Final Solu­tion: The Fate of the Jews 1933 – 1949

David Cesarani
  • Review
By – October 13, 2016

Best known for Becom­ing Eich­mann, where­in he coun­tered Han­nah Arendt’s banal­i­ty of evil” argu­ment about Adolph Eich­mann a desk mur­der,” David Cesarani was in the process of com­plet­ing Final Solu­tion: The Fate of the Jews 19331949, his most ambi­tious book about the Holo­caust, before he passed away last year at the age of 58.

Holo­caust his­to­ri­og­ra­phy is most­ly char­ac­ter­ized by two schools of inter­pre­ta­tion about the gen­e­sis of the Holo­caust. One school, the inten­tion­al­ists,” argue that the Holo­caust was dri­ven by Hitler’s obses­sion described in Mein Kampf as his inten­tion to anni­hi­late the Jews of Europe. Hitler’ objec­tive in World War II was there­fore not only to acquire land in the east of Europe, which neces­si­tat­ed the mil­i­tary defeat of the Sovi­et Union, but also the destruc­tion of Judeo-Bol­she­vism.” Accord­ing to some inten­tion­al­ists, Hitler’s war against the Jews” required the exter­mi­na­tion of every Jew­ish man, woman, and child because he equat­ed Jews with Bol­she­vism, the ene­my of the Aryan race.

The func­tion­al­ists” argued that the ori­gins of the Holo­caust arose out of wartime cir­cum­stances; the asso­ci­a­tion of Jews with anti-Nazi par­ti­sans and most impor­tant­ly, Germany’s dis­as­trous war against the Sovi­et Union, which they blamed on the Jews. It is this lat­ter line of think­ing which Cesarani’s book follows.

Cesarani’s approach is con­tro­ver­sial in that he con­tests the tra­di­tion­al way his­to­ri­ans and the pub­lic under­stand the Holo­caust, reassess­ing the “ wide­ly accept­ed pre­con­cep­tions[…] that Hitler and the core of Nazi true believ­ers were con­vinced that the Jews were the ene­my with­in,” and con­se­quent­ly were at war with inter­na­tion­al Jew­ry.’” This con­vic­tion, Cesarani holds, did not express itself clear­ly or direct­ly in prac­tice.” Nazi pol­i­cy until late 1941 was marked by plans to remove Jews from Nazi held ter­ri­to­ry — the Lublin Plan, Mada­gas­car Plan — and, once they con­quered the Sovi­et Union, relo­cat­ing Europe’s Jews to Siberia. But the con­quest of the Sovi­et Union did not occur and that when it became appar­ent that defeat was a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty, they turned on the ene­my with­in.” Cesarani fails to note, how­ev­er, that these reset­tle­ment plans, also would have result­ed in the geno­cide of the Jews, albeit more slow­ly than mass shoot­ings and poi­son gas. Nev­er­the­less, Cesarani con­cludes that the Holo­caust was the result of chance occur­rence[…] It may seem offen­sive the think about Jew­ish fate in this way, but the alter­na­tive is to assume that events could not have had any oth­er out­come[…] It also runs against the grain of what his­to­ri­ans have revealed about the cen­tral mis­sion of Hitler and the Third Reich: mak­ing war.” For Hitler, claims Cesarani, war would not only lead to acquir­ing land in the East, but also the means of solv­ing the Jew­ish Question.”

Cesarani’s the­sis , there­fore, is that Nazi Juden­poli­tik mea­sures were not the ful­fill­ment of goals long held by anti­semites or even the expres­sion of hatred towards the Jews. Although Nazis like Julius Stre­ich­er pro­mot­ed rad­i­cal Jew­ish anti­semitism, for oth­ers it was instru­men­tal to a point where per­son­al feel­ings hard­ly mat­tered. Cesarani notes that Nazi laws, which exclud­ed Jews from the Reich, defined Aryan iden­ti­ty: All pol­i­cy was to exam­ine in light of race and framed with the Jews in mind.” Cesarani chal­lenges the view that the Nazis sought to cre­ate a world with­out Jews,” as the rea­son for their geno­cide. Rather, Cesarani argues, with the entrance of the Unit­ed States in the war and Nazi Germany’s fail­ing cam­paign in the Sovi­et Union, Hitler and his cohorts con­clud­ed that the Jews were respon­si­ble for these devel­op­ments, and that the Jews with­in their grasp would have to answer for them. Cesarani shows that Nazi poli­cies towards the Jews, both before World War II and on the eve of the inva­sion of the Sovi­et Union, were intend­ed to remove Jews from Aryan soil. Had the Sovi­et Union been defeat­ed, claims Cesarani, Europe’s Jews would have been deport­ed to Siberia, and it was the Ger­man defeat in Rus­sia that caused the dys­func­tion­al Nazi regime to turn against its Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion — blamed for the defeat as well as the Allied bomb­ings of Ger­man cities — and mass murder. 

Relat­ed Content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions