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Can we classify holocaust as Hitler's war time strategic mistake?

Can we classify holocaust as Hitler's war time strategic mistake?

Can we classify the Holocaust as one of Hitler's war time strategic mistake?

The German and Austrian Jewish population was about 750,000, of which three quarters were exterminated. Whereas the total German population was about 70 million. But 1941, when the extermination program began the number of Jewish forced labourers in German was 60,000, compared to the 2,000,000 foreign labourers (Fremdarbeiter) [source]. The Nazis decided that this was not an economic impediment to the Holocaust. Furthermore, in regions where the sudden absence of Jewish Labour would have been a problem they delayed the process to allow for their replacement.

It seems logical that the movement from forced labour to Extermination through Labour and the Holocaust of the Jewish population would have lead to costs (from the inefficiency of moving skilled workers to hard labour, to the expenses of diverting effort to commit to commit these awful crimes). These must have been the disruptions the Nazis had in mind and saw as no economic reason not to proceed. I will say the Jews brought from conquered lands for forced labour probably would have been an overall benefit to the German war effort, but I'm not including that as the "holocaust" as I'm assuming the alternative the questioner has in mind is assigning these foreign Jews to the Fremdarbeiter system anyway.

So no, it wasn't a massive strategic mistake. I've not considered other angles, like it's effect on their nuclear program, but in raw economic terms the Nazi's don't seem to have been punished for their terrible crimes. So, to conclude, Holocaust, whilst being one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity in history, wasn't as economically significant as OP may have suspected.

If the thrust of the question is, did Hitler lose World War II because of the way he treated the Jews and other people he didn't like, that is a very interesting question.

There are actually TWO issues here. 1) Did the cost of resources expended in the Holocaust help defeat the war effort, and 2) Did the "opportunity cost" of the Holocaust help the defeat the war effort.

The answer to 1) is probably not. Others have answered better than yours truly, that when you net out Germany's gains from "forced labor" and the cost of running the "program," the net result was probably close to zero.

The more interesting question is, did Hitler miss an opportunity to win World War II by treating the Jews (and others) BETTER than he did?

One of the big "what ifs" of World War II, was "Suppose Hitler had declared war on "Russia" instead of the Soviet Union, and posed as a "liberator" to the people of the Baltic, Belarus, Ukraine, etc., enlisting their young men in his army (and depriving Russia of them). What would have happened?"

In fact, many "Soviet" people initially welcomed the Germans as such, until the effect of Nazi policies became apparent. Without going into the question of whether Hitler would have actually won the war, it is safe to say that he would have gotten "closer" to winning if he had treated Jews, Poles, and non-Russian Soviets better. (Fewer partisan attacks in Russia and revolts in Warsaw, for one.) Not doing so was a major strategic mistake.

Regarding what he considered a "lost opportunity," a former Luftwaffe pilot (aged 77 when I met him in 1991) opined, "If we had hung on to people like Einstein (the Jewish atomic scientists), they could have won the war for us. I don't love those people, but I don't hate them, either." He was perhaps a minority among Germans is thinking in terms of "whatever we needed to do to win," but considering who he had been, that was a very interesting observation.

DISCLAIMER - the answer is written from the point of view of Reich's rulers

Invading the USSR was not a strategic blunder, the timing however was unfortunate.
The alliance with Japan was intended to provide the Soviets with a second front in the east, drawing their troops away from the west, thus making things easier for the Germans. And for a while it worked, until Stalin finally gave permission to withdraw some troops from Siberia to reinforce Stalingrad in light of Japan not launching its campaign as expected.
The elimination of Jews was popular at home, made for good propaganda. The resource drain on German manpower and industry was relatively light in comparison. The system also provided for a nice base of cheap (slave) labour, most Jews were NOT as is often portrayed gassed or shot to death, they were worked to death (the gas chambers in the larger camps were used mainly to dispose of the sick and weak, the rest were sent to factories in the vicinity where they were rented out to the factory owners, the SS being paid for their service).
This system was put in place in part as a response to the initial and largely independent killings undertook by invididual Wermacht and SS units in eastern Europe, which were starting to eat up valuable supplies of bullets and manpower needed on the front lines.

In Hitler's ideology exterminating Jews was the purpose and the goal of the war.

The large-scale extermination started in 1942 when Germany's victory became uncertain. At that time Hitler had no longer possibility to postpone the extermination until the victory.

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In the whole of history there has never been a war like it. In its scale of destruction, the war on the Eastern Front was unique from Leningrad to the Crimea, from Kiev to Stalingrad, the Soviet Union was devastated - at least 25 million Soviet citizens died. And in the end what did the German aggressors have to show for it?

A broken, divided country, which had lost much of its territory, and a people burdened with the knowledge that they had launched a racist war of annihilation and, in the process, spawned the cancer of the Holocaust. But at the time of the attack there were many people - and not just Germans - who thought that the decision to invade the Soviet Union was a rational act in pursuit of German self-interest and, moreover, that this was a war the Germans would win.

In the summer of 1940 Adolf Hitler, despite his swift and dramatic victory over France, faced a major military and political problem. The British would not do what seemed logical and what the Führer expected - they would not make peace. Yet Hitler was frustrated by geography - in the shape of the English Channel - from following his immediate instincts and swiftly crushing the British just as he had the French.

Hitler did in fact order preparations to be made for an invasion of England, but he was always half-hearted in his desire to mount a large seaborne landing. Germany, unlike Britain, was not a sea power and the Channel was a formidable obstacle. Even if air superiority could be gained, there remained the powerful British Navy. And there was another, ideological, reason why Hitler was not fully committed to invading Britain. For him, it would have been a distraction. Britain contained neither the space, nor the raw materials, that he believed the new German Empire needed. And he admired the British - Hitler often remarked how much he envied their achievement in subjugating India.

Worse, if the Germans let themselves be drawn into a risky amphibious operation against a country Hitler had never wanted as an enemy, every day the potential threat from his greatest ideological opponent would be growing stronger. (It was just ironic that he was not yet at war with this perceived enemy, since in August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a Non-Aggression Pact.)

All this meant that, from Hitler's point of view, there was an alternative to invading Britain: he could invade the Soviet Union. Both Hitler and his military planners knew that Germany's best chance of victory was for the war in Europe to be finished swiftly.

Hubert Menzel was a major in the General Operations Department of the OKH (the Oberkommando des Heers, the German Army headquarters), and for him the idea of invading the Soviet Union in 1941 had the smack of cold, clear logic to it: 'We knew that in two years' time, that is by the end of 1942, beginning of 1943, the English would be ready, the Americans would be ready, the Russians would be ready too, and then we would have to deal with all three of them at the same time. We had to try to remove the greatest threat from the East. At the time it seemed possible.' (The above paragraphs are taken from chapter one of 'War of the Century' by Laurence Rees, published by BBC Publications, 1999.)

Operation Barbarossa: why Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union was his greatest mistake

Operation Babarossa was the German invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War – and it ended in chaos and bloody failure. Why did Hitler betray Stalin in the first place, why didn't the famously paranoid Soviet Premier see it coming, and how important was the Russian winter to the Soviets' ultimate victory? Anthony Beevor examines the campaign through 14 vital questions

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Published: March 3, 2021 at 1:50 pm

Launched on 22 June 1941 and named after the 12th-century Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union represented a decisive breaking of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact. The Axis attacking forces of more than 3 million men split into three groups, aimed at Leningrad, Kiev and Moscow.

The Soviets were caught by surprise and suffered appallingly in the early exchanges, losing millions of men, as well as cities such as Kiev, Smolensk and Vyazma. However, the German losses were also high and, a combination of improving Soviet defences and the Russian winter halted the Wehrmacht outside the gates of Moscow in December. Meanwhile, Hitler had opted not to fight for Leningrad, instead subjecting the city to a lengthy siege.

Although the Soviet Union survived the initial onslaught, the German forces launched renewed attacks in 1942 that made further inroads into Soviet territory. It took the battle of Stalingrad of 1942–43 to decisively turn the tide and begin the long process of reversing German gains.

Operation Barbarossa was accompanied by large-scale abuses of Soviet civilians, including the Jewish population, of whom over one million were murdered as part of the Final Solution. Here, bestselling military historian Anthony Beevor answers some of the biggest questions surrounding the campaign…

Did Hitler have a long-term plan to invade the Soviet Union?

Adolf Hitler quite often fluctuated in his attitude towards great projects, but I think that his invasion of the Soviet Union was something that went all the way back to the end of the First World War. His detestation of Bolshevism was absolutely visceral, but the idea was also influenced by Germany’s occupation of Ukraine in 1918 and the idea that it would become a breadbasket in the future. Securing this territory could prevent a repetition of the British blockade and resulting starvation of Germany that occurred in the First World War. So it was strategic as well as instinctive.

The real plan didn’t come about in detail until December 1940, though. Interestingly, Hitler justified the invasion of the Soviet Union to his generals as being the only way to knock Britain out of the war: ie, if the Soviet Union was defeated then Britain would have to give up and surrender, which was a curious analysis of the situation.

Was the Nazi-Soviet pact never intended to be anything other than a temporary expedient for Germany?

Exactly. It was quite deliberate. Hitler realised he needed to knock out the western allies first. And this showed a remarkable confidence, particularly when one thinks that the French army was said to be the most powerful in the world at that time. From Stalin’s point of view, he was very much hoping that the ‘capitalist’ states and Nazi power would bleed each other dry. The Nazi-Soviet pact was essential for him too as he had just purged the Red Army and needed to postpone any fight with Germany.

One of the main criticisms of Operation Barbarossa is that the Germans left it too late to launch the invasion. Do you agree with this?

It is certainly true that Barbarossa was launched too late and there has been quite a lot of debate about this delay. One old theory is that it was the invasion of Greece [in April 1941] that delayed Barbarossa, but even at the time it was known that the real reason was the weather. The winter of 1940-41 had been very wet and this caused two problems. Firstly, the forward airfields of the Luftwaffe had been totally inundated and simply couldn’t take the aircraft until they dried out. Secondly, it delayed the redistribution of motor transport to the eastern front.

As an interesting aside, nearly 80 per cent of some German divisions’ motor transport actually came from the defeated French army. This is one of the reasons why Stalin loathed the French and argued at the 1943 Tehran conference that they should be treated as traitors and collaborators. The fact that the French hadn’t destroyed their vehicles on surrender was to Stalin a really serious element against them.

Stalin is known as someone who was incredibly paranoid, so how did he miss so many warnings of a potential attack from such a predictable enemy?

