The Other Holocaust: Many Circles of Hell
A Private War: Surviving in Poland on False Papers, 1941–1945
Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939–1944
Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933–1945
It is by now reasonably well known that six million Jews died as a result of the policies of Adolf Hitler, but far less so that the total number of nonmilitary victims of Nazi genocidal policies was probably between fourteen and sixteen million. The discrepancy between the two figures has led some students of the Second World War to question current usage of the term “Holocaust” which is usually taken to mean the destruction of the European Jews, and the Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz has expressed concern lest this exclusivist usage tend to make people forget that millions of Poles, Russians, and prisoners of other nationalities suffered the same brutal end.
One can acknowledge that too little attention has been paid to the fate of these other victims without ceasing to believe that there are sound reasons for treating the Final Solution as a special case. More Jews were killed than members of any other national group. The destruction of the Jews was longer premeditated, more systematic and continuous, and accomplished by a more fiendishly ingenious combination of technological and scientific means than was true in the case of other victims. And, above all, no other group (except perhaps the Gypsies, whose extermination the Nazis did not in the end pursue with the assiduity and obsessive thoroughness that characterized their Jewish policy) was condemned to death by definition. In their desire to destroy Poland as a nation, the Nazis set out to kill the elites that might preserve it, but not all Poles were marked for death. The Jews were condemned without regard for their status, occupation, or politics; they were killed because they were Jews.
The policy that was intended to accomplish this ghastly result was of long gestation, and its first germs were probably planted in Hitler’s mind during his days in Vienna before the First World War. From the virulence with which he writes about the Jews in Mein Kampf, it is clear that anti-Semitism was never a mere matter of tactics to him, as it was to his first political model Karl Lueger, but was passionately felt. Long before Hitler came to power, the elimination of the Jews from German society had become a basic objective of his movement, although the means of accomplishing it had not been defined. The boycott of Jewish shops after 1933, the Gleichschaltung process that deprived Jews of positions in the civil service and the professions, the Nuremberg laws that destroyed their civil rights, the various plans for forced deportation were stages in the process of definition, all of which were soon felt to be inadequate as Hitler’s successes in foreign policy encouraged visions of a Greater German Reich, extending far into Eastern Europe and purged of all non-German elements. The excesses of Reichskristallnacht in November 1938 hinted at the efficiency and psychological satisfaction of violence as a means of solving the Jewish question, and the coming of the war a year later removed the last inhibitions upon its …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.