Conference PaperPDF Available

Why the Holocaust?



We all know about the crimes of fascism... but the crimes of 'democracy' have been swept under the carpet. We must face up to uncomfortable, forgotten truths or we will be unable to stop history repeating itself: ‘Why did the Holocaust happen?’
This is the ‘Heil’ that they bring!
John Heartfield, 1938
Politics of Mass Murder, Lecture 5
why did it
Dr John Smith,
Kingston University
This slideshow does not
attempt to give an answer, but
to open up the question.
It begins with the broadest
possible focus, by asking
questions about how the rest
of the world, in particular the
US & UK, its dominant
powers, responded to the
developing catastrophe.
1. Memo – remembering the victims
2. Why the Holocaust was not an aberration: Social Darwinism,
Imperialism, and Europe’s 19th Century genocides
3. Studying the Holocaust – could history repeat itself?
4. The ideology of Fascism and anti-semitism
5. A Case Study – UK and US policy towards Jewish refugees
6. Perpetrators and Bystanders, Victims and Victimisers
7. Functionalism and Intentionalism in Holocaust studies
1. Memo
But first, to remind us of our
subject, of what we seek to
Europe’s pre-war Jewish population and death toll
Pre-war pop. Death toll
Poland 3,300,000 2,900,000
Soviet Union 2,500,000 1,200,000
Romania 756,000
Germany 525,000 130,000
Hungary 445,000 200-
Czechoslovakia 357,000 260,000
Lithuania 155,000 130,000
Jonathan Friedman, 2011, ‘The Jewish Communities of Europe on the eve of World War II’, pp7-18 in The Routledge
History of the Holocaust, Jonathan Friedman (ed.), Abingdon: Routledge
Roma, homosexual and disabled victims of Nazi mass
Between 50% and 75% of the Roma's prewar European population of 2
million died between 1933 and 1945,* the second-largest of the many
genocides committed during WW2.
Tens of thousands of homosexual men were interned and murdered.
The T-4 Euthanasia Program murdered 70,000 – 200,000+ disabled and
sick Germans in an effort to ‘maintain the purity of the German Master
race,’** until Cardinal von Galen denounced it in a sermon in Munster
Cathedral, on August 3, 1941. ‘For some months we have been hearing
reports that, on the orders of Berlin, patients from mental asylums who
have been ill for a long time and may appear incurable, are being
compulsorily removed,’ the Cardinal said. ‘Then, after a short time, the
relatives are regularly informed that the corpse has been burned and the
ashes can be delivered.’ T-4 was suspended soon afterwards.***
* Ian Hancock, 2011, ‘The Neglected Memory of the Roma’, pp375-384 in The Routledge History of the Holocaust,
Jonathan Friedman (ed.), Abingdon: Routledge
** Encyclopaedia Britannica, quoted by Michael Berenbaum in
*** Nicholson Baker, 2008, Human Smoke, London: Simon & Schuster, p373
Mass murder of anti-fascists
Between 1933 and 1945 the Nazi dictatorship threw more than 3
million Germans into prisons and in concentration camps for
political reasons. How many Communists, Socialists, and other
political opponents were worked, starved or shot to death by the
Nazis? How many partisans? How many civilians were massacred
in savage reprisals for resistance?
“Tens of thousands of Germans were killed for one or another form
of resistance. Between 1933 and 1945, Sondergerichte (Nazi
‘special courts’) sentenced some 12,000 Germans to death, courts-
martial ordered the execution of 25,000 German soldiers on
charges of cowardice, while civil courts sentenced 40,000
Germans. Many of these Germans were part of the government,
civil, or military service, a circumstance which enabled them to
engage in subversion and conspiracy, while involved, marginally or
significantly, in the government’s policies.”*
*Peter Hoffmann, [1969] 1996. The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945 pxiii.
Chronology is also important. To study the
Holocaust, the rise of fascism, World War II, you need
to form a timeline of important events in your head,
beginning with World War I and its aftermath… and
think about the connections between them.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)
Martin Niemöller, a prominent
Protestant pastor who opposed
the Nazi regime. He spent the last
7 years of Nazi rule in
concentration camps.
Here’s a date for your timeline: December 8, 1941, the
commissioning of the first Nazi killing factory
“In a manor house on a river in Chelmno, near Lodz, in
Poland, soldiers ordered naked prisoners into a gray van
parked at the end of a ramp. The soldiers locked the doors,
and the driver turned on the engine, which was modified so
that its exhaust fumes flowed into the space where the
prisoners were trapped. 'After a few minutes the cries and
groans of the people gradually died away,' the van driver
later said. He drove to a grave in a forest clearing nearby.
By the time he arrived, the prisoners were dead.