This is one of the great paradoxes of history: that Stalin, one of the most suspicious of all people, was fooled by Hitler. It has led to a whole raft of different theories including one that Stalin was actually planning to invade Germany first. That theory, though, is a load of nonsense. It is based on a Soviet contingency planning document from 11 May 1941 where General Zhukov and others, who were well aware of the Nazis’ invasion plans, were examining possible responses to this. One that they looked at was the idea of a pre-emptive strike. However the Red Army at the time was totally incapable of carrying out such an action. For one thing, the prime movers for their artillery were actually tractors, which were then being used for the harvest!

But it is interesting how Stalin rejected every single warning he got. Not just from the British but even from his own diplomats and spies. The answer may lie in the fact that, ever since the Spanish Civil War, he was convinced that anyone living abroad had been corrupted and was somehow instinctively anti-Soviet. That’s why he rejected warnings coming from Berlin, even when they managed to send back a miniature dictionary for German troops including terms like “take me to your collective farm”. He was convinced it was all an English provocation to force a fight with Germany.

It is extraordinary though. Stalin even accepted Hitler’s assurance that the reason why so many troops were being moved to the east was to get them out of the bombing range of the British. You would have thought he would have done a little bit of research on the range of British bombers, which at the time were so weak that they were incapable of making any serious dent into German forces.

What were Germany’s goals with Operation Barbarossa? Did they intend to conquer all of the Soviet Union?

The plan was to advance to what was called the ‘AA line’, from Archangel to Astrakhan. This would have taken them past Moscow and more or less beyond the line of the Volga. This is why, when it came to the battle of Stalingrad, many German troops felt that if they could only capture the city and get to the Volga they would have won the war.

The plan was that any Soviet troops who had survived after the great battles in the early part of Barbarossa would simply be a rump and could be kept under control by bombing. Meanwhile, the conquered areas of Russia and Ukraine would be opened up for German settlement and colonisation. According to the Nazi Hunger Plan, the population of the major cities would have been starved to death. They reckoned on 35 million being killed.

The whole project depended on a rapid advance to the ‘AA line’ and, above all, the destruction of the Red Army through vast battles of encirclement. Some battles of this kind did indeed take place. Kiev, for example, was one of the largest battles in world history in terms of the number of prisoners taken.

Did this German plan have any prospect of success?

In late October 1941, in a moment of panic, Stalin approached the Bulgarian ambassador Stamenov and told him that he thought Moscow was going to be captured and that everything would fall to pieces. But Stamenov responded: “You are crazy. Even if you withdraw to the Urals, you will win in the end.” This to me illustrates a key reason why Operation Barbarossa was probably not going to work. The sheer size of the country meant that the Wehrmacht and their Romanian and Hungarian allies never had enough troops for the occupation and conquest of such a huge area.

Secondly, Hitler had failed to learn a lesson from the Japanese assault on China, where another highly mechanised and technically superior force attacked a country with a vast landmass. It showed that you can certainly win in the beginning but the shock and awe of cruelty, which Hitler also used against the Soviet Union, ends up provoking as much resistance as it does panic and chaos. Hitler never took this into account. “Kick in the door and the whole structure will come tumbling down,” was the phrase he kept using, but he completely underestimated the patriotism of most Soviet people, their feelings of outrage and determination to fight on.

Why had Germany not learned the lessons from Napoleon about the challenges in conquering Russia?

Hitler was actually very conscious of Napoleon. One of the reasons he insisted on attacking Leningrad was because he was reluctant to follow Napoleon’s main route to Moscow. That helped account for the delay in reaching Moscow. Some have argued that if Hitler had ignored Leningrad he could have captured Moscow.

In the early months of Barbarossa is it fair to say that Stalin was an impediment to the Soviet defence?

His refusal to allow withdrawals, particularly from the Kiev encirclement, meant the loss of hundreds of thousands of men. It was a ‘stand or die’ order every time and there was very little flexibility. It was only really in the last stage of the retreat to Moscow that Stalin was allowing more flexibility, and it was a good thing that he did because it preserved enough troops to save the city.

Was there any danger that the Soviet regime might have collapsed or been overthrown in the early months of Barbarossa?

There was no chance of any overthrow by popular revolt or anything like that. In fact, there was very little criticism because nobody really knew what was happening and the anger of the people at that particular stage was entirely focused on the Germans and their treasonous breaking of the Nazi-Soviet pact. The main risk to Stalin was a palace coup and there was a famous moment where some of the leading Soviets went to the dacha in which Stalin had gone into a complete funk. He saw them arriving and thought they had come to arrest him, but he soon realised that they were scared too and they persuaded him that he had to carry on.

How important was the Russian winter in deciding the battle for Moscow?

There’s no doubt that the scale and depth of that winter was important. It was a particularly cold winter, with temperatures sometimes going down to -40°C and the trouble was that the Germans were simply not equipped for it in terms of clothing or weapons. The German machine guns, for example, were often freezing solid and they would have to piss on them to try to warm them up. The German panzers had very narrow tracks, which couldn’t cope with the snow, while the Soviet T-34 tanks had much wider tracks.

Even before the winter, the Germans had already been slowed down by the autumn muds but the frost made things worse. They had to light fires under the engines of their aircraft at night purely to get their motors going in the morning.

Alongside the military invasion, the German forces inflicted horrendous abuses on civilians in the Soviet Union. Did this end up detracting from the German war effort?

It didn’t really in 1941. The resources allocated to the Einsatzgruppen and Sonderkommandos and police battalions and so forth were not taking much away from the war effort at that point. You can make that argument much more by 1942 when you had the Final Solution and they were allocating vast quantities of the railway system to the transport of Jews, when it should have been used to support their armies.

One thing that might have given them a chance of winning in 1941 – and this was advocated by some officers – was to create a Ukrainian army, a million strong. This of course was absolute anathema to Hitler because he couldn’t accept the idea of Slavs. But if they were going to have any chance of success, to make up for their lack of numbers in such a vast landmass, it had to come from turning it into a civil war. Yet there was no question of ever giving the Ukrainians self government or anything like that, and this was one reason why those Ukrainians who did side with the Germans to begin with soon realised they were being completely conned.

What do you make of the British reaction to Barbarossa? Could it have done more to help the Soviet Union?

The Soviets were pretty scornful about the sort of help we were sending but we couldn’t do much to be perfectly honest. Let’s remember, we are talking about the summer of 1941 when we’d just lost a large number of vessels in the Mediterranean from the evacuation of Greece and Crete. Plus there was the growing threat in the far east. We simply didn’t have the resources.

Winston Churchill wanted to make every effort, or impression of effort, of helping, but the trouble was that the fighter aircraft we were sending over in the convoys were, on the whole, fairly obsolete Hurricanes in pretty bad nick. When the RAF was told to hand over aircraft to send to Russia they weren’t going to give up their best aircraft. Similarly, we were sending them Matilda tanks which were also obsolete at that point greatcoats which were useless in the Russian winter and steel-shod ammunition boots which would actually accelerate frostbite! So, yes the Soviets were pretty angry about this, but at the same time there had to be a certain amount of superficial Allied solidarity.

What Stalin really wanted was a second front: an attack on the Cherbourg peninsula in France. But this was a mad idea because the troops would have been bottled up on the peninsula and it wouldn’t even have distracted any forces from the eastern front, as Stalin argued, because the Germans had enough troops in France already. It would have been throwing away 100,000 men for no purpose whatsoever and Churchill was absolutely right to stop it.

On the Axis side, could Japan have done more to help Germany succeed with Operation Barbarossa?

There was a curious lack of co-ordination between the two countries. There were no joint staffs at all and hardly any military attaches from each country. The Japanese didn’t even tell Hitler that they were going to launch the attack on Pearl Harbor, which in itself is quite astonishing.

What the Germans had hoped, of course, was that the Japanese would have attacked the Soviet Union in the far east in the autumn of 1941. The reason they didn’t goes back to August 1939 and the battle of Khalkhin Gol [a border clash between the Soviet Union and Japan, which was decisively won by the Soviets]. Even though this was a relatively small battle, it was one of the most influential in the war because it persuaded the Japanese that it was not worth attacking the Soviet Union. They signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and they stuck to it. Hitler really hoped that the Japanese would attack in the east and it would have had an effect because Stalin wouldn’t have been able to transfer his Siberian divisions to the fight against Germany.

Was the invasion of the Soviet Union Hitler’s biggest mistake?

It was. Had he maintained the new status quo after the defeat of France and steadily built up his armies using the resources of the countries he had already occupied, he would have been in a very strong position. Then, had Stalin tried to launch a pre-emptive strike himself in 1942 or 1943, it could have been disastrous for the Soviet Union.

There’s no doubt that it was the decisive moment in the war. Some 80 per cent of the Wehrmacht’s casualties occurred on the eastern front it was Barbarossa that broke the back of the German army.

Antony Beevor is one of the world’s bestselling military historians. His books include Stalingrad (1998), D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (2009) and, most recently, Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble (Viking, 2015).

Hitler's Rise to Power

Seeking Electoral Success: 1924-1929

Rise to Power: 1930-1933

The Nazis gradually devised an electoral strategy to win northern farmers and white collar voters in small towns, which produced a landslide electoral victory in September 1930 (jump from roughly 3% to 18% of the votes cast) due to the depression. Refused a chance to form a cabinet, and unwilling to share in a coalition regime, the Nazis joined the Communists in violence and disorder between 1931 and 1933. In 1932, Hitler ran for President and won 30% of the vote, forcing the eventual victor, Paul von Hindenburg, into a runoff election. After a bigger landslide in July 1932 (44%), their vote declined and their movement weakened (Hitler lost the presidential election to WWI veteran Paul von Hindenburg in April elections of November 1932 roughly 42%), so Hitler decided to enter a coalition government as chancellor in January 1933.

Upon the death of Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler was the consensus successor. With an improving economy, Hitler claimed credit and consolidated his position as a dictator, having succeeded in eliminating challenges from other political parties and government institutions. The German industrial machine was built up in preparation for war. In November 1937, he was comfortable enough to call his top military aides together at the "Führer Conference," when he outlined his plans for a war of aggression in Europe. Those who objected to the plan were dismissed.

Nazi Supporters

Attitude of Workers

Attitude of Big Business

Would World War II Still Have Happened Without Adolf Hitler?

Without Hitler implementing his genocidal theories, its possible the massacre of millions of Jews and other minorities in the Holocaust would have been averted.

Key point: Stalin undeniably was down for opportunistic invasions.

Legend has it that on September 28, 1918, a wounded Private Adolf Hitler lay in the sights of Henry Tandey, a British soldier who would receive the Victoria Cross for his daring actions in engagement in Marcoing, France.

Tandey supposedly took pity on the limping German soldier, who nodded in gratitude and made his escape.

While historians believe this incident was fabricated by Hitler himself, the apocryphal legend nonetheless poses a provocative question: how differently might world history have turned out with just one more pull of the trigger amidst the senseless slaughter of World War I?

In other words—was World War II bound to happen due to larger economic and political forces? Or was it uniquely a product of a monstrous yet charismatic leader bending the streams of history in his wake?

Would the Nazis have risen to power without Hitler?

The Nazi party’s earlier incarnation was the German Worker’s Party (DAP), founded by a locksmith named Anton Drexler. In fact, Hitler was originally assigned by German Army intelligence after World War I to infiltrate DAP, but ended up a convert and became party leader in 1921.

Therefore, a working-class far-right party was likely in the cards for Germany even without Hitler, carried by the same currents of economic distress and revanchist anger that the supposedly “undefeated” Imperial Germany had been “stabbed-in-the-back” by surrendering in World War I.

But on the other hand, there’s decent evidence that the Nazi’s rise to power came from unusual circumstances tied to Hitler himself. That’s because even with Hitler, the Nazis received only 37 percent of the vote in the 1932 election.

Most Germans (53 percent) reelected general and statesman Paul von Hindenburg, who was supported by German center-right- and center-left parties, into the presidency. Despite personally disliking Hitler, the 84-year-old Hindenburg struggled to form a coalition and was eventually convinced to appoint Hitler chancellor. Following a staged attack on the Reichstag, Hitler then persuaded Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag, allowing Hitler to rule by decree.

Thus, the Nazi accession to power grew not out of irresistible popular support, but peculiar political factors that might have played out differently without Hitler in the picture.

Without Nazis running the show, would Germany have begun its military campaigns in Europe?

Probably not on the short term.

Undoubtedly, there was a sentiment that Germany had been ill-treated by the treaty of Versailles (though Germany paid only one-eighth of the reparations owed before the rest were waived in 1932), and many of the old elite welcomed Hitler’s focus on rebuilding German military power.

The military especially believed Germany deserved to regain her status as a great power and advocated a more militarized and authoritarian society. Technocrats in the Germany Army secretly fostered the development of tanks, ships and warplanes restricted under the treaty of Versailles in the 1920s (ironically, with Soviet assistance)—years before Hitler’s rise to power.

However, the Wehrmacht’s senior leadership believed Hitler’s wars were impetuous and some even plotted coups against Hitler. It was not so much that they opposed foreign conquest principle, but rather believed Germany needed six to ten more years to build up its forces.

Germany, therefore, was likely to reemerge as a military power, but not necessarily at the breakneck pace the Nazis pushed it to.

A Germany without Nazis in charge might still have turned to militaristic nationalism. Contentious border territories—the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, and the geographically awkward Polish corridor—would have remained potential flashpoints.

But political winds might also have steered the Republic on some less destructive path.

World War II…started by Stalin?

France and the UK’s response to Hitler was muddled by their preoccupation with the threat posed by Stalin’s Soviet Union. Even during the Munich crisis of 1938, Paris and London turned down an offered alliance from Moscow—fearing the Soviets more than the Nazis.

Indeed, some historians dubiously allege that the Soviet Union was bound to invade Germany instead.

Stalin undeniably was down for opportunistic invasions. He collaborated with Hitler in the occupation of Poland in 1939, went on to invade Finland that winter, and then seized the Baltic states and the Romanian province of Bessarabia.

But Stalin preferred to pick on vulnerable countries without backing from strong allies. There’s good reason to question whether the pre-World War II Red Army could have posed the same threat as the Nazi German war machine. In the 1939 Winter War, over a half-million Soviet troops backed up by thousands of tanks and warplanes struggled to defeat smaller, lightly-armed Finnish troops, suffering over 300,000 casualties. Given this underwhelming performance, it’s hard to believe that Stalin would perceive the Red Army as ready for a showdown with western Europe.

Still, Hitler’s aggression interrupted strategic competition between Western Europe and Moscow. In Hitler’s absence, it’s possible an earlier Cold War would have taken its place.

What about China and Japan?

For over one-sixth the planet, World War II began not in September 1939, but rather in July 1937, when Imperial Japan embarked on a second, larger-scale invasion of China following an earlier campaign in 1933.

The spirit of militaristic nationalism then prevalent in Tokyo had risen in reaction to European colonialism, not fascism. Therefore, Japan’s invasion of China would likely have still occurred. This might still have led to the imposition of a U.S. embargo on petroleum that led Tokyo to plan the Pearl Harbor attack.

But historically, the trigger for the U.S. embargo was Japan’s invasion of French Indochina—an incursion unlikely to have occurred had France not just been defeated by Germany.

Indeed, Japan’s strategic calculus in 1940–41 would have been very different without a war in Europe. The Pearl Harbor raid was meant to buy time for Japan’s capture of British and Dutch territories in Asia—particularly the oil fields in the Netherland East Indies.

Had Tokyo balked at taking on the full might of the UK as well as the United States, it might have instead entrenched itself more deeply in China and developed the economic strength of its planned multinational empire, the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. This might have prolonged Japan’s occupation of Korea and parts of China, and fostered closer Japanese ties with nationalists in Thailand and India.

A Different World

At the start of World War II, there were six great powers with multinational spheres of influence: the United Kingdom and France with their vast colonial empires in Africa and Asia Germany, dominant in Central Europe Japan and its growing Asian/Pacific empire the Soviet Union, with influence on Europe and Central Asia and the United States, then withdrawing from colonial adventures in Latin America and the Philippines.

World War II destroyed Germany and Japan as great powers. The UK and France were left a shadow of their former selves. The USSR and the United States both emerged as formidable military powers with footholds in Europe and Asia.

From this titanic reshuffling of global order eventually arose the United Nations, the state of Israel, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the conversion of European colonial empires into independent nation-states, and the sundering North and South Korea.

Without the Second World War, numerous world-changing technologies from chemotherapy and rocketry to the nuclear bomb would have developed at different times and places. Movements affected by social changes wrought by the conflict, such as the Civil Rights movement or Indian independence, would have taken different turns.

Without Hitler implementing his genocidal theories, its possible the massacre of millions of Jews and other minorities in the Holocaust would have been averted, even if anti-Semitism itself would still have persisted. Perhaps the Weimar Republic might have avoided Nazi Germany’s descent into militarism and authoritarianism.

But the world would still have been bound to experience massive conflicts, arriving at different places and times but resolving familiar tensions between capitalism and communism, colonialism and national independence, and nationalism and internationalism.

How those conflicts might have played out differently we can only guess—but it’s safe to say that the alternate history version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” still would not have lacked for lyrical content.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Hitler's Fatal Miscalculation

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Book description

Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States has baffled generations of historians. In this revisionist new history of those fateful months, Klaus H. Schmider seeks to uncover the chain of events which would incite the German leader to declare war on the United States in December 1941. He provides new insights not just on the problems afflicting German strategy, foreign policy and war production but, crucially, how they were perceived at the time at the top levels of the Third Reich. Schmider sees the declaration of war on the United States not as an admission of defeat or a gesture of solidarity with Japan, but as an opportunistic gamble by the German leader. This move may have appeared an excellent bet at the time, but would ultimately doom the Third Reich.


‘Historians have argued for decades over the question of why Hitler chose to declare war on the United States. Klaus Schmider has now written the first full authoritative history of the decision, setting it firmly in the context of German domestic and military policy. This will become the definitive account.'

Richard Overy - author of The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945

'Hitler's suicidal declaration of war on the United States in December 1941 has long seemed a quixotic even nihilistic move. In his brilliant new book, which is based on a broad range of records, Klaus Schmider restores a sense of strategy and rationality to the 'Fuehrer's' decision.'

Brendan Simms - author of Hitler: Only the World Was Enough

‘In a must-read, ground-breaking book, Schmider analyzes the factors that influenced a shift in Hitler's policy from one of restraint to a declaration of war on the United States. Woven into this complicated narrative are Germany's uncertain relationship with Japan, the war with the Soviet Union, synthetic rubber, and the impact of Lend-Lease and the United States' modification of its neutrality on Hitler's decision.'

Mary Kathryn Barbier - author of Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

‘A masterly reassessment that harnesses the latest scholarship to situate Hitler's fateful choice in a complex of ideological obsessions, economics, strategic ambition, flawed technology and operational overstretch, challenging long-held assumptions of nihilistic or deranged decision-making at the heart of the Third Reich.'

Andrew Lambert - author of Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires, and the Conflict That Made the Modern World

In his new book “Black Earth,” Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University, explores the ideological roots of Nazism and the conditions that allowed the Holocaust to happen.

Snyder will deliver this year’s Zaleski Lecture in Modern Polish History at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES). His talk is titled “The Holocaust in Poland: Controversies and Explanations.” He will also take part in a panel discussion about his book at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday at CES.

Snyder spoke to the Gazette by phone.

GAZETTE: How is “Black Earth” different from other books that deal with the Holocaust?

SNYDER: Essentially, the Holocaust is written as an episode in German history, something that flowed somehow from the 1930s. What I tried to do in my book is to present Germany in the 1930s in a different way, not as some kind of authoritarian or national project but as the preparation of a racial war. I’m also presenting a particular planetary idea of anti-Semitism, which could only be implemented during a very special kind of war, in which other states were destroyed. I’m shifting the emphasis away from the strong state and toward a deliberate policy of destroying other states.

GAZETTE: Let’s focus on state destruction, which is one of the big factors, according to your book, that led to the Holocaust. How does this theory help us understand what caused it?

SNYDER: Most history is written nationally. If you write the history of the Holocaust as a German national history, then you’re constrained to German sources and to questions such as: to what extent was it Hitler’s ideas or to what extent was it German institutions? To me, neither answer explains the Holocaust. And if you’re writing about the Holocaust from another national perspective, the Jewish point of view, very often you’re not after explanations so much as you’re after experience.

In the 1930s, Germany as a state not only did not, but could not have carried out a Holocaust, and in fact the Holocaust did not happen until the war against the Soviet Union in 1941. You only have a Holocaust as German power moves into Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union.

When you look at what happened to states that were destroyed, for example, how the loss of property rights allowed the government to move Jews into ghettos, how the destruction of interior ministries meant that police forces can be used in different ways, and how the politics of state destruction tended to encourage collaboration with the new rulers and so on, it all makes more sense. Also, consider the numbers. The whole Holocaust happened in a stateless zone and the Jews who didn’t live in a stateless zone have to be shifted to a stateless zone to be killed. The rule of thumb was to send Jews to places that the Germans had already made stateless. And if you look at the percentages, the places where states were destroyed had the highest percentages of Jews that were killed. And vice versa, the places where occupation was more conventional were the places where the fewest Jews died. Those are some of the ways the state argument works.

GAZETTE: Some may say that your book downplays anti-Semitism as one of the factors that caused the Holocaust. What role did anti-Semitism play in the events leading up to the Holocaust?

