A question about Jews, Hitler and WWII?

When Hitler invaded Poland and other countries and took all the Jews’ rights away, made them move into the ghetto and resort to near cannibalism, it was done slowly. How much of this was a tactic and if it was a tactic, who’s idea was it? You can get a GREAT idea of how this was done if you watch the movie “The Pianist”.

I was thinking, as sick, inhumane and wrong as this was to do, it was psychologically genius. Slowly take away people’s belongings so it’s not such a shock.

Who was behind this?

Wikipedia: Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

The first anti-Semitic laws in Germany were implemented in 1933. Racial Policy of Nazi Germany.

Elie Wiesel once commented that the process leading to the extermination camps was a gradual one that has been used by different oppressors against different groups over the centuries.

First, the singled-out group is isolated, kept apart from mainstream population, deprived of some privileges (such as occupations, education, etc). This can be a fairly slow process: people don’t tend to object when (a) it’s some other group being mistreated and (b) when it’s a minor little step (that is, when today’s new restrictions aren’t horribly worse than yesterday’s.)

Second, the group is deprived of basic rights, moved to labor camps, enslaved, etc. This ultimately leads to de-humanizing the group, viewing them and treating them as some sort of animal or less-than-human creature. ANd finally comes the ultimate end, extremely harsh treatment, such as genocide, etc. Wiesel’s point was that if a tyrant moved immediately to murdering some population segment, there would be objections. When the movement is gradual and over time, people become complacent and accepting.

It may not have been intentional genius. One of the reasons the Nazis moved so slowly was that they didn’t know just how far they could push the German population before the people revolted. So they kept testing the waters, doing things a little at a time. The first mass executions were not against jews at all. They were done against the mentally ill in institutions. The Nazis made a propaganda film about how it was a merciful way to end the suffering of the insane, but it was really just to see if the people would accept it.

I’ve heard more than one survivor talk about the feeling of, “Well it can’t get any worse” that everyone seemed to share every time the Nazis instituted a new restriction or burden. And of course, they were constantly proven wrong.

The timidity that the Nazis showed in advancing the final solution was used against them at Nuremburg. If what they were doing was morally right, the prosecution asked, then why did they do it so sneakily? They were stealthy because they knew it was wrong and didn’t want to get caught.

I thought it was the design of Adolf Eichmann.

It’s not mutually exclusive. Eichmann designed the methodology I think. But the Nazis were always a little “nervous” about their actions. Terms like “Special treatment” show that they knew it needed to be kept under cover as much as possible.

This doesn’t speak to what was in Hitler and Himmler’s mind from day one.

I don’t think there is much evidence that the Nazi’s actually planned to build massive extermination camps and kill every Jew they could get their hands on until December of 1941. This is not to say that they wouldn’t like to have done so in 39, 40, or most of 41- or that there wasn’t a vague feeling that the Jews were going to get theirs, or that they didn’t kill + a million of them anyway:

But about 80% of the murder of the Jews took place after the Wannsee Conference and footnote 10 on that article talks about the infamous Hitler-Himmler meeting that was its genesis.

So I am saying I don’t think the Nazi’s were attempting to babystep the captured population into it - I think as soon as the War in the East looked endangered, the Nazi leadership said “So what about all the Jews we have here?” and at that point Hitler (instead of looking for a way out of the USSR BTW), made new policy simply put extermination vs. evacuation and Himmler and Eichmann came up with a mechanism for carrying it out.

It wasn’t quite like the OP asks if it might be - a grand plan carefully coming to fruition. Really for this to be the case there would have been labor not extermination (and this isn’t a huge distinction the end result is the same) camps in Russia (not Poland) if everything went as the Nazi’s hoped.

I thought Eichmann was just in charge of the execution camps, not the actual job of getting the jews into them and the mechanism for carrying it out? Hmm, thanks for the links, I have a lot of reading to do.

A lot of summary information on this subject, as well as excerpts of the primary sources, can be found in the documents for the David Irving libel case (Irving is a Holocaust denier who was suing Penguin Books, who smacked him down with the facts). It’s available online here.

A few of the historical background statements show a brief timeline of who did what in certain instances.