The first Nazi killing factory was now in operation. It was
December 8, 1941.”
Nicholson Baker, 2008, Human Smoke, London: Simon & Schuster, p449
… and here’s what happened to the man who invented it:
2. Why the Holocaust was not an
Social Darwinism, Imperialism,
and Europe’s 19th Century
Racism, Darwinism and the ‘Enlightenment’
Excerpts from John M Hobson, 2004, The Eastern Origins of Western
Civilisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
“It was only after the 1840s that explicit (or scientific) racism
emerged forcefully in Britain…. One of the important moments
lay with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of
Species, which was quickly imported into social science
theories. Nevertheless, some of the ideas in the book predated
Darwin, most notably in the work of Herbert Spencer. The
notions of ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ (the
latter phrase originally being coined by Herbert Spencer)
became important in legitimising to Westerners the superiority
of the white race. The importation of Darwinism into social
science theory was especially important because it, ‘seemed to
accentuate the “scientific” validity of the division of races into
advanced and backward, or European-Aryan [versus the] . . .
Oriental-African’ [Edward Said].” (continued…)
(Hobson, continued…) “For the first time in world history, the
development of societies was assumed to be founded on
permanent racial characteristics (i.e. that ‘All is race’). Special
emphasis was placed – again for the first time in world history –
on the importance of skin colour and genetic properties as a
defining criterion of civilisation…
“In its extreme form scientific racism justified the extermination
of the inferior races at worst and social apartheid at best. This
racist construct rapidly diffused into the popular imperial
discourse, expressed in a seemingly never-ending set of
statements issued by Imperial bureaucrats and British
politicians. Typical was Joseph Chamberlain:
'I believe in this race, the greatest governing race the world has
ever seen; in this Anglo-Saxon race, so proud, so tenacious,
self-confident and determined, this race which neither climate
nor change can degenerate, which will infallibly be the
predominant force of future history and universal civilisation.’
“After Darwin, it became accepted to shrug your shoulders at
genocide. If you were upset, you were just showing your lack
of education. Only some old codgers who had not been able
to keep up with progress in natural history protested. The
Tasmanian became the paradigm, to which one part of the
world after another yielded.
“W. Winwood Reade, a member of both the Geographical
Society and the Anthropological Society in London... ends
his book Savage Africa (1864) with a prediction on the future
of the black race. Africa will be shared between England and
France, he prophesies. Under European rule, the Africans
will dig the ditches and water the deserts. It will be hard
work, and the Africans themselves will probably become
extinct. ‘We must learn to look at this result with composure.
It illustrates the beneficent law of nature, that the weak must
be devoured by the strong.’”
Exterminate All The Brutes” by Sven Lindqvist (2002), London: Granta, p131
“On March 27, 1866, Frederick Farrar gave a lecture [to the Ethnographical
Society] on 'Aptitude of the Races.' He divided the races into three groups:
Savage, semicivilised and civilised. Only two races, the Aryan and Semitic,
were civilised. The Chinese belonged to the semicivilised, as they had
once been brilliant but suffered from 'arrested development’. The savage
races had always lived in the same ignorance and wretchedness. Farrar
argued that:
“'They are without a past and without a future, doomed as races infinitely
nobler have been before them, to a rapid, an entire, and, perhaps for the
highest destinies of mankind, an inevitable extinction. …nor out of all their
teeming myriads have they produced one single man whose name is of the
slightest importance to the history of our race. Were they all to be merged
tomorrow in some great deluge, they would leave behind no other traces of
their existence than their actual physical remains. And I call them
irreclaimable savages... [because] so far as being influenced by civilisation,
they disappear from before the face of it as surely and as perceptibly as
the snow retreats before the advancing line of sunbeams.'
“Many races have already disappeared. These races – 'the lowest types of
humanity, and presenting its most hideous features of moral and
intellectual degradation' – were doomed to go under 'Because darkness,
sloth, and brutal ignorance cannot coexist with the advance of knowledge,
industry, and light’.”
Exterminate All The Brutes” by Sven Lindqvist (2002), London: Granta (pp135-6)
fromExterminate All The Brutes” by Sven Lindqvist (2002), London: Granta (pp140-1)
“One of the fundamental ideas of the 19th century was that there
are races, peoples, nations, and tribes that are in the process of
dying out. Or as the Prime Minister of England, Lord Salisbury,
expressed it in his famous speech in the Albert Hall on May 4,
1898: ‘One can roughly divide the nations of the world into the
living and dying’.
