The Holocaust Historiography Project

Sebastian Haffner’s 1942 Call for Mass Murder

Mark Weber

One of postwar Germany’s most influential writers has been Sebastian Haffner. This successful wordsmith has written half a dozen books on political and historical issues, several of which have been translated into English. His most recent is a highly critical review of Adolf Hitler’s life and place in history. The American edition, The Meaning of Hitler, received very favorable reviews in the American press. For many years Haffner contributed a regular column of political commentary to West Germany’s leading general-circulation illustrated weekly, Stern.

Haffner’s persuasiveness lies in his ability to present liberal-democratic, egalitarian ideas in apparently detached and objective prose. His sober and confident style reassures many otherwise skeptical readers.

But Haffner’s real character came through in an extraordinary article published during the Second World War while he was living as an emigré in Britain. In the August 1942 issue of the reputable London monthly World Review, Haffner called for the mass murder of at least half a million young Germans by the victorious Allies at the end of the war. According to his article “The Reintegration of Germany into Europe,” the National Socialist revolution of 1933 had divorced Germany from Christian European civilization. An Allied victory in the World War would make it possible to restore the prewar order.

Fortunately, Haffner wrote, the “hard core” of Nazi revolutionaries were concentrated in the SS and could therefore be easily liquidated. The SS had become “for all practical purposes the human integration of Nazism. It is Nazism incarnate. With its elimination Nazism may not yet be dead as an idea, but it will be dead as an active political force for the decisive next ten years. Thus the road will be clear for the reconstruction of a Europe embracing Germany. But it must be eliminated first.”

Haffner did not shrink from spelling out just how that would be accomplished. “Now this is a stark and gruesome matter. In all probability it amounts to the killing of, upwards of 500,000 young men, whether by summary court-martial (no such mass-justice can be other than summary) or without even that ceremony. Even if one wants to avoid the actual killing and instead to convert the SS into a number of life-serving mobile forced-labor divisions for international use, it would mean not much more than a living death.”

The mass killing, Haffner exclaimed, would be “a resounding act of international justice.” After all, “it would be criminal sentimentality to leave the terrorists alive and abroad when dearly-bought victory at last makes it possible to dispose of them.”

A comprehensive “re-education” program would also be necessary to make sure that defeated Germany stayed in line permanently. But since the vast majority of the German people obviously backed its National Socialist leadership, only a small group of anti-Nazi Protestant clergy and Roman Catholic priests could be entrusted with this important task. “Thank God Christianity is still a very vital supranational force in Europe, a nucleus not only of spiritual but even of structural unity.” A network of Christian schools would be responsible for “re-educating German youtheradicating Nazism as an idea-making Germany a Christian country again and reintegrating Germany into Europe.”

Haffner’s article is not the first call for genocide in the name of Christianity made in history.

Haffner’s murderous proposal was only partially implemented. Many tens of thousands of young SS men, not only from Germany but from across Europe, were in fact murdered by the victorious Allies in both the East and West.

I learned about Haffner’s article by accident while going through back issues of the leading German National Socialist newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, on a microfilm machine at the Library of Congress. A lengthy front page report in the 11 December 1942 issue publicized the bloody Allied proposal for “pacifying” Europe. It was hard for me to believe that one of West Germany’s most influential political writers could have once authored such a plan. But it didn’t take long to locate the original article in a bound volume on an obscure, dusty shelf of the world’s largest library.

A year before the appearance of Haffner’s article, American Jewish attorney Theodore Kaufman proposed a similar final solution to the German problem. In Germany Must Perish, Kaufman called for the sterilization of all fertile adult Germans, and the total partitioning-off of Germany among neighboring countries. But unlike Kaufman, who fell into obscurity after the war, Haffner’s star rose to great heights. He was able to play a major role in re-educating and remaking defeated Germany into the kind of tractable, “civilized” country he wanted.

In 1946, the victorious Allies executed newspaper publisher and former Nazi party district leader Julius Streicher at Nuremberg for “crimes against humanity.” He had been found “guilty” of disseminating anti-Jewish writings, particularly in his monthly paper Der Stürmer. That is, Streicher was killed for actions which were illegal neither under German nor U.S. law at the time they were carried out. And at no time did Streicher ever call for the killing of Jews or anyone else on the basis of race, religion or membership in an organization.

Sebastian Haffner, in contrast, openly called for the killing of at least half a million young men simply on the basis of membership in an organization-an act which he conceded would be a “stark and gruesome matter.” If Haffner were to be judged according to the standards applied by the Allies at Nuremberg, he would be punished for “crimes against humanity.”

But Haffner has never been called to account for his genocidal call. To the contrary, he has been richly rewarded in postwar democratic Germany. How many of Sebastian Haffner’s millions of readers would think differently of him and his views if they knew about his wartime call for mass murder?