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In a February 26, 1942, letter to German diplomat Martin Luther, Reinhard Heydrich follows up on the Wannsee Conference by asking Luther for administrative assistance in the implementation of the "Endlösung der Judenfrage" (Final Solution to the Jewish Question). English translation

The Final Solution (German language: (die) Endlösung, German pronunciation: [ˈɛntˌløːzʊŋ]) was Nazi Germany's plan during World War II to exterminate the Jewish people in Nazi occupied Europe which resulted in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, the destruction of Jewish communities in continental Europe.


According to historians at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Nazis frequently used euphemistic language to disguise the true nature of their crimes. They used the term 'Final Solution' to refer to their plan to annihilate the Jewish people.”

Heinrich Himmler was the chief architect of the plan, and the German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler termed it "the final solution of the Jewish question" (German language: die Endlösung der Judenfrage, German pronunciation: [diː ˈɛntˌløːzʊŋ deːɐ̯ ˈjuːdn̩ˌfʀaːgə]).[1]

Massacres of about one million Jews occurred before the plans of the Final Solution were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population that the extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jews began in earnest. This decision to systematically kill the Jews of political Europe (inclusive of the Jews in Vichy North Africa) was made either by the time of or at the Wannsee Conference, which took place in Berlin, in the Wannsee Villa on January 20, 1942, shortly after the Babi Yar massacre. The conference was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, acting under the authority given to him by Reichsmarschall Göring in a letter dated July 31, 1941. Göring instructed Heydrich to devise "...the solution of the Jewish problem..." During the conference, there was a discussion by the group of Nazi officials as how best to handle the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question". A surviving copy of the minutes of this meeting[2] was found by the Allies in 1947, too late to serve as evidence during the first Nuremberg Trials.

By the summer of 1942, Operation Reinhard began the systematic extermination of the Jews, although hundreds of thousands had already been killed by death squads and in mass pogroms. Heinrich Himmler's speech at the Posen Conference of October 6, 1943, for the first time, clearly elucidated to all assembled leaders of the Reich that the "Final Solution" meant that "all Jews would be killed".[3]

At the end of the war, captured German documents provided a record of the policies and actions of Nazi Germany. The Wannsee Conference Protocol, which documented the cooperation of various German state agencies in the SS-led Holocaust, and the Einsatzgruppen Reports, which documented the progress of the mobile killing units assigned, among other tasks, to kill Jewish civilians during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, were among the documents central to the Holocaust submitted at Nuremberg.[4]

Historiographic debate about the decision

Historians disagree as to precisely when Hitler personally (1) decided that the European Jews should be killed and (2) gave orders to that effect. The issue is commonly described as functionalism versus intentionalism: was the Holocaust gradually improvised, or was it the execution of a plan laid in advance?

Prior to the beginning of World War II, during a speech given on January 30, 1939 (the sixth anniversary of his accession to power), Hitler foretold the coming Holocaust of the Jews of Europe when he said:

Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe![5][6][7]

Christian Gerlach has argued for a different timeframe, suggesting the decision was made by Hitler on December 12, 1941, when he addressed a meeting of the Nazi Party (the Reichsleiter) and of regional party leaders (the Gauleiter). In his diary entry of December 13, 1941, the day after Hitler’s private speech, Joseph Goebbels wrote:

Regarding the Jewish Question, the Führer is determined to clear the table. He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their own destruction. Those were not empty words. Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence. We cannot be sentimental about it. It is not for us to feel sympathy for the Jews. We should have sympathy rather with our own German people. If the German people have to sacrifice 160,000 victims in yet another campaign in the east, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay for it with their lives.[8]

Echoing his above statements along with the January 30, 1939 speech by Hitler, in an article written in 1943 entitled "The War and the Jews," Goebbels said:

None of the Führer's prophetic words has come so inevitably true as his prediction that if Jewry succeeded in provoking a second world war, the result would be not the destruction of the Aryan race, but rather the wiping out of the Jewish race. This process is of vast importance, and will have unforeseeable consequences that will require time. But it can no longer be halted. It must only be guided in the right direction.[9]

After this decision, plans were made to put the Final Solution into effect. For example, on December 16, 1941, at a meeting of the officials of the General Government, Hans Frank referred to Hitler's speech as he described the coming annihilation of the Jews:

