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  #1  
Old 07-29-2011, 08:02 AM
Steken Steken is online now
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The roots of the Holocaust: Intentionalists vs. Functionalists.

More than twenty years after the Historikerstreit first flared up all over Germany, I’d be interested in hearing from Dopers who’ve researched both the “intentionalist” and the “functionalist” arguments with regards to the roots of the Holocaust, and hear their conclusions.

To what extent is the issue now resolved/unresolved? Which historians have conclusively been proven wrong in the intervening years, and which ones have not? And in your personal view, which historians made (or still make) the best points?
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  #2  
Old 07-29-2011, 08:22 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Could you please define those terms for us, before we begin?
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Old 07-29-2011, 08:34 AM
DrFidelius DrFidelius is online now
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Damn, I must have missed that one. Perhaps it never achieved any recognition outside of Germany.
Could you summarize the main points of both sides?
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  #4  
Old 07-29-2011, 09:37 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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And tell us about the Historikerstreit while you're at it.
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  #5  
Old 07-29-2011, 09:53 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Intentionalist: Hitler/Nazi Germany set out with a plan to eradicate certain groups of people
Functionalist: No they didn't - the outcome was emergent from the actions necessary to achieve the plan of trying to conquer the world.

Something like that.
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  #6  
Old 07-29-2011, 09:53 AM
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Sorry about that, should have provided more context.

Roughly, “intentionalists” believe that the Holocaust was part of a Nazi “master plan,” in place from an early date. In this version of the events, the Nazi leadership had long wished to physically exterminate the Jews, and when they got their chance they ruthlessly carried out their plan.

“Functionalists” believe that no such "master plan" existed, that the Nazis lacked a clear idea about how to solve “the Jewish problem,” and that the Holocaust was instead the result of the cruel inner workings of the Nazi state. In this version of the events, a flurry of proposed “solutions”, including expulsion and ghettoization, were cynically bandied about over the years in all levels of the Nazi state, until at a fairly late date “cumulative radicalization” led to the idea of physical extermination, and hence the tragedy of the Holocaust.

"Intentionalists" tend to depict Hitler as an ideologically driven mastermind, and stress the extremely well-organized, disciplined, "all-orders-from-the-top"-type aspects of the Nazi state.

"Functionalists" tend to depict Hitler as more of a shrewd opportunist (though equally evil, I should add), and stress the messy, chaotic aspects of the Nazi state, fraught with infighting and conflicting individual initiatives from all manner of mid-level bureaucrats.

This discussion was very big in Germany back in the day, and bitterly divided the historians there: They duked it out in all the major newspapers, in heated TV debates, etc., etc. -- it was a big, big deal, and of course it soon got very personal, too. It wasn't long before both British and American historians weighed in, as well -- and in any case I wouldn't be surprised if they're all still going at it.

I read up on all of this a couple of years back, though (I'll admit) somewhat superficially, and without ever really forming a definitive opinion either way.

Others Dopers might have, though -- hence my original query.
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  #7  
Old 07-29-2011, 10:11 AM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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Well, I could buy that there was a systematic process early on of exiling and ghetto-izing Jews and other undesirables with the intent of driving them out of Germany and/or working them to death as underfed and neglected slave labour (more or less 'passive' extermination), and the systematic (indeed, industrial) 'active' extermination process didn't get started until 1942 or thereabouts.

If it makes any difference.
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Old 07-29-2011, 10:26 AM
Steken Steken is online now
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Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
Well, I could buy that there was a systematic process early on of exiling and ghetto-izing Jews and other undesirables with the intent of driving them out of Germany and/or working them to death as underfed and neglected slave labour (more or less 'passive' extermination), and the systematic (indeed, industrial) 'active' extermination process didn't get started until 1942 or thereabouts.

If it makes any difference.
No moral difference, that's for sure -- they were monsters either way.
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  #9  
Old 07-29-2011, 10:36 AM
Malthus Malthus is online now
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I believe the "functionalists" are more correct. The Nazis were remarkable for the rather chaotic nature of their plans for their empire - often different factions of Nazi embracing mutually-contraditory plans, with the result of a veritable race to the bottom, morally speaking.

