The Holocaust Historiography Project


With the coming of the war the situation regarding the Jews altered drastically. It is not widely known that world Jewry declared itself to be a belligerent party in the Second World War, and there was therefore ample basis under international law for the Germans to intern the Jewish population as a hostile force. On September 5, 1939 Chaim Weizmann, the principal Zionist leader, had declared war against Germany on behalf of the world’s Jews, stating that “the Jews stand by Great Britain and will fight on the side of the democracies ... The Jewish Agency is ready to enter into immediate arrangements for utilizing Jewish manpower, technical ability, resources etc ...” (Jewish Chronicle, September 8, 1939).


All Jews had thus been declared agents willing to prosecute a war against the German Reich and, as a consequence, Himmler and Heydrich were eventually to begin the policy of internment. It is worth noting that the United States and Canada had already interned all Japanese aliens and citizens of Japanese descent in detention camps before the Germans applied the same security measures against the Jews of Europe. Moreover, there had been no such evidence or declaration of disloyalty by these Japanese Americans as had been given by Weizmann. The British too, during the Boer War, interned all the women and children of the population and thousands had died as a result, yet in no sense could the British be charged with wanting to exterminate the Boers.

The detention of Jews in the occupied territories of Europe served two essential purposes from the German viewpoint. The first was to prevent unrest and subversion; Himmler informed Mussolini on October 11, 1942 that German policy towards the Jews had altered during wartime entirely for reasons of military security. He complained that thousands of Jews in the occupied regions were conducting partisan warfare, sabotage and espionage, a view confirmed by official Soviet information given to Raymond Arthur Davis that no less than 35,000 European Jews were waging partisan war under Tito in Yugoslavia. As a result, Jews were to be transported to restricted areas and detention camps, both in Germany, and especially after March 1942, in the Government-General of Poland.

As the war proceeded, the policy developed of using Jewish detainees for labour in the war-effort. The question of labour is fundamental when considering the alleged plan of genocide against the Jews, for on grounds of logic alone the latter would entail the most senseless waste of manpower, time and energy while prosecuting a war of survival on two fronts. Certainly after the attack on Russia, the idea of compulsory labour had taken precedence over German plans for Jewish emigration. The protocol of a conversation between Hitler and the Hungarian regent Horthy on April 17, 1943, reveals that the German leader personally requested Horthy to release 100,000 Hungarian Jews for work in the “pursuit-plane programme” of the Luftwaffe at a time when the aerial bombardment of Germany was increasing (Reitlinger, Die Endliisung, Berlin, 1956, p. 478). This took place at a time when, supposedly, the Germans were already seeking to exterminate the Jews, but Hitler’s request clearly demonstrates the priority aim of expanding his labour force.

In harmony with this programme, concentration camps became, in fact, industrial complexes. At every camp where Jews and other nationalities were detained, there were large industrial plants and factories supplying material for the German war-effort: the Buna rubber factory at Bergen-Belsen, for example, Buna and I.G. Farben Industrie at Auschwitz, and the electrical firm of Siemens at Ravensbriick. In many cases, special concentration camp money notes were issued as payment for labour, enabling prisoners to buy extra rations from camp shops. The Germans were determined to obtain the maximum economic return from the concentration camp system, an object wholly at variance with any plan to exterminate millions of people in them. It was the function of the S.S. Economy and Administration Office, headed by Oswald Pohl, to see that the concentration camps became major industrial producers.


It is a remarkable fact however, that well into the war period, the Germans continued to implement the policy of Jewish emigration. The fall of France in 1940 enabled the German Government to open serious negotiations with the French for the transfer of European Jews to Madagascar. A memorandum of August, 1942 from Luther, Secretary of State in the German Foreign Office, reveals that he had conducted these negotiations between July and December 1940, when they were terminated by the French. A circular from Luther’s department dated August 15, 1940 shows that the details of the German plan had been worked out by Eichmann, for it is signed by his assistant, Dannecker. Eichmann had in fact been commissioned in August to draw up a detailed Madagascar Plan, and Dannecker was employed in research on Madagascar at the French Colonial Office (Reitlinger, The Final Solution, p. 77).

