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Section: What was the Final Solution?

German expansionism

A 1938 map of Europe highlighting Germany and Austria prior to the Anschluss
A 1938 map of Europe highlighting Germany and Austria prior to the Anschluss

On 13 March 1938, Hitler’s army occupied Austria in an event known as the Anschluss. The anti-Jewish laws that the Germans had introduced in Germany now also applied to Austria. The 200,000 Jews of Austria were under threat with many thousands trying to escape.

At this stage, having removed all Jewish influence and participation from life in Germany, the Nazis wanted the Jews to leave German soil as well. By the end of the war, three quarters of German Jews and two thirds of Austrian Jews had survived because they had found countries to take them in.

In the second week of July 1938, an international conference was held at Evian in France. Thirty-two countries sent delegates to discuss the Jewish refugee issue. The outcome was not a rescue plan. The Nazis realised that the world would not provide any real help for the Jews.

On 30 January 1939, Hitler made a speech to the German Parliament. He warned that if there was to be a world war, then it would be the fault of the Jews; the Jews, therefore, would be destroyed.

German expansion in the East

Hitler dreamed of creating a great German world power. He wanted to invade the East and conquer Poland. The lands in the East would create more living space (lebensraum) for the German people. The local population would be driven out, become slaves or be murdered.

Czechoslovakia

During October 1938, the Eastern Slovak region of Czechoslovakia had broken away from the Czech region (in the West of the country). Jews within the region were attacked and banished to an area between Slovakia and Hungary. In March 1939, Slovakia became an independent state and an ally of Nazi Germany.

On 15 March 1939, the German army marched into Czechoslovakia. The Western regions of the country were renamed Bohemia and Moravia and governed as a German protectorate. On the eve of the German invasion, approximately 120,000 Jews lived in 136 communities across the country.

Poland

On 23 August 1939, the two traditional enemies, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, made a pact to divide the independent state of Poland. The Germans would conquer the West, while the Soviets attacked from the East.

On 1 September 1939, the Germans invaded Poland from the West and brought one and a half million Jews under Nazi rule. Poland was split into three sectors: Western Poland was annexed into ‘Greater Germany’, whilst the General Government was created in the remaining part under German control. The General Government was intended as an area of Jewish concentration. Not only Polish Jews, but Jews from Austria and the Czech lands, who were forcibly moved there. Jews were driven into ghettos in towns and cities as a temporary solution. Conditions were terrible; at least 450,000 people died because of overcrowding, disease, starvation and brutality.

The third sector came under the control of the Soviet Union as a result their invasion from the East as part of the Nazi-Soviet pact. On the eve of the invasion around 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. Around 1.2 million of these Polish Jews came under Soviet rule.

The Soviet Union

On 22 June 1941, the Germans broke their agreement and invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler regarded the Soviets (Slavs) as sub-human. He also believed the Jews had created communism. The war in the East was aimed not merely at conquest but at the destruction of millions of Soviets and Jews.

The Einsatzgruppen

Following the German army into battle were the Einsatzgruppen.

These volunteer killing squads were made up of thousands of elite SS officers. One of their main tasks was to kill all Jewish men, women and children in the areas that were being conquered. The method was usually to take them out of the town or village to a forest or open land, make them dig pits and undress, and then to shoot them all.

During the last five months of 1941 the Einsatzgruppen, supported by local collaborators from across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine, murdered over 500,000 Jews. By December 1941, 80 percent of the Jews of Lithuania had been murdered. Within a further 12 months most of the Jews of Western Ukraine and Belorussia had also been murdered, along with a large number of Jews from Romania.

Local people

There was a long tradition of antisemitism in Eastern Europe. In addition, local people gained financially from the death of the Jews because they were given possessions and sometimes the properties of the victims. Subsequently, in many areas, some of the local villagers and townsfolk willingly collaborated in atrocities against their Jewish neighbours. Others stood by and watched; these people are commonly referred to as bystanders.

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Why did local people collaborate with the Einsatzgruppen?

In the summer of 1941, as the Wehrmacht invaded lands held by the Soviet Union the Nazi leadership expected groups of local non-Jews to carryout atrocities against their Jewish neighbours. The SS and Wehrmacht instructions ordered that locals would be encouraged to attack the Jews. The Nazis also decreed that the Werhmacht must not hinder or become involved in these ‘local’ actions.

But, why did local non-Jews carry out these atrocities against people with whom they had lived alongside? Why is it the case that 80 percent of killings in the east were carried by local people in collaboration with the Einsatzgruppen?

Firstly, a long tradition of religious antisemitism existed in Eastern Europe. Jews and Christians were economically dependent on each other. However, they were isolated from each other because of their religious beliefs. For centuries Jews had been the scapegoats blamed for all the wrongs inflicted on them by the landowners.

Secondly, in those areas previously occupied by the Soviet Union, local non-Jews felt that the Jews had collaborated or supported the Soviet administrations.

In addition, local people stood to gain financially from the death of their Jewish neighbours. During the pogroms and Einsatzgruppen actions, non-Jews were given (or took) the possessions and properties of their Jewish victims.

Furthermore, the conditions of war in Eastern Europe brutalised many people who were encouraged by the Germans to murder, rob and steal.

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From invasions to murder

A 1938 map of Europe highlighting Germany and Austria prior to the Anschluss
A 1938 map of Europe highlighting Germany and Austria prior to the Anschluss

Hitler’s Speech to the Reichstag, 30 January 1939:

“Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

On 13 March 1938, Hitler’s army marched into Austria. The anti-Jewish laws, which the Germans had introduced in Germany now also applied to Austria. The 200,000 Jews of Austria were under threat with many thousands trying to escape.

At this stage, having removed all Jewish influence and participation from life in Germany, the Nazis wanted the Jews to leave German soil. By the end of the war three quarters of German Jews and two thirds of Austrian Jews had survived because they had found countries to take them in.

In the second week of July 1938, an international conference was held at Evian in France. Thirty-two countries sent delegates to discuss the Jewish refugee issue. The outcome was not a rescue plan. The Nazis realised that from that point on the world would not provide any help for the Jews.

On 30 January 1939, Hitler had made a speech to the German Parliament. He had warned that if there was to be a world war, then it would be the fault of the Jews; the Jews, therefore, would be destroyed.

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Responses to the Holocaust

Responses to the Holocaust

What happened in August