“It was an image that came frighteningly close to reality. The
weak nations become increasingly weaker and the strong
stronger, Salisbury went on. It was in the nature of things that ‘the
living nations will fraudulently encroach on the territory of the
“He spoke the truth. During the 19th century, Europeans had
encroached on vast territories in northern Asia and North
America, in South America, Africa, and Australia. And the dying
nations were dying just because their lands had been taken from
them. The word genocide had not yet been invented. But the
matter existed.” (continued…)
(Lord Salisbury, continued…)
“[Joseph] Conrad could no more avoid hearing of the
ceaseless genocide that marked his century than his
contemporaries could. It is we who have suppressed it. We
do not want to remember. We want genocide to have begun
and ended with Nazism. That is what is most comforting.
“I am fairly sure that the nine-year-old Adolf Hitler was not in
the Albert Hall when Lord Salisbury was speaking. He had
no need to. He knew it already. The air he and all other
Western people in his childhood breathed was soaked in the
conviction that imperialism is a biologically necessary
process, which, according to the laws of nature, leads to the
inevitable destruction of the lower races. It was a conviction
which had already cost millions of human lives before Hitler
provided his highly personal application.”
“Nature knows no political boundaries. She
puts living creatures on this globe and
watches the free play of forces. She then
confers the master's right on her favourite
child, the strongest in courage and
industry ... The stronger must dominate and
not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing
his own greatness. Only the born weakling
can view this as cruel.”
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925-26), American Edition (1943), 134-5.
Paul Rohrbach, in German Thoughts in the World (1912)
[speaking of the 1904 extermination of the Herrero people in
Germany’s colony in South West Africa]:
“No false philanthropy or racial theory can convince sensible
people that the preservation of a tribe of South Africa's
kaffirs… is more important to the future of mankind than the
spread of the great European nations and the white race in
general. Not until the native learns to produce anything of
value in the surface of the higher race, i.e. in the service of
its and his own progress, does he gain any moral right to
[quoted in “Exterminate All The Brutes” by Sven Lindqvist (2002), London:
Granta, p151]
3. Studying the Holocaust – could
history repeat itself?
John Heartfield
The Spirit of
Geneva 1932
“In agricultural societies,
time was thought to be
cyclic. Each season
repeated the same
moment. … Capitalism
brought the idea of the
highway, the highway of
time and progress …
[And] turned the cycles
and seasons into a
corkscrew.” *
* From the history lesson in Jonah who will be 25 in the year 2000’, directed by Alain Tanner (1976), words by
John Berger.
Imagine the ‘X’ is 1933, a milepost on the
way to the nadir of the Holocaust and World
War. Then, a long upswing, during which
these terrible times receded into the
distance. Some call it the ‘Golden Age’, but
that depends on your perspective.
Now evidence accumulates that we have
passed the zenith and are once again
heading into a global depression, ‘which
may be worse than the Great Depression’,
according to Sir Mervyn King, Governor of
the Bank of England.
Each year brings us closer into alignment
with those terrible times seventy years ago.
Of course, the coils of time are not smooth and even, and
capitalism’s cycles are not seasonal, they are economic and
Studying the society around us, the resurgence of nationalism and xenophobia,
the rising insecurity, makes it easier to understand what happened in the midst of
‘European civilisation’ seventy years ago. And it is important that we do
understand, so that we may discover how to stop history from repeating itself in
new and even more terrible ways.
Adam Posen, member of the Bank of England’s
Monetary Policy Committee, warns that Britain is
facing a period of
“persistently sub-potential
growth and underemployed
resources... Let us not forget
that it was sustained high
employment and austerity, the
sense that governments were
unresponsive to average
people’s dire economic
conditions, which led to the rise
of extremist intolerant parties in
pre-war Europe.”
Adam Posen, 2010, The Case for Doing More, Speech to the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce,
Industry and Shipping, KC Stadium, Hull.
A footnote in the printed version of Posen’s speech
compared the Nazis’ 2.6% of the vote in 1928 with the
13.9% received by the far right Dansk Fokeparti in
Denmark in 2007 and the 15.5% received by Geert
Wilders’ anti-Muslim party earlier this year, and it quoted
Prof. Kevin O’Rourke, who explains that
“the coming to power… of the National Socialists,
previously a fringe party, followed persistently high
unemployment and slow growth and popular perception
that policymakers were unresponsive to those problems.”
Kevin O’Rourke, (2010), ‘Lessons from the Great Depression’, Eurointelligence, 16 September 2010,
available at
4. The ideology of Fascism and
“Now that I realised that the Jews were the
leaders of Social Democracy, scales, as it
were, began to fall from my eyes. My long
mental struggle was over”
Adolf Hitler, 1925, Mein Kampf
“This movement among the Jews is not new," Churchill
said. It was a "worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of
civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis
of arrested development, envious malevolence, and
impossible equality."
