The Holocaust Historiography Project

Chapter I — GERMAN POLICY TOWARDS THE JEWS PRIOR TO THE WAR

Rightly or wrongly, the Germany of Adolf Hitler considered the Jews to be a disloyal and avaricious element within the national community, as well as a force of decadence in Germany’s cultural life. This was held to be particularly unhealthy since, during the Weimar period, the Jews had risen to a position of remarkable strength and influence in the nation, particularly in law, finance and the mass media, even though they constituted only one percent of the population. The fact that Karl Marx was a Jew and that Jews such as Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht were disproportionately prominent in the leadership of communist movements in Germany also tended to convince the Nazis of the powerful internationalist and Communist tendencies of the Jewish people.

It is no part of the discussion here to argue whether the German attitude to the Jews was right or not, or to judge whether its legislative measures against them were just or unjust. Our concern is simply with the fact that, believing of the Jews as they did, the Nazis’ solution to the problem was to deprive them of their influence within the nation by various legislative acts, and most important of all, to encourage their emigration from the country altogether. By 1939, the great majority of German Jews had emigrated, all of them with a sizeable proportion of their assets. Never at any time had the Nazi leadership even contemplated a policy of genocide towards them.

JEWS CALLED EMIGRATION ‘EXTERMINATION’

It is very significant, however, that certain Jews were quick to interpret these policies of internal discrimination as equivalent to extermination itself. A 1936 anti-German propaganda book by Leon Feuchtwanger and others entitled Der Gelbe Fleck: Die Ausrotung von 500,000 Deutchen Juden (The Yellow Spot: The Outlawing of Half a Million Human Beings, Paris, 1936), presents a typical example. Despite its baselessness in fact, the annihilation of the Jews is discussed from the first pages — straightforward emigration being regarded as the physical “extermination” of German Jewry. The Nazi concentration camps for political prisoners are also seen as potential instruments of genocide, and special reference is made to the 100 Jews still detained in Dachau in 1936, of whom 60 had been there since 1933. A further example was the sensational book by the German — Jewish Communist, Hans Beimler, called Four Weeks in the Hands of Hitler’s Hell Hounds: The Nazi Murder Camp of Dachau, which was published in New York as early as 1933. Detained for his Marxist affiliations, he claimed that Dachau was a death camp, though by his own admission he was released after only a month there. The post-War Communist regime in East Germany used to issue a ‘Hans Beimler Award’ for services to Communism.

The fact that anti-Nazi genocide propaganda was being disseminated at this impossibly early date therefore, by people biased on racial or political grounds, should suggest great caution to the independent minded observer when approaching similar stories of the war period.

The encouragement of Jewish emigration should not be confused with the purpose of concentration camps in pre-war Germany. These were used for the detention of political opponents and subversives — principally liberals, Social Democrats and Communists of all kinds, a proportion of whom were Jews, such as Hans Beimler. Unlike the millions enslaved in the Soviet Union, the German concentration camp population was always small; Reitlinger admits that between 1934 and 1938 it seldom exceeded 20,000 throughout the whole of Germany and the number of Jews was never more than 3,000. (The S.S.: Alibi of a Nation, London, 1956, p 253.)

ZIONIST POLICY STUDIED

The Nazi view of Jewish emigration was not limited to a negative policy of simple expulsion but was formulated along the lines of modern Zionism. The founder of political Zionism in the 19th century, Theodore Herzl, in his work The Jewish State, had originally conceived of Madagascar as a national homeland for the Jews and this possibility was seriously studied by the Nazis. It had been a main plank of the National Socialist party platform before 1933 and was published by the party in pamphlet form. This stated that the revival of Israel as a Jewish state was much less acceptable since it would result in perpetual war and disruption in the Arab world, which has indeed been the case. The Germans were not original in proposing Jewish emigration to Madagascar; the Polish Government had already considered the scheme in respect of their own Jewish population and in 1937 they sent the Michael Lepecki expedition to Madagascar, accompanied by Jewish representatives, to investigate the problems involved.

The first Nazi proposals for a Madagascar solution were made in association with the Schacht Plan of 1938. On the advice of Goering, Hitler agreed to send the President of the Reichsbank, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, to London for discussions with Jewish representatives Lord Bearsted and Mr. Rublee of New York (cf. Reitlinger, The Final Solution, London, 1953, p. 20). The plan was that German Jewish assets would be frozen as security for an international loan to finance Jewish emigration to Palestine and Schacht reported on these negotiations to Hitler at Berchtesgaden on January 2, 1939. The plan, which failed due to British refusal to accept the financial terms, was first put forward on November 12, 1938, at a conference convened by Goering, who revealed that Hitler was already considering the emigration of Jews to a settlement in Madagascar (ibid., p. 21). Later, in December, Ribbentrop was told by M. Georges Bonnet, the French Foreign Secretary, that the French Government itself was planning the evacuation of 10,000 Jews to Madagascar.

Prior to Schacht’s Palestine proposals of 1938, which were essentially a protraction of discussions that had begun as early as 1935, numerous attempts had been made to secure Jewish emigration to other European nations and these efforts culminated in the Evian Conference of July 1938. However by 1939, the scheme of Jewish emigration to Madagascar had gained most favor in German circles. It is true that in London Helmuth Wohltat of the German Foreign Office discussed limited Jewish emigration to Rhodesia and British Guiana as late as April 1939, but by January 24th when Goering wrote to Interior Minister Frick ordering the creation of a Central Emigration Office for Jews, and commissioned Heydrich of the Reich Security Office to solve the Jewish problem “by means of emigration and evacuation,” the Madagascar plan was being studied in earnest. By 1939, the consistent efforts of the German government to secure the departure of Jews from the Reich had resulted in the emigration of 400,000 German Jews from a total population of about 600,000, and an additional 480,000 emigrants from Austria and Czechoslovakia, which constituted almost their entire Jewish populations. This was accomplished through Offices of Jewish Emigration in Berlin, Viena and Prague established by Adolf Eichmann, the head of the Jewish Investigation Office of the Gestapo.

So eager were the Germans to secure this emigration that Eichmann even established a training centre in Austria, where young Jews could learn farming in anticipation of being smuggled illegally to Palestine (Manvell & Frankl, S.S. and Gestapo, p. 60). Had Hitler cherished any intention of exterminating the Jews, it is inconceivable that he would have allowed more than 800,000 to leave Reich territory with the bulk of their wealth, much less considered plans for their mass emigration to Palestine or Madagascar.

What is more, we shall see that the policy of emigration from Europe was still under consideration well into the war period, notably the Madagascar Plan, which Eichmann discussed in 1940 with French Colonial Office experts after the defeat of France had made the surrender of the colony a practical proposition.



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