As for the Jews, well, I can tell you quite frankly that one way or another we have to put an end to them. The Führer once put it this way: if the combined forces of Judaism should again succeed in unleashing a world war, that would mean the end of the Jews in Europe. ...I urge you: Stand together with me ... on this idea at least: Save your sympathy for the German people alone. Don't waste it on anyone else in the world, ... I would therefore be guided by the basic expectation that they are going to disappear. They have to be gotten rid of. At present I am involved in discussions aimed at having them moved away to the east. In January there is going to be an important meeting in Berlin to discuss this question. I am going to send State Secretary Dr. Buhler to this meeting. It is scheduled to take place in the offices of the RSHA in the presence of Obergruppenführer Heydrich. Whatever its outcome, a great Jewish emigration will commence. But what is going to happen to these Jews? Do you imagine there will be settlement villages for them in the Ostland? In Berlin we were told: Why are you making all this trouble for us? There is nothing we can do with them here in the Ostland or in the Reich Commissariat. Liquidate them yourselves! ... Here are 3.5 million Jews that we can't shoot, we can't poison. But there are some things we can do, and one way or another these measures will successfully lead to a liquidation. They are related to the measures under discussion with the Reich.... Where and how this will all take place will be a matter for offices that we will have to establish and operate here. I will report to you on their operation at the appropriate time.[10]

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum, in his book Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, found that the phrase "final solution" had been used much earlier. An investigative report by the Münchener Post, a socialist newspaper that was an early opponent of Hitler, found as early as 1931 Nazi Party and SA documents using the phrase as part of a description of plans for what became the Nuremberg Laws and a suggestion that "for the final solution of the Jewish question it is proposed to use the Jews in Germany for slave labor or for cultivation of the German swamps administered by a special SS division."[11]

By 1943 the wholesale extermination of European Jewry had begun as clearly outlined in two of Himmler's speeches made to the NSDAP leadership at Posen on October 4, 1943:

I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It's one of those things that is easily said: 'The Jewish people are being exterminated', says every party member, 'this is very obvious, it's in our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, we're doing it, hah, a small matter.' [...] But of all those who talk this way, none had observed it, none had endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when 500 lie there or when 1,000 are lined up. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person - with exceptions due to human weaknesses - had made us tough. This is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. [...] We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill this people who wanted to kill us.


And on October 6, 1943:

I ask of you that that which I say to you in this circle be really only heard and not ever discussed. We were faced with the question: what about the women and children? – I decided to find a clear solution to this problem too. I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men - in other words, to kill them or have them killed and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be made to have this people disappear from the earth. For the organisation which had to execute this task, it was the most difficult which we had ever had. [...] I felt obliged to you, as the most superior dignitary, as the most superior dignitary of the party, this political order, this political instrument of the Führer, to also speak about this question quite openly and to say how it has been. The Jewish question in the countries that we occupy will be solved by the end of this year. Only remainders of odd Jews that managed to find hiding places will be left over.


Prelude: Holocaust in Lithuania and GG Galicia

Several scholars have noted that the Final Solution and the Holocaust began in Lithuania after the German invasion. Dina Porat wrote: "The Final Solution - the systematic overall physical extermination of Jewish communities one after the other - began in Lithuania."[14] Konrad Kweit wrote: "Lithuanian Jews were among the first victims of the Holocaust [...] The Germans carried out the mass executions [...] signaling the beginning of the "Final Solution."[15]

Holocaust in General Government (GG) Galicia

Dr. Samuel Drix (Witness to Annihilation), Jochaim Schoenfeld (Holocaust Memoirs), and several survivors of the Janowska Camp, who were interviewed in the film, Janovska: The Janovska Camp at Lvov, among other witnesses, have argued equally as convincingly that the Final Solution began in Lwów (Lemberg) during that same week. Statements and memoirs of these survivors emphasize that, when Ukrainian civilians and ad hoc or auxiliary militias began to murder women and children rather than only male Jews, the "Final Solution" was begun. Witnesses have said that such murders happened both prior to and during the pogroms associated with the "Prison Massacre." The question of whether there was some coordination between the Lithuanian and Ukrainian militias remains (i.e. collaborating for a joint assault in Kovno, Wilno, and Lwów). Historians still find it difficult to determine precisely when the first concerted effort at annihilation of all Jews began in the last weeks of June 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, despite the assertion of Dina Porat that the Lithuanian Jews, rather than the Galician Jews, had the dubious distinction of being the first victims of the Final Solution. See generally Jakob Weiss, The Lemberg Mosaic, (New York: Alderbrook Press, 2011)

Heydrich's letter

The relevant text is a handwritten cover letter, by Reinhard Heydrich to Martin Luther of the Foreign Office, dated February 26, 1942, forwarding the minutes of the Wannsee Conference. In the opening sentence Heydrich explicitly uses the expression, "the final solution to the Jewish question".[16] The following is a translation of the letter from German to English:

Dear Fellow Party Member [Parteigenosse] Luther!