He listed Marx, Trotsky, Bela Kun, Rosa Luxemburg, and
Emma Goldman [all prominent Jewish communists, except
Emma Goldman, who was an anarchist] as some of the
malefactors. The conspiracy had been, he said, the
“mainspring of every subversive movement during the 19th
It had played a recognisable part of the French Revolution.
All loyal Jews, he advised, must "vindicate the honour of the
Jewish name" by rejecting international Bolshevism.”
Winston Churchill, ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’, in The Illustrated Sunday Herald February 8, 1920,
quoted in Nicholson Baker, 2008, Human Smoke, London: Simon & Schuster, p6
The place of anti-Semitism in Nazi ideology is a key question. It
is too important to omit from this slideshow, yet it needs a
slideshow of its own. The quotes from the leaders of the two
warring powers highlight two important aspects of this question.
– while the Nazis developed an extremely virulent form of anti-
Semitism, prejudice against Jews and Jew-hatred extended far
beyond Germany.
– anti-Semitism and anti-communism (anti-Bolshevism) are
closely related—indeed, it is hard to say who the Nazis hated
more, Jews or communists.
Of course, these were different types of hatreds. In the quote
from Hitler above, you can literally see him fusing the two hatreds
together. To become Germany’s dictator, Hitler had first to
destroy the workers organisations and the left, which he called
the 'Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy'.
So, what is the relation between anti-Semitism and anti-
Bolshevism in Nazi ideology?
Well, we need to ask more questions. Here’s some:
Why did modern anti-Semitism emerge in Europe, not the
Middle East?
What is the connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Black
What is the connection between anti-Semitism and
Is modern anti-Semitism the product of mediaeval history, or
of modern history?
What has happened to anti-Semitism? Has it gone away?
Think of what else you need to know if you are to understand
the nature of anti-Semitism…
Where were the rescuers?
When do “bystanders,”
become “perpetrators” ???
UK and US policy towards Jewish refugees
5. A Case Study:
What follows is a case study of a particular issue - US/UK
policy towards Jewish refugees - in the telegraphic style of
a PowerPoint slideshow.
Or rather, it is part of a case study. It presents a series of
facts about US/UK refugee policy gleaned from authoritative
sources. You must supply your own commentary and
analysis. You’ll need to find out more, so do some research
of your own.
In all types of case-study investigation, the selection of the
subject must have clear reason and purpose.
So, why this topic?
Five reasons:
the policy of the non-Nazi world to the Jewish refugee crisis is highly
relevant to the Perpetrator/Bystander discussion, and helps reveal the
complexity of relations between victims, victimisers and rescuers.
It is clearly relevant to the question Why did the Holocaust happen?—
just how relevant is for you to judge.
Despite its importance, it gets strangely little attention. Moreover,
there is a large discrepancy between what is true and what popular
opinion thinks is true, a gap that needs to be closed, because
this issue powerfully resonates with our world today, in which the
right of asylum, migration, border controls etc directly affect the lives
of millions, are central to economics and politics, and are a
touchstone for resurgent far-right and fascist movements.
Finally, it is a truism that history is written by the victors. In which
case, examining the role of the powers that emerged victorious from
World War II might help us to understand how our preconceptions
have been shaped by the victors’ narrative.
“A newly released cache of letters
written by Anne Frank's father reveals
the family's efforts to escape Nazi-
occupied Amsterdam in the year
before they were forced into hiding.
Otto Frank made repeated entreaties
to government agencies and friends in
the United States to try to secure visas
for himself, his wife and two daughters
but met only intransigence... The
United States had a strict refugee
intake quota, in part because of fears
of infiltration by Nazi and other foreign
spies. In fact, the Franks had first
applied for US visas in 1938.”
“During the first two years of the war, when the German
authorities bent their efforts to securing the exodus of Jews
from the Reich and from Nazi‑occupied territory, it was the
British Government which took the lead in barring the escape
routes from Europe against Jewish refugees. …
“The not inconsiderable expanse of the British Empire was
found, as one official put it, to have an ‘absorptive capacity of
nil’ when it came to the admission of Jewish refugees. The
Labour Home Secretary [Herbert Morrison] considered the
danger of anti-Semitism in Britain during the war so menacing
as to preclude the admission of any significant numbers of
Jewish refugees to the United Kingdom. At the end of the war
he urged… their return to Germany on the basis that ‘anti-
Semitism was a lesser threat there than in Britain.’
Bernard Wasserstein, [1979] 1999, Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939-45
Oxford: Oxford University Press, p345
“The position that a welcome could be offered only to Jews
who could be allowed to stay in Palestine was maintained
because Britain had no intention of being landed with
homeless Jews in Britain or anywhere else in the empire....