For example, different Nazis had different aims for their eastern empire - was it ethnic protectorates, creation of a slave class, or extermination and replacement by ethnic Germans? These goals are somewhat mutually exclusive (can't exterminate people and use them as slaves at the same time, can't enslave and enlist people in protectorates at the same time ...) and the net effect, seen in places like Belarus, was to edge the Nazis into "extermination" by default.

The Holocaust had the same, downward trajectory.
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  #10  
Old 07-29-2011, 11:13 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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The Intentionalists would be right at least as to everything after the date of the Wannsee Conference. Sending the Jews off to Madagascar or somewhere was not an option discussed; they were referred to plainly as "this enemy," and putting an end to them once and for all, and specifically preventing any possibility of a future "Jewish revival," was the stated goal.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 07-29-2011 at 11:14 AM..
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  #11  
Old 07-29-2011, 11:20 AM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
Well, I could buy that there was a systematic process early on of exiling and ghetto-izing Jews and other undesirables with the intent of driving them out of Germany and/or working them to death as underfed and neglected slave labour (more or less 'passive' extermination), and the systematic (indeed, industrial) 'active' extermination process didn't get started until 1942 or thereabouts.

If it makes any difference.
My first thought, too. Does it make a difference?

Could it be a little of both? Could some have wanted all along to kill the Jews, some all along just wanted them out of [Greater] Germany, and in the end they all converged on the plan to kill them?
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  #12  
Old 07-29-2011, 11:25 AM
Malthus Malthus is online now
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Originally Posted by BrainGlutton View Post
The Intentionalists would be right at least as to everything after the date of the Wannsee Conference. Sending the Jews off to Madagascar or somewhere was not an option discussed; they were referred to plainly as "this enemy," and putting an end to them once and for all, and specifically preventing any possibility of a future "Jewish revival," was the stated goal.
The Wannsee Conference was late in the history of Nazi-dom's relations with Judaism, though - 1942.
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Old 07-29-2011, 11:44 AM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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The Wannsee Conference was late in the history of Nazi-dom's relations with Judaism, though - 1942.
Well, they certainly made up for lost time.
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  #14  
Old 07-29-2011, 12:00 PM
DrFidelius DrFidelius is online now
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It seems to my poorly-educated mind that most historical events are caused by a combination of deliberate intent on the part of some agents and a more random reaction to circumstances on the part of other actors.
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Old 07-29-2011, 12:20 PM
Steken Steken is online now
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Originally Posted by John Mace View Post
My first thought, too. Does it make a difference?

Could it be a little of both? Could some have wanted all along to kill the Jews, some all along just wanted them out of [Greater] Germany, and in the end they all converged on the plan to kill them?
Like I said, it makes no moral difference -- but apart from that, of course it makes a difference (a huge, huge difference) where it comes figuring out who the Nazis were, i.e. how they thought, what goals they had and how they worked (or didn’t work) towards realizing those goals, and in general how the Holocaust could ever happen, what led up to it, etc., etc., etc.
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  #16  
Old 07-29-2011, 12:22 PM
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The Wannsee Conference was late in the history of Nazi-dom's relations with Judaism, though - 1942.
Correct.

If I remember correctly, its' "lateness" was in fact a pretty common "functionalist" argument -- after all, if the Nazis really wanted to physically exterminate the Jews all along, why wait until 1942 to take the final decision?
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Old 07-29-2011, 12:29 PM
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It seems to my poorly-educated mind that most historical events are caused by a combination of deliberate intent on the part of some agents and a more random reaction to circumstances on the part of other actors.
Probably true, I guess. What the debate was all about, of course, was to figure out to what extent this specific historical tragedy happened due to "deliberate intent," and to what extent it happened due to "random reaction."

