Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Path from the Planned "Elimination" of "Hostile Elements" to the Extermination of Jews

In October 1940, Hitler gave this reply to a proposal by Karl Hermann Frank regarding population policy in the Protectorate. Frank used the term Sonderbehandlung ("special treatment") in a way that seemed to advocate the biological elimination of certain elements. Hitler's reply echoed this with the phrase "Diese Kategorie sei auszumerzen", meaning eliminated or eradicated. Whilst it may be tempting to equate Frank's use of Sonderbehandlung with later ones by Greiser and Katzmann describing the extermination of Jews in an entire region, the argument below offers a more nuanced interpretation.

The Nazi use of the term Sonderbehandlung [hereafter SB] to mean 'killing' originated with Reinhard Heydrich (see here) at the RHSA in the context of extrajudicial executions in "circumstances that because of their degradation, their danger or their propaganda consequences, it is appropriate without regard to the person, to eliminate him through a ruthless procedure (namely by execution) [translation by Hans here]." Its use by K.H. Frank may be related to Frank's rank as SS-Gruppenfuehrer and his working relationship with Heydrich, who approved Frank's proposal on September 14, 1940. It is likely that Frank was applying Heydrich's term to the policy of "decapitation": the killing of the intelligentsia. This had occurred in Poland and would follow in Lvov, Minsk [see Operational Situation Report USSR No. 32] and elsewhere. This inference is supported by the fact that Frank's proposal included "the expulsion of racially unassimilable Czechs and of the intelligentsia who are enemies of the Reich or special treatment for these and all destructive elements [translation read during the examination of von Neurath at Nuremberg here]." This was clarified further by Frank on October 9, 1940, when he stated that "Elements which counteract the planned Germanization are to be handled roughly and should be eliminated [862-PS, Nuremberg translation]." On December 18, 1940, there was a further clarification about the fate of the intelligentsia, which was to be "ruthlessly assigned to special treatment." The lethal nature of these sentences is confirmed by the fact that von Neurath claimed in court that he had disagreed with Frank's proposal.

The real opinion held by von Neurath in 1940 can be found in his own proposal of July 13, which he included in the letter he sent to Lammers which enclosed Frank's proposal. Von Neurath refers to "repelling" the anti-German elements and "racially useless", but he envisages that this will take a slow pace in the Protectorate, whereas Czech minorities in other German-occupied regions could be eliminated (Ausscheidung) at a faster pace. This implies that, at least for the Protectorate, von Neurath could have interpreted Sonderbehandlung to involve longer-term measures of elimination, such as sterilization, and that Frank deliberately left that possibility open in his own proposal. Indeed, this is implied in Frank's proposal to use the health service to classify the population into categories of racially useful and unfit. If the health service could be used to classify the racially inferior, this would seem to enable the usage of medical intervention to eliminate them by eugenic means.

This is far less radical than the formulation used by Heydrich a year later, in his speech of October 2, 1941, by which time the Final Solution was a far more developed idea. Here Heydrich used far more explicit terms. Whereas Frank had used the term Sonderbehandlung and Hitler had replied with auszumerzen, Heydrich stated that those categories should be "put up against the wall" ["sie endgültig an die Wand zu stellen"]. He also explicitly ruled out resettlement to the East because "they would form a leadership class in the East, which would be directed against us" ["denn aussiedeln kann ich sie nicht, weil sie drüben im Osten eine Führerschicht bilden würden, die sich gegen uns richtet."] The lethal nature of this sentence is shown by the fact that Holocaust denier Carlo Mattogno quotes from this speech and thus has access to the source (here, pp.254-255) but typically omits the inconvenient passageHeydrich had already used the phrase "put up against the wall" when speaking to Goering on March 26, 1941 (see my citation of Browning, in note 17, here).

Although Heydrich did not explicitly include Jews in the passage of October 2, 1941, it clearly anticipates the plan he declared at Wannsee three months later:
Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.
The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as a the seed of a new Jewish revival (see the experience of history.)
Conclusion: Heydrich was the successor of von Neurath as Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. It can be seen that Heydrich's language was far more radical than that of von Neurath and Frank had been in 1940. For example, Heydrich had no qualms about imposing terror, but von Neurath felt that fast-paced violent measures should be reserved for Czech minorities in other territories. Frank's usage of Sonderbehandlung was sufficiently open to interpretation to avoid appearing to von Neurath as openly advocating extermination by shooting, whilst Hitler's reply also left open the methods that could be used to eliminate inferior and/or hostile groups. In contrast, even Mattogno admits that Heydrich was referring to shooting in 1941 (here, pp.254-255), so all ambiguity had been removed by then. The changed context since 1940 (German soldiers were now dying in far larger numbers, often at the hands of Red Army soldiers whom the Nazis believed to be "Judeo-Bolsheviks") meant that Heydrich could assume that his inner circle knew he was referring to all Jews within the criterion of "hostile elements", whereas Frank's comments of 1940 were open to a range of interpretations and did not specify that all Jews in the Protectorate were destined for imminent extermination.

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