The proposals of August 15 were that an inter-European bank was to finance the emigration of four million Jews by means of a phased programme. Luther’s 1942 memorandum shows that Heydrich had obtained Himmler’s approval of this plan before the end of August and had also submitted it to Goering. It certainly met with Hitler’s approval, for as early as June 17 his interpreter, Schmidt, recalls Hitler observing to Mussolini that “One could found a State of Israel in Madagascar” (Schmidt, Hitler’s Interpreter, London, 1951, p. 178).

Although the French terminated the Madagascar negotiations in December 1940, Poliakov, the director of the Centre of Jewish Documentation in Paris, admits that the Germans nevertheless pursued the scheme and that Eichmann was still busy with it throughout 1941. Eventually however it was rendered impractical by the progress of the war, in particular by the situation after the invasion of Russia, and on February 10, 1942 the Foreign Office was informed that the plan had been temporarily shelved. This ruling, sent to the Foreign Office by Luther’s assistant, Rademacher, is of great importance because it demonstrates conclusively that the term “Final Solution” meant only the emigration of Jews, and also that transportation to the eastern ghettos and concentration camps such as Auchwitz constituted nothing but an alternative plan of evacuation.

The directive reads: “The war with the Soviet Union has in the meantime created the possibility of disposing of other territories for the Final Solution. In consequence the Fuehrer has decided that the Jews should be evacuated not to Madagascar but to the East. Madagascar need no longer therefore be considered in connection with the Final Solution” (Reitlinger, ibid. p. 79). The details of this evacuation had been discussed a month earlier at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, which we shall examine below.

Reitlinger and Poliakov both make the entirely unfounded supposition that because the Madagascar Plan had been shelved, the Germans must necessarily have been thinking of “extermination.” Only a month later, however, on March 7, 1942, Goebbels wrote a memorandum in favour of the Madagascar Plan as a “Final Solution” of the Jewish question (Manvell & Frankl, Dr. Goebbels, London, 1960). In the meantime he approved of the Jews being “concentrated in the East.” Later Goebbels’ memoranda also stress deportation to the East (i.e., the Government General of Poland) and lay emphasis on the need for compulsory labour there; once the policy of evacuation to the East had been inaugurated, the use of Jewish labour became a fundamental part of the operation. It is perfectly clear from the foregoing that the term “Final Solution” was applied both to Madagascar and to the Eastern territories and that therefore it meant only the deportation of the Jews.

Even as late as May 1944 the Germans were prepared to allow the emigration of one million European Jews from Europe. An account of this proposal is given by Alexander Weissberg, a prominent Soviet Jewish scientist deported during the Stalin purges, in his book Die Geschichte von Joel Brand (Cologne, 1956). Weissberg, who spent the war in Cracow though he expected the Germans to intern him in a concentration camp, explains that on the personal authorization of Himmler, Eichmann had sent the Budapest Jewish leader Joel Brand to Istanbul with an offer to the Allies to permit the transfer of one million European Jews in the midst of the war. (if the ‘extermination’ writers are to be believed, there were scarcely one million Jews left by May, 1944.) The Gestapo admitted that the transportation involved would greatly inconvenience the German war-effort but were prepared to allow it in exchange for 10,000 trucks to be used exclusively on the Russian front.

Unfortunately, the plan came to nothing: the British concluded that Brand must be a dangerous Nazi agent and immediately imprisoned him in Cairo while the Press denounced the offer as a Nazi trick. Winston Churchill, though orating to the effect that the treatment of the Hungarian Jews was probably “the biggest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world” nevertheless told Chaim Weizmann that acceptance of the Brand offer was impossible, since it would be a betrayal of his Russian Allies.

Although the plan was fruitless it well illustrates that no one allegedly carrying out “thorough” extermination would permit the emigration of a million Jews and it demonstrates, too, the prime importance placed by the Germans on the war-effort.