SNYDER: No matter what you say about the Holocaust, someone will say that you’re downplaying anti-Semitism. It’s a kind of unfortunate tendency in this field, which is meant to intimidate and to prevent serious discussion of the causes of the Holocaust. Of course, anti-Semitism matters, and it matters at the level of Hitler’s ideas, which involved from the very beginning the notion of complete extermination of the Jews.

However, if you want to explain how the Holocaust happened, one has to account for why so much killing suddenly happened in 1941 and 1942 as opposed to the previous five or six hundred years of Jewish settlement in Central and Eastern Europe. So we’re looking at an event that can’t be explained with just anti-Semitism. When the state is destroyed, precisely local prejudices come into play, and that’s why the argument of state destruction is so important. If you take away the institutions that make Jews citizens, whether it is in Latvia, Poland, or the Soviet Union, no matter what kind of system it is, those Jews are suddenly vulnerable. I think any serious historian has to insist that an event such as the Holocaust has multiple causes, and if I insist on the multiplicity of these causes it is not because I’m minimizing one thing or another. It’s because I’m serious about trying to explain the Holocaust as a phenomenon, and I worry very much that the Holocaust falls into a discursive game where you say the things that everybody expects you to say, and everyone has given up on causality.

GAZETTE: What are the causes of Holocaust, according to your research?

SNYDER: At the most abstract level, there are three factors: ecological crisis, anti-Semitism, and racial struggle, but they’re all bound together. In the very beginning of “Mein Kampf,” Hitler describes the world as a limited space with limited resources, and he describes human beings as being divided into races, and the races are species, and therefore should compete with one another for limited resources. And then his proposition is that, if we think that’s not true, if we think there are religious, or moral, political, or legal reasons why we shouldn’t be killing each other all the time for resources, that’s because our minds have been infected by Jewish ideas. So anti-Semitism, racial struggle, and ecological panic are really all part of one big idea. Now the reason we don’t remember the ecology factor is that we live in a different ecological situation than Germans in the 1930s. For them, anxiety about food was a normal part of life. The country had been blockaded during and after World War I and was unable to feed itself. We look at the Holocaust and we see discourse, symbols, and ideas, and, of course, that’s very important, but the material side we tend not to see at all.

GAZETTE: You have mentioned racial struggle, scarcity of resources, and anti-Semitism as forces behind the Holocaust. What about Hitler’s role in this? Without Hitler would the Holocaust have taken place?

SNYDER: It’s pretty unlikely. Here I take a view which is similar to that of most of my colleagues. The idea of “No Hitler, No Holocaust” is pretty widespread. Referring to your previous question, it’s something that people who wish to consider anti-Semitism to the exclusion of other factors should ponder because if, for example, Hitler had been killed in the assassination attempt of November 1939, then we wouldn’t have had the Holocaust but we would likely have had more anti-Semitism than we do now. What I’m trying to show is that Hitler’s ideas matter because they stand behind a truly alternative vision of politics in which there are no ideas, no virtues, there is only struggle. That worldview was incorporated into institutions, in the Nazi Party and into the SS. In my telling, the SS are very important because they’re not just a police force. They’re an institution whose purpose is to destroy other institutions, to help bring about a state of things closer to anarchy.

That Hitler was necessary for the Holocaust is true, though one has to tell the story of how he mattered. Thus far the story has been simply about how he came to power in Germany and how he transformed the German state. That’s part of the answer, but in order to get the whole answer you have to explain what happened beyond Germany because the Holocaust happened beyond the pre-war German state. Ninety-seven percent of the Holocaust victims were Jews who had no experience of the German state until it came for them. These are people who lived beyond pre-war Germany. So one has to have an account of Hitler and his ideology and his institutions, which takes us beyond the 1930s and beyond the confines of the German state.

GAZETTE: What are the most common misconceptions about the Holocaust that your book is trying to dispel?

SNYDER: Let me start with what people believe that is true. People believe that about 6 million Jews were deliberately murdered, and that there was a German policy to murder Jews who were under German political control. Those two fundamental things are true.

After that, almost everything that is generally believed is at least partially false. People believe that the victims were German Jews whereas in fact most German Jews survived, and German Jews were not very numerous, just a few hundred thousand. People believe that Jews were killed as a result of a kind of powerful, mechanized, and perfectly organized German state. That’s largely false. The German state is important, essentially because of its ability to destroy other states. So it does matter but not in the way that people think. The German state was actually never able to discriminate against, classify, and murder all of its own Jewish citizens. They could only do that after they destroyed other states. In that way, the murder of German Jews is actually not just a chapter in local German history it’s a chapter in the destruction of Latvia, Poland, and the Soviet Union.

But the main mistake that people make is the identification of Auschwitz with the Holocaust. It’s true that a million or so of Jews were killed there, and that Auschwitz was the last stage of the Holocaust. But it happened after 2 million Jews had already been shot and after death facilities like Treblinka and Belzec had long been established in Poland. The reason why people concentrate on Auschwitz is that Auschwitz has become a kind, ironically speaking, of non-place, something separated from history with its own memory as opposed to an episode in the history of the Holocaust. Paradoxically, Auschwitz allows people to minimize the Holocaust because it’s associated with the idea of mechanized killing. It allows people to overlook the basic fact that hundreds of thousands of Germans and other European were killing Jews at very close range for several years before Auschwitz ever happened. As horrible as Auschwitz was, Auschwitz becomes, in a terrible way, almost an alibi for all the horrors of the Holocaust. If we focus on Auschwitz we ignore the other killings. People imagine machines, bureaucracy, something impersonal, but Auschwitz was personal not just for the victims but also for the perpetrators. I’m trying to insist that the Holocaust is the central event in the Europe of the 20th century, and that it does require us to remember certain important things. In a way, our memory of it has already gone wrong before the history has been fully established.

GAZETTE: In your book, you say that the Holocaust is not only history, but warning —what do you mean by that?

SNYDER: The first thing I’m saying is that it’s important to see the Holocaust as history and not just as memory. The paradox of memory is that it tends to allow us to put an event away in the past, in a manner that can’t be recovered. Memory is subjective, not objective. When you characterize the Holocaust as memory, you’re saying it’s not about things that happened, but it’s about how we react or remember things that happened, and it removes it from the objective world. When I say the Holocaust is history and warning, I’m insisting on the history part because if you can convince people that the Holocaust is history then the warning follows very naturally.

We all accept that the Holocaust is something from which we can learn. But if we don’t know what caused it, it’s not clear what we can learn from it. Ideology is something that most people agree with, but if I say state destruction matters, too, that means that in 2003, Americans should have thought differently about invading Iraq. They shouldn’t have thought, “We’re destroying an authoritarian state like Hitler’s authoritarian state.” They should have thought, “We’re destroying a state just like Hitler did.” And that would have given people a moment to consider the whole enterprise in a different way. When in 2014, Russia declared that the Ukraine state is illegitimate and invades part of it, we should be thinking, “State destruction was part of the end of the European order, part of the history of World War II,” but no one is thinking that way because we haven’t learned that about World War II.

Nothing exactly like the Holocaust will ever happen again, of course, but things very much like it certainly could. If climate changes leads to a situation in which people in developed societies, like the United States or China, are anxious about supplies, that could brings us closer to the world of the 1930s.

GAZETTE: Finally, how will your book contribute to our understanding of the Holocaust?

SNYDER: I hope to make a contribution toward understanding the Holocaust with arguments drawn from political theory or larger claims about politics and societies as well as from the recollections, which are more numerous and more available than people think, of Jews themselves. I am trying to distinguish this history from our particular national conversations or our particular political needs for one kind of memory or another kind of memory. More broadly, my hope is that people take from this book the realization that if history never ends our only chance is to learn from it. My book might not seem terribly optimistic but there’s an element of epistemic optimism. We can learn from this. We have to. There are clear and articulate things that we can say about the sources of the Holocaust, which might help understand the present. As we walk through the almost indecipherable chaos of the everyday, there are actually some clues we can draw from this historical event of the recent past.

Summary of the Holocaust

The Holocaust The Holocaust was a part of World War Two and took place mainly between year 1939 and 1945 in Nazi Germany and German occupied territories, including today’s Poland. During this period of time at least six million Jews and five million non-Jewish people were killed by the Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler. Background After the First World War, Germany was experiencinggreat economic and social difficulties. Germany was defeated in the war and was forced to pay huge reparation costs to the Allies. As a result of this, Germany suffered from a mass unemployment and inflation.

Adolf Hitler blamed the loss in the First World War and the recession on the Jewish population. The anti-semitic policies he conveyed eventually resulted in an intricate plan to eradicate the Jewish people. To separate the Jews from the rest of the Europeans, badges with a star of David were created and the Jews were forced to wear them. Deportation Jews from all over Europe were deported to different types of camps mainly in Poland and Germany. There were several types of camps, and different Jews were sent to different camps depending on age, gender and other factors.

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First of all there were concentration camps. The purpose of these were mainly to concentrate many Jews in one place. Then there were extermination camps, also known as death camps. Old people, children, the majority of women and other people not suited for work were sent to these camps to be executed. Mostly young men were sent to the so called work camps, where they were forced to work long days without much food and without getting paid.

When their time at these work camps was over, they were sent to the extermination camps to get killed. The well developed railway system made it possible to arrange transports from all over Europe to the Polish and German camps. Execution Extermination camps were built all over Nazi Germany, whose only purpose were to execute people as efficiently as possible. After a lot of experimenting, a new and way more discreet and efficient way to murder a big amount of people in a short period of time was found gas. The extermination camps were equipped with gas chambers with room for more than a thousand people. In Auschwitz, year 1943, the gas chambers were upgraded and replaced with four new chambers and crematories.

Each one of these could fit and kill almost 4500 people each day. The gas used to kill the people was the exhaust from engines, and in some camps they used the exhaust from soviet tanks. Victims of the holocaust Even though the Jews are the victims of the Holocaust that seem to get the most attention and that the Holocaust started of as a plan to eradicate the Jewish race, far from all people murdered in the Holocaust were actually Jews. More than eleven million people were murdered during the Holocaust, and about five million of them were non-Jewish people. These people were humans that the Nazi regime thought stood out and were not as good as “normal” humans, and according to the regime they did not deserve to live. Among those people were disabled, mentally ill people, homosexuals, romani people, ethnic poles, slavs, people of colour, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s witnesses and the political left.

What did we learn and why is the Holocaust an important happening in history? Although it was a terrible happening, and an awful amount of people died, we could still learn from this. As horrible as it was, the Holocaust was an eye-opener at the time and made a lot of people realize that things such as racism and discrimination existed. But to this day, some people keep denying the existence of the Holocaust. They say that such a big genocide would not be possible and keep denying the fact that millions of people were murdered. By informing and teaching people about this event in history and being aware of what actually happened, we could prevent something like this happening again. Lastly.

since a lot of people died, most of them innocent, they are worth being remembered. Therefore there are several remembrance days, and the international Holocaust remembrance day is January 27.

