There is one common misconception regarding the Holocaust. Many people believe that the final decision to destroy the Jews of Europe was taken at the Wannsee Conference. In fact, as Alan Cowell reported in the New York Times, mass murder of the Jews had begun well before the Conference.
Yet for decades, the ultimate enigma among historians of the Holocaust has been, how can anyone prove that Hitler ordered the annihilation of Europe’s Jews, and when did he do so?
Despite a half-century of research, no single document has provided evidence that Hitler gave a written order for the Holocaust. Without that crucial piece of paper, generations of historians have veered from the right-wing revisionism of David Irving of Britain, who fought to discount Hitler’s role, to a belief, embraced by American scholars like Richard Breitman and Daniel J. Goldhagen, that Hitler made the decision in early 1941-- a thesis supported by the systematic killing of Jews later that year. In contrast, the German historian Hans Mommsen has cast Hitler as a "weak dictator" and the Holocaust as the result of a horrendous bureaucratic process unfolding with its own momentum.
But now a German scholar, Christian Gerlach, has set off a debate among historians with a new and contentious theory, based on a notation by Heinrich Himmler, discovered in previously secret Soviet archives, and on other documents. The documents supposedly establish that Hitler did, indeed, make a personal decision to put to death German and all other European Jews, and announced it to his most senior Nazi followers on Dec. 12, 1941.
In addition, Gerlach argues that the decision was touched off in part by America’s entry into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. According to Gerlach, Hitler decided it was time to redeem a prophecy he made that a new world war would mean the annihilation of all Europe’s Jews, not just those in the Soviet Union. On January 30, 1939, the sixth anniversary of his rise to power, Hitler told the Reichstag:
Because some people discount Hitler's role in the Holocaust, it is important to document his self-incriminating statements. Of these, his January 30, 1939, Reichstag speech is strong evidence of his guilt. A recording of Hitler giving this speech is included here; were it not, Hitler's defenders might simply say that Hitler never made the Reichstag speech and that it is a complete fabrication.
Hitler's German is usually not easy for a non-native speaker to understand. Although born in rural Austria, Hitler spoke in public with a Bavarian accent, and he sounded similar to Adolf Wagner (1890-1944), the Gauleiter of Bavaria. Some people attribute Hitler's accent to the three years he lived in Passau, a Bavarian town, between the ages of three and six, when his speech was being formed. But Albert Speer wrote that Hitler's Bavarian accent was purely the affectation of a man who had a fondness for all things Bavarian. Indeed, Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary, recalled that in private Hitler often spoke with a light Austrian accent and liked to use Austrian expressions.
A foreigner may understand Hitler when he speaks quietly and calmly. But when he gesticulates wildly and shouts, his diction deteriorates.
His actual words at these moments were not too important. The words were like the hackneyed libretto of an opera, which the singer does not enunciate carefully. Hitler's listeners, roused to a frenzy, knew what their Führer was bellowing, even though they did not catch every phrase. Hitler, unlike Demosthenes, had no need to rehearse with a mouthful of pebbles to perfect his diction.
Hitler's speech may be compared to that of his cronies. Hermann Göring and Rudolf Heß, for example, spoke something more akin to High German. Joseph Goebbels was outstanding in this regard. With his doctorate from Bonn, Goebbels spoke like the German professor he might have become. Even in the worst recordings, his every word is impeccably distinct.
In the section of Hitler's January 30, 1939, Reichstag speech presented here, Hitler also enunciated with unusual care. The destruction of the Jews was a subject important to him, and he undoubtedly wanted his listeners in the Kroll Opera House to catch every word. Even when he begins to shout, he is still quite understandable. Most telling, however, is the snide, threatening tone he adopts when he says, "I suppose that meanwhile the laughter of Jewry in Germany that resounded then is probably already choking in their throats." This one sentence, as Hitler delivers it, is more terrifying than most of his printed diatribes.Launch Windows Media Player
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Hitler had not finished with this topic. In the Berlin Sportpalast, Jan 30, 1942, he had more to say:
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