It was clear from the start that Hitler and the Nazi superiors wanted to eliminate the Jews, at the very least from Germany, and then from all of Europe. In my opinion, their only concern may have been whether the public (and the common soldiers) would really be able to stomach the mass extermination of people. Thus, some of the early slaughters were encouraged and sanctioned, even if not always specifically ordered from the highest level. Once it became clear that people would engage in this horrific behavior, and that the public could be controlled if not outright deceived, the plans solidified into a more efficient genocidal structure.

One of the more unusual plans at one time (~1940) was evacuation/deportation of the Jews from Europe to a place where they might die on their own (Madagascar was considered). It was never really feasible, though. Hitler may have favored this at one time - in 1942 he was still speaking of it. By then the extermination camps were up and running, however, so it’s more likely he was speaking euphemistically or downright deceptively. If the public believed the Jews were being shipped off to Africa, they’d never ask about the shrinking ghettos or the trainloads of people (not that they were likely to try and probe these matters to begin with).

Himmler had something to say about it himself. He and the other knew it was wrong (for a given value of wrong) and they couldn’t just go out one day and get it wrong. Himmler was a real fanatic, a devoted follower of Hitler and willing to do anything (toward the end of the war he apparently realized just what he’d done and how blind he’d been). However, he seriously suffered for his job. Dealing ith the deaths like that, even far off at a desk in Berlin, he was a mental and physical wreck.

Weirdly, he’d managed to totally invert morality, so that while he had a natural sympathy and desire to avoid killing, he forced himself to do it because he “knew” it was right. But being able to do it at all didn’t happen overnight, not for him or most people. And he was very aware and working to prevent others engaging in mass killings from becoming monsters and murderers, hence the bureaucratism of the whole thing.

Oh, cry me a river for him!

He was a wreck – tough! The people he dealt with as his “job” weren’t wrecks, they were just ashes.

Unlike you, I don’t feel one bit sorry for him.

It was pretty much the other way around. Eichmann headed the group that was in charge of arranging transportation to get Jews to the camps, but wasn’t involved with the running of the camps themselves.

May I suggest: Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.
Also, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo.

In fairness to Smilingbandit, I don’t think he is advocating the shedding of any tears for Goebbels. He is pointing out the psychological consequences of the cognitive distortions necessary for Goebbels to do what he did. To the extent that accounts of those psychological conflicts are reliable (given that evidence for them seems to come from Joe himself), they are indicative of consciousness of guilt and of consciousness of wrongdoing, and that is worth noting. However no-one could think the relatively trivial suffering he underwent to organise the Holocaust amounts to squat compared with the suffering he inflicted, and I don’t think SB was trying to say it did. No-one is feeling a whisper of sympathy for the monster.

Or Himmler.

Of course. :smack:

I hope I’m not putting any words in smiling bandit’s mouth, but I think he/she’s also making the very important point that all the ‘exceptionalist’ explanations of the holocaust essentially prevent us from learning anything from it.

So - slight preachy hi-jack here : Treating the holocaust as a one-off aberration makes a repeat much more likely. When we say that “Monsters Did It”, all we have to do is keep those rare monsters out of power. If the holocaust was carried out by ‘regular people’, we’ll need to try a lot harder to understand and avoid repeats.

I believe the common portrayal/definition of the holocaust as being primarily an assault by Germans on Jews, and primarily carried out in the Auschwitz manner, also feeds the ‘exceptionalist’ view. There were camps that were run by non-Germans, there were also camps that targeted non-Jews, there were huge massacres of ‘non-aryans’ that didn’t involve camps at all etc. People of all types and all stripes were involved in the holocaust.

3 million Soviet POWs died in camps. Poland lost about 20% of its population.Yad Vashem estimates that there were 500,000 victims at the Jasenovac camp in Croatia - a camp set up by Croatians primarily to eliminate ethnic Serbs (The Tito government chose reconciliation over truth to some degree, and this became a bone of contention 50 years later in the Balkan conflicts). Some 100,000 victims of summary executions were buried in the mass grave at Babi Yar (Kiev).

Regarding the ‘functionalism’, ‘intentionalism’ debate, was there a master plan for genocide right from the start of Nazism ? I believe the jury’s still out on that - ‘ethnic cleansing’, displacement and enslavement of Jewish and Slavic peoples from Ukraine, Poland etc seems to have been part of the Nazi plan from early on, but explicit references to extermination started a lot later, as previous posters have mentioned.