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What Happened in the East

Joshua Rubenstein

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The terrible images associated with the Holocaust are engraved in our collective memory. From the burning of books in 1933 to the Nuremberg laws in 1935, from Kristallnacht in 1938 to the creation of the Warsaw ghetto in 1940 and the outright extermination of Soviet Jews the following year, the Holocaust appears to be an inevitable consequence of Nazi racial policies.

Each crime created the momentum for a more destructive atrocity. But Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich did not grasp the full logic of their hatred until military victories gave them unexpected opportunities. Between 1939 and 1941--when the Wehrmacht invaded and occupied Poland and the Balkans, then virtually all of Western Europe, while securing alliances with Romania and Hungary--Hitler was still planning to cleanse Europe by expelling the Jews to a far-off location.

The Nazis found themselves in control of nine million Jews, far more than the mere 600,000 who lived in Germany. For a time, the Nazi leadership seriously considered shipping them to Madagascar. Hitler confided this plan to Mussolini in June 1940; a month later, the Nazis even halted the building of the Warsaw ghetto because they assumed they would be sending the Jews away. As Christopher Browning explains in his superb "The Origins of the Final Solution": "The commitment to some kind of final solution to the Jewish question had been inherent in Nazi ideology from the beginning. Thus Nazi Jewish policy ... first envisaged a judenfrei Germany through emigration and then a judenfrei Europe through expulsion."

Read the entire article on the Wall Street Opinion Journal website.

Posted: 3/24/04



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