Why Hitler's grand plan during the second world war collapsed

Two years into the war, in September 1941, German arms seemed to be carrying all before them. Western Europe had been decisively conquered, and there were few signs of any serious resistance to German rule. The failure of the Italians to establish Mussolini's much-vaunted new Roman empire in the Mediterranean had been made good by German intervention. German forces had overrun Greece, and subjugated Yugoslavia. In north Africa, Rommel's brilliant generalship was pushing the British and allied forces eastwards towards Egypt and threatening the Suez canal. Above all, the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 had reaped stunning rewards, with Leningrad (the present-day St Petersburg) besieged by German and Finnish troops, Smolensk and Kiev taken, and millions of Red Army troops killed or captured in a series of vast encircling operations that brought the German armed forces within reach of Moscow. Surrounded by a girdle of allies, from Vichy France and Finland to Romania and Hungary, and with the more or less benevolent neutrality of countries such as Sweden and Switzerland posing no serious threat, the Greater German Reich seemed to be unstoppable in its drive for supremacy in Europe.

Yet in retrospect this proved to be the high point of German success. The fundamental problem facing Hitler was that Germany simply did not have the resources to fight on so many different fronts at the same time. Leading economic managers such as Fritz Todt had already begun to realise this. When Todt was killed in a plane clash on 8 February 1942, his place as armaments minister was taken by Hitler's personal architect, the young Albert Speer. Imbued with an unquestioning faith in Hitler and his will to win, Speer restructured and rationalised the arms production system, building on reforms already begun by Todt. His methods helped increase dramatically the number of planes and tanks manufactured in German plants, and boosted the supply of ammunition to the troops.

US military might

But by the end of 1941 the Reich had to contend not only with the arms production of the British empire and the Soviet Union but also with the rapidly growing military might of the world's economic superpower, the United States. Throughout 1941, rightly fearing the consequences of total German domination of Europe for America's position in the world, US President Franklin D Roosevelt had begun supplying Britain with growing quantities of arms and equipment, guaranteed through a system of "lend-lease" and formalised in August by the Atlantic Charter. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in early December, Hitler saw the opportunity to attack American convoys without inhibition, and declared war on the US in the belief that Roosevelt would be too preoccupied with countering the Japanese advance in the Pacific to trouble overmuch with events in Europe.

Yet such was the economic might of the Americans that they could pour increasing resources into the conflict in both theatres of war. Germany produced 15,000 new combat aircraft in 1942, 26,000 in 1943, and 40,000 in 1944. In the US, the figures were 48,000, 86,000 and 114,000 respectively. Added to these were the aircraft produced in the Soviet Union – 37,000 in 1943, for example – and the UK: 35,000 in 1943 and 47,000 in 1944. It was the same story with tanks, where 6,000 made in Germany each year had to face the same number produced annually in Britain and the Dominions, and three times as many in the Soviet Union. In 1943 the combined allied production of machine-guns exceeded 1 million, compared with Germany's 165,000. Nor did Germany's commandeering of the economies of other European countries do much to redress the balance. The Germans' ruthless requisitioning of fuel, industrial facilities and labour from France and other countries reduced the economies of the subjugated parts of Europe to such a state that they were unable – and, with their workers becoming ever more refractory, unwilling – to contribute significantly to German war production.

Above all, the Reich was short of fuel. Romania and Hungary supplied a large proportion of Germany's needs. But this was not enough to satisfy the appetite of the Wehrmacht's gas-guzzling tanks and fighter planes. Rommel's eastward push across northern Africa was designed not just to cut off Britain's supply route through the Suez canal but above all to break through to the Middle East and gain control over the region's vast reserves of oil. In mid-1942 he captured the key seaport of Tobruk. But when he resumed his advance, he was met with massive defensive positions prepared by the meticulous British general Bernard Montgomery at El Alamein. Over 12 days he failed to break through the British lines and was forced into a headlong retreat across the desert. To complete the rout, the allies landed an expeditionary force further west, in Morocco and Algeria. A quarter of a million German and Italian troops surrendered in May 1943. Rommel had already returned to Germany on sick leave. "The war in north Africa," he concluded bitterly, "was decided by the weight of Anglo-American material." If he had been provided with "more motorised formations", and a more secure supply line, he believed, he could still have driven through to the oilfields of the Middle East. But it was not to be.

By the time of Montgomery's victory, it had become clear that the Germans' attempt to compensate for their lower levels of arms production by stopping American supplies and munitions from reaching Britain across the Atlantic had also failed. In the course of 1942, a determined construction campaign increased the number of U-boats active in the Atlantic and the Arctic from just over 20 to more than 100 in November 1942 alone they sank 860,000 tonnes of allied shipping, aided by the Germans' ability to decipher British radio traffic while keeping their own secret.

Battle of the Atlantic

But from December 1942, the British could decode German ciphers once more and steer their convoys away from the waiting wolf-packs of U-boats. Small aircraft carriers began to accompany allied convoys, using spotter planes to locate the German submarines, which had to spend most of their time on the surface in order to move with any reasonable speed and locate the enemy's ships. By May 1943 the allies were building more ship tonnage than the Germans were sinking, while one U-boat was being sunk by allied warships and planes on average every day. On 24 May 1943 the commander of the U-boat fleet, Admiral Karl Dönitz, conceded defeat and moved his submarines out of the north Atlantic. The battle of the Atlantic was over.

The most dramatic and most significant reversal of German fortunes came, however, on the eastern front. The sheer scale of the conflict between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army dwarfed anything seen anywhere else during the second world war. From 22 June 1941, the day of the German invasion, there was never a point at which less than two-thirds of the German armed forces were engaged on the eastern front. Deaths on the eastern front numbered more than in all the other theatres of war put together, including the Pacific. Hitler had expected the Soviet Union, which he regarded as an unstable state, ruled by a clique of "Jewish Bolsheviks" (a bizarre idea, given the fact that Stalin himself was an antisemite), exploiting a vast mass of racially inferior and disorganised peasants, to crumble as soon as it was attacked.

But it did not. On the contrary, Stalin's patriotic appeals to his people helped rally them to fight in the "great patriotic war", spurred on by horror at the murderous brutality of the German occupation. More than three million Soviet prisoners of war were deliberately left to die of starvation and disease in makeshift camps. Civilians were drafted into forced labour, villages were burned to the ground, towns reduced to rubble. More than one million people died in the siege of Leningrad but it did not fall. Soviet reserves of manpower and resources were seemingly inexhaustible. In a vast effort, major arms and munitions factories had been dismantled and transported to safety east of the Urals. Here they began to pour out increasing quantities of military hardware, including the terrifying "Stalin organ", the Katyusha rocket-launcher. In the longer run, the Germans were unable to match any of this even if some of their hardware, notably the Tiger and Panther tanks, was better than anything the Russians could produce, they simply could not get them off the production lines in sufficient quantities to make a decisive difference.

War in the snow

Already in December 1941, Japan's entry into the war, and its consequent preoccupation with campaigns in the Pacific, allowed Stalin to move large quantities of men and equipment to the west, where they brought the German advance to a halt before Moscow. Unprepared for a winter war, poorly clad, and exhausted from months of rapid advance and bitter fighting, the German forces had to abandon the idea of taking the Russian capital. A whole string of generals succumbed to heart attacks or nervous exhaustion, and were replaced Hitler himself took over as commander-in-chief of the army.

Hitler had already weakened the thrust towards Moscow by diverting forces to take the grainfields of the Ukraine and push on to the Crimea. For much of 1942, this tactic seemed to be succeeding. German forces took the Crimea and advanced towards the oilfields of the Caucasus. Here again, acquiring new supplies of fuel to replenish Germany's dwindling stocks was the imperative. But Soviet generals had begun to learn how to co-ordinate tanks, infantry and air power and to avoid encirclement by tactical withdrawals. German losses mounted. The German forces were already dangerously short of reserves and supplies when they reached the city of Stalingrad on the river Volga, in August 1942.

Three months later, they had still not taken the city. Stalingrad became the object of a titanic struggle between the Germans and the Soviets, less because of its strategic importance than because of its name. When the Germans moved their best troops into the city, leaving the rear to be guarded by weaker Romanian and Italian forces, the Soviet generals saw their chance, broke through the rearguard and surrounded the besieging forces. Short of fuel and ammunition, the Germans under General Paulus were unable to break out. As one airfield after another was captured by the Red Army, supplies ran out and the German troops began to starve to death. On 31 January 1943, refusing the invitation to commit suicide that came with Hitler's gift of a field marshal's baton, Paulus surrendered. Some 235,000 German and allied troops were captured more than 200,000 had been killed. It was the turning point of the war.

Last great counter-attack

From this moment on, the German armies were more or less continuously in retreat on the eastern front. The Red Army around Stalingrad was threatening to cut off the German forces in the Caucasus, so they were forced to withdraw, abandoning their attempt to secure the region's oil reserves. In early July 1943 came the last great German counter-attack, at Kursk. This was the greatest land battle in history, involving more than four million troops, 13,000 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 12,000 combat aircraft. Warned of the attack in advance, the Red Army had prepared defences in depth, which the Germans only managed partially to penetrate. A tragi-comic incident happened when an advancing Soviet tank force fell into its own side's defensive ditches nearly 200 tanks were wrecked, or destroyed by the incredulous Waffen-SS forces waiting for them on the other side. The local party commissar, Nikita Khrushchev, covered up this disaster by persuading Stalin that they had been destroyed in a huge battle that had eliminated more than 400 German tanks and won a heroic victory. The legend of "the greatest tank battle in history" was born.

In fact it was nothing of the kind. So enormous were the Russian reserves that the loss of the tanks made little difference in the end, as fresh troops and armour were moved in to rescue the situation. More than one million soldiers, 3,200 tanks and self-propelled guns, and nearly 4,000 combat aircraft entered the fray on the Soviet side and began a series of successful counter-offensives. The Germans were forced to retreat. The missing German tanks had not been destroyed they had been pulled out by Hitler to deal with a rapidly deteriorating situation in Italy. After the war, German generals claimed bitterly they could have won at Kursk had Hitler not stopped the action. In reality, however, the Soviet superiority in men and resources was overwhelming.

