Why the Jews?
People frequently ask why the Jews were the target of the Holocaust or why the Holocaust happened. The first is an easy question to answer. Jews were the targets of the Holocaust because Hitler hated Jews and blamed them for all of the problems in the world. He especially blamed them for Germany’s loss of World War I. Hitler told the German people that they could have won the first war, if Germany had not been “stabbed in the back” by the Jews and their conspirators.
Hitler’s hatred of Jews is known as “antisemitism.” It has a long history in Europe and the United States. There were many antisemites in Europe, just as there were many racists in the United States who opposed civil rights for Afro-Americans. Hitler’s hatred of Jews was so profound that several of his biographers have called it an obsession. Albert Speer, who was a close confidante to Hitler, wrote in 1977:
The hatred of the Jews was Hitler’s driving force and central point, perhaps even the only element that moved him. The German people, German greatness, the Reich, all that meant nothing to him in the final analysis. Thus, the closing sentence of his Testament sought to commit us Germans to a merciless hatred of the Jews after the apocalyptic downfall.
I was present in the Reichstag session of January 30, 1939 when Hitler guaranteed that, in the event of another war, the Jews, not the Germans, would be exterminated. This sentence was said with such certainty that I would never have doubted his intent of carrying through with it.
The second question is harder to answer. While Hitler’s hatred was the motivating factor of the Holocaust, we are not sure why it was allowed to progress to the extermination of the Jews and the others that Hitler hated. Hitler was helped in his planning of the Holocaust by the fact that antisemitism was acceptable in Germany and few spoke out against it, but that is not a complete answer. We must look instead to the fact that the Nazi philosophy permeated all aspects of life in Nazi Germany until there was no one left to protest the Holocaust.
At the Nuremberg Trial, where the surviving leaders of the Nazi party were tried for their crimes, two of witnesses were asked whether the Holocaust was an inevitable result of Nazi philosophy. Otto Ohlendorf, an SS officer who commanded a group which murdered Jews, thought that the Holocaust was not a necessary result of Nazi philosophy. A few days later Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, a three-star general in the SS who had fought in the invasion of the Soviet Union, disagreed. He stated: “If for years, for decades, a doctrine is preached to the effect that the Slav race is an inferior race, that the Jews are not even human beings, then an explosion of this sort is inevitable.”
At The Holocaust History Project, we believe that both the horrors of the Holocaust and the reason it was directed at the Jews were the direct result of Hitler’s antisemitism. We believe that the Holocaust stands as a warning of what can happen when leaders of a country are motivated by hate, and use that hate to supply simplistic answers to the problems of their country.