Enclosed I am sending you the minutes of the proceedings that took place on January 20, 1942.

Since the basic position regarding the practical execution of the final solution of the Jewish question has fortunately been established by now, and since there is a full agreement on the part of all agencies involved. I would like to ask you at the request of the Reich Marshal to make one of your specialist officials available for the necessary discussion of details in connection with the completion of the draft that shows the organizational, technical and material prerequisites bearing on the actual starting point of the projected solutions.

I want to schedule the first discussion along these lines for 10:30 a.m. on March 6, 1942 at 116 Kurfürstenstrasse, Berlin. I therefore ask you that for this purpose your specialist official contact my functionary in charge there, SS-Obersturmbannführer Eichmann.

See also


  1. Furet, François. Unanswered Questions: Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews. Schocken Books (1989), p. 182; ISBN 0-8052-4051-9
  2. "Wannsee Conference minutes". 
  3. The Guardian, Letter proves Speer knew of Holocaust plan, Kate Connolly, (the quote -- ["all Jews would be killed"] -- was copied from part of this [specific version of a] wikipedia article; and the essence of this footnote -- [the part not in parentheses] -- was copied from footnote [4] there.)
  4. "COMBATING HOLOCAUST DENIAL: EVIDENCE OF THE HOLOCAUST PRESENTED AT NUREMBERG". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 8 November 2013. 
  5. Hitler, Adolf (1939-01-30). "Extract from the Speech by Hitler, January 30, 1939". 
  6. "Adolf Hitler on the Jewish Question". 1939-01-30. 
  7. "Hitler Speaks before the Reichstag (German Parliament)". 
  8. "When did Hitler decide on the Final Solution?". 
  9. Joseph Goebbels page, German Propaganda Archive, maintained by Prof. Randall Bytwerk, Calvin College
  10. Gerlach, Christian (December 1998). "The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hitler's Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews". pp. 790. Digital object identifier:10.1086/235167.  Reprinted in Bartov, Omer, ed (2000). The Holocaust: Origins, Implementation, Aftermath. London: Routledge. pp. 106–140. ISBN 0-415-15035-3. 
  11. Ron Rosenbaum (1998). Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil. Harper Books. ISBN 0-06-095339-X. 
  13. Smith, Peterson: Heinrich Himmler p. 169 f.
  14. Dina Porat, “The Holocaust in Lithuania: Some Unique Aspects”, in David Cesarani, The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0-415-15232-1, Google Print, p. 159
  15. Konrad Kwiet, Rehearsing for Murder: The Beginning of the Final Solution in Lithuania in June 1941, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 12, Number 1, pp. 3-26, 1998, and Konrad Kwiet, "The Onset of the Holocaust: The Massacres of Jews in Lithuania in June 1941." Annual lecture delivered as J. B. and Maurice Shapiro Senior Scholar-in-Residence at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on December 4, 1995. Published under the same title but expanded in Power, Conscience and Opposition: Essays in German History in Honour of John A Moses, ed. Andrew Bonnell et al. (New York: Peter Lang, 1996), pp. 107-21
  16. Heydrich, Reinhard (1942-02-26). "Letter by Heydrich to Martin Luther, February 26, 1942". 

Further reading

  • Browning, Christopher R. The Origins of the Final Solution, William Heinemann, London, 2004.
  • Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984.
  • Dr. Richard Breitman, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and The Final Solution, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York, 1991. ISBN 0-394-56841-9
  • Christian Gerlach. The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hitler's decision in principle to exterminate all European Jews, The Journal of Modern History. Chicago: December 1998.Vol.70, Iss. 4; pg. 759, 54 pgs.
  • Schultheis, Herbert / Wahler, Isaac E.: Bilder und Akten der Gestapo Wuerzburg ueber die Judendeportationen 1941–1943. Bad Neustadt a. d. Saale 1988. ISBN 978-3-9800482-7-9 (German-English Edition)
  • Longerich, Peter (2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. Oxford: University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280436-5. 
  • Longerich, Peter. The Unwritten Order — Hitler's Role in The Final Solution, Tempus Publishing Limited, Stroud, 2003.
  • Baumslag, Naomi. Murderous Medicine — Nazi Doctors, Human Experimentation, and Typhus, Praeger Publishers, (an imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.), 2005. ISBN 0-275-98312-9
  • Website of the House of the Wannsee Conference (Protocols)

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