And the tanks really were needed in Italy. Following their victory in north Africa, the allies had landed in Sicily on 10 July 1943 to be greeted in Palermo by Italian citizens waving white flags. A fortnight later, reflecting the evaporation of Italy's will to fight on, the Fascist Grand Coalition deposed Mussolini and began to sue for peace. On 3 September an armistice was signed, and allied forces landed on the Italian mainland. German troops had already invaded from the north, taking over the entire peninsula. Following the armistice, they seized 650,000 Italian soldiers and shipped them off to Germany as forced labourers to join millions of others drafted in from Poland and the Soviet Union to replace German workers sent to the front to replenish the Wehrmacht's rapidly diminishing manpower. In a daring commando raid on the Alpine hotel where Mussolini was being held prisoner, SS paratroopers liberated the former dictator, who was put in charge of a puppet regime based on the town of Salò. But as the allied armies made their way slowly northwards towards Rome, nothing could disguise the fact that Germany's principal ally had now been defeated.

German morale

These events had a devastating effect on German morale at home. In particular the catastrophe of Stalingrad began to convince many Germans that the war could not be won. Worse was to come. Meeting at Casablanca in January 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt decided on a sustained campaign of bombing German cities. A series of massive raids on the industrial area of the Ruhr followed, backed up by the destruction of key dams by the famous "bouncing bombs" on 16 May 1943. Arms production was severely affected. And in late July and early August 1943, the centre of Hamburg was almost completely destroyed in a firestorm created by intensive incendiary bombing that killed up to 40,000 people, injured a further 125,000, many of them seriously, and made 900,000 homeless. Refugees from the devastated city spread a sense of shock and foreboding all across Germany. In Hamburg itself, anger at the Nazis' failure to defend the city led to crowds tearing party badges off officials' coats amid cries of "murderer!" The chief of staff of the German airforce committed suicide. German air defences were still able to inflict serious losses on allied bombing expeditions, but they were not strong enough to prevent the devastation continuing.

By the end of 1943, German forces were retreating all along the line in the east and in Italy. The spectacle of German defeat and the brutal requisitioning of millions of forced labourers from occupied countries fuelled the rise of resistance movements right across Europe. The Reich had lost command of the skies and the seas. Ever more devastating bombing raids on a growing range of towns and cities were making people's lives unbearable. Ordinary Germans knew by the end of 1943 that the war was lost. Terror began to replace commitment as a means of keeping people fighting on. More than 20,000 German troops were executed by courts-martial during the war for varieties of defeatism. At home, people faced a similar escalation of terror from the Nazi party and the SS. Retreating into their private and family worlds, they began to focus increasingly on simply staying alive and waiting for the end.

Richard J Evans is regius professor of modern history at Cambridge University. His trilogy on Nazi Germany, The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War, is published in paperback by Penguin


The first legal step historically towards the eventual persecution of homosexuals under the Nazi regime in Germany was Paragraph 175 of the new penal code that was passed after unification of the German states into the German Empire in 1871. Paragraph 175 read: "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment the loss of civil rights might also be imposed." The law was interpreted differently across the nation until the ruling of a court case on April 23, 1880. The Reichsgericht (Imperial Court of Justice) ruled that a criminal homosexual act had to involve either anal, oral, or intercrural sex between two men. Anything less than that was deemed harmless play. [3] The German police forces (until 1936 all policing was the responsibility of the Länder governments) found this new interpretation of Paragraph 175 extremely difficult to prove in court since it was hard to find witnesses to these acts. The enforcement of Paragraph 175 varied at times, with for instance a major and unprecedented crackdown on homosexuals being launched after the Eulenburg-Harden affair of 1906-09 led to a homophobic moral panic in Germany. [4] Enforcement also varied from land to land with Prussia under the leadership of the Social Democrat Otto Braun refusing to enforce Paragraph 175 from 1918 to 1932. As convictions often had to prove homosexual conduct that occurred in private, the interpretation of Paragraph 175 only resulted in approximately 500 convictions per annum. However, homosexuals often faced other forms of marginalization from chanteure, or blackmailers, through informal prosecution. [5]

After the Night of the Long Knives, the Reich Justice Minister Franz Gürtner (who was not a Nazi at the time) amended Paragraph 175 due to what his government saw as loopholes in the law. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 also declared any "expression" of homosexuality was now a criminal act. The most significant change to the law was the change from "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex" to "A male who commits a sex offense with another male." This expanded the reach of the law to persecute gay men. Kissing, mutual masturbation and love-letters between men served as a legitimate reason for the police to make an arrest. The law never states what a sex offence actually is, leaving it open to subjective interpretation. Men who practised what was known to be harmless amusement with other men were now subject to arrest under the law. [6] Additionally, in 1935 Paragraph 175 was altered with Paragraph 175a which expanded the criminal offenses relating to homosexuality. This expanded homosexual conduct to include criminal indecency which encompassed any actions that went against "public morality" or "aroused sexual desires in oneself or strangers." [7] As a result, someone could be prosecuted under 175a for looking at a man in an "enticing way". [5]

Under the Nazi's new Paragraph 175, 230 men were arrested in Luebeck in January 1937. [8] Noted German Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim was among those arrested. He served ten months in prison, then was rearrested in 1938 and released upon the condition that he be castrated. During his imprisonment von Groszheim, like many other gay men, was subject to torture and abuse as he stated that he was "beat[en] to a pulp" as his "whole back (was) bloody." Prisoners were "beaten until [they] finally named names." [9] Groszheim's badge in prison was labeled with the letter A which stood for Arschficker ("arse-fucker").

Pre-War Edit

Prussia, the largest and most populous of the Länder, did not enforce Paragraph 175 under the leadership of the Social Democratic Otto Braun from 1918 to 1932, which had the effect of making Prussia into a haven for homosexuals all across Germany. In the 1920s, gay culture had flourished in Prussia, especially Berlin, which was known as the "homosexual capital of Europe", and many homosexuals had come out of the closet. [10] Germany under the Weimar Republic was characterized by a sort of cultural war between the traditional culture and the avant-garde Weimar culture, and the tolerance shown to homosexuals in Prussia was often used by traditionalists as an example of the "depravity" and "un-German" nature of Weimar culture. [10] Despite societal marginalization, a lively homosexual counterculture in Germany gradually developed throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Berlin alone there were over forty gay clubs and meeting places, staffed by homosexuals, that served as popular pubs for the gay community, including more famous spots like 'Queer's Way' in Tiergarten. [11] Private baths and other places were used as fronts for homosexuals to gather and socialize. There was a vibrant social scene that grew along with the nightlife, including developments like the foundation of Der Eigene, the first gay magazine in the world. [12]

Stories by Christopher Isherwood about the gay community's cabaret shows eventually served as the inspiration for the 1972 Hollywood film Cabaret. [13] Some of these clubs were quite popular, such as El Dorado, to the point that they were even frequented by tourists. Other clubs catered to different classes within the gay community. [13] As some venues catered for the upper income strata of gay Germans, other bars like the Mother Cat (Zur Katzenmutter) catered for soldiers. [13] While the majority of nightlife provided for gay and bisexual men, clubs like the Dorian Gray also had nights for lesbians. [13]

The tolerance towards homosexuals in Prussia had ended after Chancellor Franz von Papen had deposed Braun in 1932, and starting in 1933, gay culture in Germany "went completely underground". [10] On 30 January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor with Papen as the Reich Commissioner of Prussia.

The aim of the National Socialist regime was the creation of the idealised Volksgemeinschaft ("people's community") that would unite the German people into one, and which required the removal of all who either would not join the Volksgemeinschaft or those who were deemed as racially "unfit" to join the Volksgemeinschaft. The German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that Nazi thinking about the Volksgemeinschaft was "Its basis was the racialist elimination of all elements that deviated from the norm: refractory youth, idlers, the asocial, prostitutes, homosexuals, people who were incompetent or failures at work, the disabled. National Socialist eugenics. laid down criteria of assessment that were applicable to the population at whole". [14]

Crackdown on homosexuals Edit

In late February 1933, as the moderating influence of Ernst Röhm, the most prominent gay Nazi official, weakened, the Nazi Party launched its purge of homosexual (gay, lesbian, and bisexual then known as homophile) clubs in Berlin, outlawed sex publications, and banned organized gay groups. As a consequence, many fled Germany (e.g., Erika Mann, Richard Plant). Röhm himself was gay, but he subscribed to an ultra-macho "hard" image and despised the "soft" homosexuals. Parties opposing Hitler even used Röhm, who was known to visit many of Berlin's gay clubs and parlors and was a member of the League of Human Rights, to attack Hitler by discussing "Hitler's queer friend Röhm". [15] A climate of fear took hold over the homosexual community, with – for example – many lesbians marrying to avoid being sent to the concentration camps that had first appeared in March 1933. Within just weeks of Hitler's appointment as chancellor on January 30, 1933, the subsequent raids and crackdown throughout the year marked a stark turning point in the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. In February Nazi storm troopers began to shut down bars and ban the sale of publications featuring sexual content. [16] As a result, the gay community withdrew from the clubs and groups that had dominated the homosexual community in Germany, thereby putting a rapid end to the vibrant gay communities at the time. The personal testimony of an anonymous subject described the change in political climate as a "thunderbolt", while many of his Jewish and homosexual friends started to disappear as they were presumably detained. [17] The Prussian police launched a series of raids to shut down gay bars and Paragraph 175 was enforced with a new degree of strictness and vigor. [10] One homosexual man recounts regularly being summoned to the Gestapo office for interrogation for a period of weeks following the arrest of an earlier romantic partner. He, like many homosexuals at the time, had to break off all relations with all his friends in the homosexual community as he commented that "we lived like animals in a wild game park. always sensing the hunters." Arrested homosexuals were used to generate lists of other members in the gay community, leading towards a societal purge of the homosexual community. [11] Gay men who did not successfully emigrate to safety attempted to conceal their gay identities, with some engaging in heterosexual relationships and marriages with women. [18]

In March 1933, Kurt Hiller, the main organizer of Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute of Sex Research, was sent to a concentration camp. On May 6, 1933, Nazi Youth of the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organized attack on the Institute of Sex Research. A few days later on May 10, the Institute's library and archives were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz. Around 20,000 books and journals, and 5,000 images, were destroyed. Also seized were the Institute's extensive lists of names and addresses of homosexuals. [19] In the midst of the burning, Joseph Goebbels gave a political speech to a crowd of around 40,000 people.

Hitler initially protected Röhm from other elements of the Nazi Party which held his homosexuality to be a violation of the party's strong anti-gay policy. However, Hitler later changed course when he perceived Röhm to be a potential threat to his power. During the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, a purge of those whom Hitler deemed threats to his power, he had Röhm murdered and used Röhm's homosexuality as a justification to suppress outrage within the ranks of the SA. After solidifying his power, Hitler would include gay men among those sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Heinrich Himmler had initially been a supporter of Röhm, arguing that the charges of homosexuality against him were manufactured by Jews. But after the purge, Hitler elevated Himmler's status and he became very active in the suppression of homosexuality. He exclaimed: "We must exterminate these people root and branch. the homosexual must be eliminated." [20]

Shortly after the purge in 1934, a special division of the Gestapo was instituted to compile lists of gay individuals. In 1936, Himmler created the Reichszentrale zur Bekämpfung der Homosexualität und Abtreibung (Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion).