Could it possibly be due to a combination of the two -- "a little bit of both," as other Dopers have suggested? Yes, certainly so.
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  #18  
Old 07-29-2011, 12:46 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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Like I said, it makes no moral difference -- but apart from that, of course it makes a difference (a huge, huge difference) where it comes figuring out who the Nazis were, i.e. how they thought, what goals they had and how they worked (or didn’t work) towards realizing those goals, and in general how the Holocaust could ever happen, what led up to it, etc., etc., etc.
Not especially. The centralized totalitarian form of government the Nazis embraced make such mass-killings possible (indeed, probable). Whether or not there were "good" Nazis early on, they surrendered rule of law to the casual brutality of whatever faction managed to be more ruthless than its rivals and sycophantic to the hierarchy.

It doesn't matter if systematic extermination didn't start until 1942, some nine years after the Nazi party took power. Those nine years represent a gradual elimination of the social contract (always a particularly delicate structure, even now) that made such exterminations impossible. If the Nazi goals were worthwhile, they would have becoming more civilized over time, not less.
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Old 07-29-2011, 01:24 PM
Malthus Malthus is online now
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Not especially. The centralized totalitarian form of government the Nazis embraced make such mass-killings possible (indeed, probable). Whether or not there were "good" Nazis early on, they surrendered rule of law to the casual brutality of whatever faction managed to be more ruthless than its rivals and sycophantic to the hierarchy.

It doesn't matter if systematic extermination didn't start until 1942, some nine years after the Nazi party took power. Those nine years represent a gradual elimination of the social contract (always a particularly delicate structure, even now) that made such exterminations impossible. If the Nazi goals were worthwhile, they would have becoming more civilized over time, not less.
You two aren't disagreeing.

To my mind, the "functionalist" position makes Nazism more abhorrent, rather than less: it implies (and I think correctly) that there is something inherent in Nazism that makes horrors somewhat inevitable - whether perpetrated on Jews, Roma, Slavs, or some other target.

That "something" is I think a devotion to conflict and struggle between ethnic tribes as the central aspect of their vision of society, and a lack of any corresponding restraint on action based on an appreciation of humanity [for Communists, the centrality of class struggle lead to similar results].
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  #20  
Old 07-29-2011, 02:49 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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You two aren't disagreeing.
I disagree.
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  #21  
Old 07-29-2011, 06:20 PM
Steken Steken is online now
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I believe the "functionalists" are more correct. The Nazis were remarkable for the rather chaotic nature of their plans for their empire - often different factions of Nazi embracing mutually-contraditory plans, with the result of a veritable race to the bottom, morally speaking.

For example, different Nazis had different aims for their eastern empire - was it ethnic protectorates, creation of a slave class, or extermination and replacement by ethnic Germans? These goals are somewhat mutually exclusive (can't exterminate people and use them as slaves at the same time, can't enslave and enlist people in protectorates at the same time ...) and the net effect, seen in places like Belarus, was to edge the Nazis into "extermination" by default.

The Holocaust had the same, downward trajectory.
Well argued. I had a book recommended to me at some point (can't remember the title, alas) stating that the Eastern empire probably would have collapsed within a half a decade or so even if Stalin had been decisively defeated -- so hopelessly incompetent were the Nazis were it came to running their conquered territories. For one thing, they somehow managed to turn the Eastern anti-Communist guerillas (a natural ally, you'd think) into mortal enemies through all manner of barbaric brutality.

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Originally Posted by Malthus View Post
To my mind, the "functionalist" position makes Nazism more abhorrent, rather than less: it implies (and I think correctly) that there is something inherent in Nazism that makes horrors somewhat inevitable - whether perpetrated on Jews, Roma, Slavs, or some other target.

That "something" is I think a devotion to conflict and struggle between ethnic tribes as the central aspect of their vision of society, and a lack of any corresponding restraint on action based on an appreciation of humanity [for Communists, the centrality of class struggle lead to similar results].
Another good point.
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  #22  
Old 07-30-2011, 03:49 AM
Steken Steken is online now
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Not especially. The centralized totalitarian form of government the Nazis embraced make such mass-killings possible (indeed, probable). Whether or not there were "good" Nazis early on, they surrendered rule of law to the casual brutality of whatever faction managed to be more ruthless than its rivals and sycophantic to the hierarchy.