“The task of evaluating the genuineness of British fears of
being faced with a flood of Jews is further complicated by
the evident determination of British ministers and officials
to prevent such a flood from ever taking place....
“Thus the figures of tens of thousands, even millions of
Jews who were in fact already dead or beyond the reach
of rescue were mobilised by British government
representatives to swell the ranks of the dreaded potential
Jewish exodus.
Louise London, 2000, Whitehall and the Jews, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Jews could have emigrated…’
“Had the necessary visas been available, Jews could have
emigrated. The German authorities did not finally prohibit all
Jews from departing until the autumn of 1941. Indeed, they
connived in continued Jewish emigration, legal and illegal.”
“[In July 1944, when the lives of up to half a million Hungarian
Jews were in the balance,] Herbert Morrison told Eden that it
was ‘essential that we should do nothing at all which involves
the risk that the further reception of refugees here might be the
ultimate outcome’.” (p242)
“The object [of the British government] was not to rescue Jews
but to avoid the reproach that it was not doing all it could to
rescue Jews. The priority… was to reduce public pressure for
action and avoid criticism of inaction.” (p221)
Louise London, 2000, Whitehall and the Jews, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Immigration and anti-Semitism
“Both Jewish leaders and the British government… gave high priority to limiting
refugee numbers and reducing them where possible. This policy reflected both fear
of enlarging the Jewish population and the view that refugees could not be allowed
to threaten British jobs at what was already a time of high unemployment.
Furthermore, ministers... claimed that to admit many more refugee Jews would
provoke an unacceptable increase in anti-Semitism.” (p38)
“[After Kristallnacht,] entry to Britain... was the subject of 1000 letters a day, but
[quoting Sir Samuel Hoare, UK Home Secretary 1937-39] 'only cases which were
recommended by the Jewish representatives were admitted'. Jewish representatives
opposed large-scale admissions or the entry of Jews they had not approved, he
said, 'since they were afraid of an anti-Jew agitation in this country’.” (p102)
“Both the government and Anglo-Jewish leaders limited refugee admissions on the
principle that this was essential to avoid stimulating anti-Semitism. For example,
Chaim Weitzman told a 1936 conference convened by the Council of the German
Jewry: ‘Jews have proved that they are an 'indissoluble element'… and the Jewish
communities in the respective countries are always full of anxiety lest they will be
too many and that anti-Semitism may be stimulated.’ Weitzmann’s theme was, of
course, that suitable refugees should go to Palestine.” (p275)
Louise London, 2000, Whitehall and the Jews, Cambridge University Press
Palestine: Britain’s ‘contribution to the
refugee problem’
“In the five years from 1933 to 1937, Palestine provided
permanent homes for perhaps four times as many Jews
from Germany as the estimated 10,000 who were
temporarily in Britain by the end of that period.
Understandably, therefore, a senior foreign office official
in 1935 described Palestine as ‘our contribution to the
refugee problem’.”
Louise London, 2000, Whitehall and the Jews, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, p42
A forgotten milestone:
The Evian Conference – July 1938
‘Forgotten’ – e.g. not a single article or mention
of the Evian Conference appeared in any UK
newspaper during 2013, the 75th anniversary of
this shameful betrayal of European Jews by the
world’s ‘democratic governments’.
“The Evian Conference, convened at a French resort on Lake
Geneva to find a home for Jewish refugees, was a failure. Myron
Taylor, a retired executive from U.S. Steel, asserted… that existing
American immigration quotas were liberal. Lord Winterton, a member
of the British Cabinet, said that England wasn't a ‘country of
immigration’ and that British colonies and territorials weren't, either…
“‘Powers slam doors against German Jews,’ was the headline in the
New York Herald Tribune… 'Despite warm words of wisdom doled
out at Evian-les-Bains,' said Time magazine shortly afterward, ‘the
hard fact remains that no nation is willing to receive penniless Jews.’
No nation, except for the Dominican Republic: Generalissimo Trujillo
offered to receive 100,000 refugees.”*
“Trujillo wanted Jewish immigrants because they were white: later
that year, Trujillo’s troops massacred 12,000 Haitian peasants
because they were black.”**
* Nicholson Baker, 2008, Human Smoke, London: Simon & Schuster, p89
** Ibid, p67
“[T]he Evian Conference failed, and with that failure went the
doom of millions of innocent human beings…
“The Zionists, who played no part in the conference, were not
worried by its failure. They… gave no expression of embitterment
when the result turned out to be negative. From the start they
regarded the whole enterprise with hostile indifference. Zionist
writers scarcely mention it.