Nazi Germany thought of German gay men as against the plan of creating a "master race" and sought to force them into sexual and social conformity. Gay men who would not change or feign a change in their sexual orientation were sent to concentration camps under the "Extermination Through Work" campaign. [21]

More than one million gay Germans were targeted, of whom at least 100,000 were arrested and 50,000 were serving prison terms as "convicted homosexuals". [22] Hundreds of European gay men living under Nazi occupation were castrated under court order. [23]

Some persecuted under these laws would not have identified themselves as gay. Such "anti-homosexual" laws were widespread throughout the western world until the 1960s and 1970s, so many gay men did not feel safe to come forward with their stories until the 1970s when many so-called "sodomy laws" were repealed. [ citation needed ]

For a variety of reasons, lesbians were not widely persecuted in the Nazi period. [24] However, there are a number of recorded cases of lesbians imprisoned in concentration camps. [25] Henny Schermann was a shop assistant from Frankfurt, who was arrested in 1940 at a lesbian bar and murdered at Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in 1942 one doctor at Ravensbrück described her as a "licentious lesbian" on the back of her identity photograph. [26] [27]

According to Geoffrey J. Giles, the SS and its leader Heinrich Himmler were particularly concerned about homosexuality. More than any other Nazi leader, Himmler's writing and speeches denounced homosexuality. However, despite consistently condemning homosexuals and homosexual activity, Himmler was less consistent in his punishment of homosexuals. Geoffrey Giles examined the trials of several SS members on charges of homosexuality in his article "The Denial of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Incidents in Himmler's SS" and found that on a case by case basis, the outcomes of these trials vary widely. Judges could be swayed by evidence demonstrating the accused's "aryan-ness" or "manliness", on accounts of whether the accused was racially pure or if he had fathered children. Reasons for Himmler's leniency in some cases may derive from the difficulty in defining homosexuality, particularly in a society that glorified the masculine ideal and brotherhood. [28]

On February 18, 1937, Himmler gave his most detailed speech on homosexuality in Bad Tölz. [29] Himmler believed that there existed two homosexual organizations in Germany that fostered the existence of gay culture. Himmler estimated the number of homosexuals from one to two million people, or 7 to 10% of men in Germany, declaring that "If this remains the case, it means that our nation will be destroyed by this plague." Adding the number of homosexuals to the number of men that died in the previous war, Himmler estimated that this would equal four million men. If these four million men are no longer capable of having sex with a female, then this "upsets the balance of the sexes in Germany and is leading to catastrophe." Germany was having population issues with the number of killed men during the First World War. Himmler believed "A people of good race which has too few children has a sure ticket for the grave, for insignificance in fifty to one hundred years, for burial in two hundred and fifty years." [30]

While not all homosexual men in Germany were sent to concentration camps, for those who were, the experience was particularly brutal and often fatal. [31] Homosexuals were considered to be the lowest of the low in the concentration camp hierarchy. [32] Estimates vary widely as to the number of gay men imprisoned in concentration camps during the Holocaust, ranging from 5,000 to 15,000, many of whom died. [22] In addition, records as to the specific reasons for internment are non-existent in many areas, making it hard to put an exact number on exactly how many gay men perished in death camps. Homosexuals were often classified as "asocials" when sent to the concentration camps, which makes estimating the number of homosexuals in the concentration camps difficult. [33] "Asocials" were a very broad legal category in Nazi Germany consisting of people who were "work shy" (i.e. lazy), drug addicts, homeless people, alcoholics, petty criminals, and people who were merely eccentric or non-conformist, and the authorities often classified homosexuals as "asocials" as a way of showing the "deviant" nature of "asocials" in general.

Peukert wrote the way in the authorities linked homosexuality to "asociability" showed that the campaign against homosexuals cannot be considered in isolation, and should be viewed as part of the wider project to "cleanse" the Volksgemeinschaft (people's community) of all genetically "unfit" elements. [34] Paragraph 175 only covered male homosexuality, so lesbians who were sent to the concentration camps were always classified as "asocials", and as such lesbian inmates wore the black triangle given to "asocials" instead of the pink triangles given to male homosexuals. [35]

Torture and camp treatment Edit

Gay men suffered unusually cruel treatment in the concentration camps, facing tortures ranging from rape to having their testicles boiled off by water. [36] Survivor Pierre Seel said "The Nazis stuck 25 centimeters of wood up my ass". They faced persecution not only from German soldiers, but prisoners as well, and many gay men were beaten to death. Additionally, gay men in forced labor camps routinely received more gruelling and dangerous work assignments than other non-Jewish inmates, under the policy of "Extermination Through Work". For example, they were assigned the most dangerous tasks at the Dora-Mittelbau underground rocket factory and the stone quarries at Flossenbürg and Buchenwald. [22] SS soldiers also were known to use gay men for target practice, aiming their weapons at the pink triangles their human targets were forced to wear, in camps such as the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. [37] Homosexuals were indiscriminately killed while they were creating artificial mound targets with earth and clay on the shooting range as guards often targeted homosexuals instead of the shooting range targets themselves. [38] It is noted that homosexuals in the Nazi regime were targeted "in a manner without parallel in any civilized state in the world." [5]

The harsh treatment can be attributed to the view of the SS guards toward gay men, as well as to the homophobic attitudes present in German society at large. It was believed that harsh manual labour could make gay men become straight. [39] Additionally, homosexuals in concentration camps lacked the ability to practice group solidarity, which aided the morale of other persecuted groups, such as political prisoners. Peukert wrote that the campaign to crush homosexuality, together with the campaign against the "asocials", was approved of by "wide sections of the population, including many who criticized the detention and torture of political opponents of the regime". [40] The marginalization of gay men in Germany was reflected in the camps. Many died from beatings, some of them inflicted by other prisoners. Experiences such as these can account for the high death rate of gay men in the camps as compared to the other "asocial" groups. A study by Rüdiger Lautmann found that 60% of gay men in concentration camps died, as compared to 41% for political prisoners and 35% for Jehovah's Witnesses. The study also shows that survival rates for gay men were slightly higher for internees from the middle and upper classes and for married bisexual men and those with children. [41]

Nazi experiments Edit

The Nazi policies on homosexuals were largely driven by Himmler's disdain for homosexuality, which he believed was a menace to the German national reproductive capacities. [42] He also loathed the unmasculine and oppositional traits of homosexuals so that he sought its cure through initiatives that started in 1937 after Himmler's speech to the Reich Committee for Population and Racial Policy. [42] His rationale was that human experimentation was permissible if it was for the benefit of the state. [43]

Dachau [44] and Buchenwald [32] were the principal centers of human experimentation on homosexuals by Nazi doctors, who sought to find a "medical cure" for homosexuality, among other endeavors. At Buchenwald, Danish doctor Carl Værnet conducted hormonal experiments on gay men on the personal authority of Himmler. [45] He was awarded 1,500 German marks monthly from the SS funds to test his "cure", which involved incisions in the subject's groin where an artificial male sexual gland was implanted. [42] This was a metal tube that released testosterone over a prolonged period, as the doctor believed that a lack of testosterone was the cause of homosexuality. Although some of the men claimed to have become heterosexual, the results are largely unreliable as many are assumed to have stated they were "cured" in order to be released from the camp. Those who did not show improvement were determined to be "chronic" or "incurable" homosexuals. [46] [47] At least seventeen prisoners were used for Værnet's research, which also involved criminal and heterosexual participants. [42] Twelve gay men were subjected to the hormonal experiment and two of these men died due to infections. [45]

The Third Reich forced Jewish women and lesbians to perform sex acts with men at German camp brothels in World War II. Heinrich Himmler ordered that pink triangles be forced to perform sex acts on female sex slaves. This proved to be psychologically damaging to both parties. [48] Homosexuals were ordered to perform these acts once a week as conversion therapy. [49] The therapy also included humiliation through beatings and ridicule as well as the policy of segregating homosexuals from other prisoners, which was also implemented out of the belief that homosexuality can be spread to other inmates and guards. [22]

Other experiments included attempts to create immunization from typhus fever, [32] led by Erwin Ding-Schuler, [50] and castration. [51] The typhus experiments resulted with inoculations that made the Matelska strain of typhus rickettsia avirulent to patients. [52] One of these experiments was halted when it was determined that lice was a threat to the camp's health. [42] Another experiment that used homosexuals involved placing the subjects under sun lamps that were so hot they burned the skin. A homosexual victim was said to have been repeatedly cooled to unconsciousness, then revived with lamps until he was pouring sweat. [53]

Although there are no exact statistics regarding these experiments, it is recognized that they have caused illness, mutilation, and deaths [54] while yielding no scientific knowledge. [22]

Homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution in either post-war German state. Additionally, neither state contained a record of homosexual victims of the Holocaust. [5] Reparations and state pensions available to other groups were refused to gay men, who were still classified as criminals the 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in force in West Germany until 1969, when the Bundestag voted to return to the pre-1935 version. [55] The German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that "no homosexuals obtained reparations after 1945" and only a brave "few" even tried, because the 1935 version of Paragraph 175 stayed in effect until 1969, noting that despite the way that homosexual survivors had suffered "profound damage to their lives", they remained outcasts in post-war Germany. [56]

Peukert used the fact that the Nazi version of Paragraph 175 stayed on the statute books until 1969 because it was a "healthy law" (as Chancellor Adenauer called it in 1962), and the complete refusal of the German state to pay compensation to gay survivors, to argue that Nazi Germany was not some "freakish aberration" from the norms of the West, and the Nazi campaign against homosexuals should be considered as part of a broader homophobic campaign throughout the world. [56] In 1960, Hans Zauner, the mayor of Dachau, told a British journalist, Llew Gardner, writing for The Sunday Express that the Nazi campaign against homosexuals and "asocials" was justified, saying: "You must remember that many criminals and homosexuals were in Dachau. Do you want a memorial for such people?". [57] On 12 May 1969, when Der Spiegel, Germany's most popular magazine, ran an editorial saying it was "scandalous" that the 1935 version of Paragraph 175 was still in effect, and called for the repeal of Paragraph 175 completely, it attracted much controversy. [58] In 1981, it was discovered that many West German police forces still kept lists of known homosexuals, included, significantly under the category of "asocials". [59] Paragraph 175 was not repealed until 1994, although both East and West Germany liberalized their laws against adult homosexuality in the late 1960s. However, in East Germany the Nazi changes to the law were partially repealed in 1950, while homosexual acts between adults were legalized in 1968. [5]

Holocaust survivors who were homosexual could be re-imprisoned for "repeat offences", and were kept on the modern lists of "sex offenders". Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. [60]

The Nazis' anti-gay policies and their destruction of the early gay rights movement were generally not considered suitable subject matter for Holocaust historians and educators. It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that there was some mainstream exploration of the theme, with Holocaust survivors writing their memoirs, plays such as Bent, and more historical research and documentaries being published about the Nazis' homophobia and their destruction of the German gay-rights movement.