It doesn't matter if systematic extermination didn't start until 1942, some nine years after the Nazi party took power. Those nine years represent a gradual elimination of the social contract (always a particularly delicate structure, even now) that made such exterminations impossible. If the Nazi goals were worthwhile, they would have becoming more civilized over time, not less.
Ah, but which was the "faction" that advocated the Holocaust? Was it Hitler and the Nazi leadership, from an early date, as claim the intentionalists, or was it their underlings, late in the process, as claim the functionalists? Two different scenarios.
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  #23  
Old 07-30-2011, 11:35 AM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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Ah, but which was the "faction" that advocated the Holocaust? Was it Hitler and the Nazi leadership, from an early date, as claim the intentionalists, or was it their underlings, late in the process, as claim the functionalists? Two different scenarios.
I figure the difference is only significant if one wishes to (even partly) absolve Hitler of responsibility and I see no reason to do so. I don't see a reason to care if the idea of mass extermination was something Hitler came up with in 1920 or something he hadn't considered until underlings proposed it in 1942. At best, it's worthy of idle academic debate.
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Old 07-30-2011, 12:46 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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Overall, I tend to follow the functionalist line more. I think the early policy was something vague like "let's get rid of the Jews" and it evolved into a specific program of camps and mass murder.

I don't see how functionalism absolves the Nazis of any guilt. What difference does it make if they decided to commit genocide as early as 1924 or as late as 1942? They clearly made the decision at some point and acted on it.
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Old 07-30-2011, 02:09 PM
Enola Gay Enola Gay is offline
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IMO it was a combination of both. I think the original Hitler/Nazi Leadership's "master plan" early on was to get rid of the Jews, somehow.

Various options were considered and/or tried, from Madagascar to sterilization to mass shootings...but the specifics of the ultimate plan of mass industrialized extermination evolved over time, after they experimented with the idea and found it was both possible and efficient.

I think the Nazi leadership was the driving force behind the Holocaust, but it would never have happened without the complicity of the "lower ranks" and the general public.
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Old 07-30-2011, 04:04 PM
Steken Steken is online now
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I figure the difference is only significant if one wishes to (even partly) absolve Hitler of responsibility
Not true.

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Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
and I see no reason to do so.
And neither do I.

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Originally Posted by Bryan Ekers View Post
I don't see a reason to care if the idea of mass extermination was something Hitler came up with in 1920 or something he hadn't considered until underlings proposed it in 1942. At best, it's worthy of idle academic debate.
Yup, it’s an “idle academic debate,” all right, can’t argue with you there. And some people are interested in it and others are not.

Last edited by Steken; 07-30-2011 at 04:05 PM..
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  #27  
Old 07-30-2011, 04:21 PM
Frylock Frylock is online now
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What evidence is there for the intentionalist position?
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  #28  
Old 07-30-2011, 04:31 PM
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Functional. He wanted Germany and Europe free of jews at some point but I don't think he already had mass murder in mind in 1932. The early laws that began stripping then of their rights and banning them from professions were intended to make life so miserable for them that they left on their own.

Once the war in the east started they were adding millions more jews to Germany's "problem".

I don't believe the holocaust could have been carried out in peacetime. The scale of the german-soviet war gave them cover in a sense. Alot of the first mass killings were in the conquered territories and by firing squads.
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Old 07-30-2011, 05:02 PM
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Well argued. I had a book recommended to me at some point (can't remember the title, alas) stating that the Eastern empire probably would have collapsed within a half a decade or so even if Stalin had been decisively defeated -- so hopelessly incompetent were the Nazis were it came to running their conquered territories. For one thing, they somehow managed to turn the Eastern anti-Communist guerillas (a natural ally, you'd think) into mortal enemies through all manner of barbaric brutality.



