that Heydrich meant death by ill treatment and killing by the use of euphemisms like "natural diminution" and "appropriate treatment".


Sources: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust; Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews.


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