Holocaust memorials Edit

Since the 1980s, some European and international cities have erected memorials to remember the thousands of homosexual people who were murdered and persecuted during the Holocaust. Major memorials can be found in Berlin, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Montevideo (Uruguay), Tel Aviv (Israel) and Sydney (Australia). [61] In 2002, the German government issued an official apology to the gay community. Following this apology, Berlin's memorial was created several years later. Berlin's Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism is located in the Tiergarten Park, which contained the location of the popular 'Queer's Way' for the early 20th century gay community. The memorial was approved by the Budenstag on December 12, 2003, opened to the public on May 27, 2008, and subsequently vandalized numerous times in the years following its opening. [62] The memorial was vandalized again in the autumn of August 2019, when vandals painted over a window in the monument that allowed visitors to see a picture of a gay couple kissing. [63]

In 2001, Pink Triangle Park was dedicated it is the first permanent, free-standing memorial in America dedicated to the persecuted homosexuals in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. [64] [65] [66] Starting in 2003, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has displayed its traveling 30-panel exhibition dedicated to homosexual victims of the Holocaust across the country. [67]

In 2005, the European Parliament marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp with a minute's silence and the passage of a resolution which included the following text:

. 27 January 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany's death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a combined total of up to 1.5 million Jews, Roma, Poles, Russians and prisoners of various other nationalities, and homosexuals, were murdered, is not only a major occasion for European citizens to remember and condemn the enormous horror and tragedy of the Holocaust, but also for addressing the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, and especially anti-Semitic incidents, in Europe, and for learning anew the wider lessons about the dangers of victimising people on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, social classification, politics or sexual orientation.

An account of a gay Holocaust survivor, Pierre Seel, details life for gay men during Nazi control. In his account he states that he participated in his local gay community in the town of Mulhouse in the Alsace region of France. When Alsace was effectively annexed to Germany in 1940, his name was on a list of local gay men ordered to the police station. He obeyed the directive to protect his family from any retaliation. Upon arriving at the police station he notes that he and other gay men were beaten. Some gay men who resisted the SS had their fingernails pulled out. Others had their bowels punctured, causing them to bleed profusely. After his arrest he was sent to the concentration camp at Schirmeck. There, Seel stated that during a morning roll-call, the Nazi commander announced a public execution. A man was brought out, and Seel recognized his face. It was the face of his eighteen-year-old lover from Mulhouse. Seel states that the SS guards then stripped the clothes off his lover, placed a metal bucket over his head, and released trained German Shepherd dogs on him, which mauled him to death. [ citation needed ]

Rudolf Brazda, believed to be the last surviving person who was sent to a Nazi concentration camp because of his homosexuality, died in France in August 2011, aged 98. Brazda was sent to Buchenwald in August 1942 and held there until its liberation by U.S. forces in 1945. Brazda, who settled in France after the war, was later awarded the Legion of Honour. [68]

Early Holocaust and genocide discourse Edit

Arising from the dominant discourse of the Jewish suffering during the years of Nazi domination, and building on the divergence of differential victimhoods brought to light by studies of the Roma and the mentally ill, who suffered massively under the eugenics programs of the Third Reich, the idea of a Gay Holocaust was first explored in the early 1970s. However, extensive research on the topic was impeded by a continuation of Nazi policies on homosexuals in post-war East and West Germany, combined with continued western homophobic ideologies. [69]

The word genocide was generated from a need for new terminology in order to understand the gravity of the crimes committed by the Nazis. [70] First coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, the word became politically charged when The Genocide Act was enacted by the United Nations on December 9, 1948, which created an obligation for governments to respond to such atrocities in the future. The debate on the Gay Holocaust is therefore a highly loaded debate which would result in an international acknowledgement of state-sponsored homophobia as a precursor to genocide, should the proponents of the Gay Holocaust succeed. However, the United Nations definition does not include sexual orientation (or even social and political groups) within its qualifications for the crime. Genocide by the U.N. definition is limited to national, ethnical, racial or religious groups, and as this is the only accord to which nations have pledged allegiance, it stands as the dominant understanding of the term. [71] It is, however, what Michel-Rolph Trouillot terms "an age when collective apologies are becoming increasingly common", [72] as well as a time when the established Holocaust discourse has settled and legitimized claims of the Jewish, Roma and mentally ill victims of Nazi persecution, so it could be seen as an appropriate time to bring attention to the debate over the Gay Holocaust, even if the issue is not settled. [ citation needed ]

A lack of research means that there is relatively little data on the dispersion of gay men throughout the camps. However, Heinz Heger suggests in his book The Men with the Pink Triangle that they were subjected to harsher labour than smaller targeted groups, such as the political prisoners, and furthermore suffered a much higher mortality rate. [73] They also lacked a support network within the camps and were ostracized in the prison community. [73] Homosexuals, like the mentally ill and many Jews and Roma, were also subjected to medical experimentation in the hopes of finding a cure to homosexuality at the camp in Buchenwald. [74]

The Jews and Roma [75] were the only groups targeted by the Nazi regime for complete annihilation regardless of their identification or place of residence. However, Jews and Roma were not the only groups to be targeted by the Nazis, leading to a debate as to whether other groups should be counted as Holocaust victims. [76] William J. Spurlin has suggested that restricting the definition of "Holocaust" to Jews fosters a misrepresentation of history, and devalues the suffering of other victims of Nazi atrocities. The Austrian Jewish Shoah survivor Simon Wiesenthal argued, for example, that "the Holocaust transcended the confines of Jewish community and that there were other victims." [77] In the mid-1970s, new discourses emerged that challenged the exclusivity of the Jewish genocide within the Holocaust, though not without great resistance. [ citation needed ]

The Civil Rights Movement of the United States saw an emergence of victim claims through revision and appropriation of historical narratives. The shift from the traditional notion of history as the story of power and those who held it, social historians emerged with narratives of those who suffered and resisted these powers. African Americans created their own narrative, as firmly based on evidence as the discourses already in existence, as part of a social movement towards civil rights based on a history of victimization and racism. Along similar lines, the gay and lesbian movement in the United States also utilized revisionism to write the narrative that had only just garnered an audience willing to validate it. [78]

There were two processes at work in this new discourse, revisionism and appropriation, which Arlene Stein teases out in her article Whose Memory, Whose Victimhood?, both of which were used at different points in the movement for civil rights. The revisionist project was taken on in a variety of mediums, historical literature being only one of many. The play Bent and a limited number of memoirs which recall The Diary of Anne Frank coincided with the appropriation of the pink triangle as a symbol of the new movement and a reminder to "never forget". [78] While the focus of these early revisions was not necessarily to determine the Nazi policy on homosexuals as genocidal, they began a current towards legitimizing the victimization of homosexuals under the regime, a topic that had not been addressed until the 1970s.

Historical works would turn focus on the nature and intent of Nazi policy. Heinz Heger, Gunter Grau and Richard Plant all contributed greatly to the early Holocaust discourse which emerged throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. [78] Central to these studies was the notion that statistically speaking, homosexuals suffered greater losses than many of the smaller minorities under Nazi persecution such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and within the camps experienced harsher treatments and ostracization as well as execution. [79]

These early revisionist discourses were joined by a popular movement of appropriation, which invoked the global memory of the Holocaust to shed light on social disparities for homosexuals within the United States. Larry Kramer who was one of the founders of ACT UP, an HIV/AIDS activist group that used shock tactics to bring awareness to the disease and attention to the need for funding popularized the AIDS-as-Holocaust discourse. "The slowness of government response at federal and local levels of government, the paucity of funds for research and treatment, particularly in the early days of the epidemic stems, Kramer argued, from deep-seated homophobic impulses and constituted 'intentional genocide'." [80]

The pink triangle symbol worn by homosexual concentration camp prisoners was notably reclaimed by the gay community during the United States HIV/AIDS crisis through the Silence=Death Project which featured the pink triangle on a back background. The poster was created by the Gran Fury, a six-person collective in New York City. The collective, which included Avram Finkelstein, aimed to use the power of art to bring awareness to and end the AIDS epidemic. [81] The ACT UP organization used this image as a central component to their awareness campaign during the AIDS epidemic. Finkelstein described how the collective "initially rejected the pink triangle because of its links to the Nazi concentration camps" but ultimately "returned to it for the same reason, inverting the triangle as a gesture of a disavowal of victimhood." [82] Even today, this symbol has continued to be used by the gay rights movement as the poster was recently featured on the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art windows. [83]

The Holocaust frame was used again in the early 1990s, this time in relation to right-wing homophobic campaigns throughout the United States. The conservative response yielded a new discourse working against the Gay Holocaust academia, which emphasized the gay and lesbian revisionism as a victimist discourse which sought sympathy and recognition as a pragmatic means of garnering special status and civil rights outside those of the moral majority. [80] Arlene Stein identifies four central elements to the conservative reaction to the Gay Holocaust discourse: she argues that the right is attempting to dispel the notion that gays are victims, pit two traditionally liberal constituencies against one another (gays and Jews), thereby drawing parallels between Jews and Christians, and legitimating its own status as an oppressed and morally upright group.

The victimist argument raises a central tenet as to the reasons for which the discourse of a Gay Holocaust has experienced so much resistance politically and popularly (in the conscious of the public). Alyson M. Cole addresses the anti-victim discourse that has emerged in western politics since the end of the 1980s. She asserts "anti-victimists transformed discussions of social obligation, compensations and remedial or restorative procedures into criticisms of the alleged propensity of self-anointed victims to engage in objectionable conduct." Though she is clear that the anti-victimist discourse is not limited to right-wing politics, the case of the Gay Holocaust situates itself along these political boundaries and the anti-victim discourse is highly relevant to the debate on homosexual claims to genocide under the Third Reich. Cole refutes what she sees as problems in the anti-victim arguments. [84]

In the 2000s, work was done on the Gay Holocaust, and, rather than emphasizing the severity of destruction to communities or the exclusivity of the genocidal process of the Nazi regime, it focuses on the intersections of social constructions such as gender and sexuality within the context of social organization and political domination. Spurlin claims that these all functioned with one another in forming Germany's social order and final solution to these social problems. Rather than being autonomous policies, "They were part of a much larger strategy of social disenfranchisement and the marking of enemies. " [85]