Another good point.
I've heard that too. It depends on whether he would have been pragmatic enough to turn the conquered territories over to competent managers instead of party ideologues.

Or they may have decided not to bother trying to run them at all. Kill everyone and just open it up to German settlers.
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Old 07-31-2011, 02:27 AM
Steken Steken is online now
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What evidence is there for the intentionalist position?
There's some.

To begin with, I'll point out that part of the intentionalist argument is that Hitler was, in every conceivable way, the “master of the Third Reich” -- not simply the most powerful man in the realm, but the only powerful man in the realm. So Bracher, for example, argued that “at no point was Hitler ever driven by pressure from below or had his power limited in any way,” and in Ritter’s words, “the will of a single madman” caused World War II.

In this view, no major project could have gotten underway in Nazi Germany without Hitler as the driving force behind it -- and of course the Holocaust was a major project, to say the least.

But you ask for evidence, so... Let's see here...

Himmler met Hitler on 18 December 1941, afterwards writing down two lines: First “what to do with the Jews of Russia?”, and then “exterminate them as partisans.” Presumably, the first line was Himmler’s question, and the second Hitler’s answer -- either his exact words or a close paraphrase, but in any case a very clear answer.

Among intentionalists, the fact that, apart from this, no further written order is known to exist isn’t considered as big deal as some people try to make it: Hitler often delivered his orders verbally, they argue, and sometimes in secret. (Indeed, in October of 1943, Himmler specifically mentioned the subject of the “extermination of the Jews” as one of those about which no one ever speaks out loud, adding that in fact “we will never discuss this publicly.”)

So for example, Christian Gerlach has argued that Hitler announced his decision on December 12, 1941, in a secret speech to some fifty-odd gauleiters:

Quote:
What Hitler said about the Jewish question on December 12 is reported twice, in almost identical formulations: once in the diary entry of December 13 by the Berlin Gauleiter and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and once in the government diary of the Reichleiter and Cracow General Governor Hans Frank of December 16. “In respect of the Jewish question, the Fuehrer has decided,” so says Goebbels, “to make a clean sweep. The world war is here, the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary result.”
According to Eberhard Jäckel (a leading intentionalist), many local dignitaries were shocked when they found out about this new directive, thus making it likely that the initiative came not from their own kind, but indeed directly from above, i.e. from Hitler.

OK, so if December 12, 1941, is when Hitler announced his decision, when did he first make it, if only in his heart of hearts?

Lucy Dawidowicz believes one need look no further than Mein Kampf, and look at Hitler’s early speeches and writings to find clear declarations of intent. She guesstimates that Hitler probably made up his mind as early as 1918-1919 -- admittedly an extreme position, for which she has taken some flak over the years. I don't know what precise evidence she presents, though, if any -- I haven't read her book.

Jäckel, too, believes Mein Kampf was essentially a "blueprint for genocide," though he allows (if I have understood his position correctly) that Hitler brooded on the matter all through the 1920's, but in any case had made up his mind by the time he took power in 1933. Haven't read his book either, though... So many books, so little time, you know.

Last edited by Steken; 07-31-2011 at 02:31 AM..
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  #31  
Old 07-31-2011, 04:21 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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There was also Hitler's speech, which he made in January 1939.

Hitler was talking about the possibility of war. As he often did, he claimed that Germany wanted peace. He said that if war came about it would be because the Jews started it.

Then he said if the Jews thought they could start another war in order to keep Germany down, they were going to be surprised. He said that if the Jews started another war, the result would be the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.

So there is Hitler, on record, acknowledging the possibility of genocide.
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Old 07-31-2011, 04:46 PM
Larry Borgia Larry Borgia is offline
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I find the intentionalist position fairly compelling, though I'm no expert.I think it's pretty clear that Hitler always had it in for the Jews, and surrounded himself with people who thought likewise. The details of the plan may have changed but an anti-Jewish genocide was inevitable once hitler was in power.
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