The fact is that what was attempted at Evian was in no sense
congenial to the spirit of Zionism. The reason is not obscure. If
the 31 nations had done their duty and shown hospitality to those
in dire need, then the pressure on the National Home and the
heightened enthusiasm of Zionism within Palestine, would both
have been relaxed. This was the last thing that the Zionist
leaders wished for…
“That such was the basic Zionist idea is not a matter of opinion,
but a fact abundantly provable by evidence. It was an idea in
whose reality people outside could not usually believe at first,
and which often shocked them when they recognised its
Christopher Sykes, 1965, Cross Roads to Israel: Palestine from Balfour to Bevin, London: New English Library
After Kristallnacht November 9, 1938
Interior of Berlin synagogue after
“A correspondent for the Manchester Guardian
wrote about the scene at the British and US
consulates in Berlin. Despairing Jews there were
'begging for visas,' he said. ‘I understand neither
Great Britain nor the United States are making any
concessions, and that for the great majority of
those applying there is little hope of getting what
for them would be the only possible way of
returning to a normal life.’ It was November 15,
Nicholson Baker, 2008, Human Smoke, London: Simon & Schuster, p102
“The Daily Mail wrote 'To be ruled by misguided
sentimentalism... would be disastrous... Once it was known
that Britain offered sanctuary to all who cared to come the
floodgates would be opened and we would be inundated by
thousands seeking a home.'
“The Express in a leader asked rhetorically 'Shall All Come
In?' and stated 'We need to ask, for there is powerful agitation
here to admit all Jewish refugees without question or
discrimination. It would be unwise to overload the basket like
that. It would stir up elements here that fatten on anti-Semitic
propaganda. They would point to the fresh tide of foreigners,
almost all belonging to the extreme Left. They would ask
‘What if Poland, Hungary, Rumania also expel their Jewish
citizens? Must we admit them Too?’.”
Steve Cohen, 1988, From the Jews to the Tamils, Britain's Mistreatment of
Refugees, Manchester: Manchester Law Centre.
Roosevelt gave his 500th press conference. It was November 15,
1938, five days after Crystal Night [Kristallnacht]. Roosevelt... read a
short statement announcing that he was recalling the German
ambassador and that public opinion had been ‘deeply shocked.’... ‘I
myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in 20th-
century civilisation,’ Roosevelt said.
A reporter asked if he felt that there was any place in the world that
would be able to take a mass emigration of the Jews from Germany.
‘I have given a great deal of thought to it,’ said the president.
‘Can you tell us any place particularly desirable?' The reporter
‘No,’ the president answered, ‘the time is not right for that.’
Another reporter asked the president if he would recommend a
relaxation of the immigration restrictions so that Jewish refugees
could come to the United States.
‘That is not in contemplation,’ said Roosevelt.
Nicholson Baker, 2008, Human Smoke, London: Simon & Schuster, p101
‘We remember the
touching photographs and
newsreel footage of
unaccompanied Jewish
children arriving on the
Kindertransports. There
are no such photographs
of the Jewish parents left
behind in Nazi Europe,
and their fate has made a
minimal impact. The Jews
excluded from entry to the
United Kingdom are not
part of the British
experience, because
Britain never saw them.’
Louise London, 2000, Whitehall and
the Jews, Cambridge University
Press, p13
Kindertransport, the UK’s response to Kristallnacht.
“The organisers of this exodus knew they were separating
families in circumstances where parents abandoned to Nazi
persecution had little prospect of survival. This must qualify
our view of the admission of unaccompanied children as
humanitarian. To admit the children without their parents was
regarded as less onerous.... The children would be
Anglicised, growing up speaking English and thus less likely
than adults to arouse xenophobia.”
Louise London, 2000, Whitehall and the Jews, Cambridge University Press, p121
The British Government spent not a penny:
“The crucial Jewish promise was the collective guarantee of
financial responsibility for children given to Chamberlain on 15
November…. Jewish leaders [also] gave a guarantee ‘that
they should be emigrated as soon as they were old enough
and conditions allowed’.”
Ibid., p112
“Whatever the depth of [Churchill’s] sympathy for the Jews
plight, that nation’s suffering took a very clear second
priority during World War II. The humanitarian sentiment so
eloquently lavished on the Jewish people during that war,
was rarely, if ever translated into concrete assistance...
“[T]here is no record that Churchill ever suggested waving
the 1939 limits on Jewish immigration. Although his
frequent condemnations of the Nazis final solution would
seem to indicate Churchill's early appreciation of the
historical uniqueness of the Germans’ crime, his failure to
furnish some dramatic, if not wide scale practical action on
their behalf, stands in stark contrast to the dogged
determination with which he pursued to a positive
conclusion other matters of far less import.” (ppxix-xx)
Michael J Cohen, 2004, Churchill and the Jews, London: Frank Cass.
