Saturday, June 4, 2011

Of all peoples, why the Germans? An answer to the question the Israeli President then, Shimon Peres, asked in his speech to the Bundestag on International Holocaust Day, 27 January 2010

On International Holocaust Day, 27 January 2010, President Shimon Peres, in a historical speech at Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag, raised a question that has troubled the minds of many: "We cannot dismiss the Nazi hostility as just 'anti-Semitism.' That is a banal definition that does not explain the Nazi regime's murderous, bestial enthusiasm, its obsessive determination to exterminate Jews." Furthermore, President Peres asked, "What caused the Nazis to continue and persevere in this to the end, even when their end was already visible on the horizon"?, and also, "What motivated the Nazis to allocate so many resources to their industry of death?." Peres noted that "The Holocaust raises questions that reach into the depths of the human soul. How far can the evil in man reach? How far can a people's paralysis reach? A people that knew culture and respected philosophy?."

President Peres in his speech makes it clear that intensive Holocaust studies in the sixty-six years since the end of World War II have not succeeded in finding a satisfactory answer to the "troubling question" of Why the Germans of all peoples?

The book The Germans: Absent Nationality and the Holocaust, published a bit over a year ago (at about the same time that President Peres gave his speech) by Sussex Academic Publishing House, offers a number of innovative answers to these questions:

  • The Holocaust's roots are to be found in issues found in the sphere of German nationalism.
  • When the need for national cohesion reached its climax, the Nazi theory of race gave solace to the Germans.
  • The theory of race could not be accepted as valid by the Germans, in light of the obvious success of German Jews. This refuted the theory and the Jews therefore had to be removed.
  • At first the Germans spoke of expelling the Jews from the territories under their control to Madagascar or "the east." The Germans believed that the war that was being waged in Europe and North Africa would be over in a few months, Britain would be paralyzed, and they would be able to implement their "Final Solution," the total expulsion of the Jews.
  • This was the original agenda of the Wannsee Conference, planned for December 1941.
  • However, in light of the complications in the war at the beginning of December 1941 the Wannsee Conference was postponed to the end of January 1942; by then the agenda had been changed,    from total expulsion to total annihilation.
  • The German leadership wanted to establish a "thousand-year Reich" based on the following two objectives:
  • (a) The "ideological objective" of cleansing the Aryan German race of the "Jewish microbes." The racial purity of Germans was perceived as a precondition for achievement, and therefore a "final solution" was needed;
  •  (b) The "physical objective" of expanding the German "Lebensraum" by clearing and annexing territory to Germany and "gathering in" the Germans who had left their homeland in the course of history; therefore a war was necessary.
  • For Hitler, the success of the "Final Solution" and achieving the "ideological objective" were at least as important, if not more so, than success in expanding the Reich's physical area, since the latter could also be achieved later in the coming millennium, if the Germans in Hitler's time were to lose the war.
  • This would appear to have been the reason why Hitler extended the war's duration. He wanted to achieve his "ideological objective" even after he realized, in December 1941, that the Germans would actually be defeated in the war. He wanted to at least realize his goal of cleansing the race of "microbes," for the German posterity of the coming millennium.
  • That is why, to use President Peres' words, the Germans invested so many resources in their "industry of death" "even when their end was already visible on the horizon."

The book The Germans: Absent Nationality and the Holocaust is based on post-doctoral research at the Hebrew University during 2007-2008 under the guidance of Prof. Gabriel Shefer and Prof. Mario Schneider. It constitutes a "Copernican" revolution in the study of the Holocaust, which, for the first time, is not treated here as an extreme event in Jewish history ("studying the victim"), but as an integral part of German history, regarding absence of nationality ("studying the criminal"). It shows that President Peres' intuitions did not deceive him: The Germans perceived the annihilation of the Jews as an "unavoidable necessity" of "self-defense," and implemented in a calculated and "rational" manner, not as part of an outbreak of extreme anti-Semitic hatred. On the other hand, President Peres was completely justified in his resounding accusation: "Did any Jewish force threaten to stop the 'thousand-year Reich'? Could a persecuted nation, under the tread of its oppressor's boots, stop the murderous Nazi war machine? How many divisions did the Jewish communities in Europe possess? How many tanks, how many warplanes, how many rifles?." 

Questions and comments can be added below.

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