“In response to public concern it was decided to convene
[in April 1943] an Anglo‑American conference in Bermuda
to consider the refugee problem. … After 'ten days of
agreeable discussion' the British delegates reported to
London that 'so far as immediate relief to refugees is
concerned, the conference was able to achieve very little'.
It is hardly surprising that it was considered imprudent to
publish the final report of the conference. (… )
“In the final year of the war, when escape from Europe
again became a practicable proposition for a few of the
Jewish survivors, the British Government resumed its
practice of earlier years in seeking to prevent the
departure of Jews from Europe.”
Wasserstein, ibid., pp345-8
“The mistreatment of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism is
probably without parallel… those Jews who did manage to
gain entry … and many who had lived in the UK for many
years without taking citizenship, were interned as
suspected 'enemy aliens.' The most notorious internment
camp was the Warth Mill camp in Bury near Manchester…
a derelict cotton factory. Here is an extract from an account
by one internee of the conditions in the camp:
‘in the big hall there were 500 people. Two thousand people
were housed in the whole building... The building was
surrounded by 2 rows of barbed wire, between which armed
guards patrolled. ... We were ordered to fetch our beds but
found out they were only old boards... There were neither
tables nor benches we had to eat standing... There were 18
water taps for some 2000 people to wash. There was a fight
about the lavatories. A week later we succeeded to get some
lime for the Iavatories... The Commandant refused to give any
drugs for the sick people without payment. There was one
bathtub for 2000 people... The officers took our wallets, the
soldiers took our suitcases and they took anything they fancied
(novels, books, chocolates, pencils, paper, cigarettes) and
distributed the things among themselves in front of us.’”
Steve Cohen, 1988, From the Jews to the Tamils, Britain's Mistreatment of
Refugees, Manchester: Manchester Law Centre.
Woodcut of Warth
Mill, near Manchester,
by Herman
Fekenbach, where he
and two thousand
other Jewish refugees
were detained during
1940. The British
government threw
27,000 Germans,
mostly political exiles
and refugees, into
detention camps
during 1940 .
A very British silence…
“The Holocaust was the best-kept secret of the war. Then
its horrors were revealed - apparently for the first time -
[in] Richard Dimbleby's now famous broadcast of 19 April
1945…. New material… reveals that by 1943 the BBC had
evidence which conclusively proved Hitler's plan for the
‘total extermination of European Jewry’
“Despite the evidence… the BBC foreign and home news
boards concluded: ‘It seems desirable to soft-pedal the
whole thing’…. In wartime, government censors made
sure that the BBC would never be able to say anything
contrary to official policy… In reality, the BBC, in line with
the Foreign Office… maintain[ed] a very British silence on
the Holocaust.”
Marion Milne, co-producer of BBC auto-documentary "What Did You Do In the War, Auntie?“ in
The Independent, 9 May 1995.
6. Perpetrators and Bystanders, Victims
and Victimisers
Victimisers were often victims themselves. Child abusers
were often themselves abused as children. Whether, and how
much, this exculpates the victimisers depends on each
specific circumstance.
The Polish citizens who joined in the persecution of their
Jewish neighbours were themselves victims of the German
occupation (and much else); the invading German soldiers
were themselves victims of their political and military leaders,
and of those who inflicted economic misery and political terror
on the general population in the years before 1933.
But victimiser/victim chains are not endless. The army
generals and captains of industry that armed and bankrolled
the fascist movement were not themselves victims of hunger
or deranged by the terror of death.
Let’s meet one of them…
John Heartfield
Millions Stand Behind Me
John Heartfield was a German artist whose
politically charged photomontages were banned
in his home country during the Nazi regime.
Heartfield was born in 1891 as Helmut Herzfeld.
Der Sinn des Hitlergrusses
The real meaning of the Hitler salute
Kleiner Mann bittet um grosse Gaben
The little man asks for big gifts
Millionen stehen hinter mir!
I've got millions standing behind me
Among those who inflicted economic misery upon the German people
must be counted the authors of the humiliating and punitive Versailles
‘peace’ accord. Chief among them, Winston Churchill.
“The Allied blockade policy against Germany continued after the signing of
the armistice in November 1918.… Its prolongation by the Allies after the
ceasefire was intended as a strategy to prevent the resurgence of German
military power and to suppress revolutionary upheavals in Germany and in
the states of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.” *
Following the November 11, 1918 Armistice, a revolution broke out in
Germany. Workers and soldiers formed councils, similar to the soviets
(Russian the councils) formed in Russia two years earlier, hundreds of
thousands joined armed demonstrations, the Kaiser fled.
Then Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill was a prime instigator
and enforcer of the food blockade against Germany, even ordering the
Royal Navy to sink German fishing boats venturing from port. Herbert
Hoover, US president from 1929–1933 but at that time involved in famine
relief, called the post-armistice food blockade “wicked… a black chapter in
human history.”
* N. P. Howard, 1993, "The Social and Political Consequences of the Allied Food Blockade of
Germany, 1918-19," German History, 11: 2, pp 161-188 (
%20Germany_0.pdf), p161.
This is the context in which Winston Churchill wrote the words reproduced
on slide 18—a time when he was completely consumed with the task of
suppressing Bolshevism, revolution and anticolonial rebellions near and
far. For example, not long after writing those words, he put down a
Kurdish rebellion in what is now northern Iraq, sending Arthur (later
'Bomber') Harris in command of a squadron of RAF bombers to do the
Thanks to Pablo Picasso’s celebrated picture, it’s widely known that
Goering first practised blitzkrieg against the Basque town of Guernica
during the Spanish civil war. There was no famous painter around to
depict the screams and mutilation of Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq in
1920-22. There, Harris pioneered the civilian bombing technique he was
to perfect against German cities two decades later – first, shatter the
structure of buildings with powerful explosives, then scatter thousands of
incendiary bombs into them. The recipe for a firestorm.
Harris wrote in his diary, “The Arab and the Kurd now know what real
bombing means in casualties and damage. Within 45 minutes a full-size
village can be practically wiped out and a third of the inhabitants killed or
injured by four or five machines.”
7. Functionalism and
Intentionalism in Holocaust
Intentionalism vs. Functionalism
“By the early 1970s… two distinct approaches to an
historical explanation of decision-making in Nazi Jewish
policy had emerged. One focused on the structure of the
Nazi regime and how it functions; the other focused on
Hitler, his ideology and his intentions. The first portrayed a
'twisted road to Auschwitz', in which the final solution
emerged through the interplay of a vague Hitler insistence
on solving the Jewish question, internal rivalry and struggle
for power, and changing situation. The latter portrayed the
final solution as the conscious, premeditated goal of a
specific Hitler 'program' or 'blueprint'.”
Christopher Browning, 2004, ‘The decision-making process’, pp 173-196 in The
Historiography of the Holocaust, Dan Stone (ed) Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan. (p176)
To get the gist of the two perspectives, to make the most of
their insights, and to useful apply them to understanding
other genocides and mass murders, you need to form a view
of the strengths and limitations of the Intentionalism vs.
Functionalism debate.
Study the quote from Christopher Browning on the previous
slide. It describes a debate among historians, oriented
towards achieving ‘an historical explanation of decision-
making in Nazi Jewish policy’. Note how extremely specific
and narrowly-defined is the question to be answered.
Browning wishes to narrow the question further still. He aims
“to locate the point at which the Nazis crossed the line from
envisaging a solution to the Jewish question through policies
of expulsion (with concomitant population decimation) to a
policy of systematic and total mass murder. In my opinion this
is the key question...” (ibid, p187).
Is this the ‘key question’ to be answered if we are to
understand the Holocaust? Or is it just one among others?
If so, what are the other key questions? Make up your own
list, and think about them.
Browning’s question is certainly important. The facts
presented in the case study suggest part of the answer—
the ‘policy of expulsion’ was closed off to the Nazis by the
refusal of Britain, the USA and the rest of the world to open
their doors to Jewish refugees.
Browning explains that one side in the
intentionalist/functionalist debate ‘focused on the structure
of the Nazi regime and how it functions; the other focused
on Hitler, his ideology and his intentions.’
This is clearly a significant question—but explaining how,
and by whom, the decision was made to begin mass killing
is not the same as understanding why the Holocaust, why
the Nazis attained the power to carry it out, why so little was
done to stop them.
The functionalist/intentionalist debate, essentially, is trying
to work out who to blame.
But why it happened is a different and bigger question, and
should be asked first.
Why did the Holocaust happen? There is no way of getting
around it, this is a huge question. My answer, which would
take many more slide-shows to prove, and which begs as
many questions as it answers, is because the German and
European working class failed to make a socialist revolution.
As Rosa Luxemburg famously stated, humanity was faced
with the choice between “socialism and barbarism.”
Now, with racist and neo-Nazi parties topping the polls in
some European countries, and with another, even deeper
global capitalist crisis still in its early stages, humanity is
once again faced with that choice.
“They shall not pass,” they said. But they did pass. “This
could never happen again,” they say. But it could happen
You, of course, must come to your own conclusions. And
then act on them.
So, lots of questions, and many more
All to find an answer to the biggest question:
why did the Holocaust happen?, and How
can we ensure that it never happens again?
Please send me any comments, vignettes
(look it up!), questions, and I’ll use them
either to improve this slideshow or produce
an appendix of feed-back
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.