Are the Jews Central to The Holocaust?

The first research in the late 1940s and early 1950s focused on the Jewishness of the Holocaust. Called the “Final Solution” by the Germans, it was the object of two pivotal studies, both of which had the Jews at the center of their treatment. The first was The Final Solution by Gerald Reitlinger and the second The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg. Most major studies since have had the same focus: Lucy Dawidowicz (The War Against the Jews; Leni Yahil (The Holocaust); Hilberg (Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders); Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners); Martin Gilbert (The Holocaust); Arad et al (Documents on the Holocaust); Yitzak Arad (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps) and so on.

Modern research has begun to deal more extensively with the suffering of other victims of the Nazi genocide. For example, homosexuals, Gypsies, prisoners of war, Russians, Poles, Catholic priests, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others were more or less systematically murdered as the Holocaust continued. By the end of the war, as many as 6 million of these people had been killed, along with between 5 and 6 million Jews.

Does the focus on the Jewishness of the Holocaust take away from or minimize the suffering of the millions of non-Jews who were persecuted? Do the Jews, unintentionally perhaps, try to keep all the suffering for themselves? No. On the other hand, does the Holocaust have a particularly crucial and central Jewish element, even though millions of others died? Simply put, the answer is yes. The Holocaust, from its conception to its implementation had a distinctly Jewish aspect to it and, arguably without this Jewish aspect, there would have been no Holocaust. Most of the non-Jewish people would not have been killed because the killing machinery would not have been put into operation.

In this context, two points need to be examined: the particularly Jewish aspect of the Holocaust and the fact that this neither minimizes nor trivializes the suffering of others.

The Jewishness Of The Holocaust

Faithful to Hitler, the Nazis picked out and specifically targeted the Jews, and they did this from the very beginning — the Nazi Party Program of February 19201 to the very end Hitler’s Testament of April 29, 1945.2 In fact, Hitler had written a letter to a Herr Gemlich in 1919 in which he called for the removal of the Jews if he ever took power.

Exactly when Hitler’s eliminationist hatred of the Jews took form in his mind is still a matter of debate. Some accounts have him violently antisemitic when he still lived in Linz.3 Others equate it to his experiences in Vienna,4or to his gassing experience at the end of World War I,5 still others believe the antisemitism took on its virulent form in the early 1920s under the influence of Houston Stewart Chamberlain6 and Dietrich Eckart.7

In Mein Kampf, there are dozens of passages that vilify and demonize the Jews. A couple of examples suffice.

Was there any excrement, any shamelessness in any form, above all in cultural life, in which at least one Jew would not have been involved? As soon as one even carefully cut into such an abscess, one found, like maggots in a decaying body, often blinded by the sudden light, a kike.8If we had at the beginning of, and during the war, subjected 12 or 15,000 of these Hebrew corrupters of the people to poison gas, as hundreds of thousands of our best German workers from all strata and occupations had to endure, then millions of victims of the Front would not have been in vain.9

The Nazis harassed and brutalized the Jews throughout the 1920s during the “struggle for power.” Speech after speech painted the Jews as Germany’s “misfortune” and prophesied a time of reckoning.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Jews were their very first target. The infamous boycott against Jewish businesses took place in April 1933 and the first laws against the Jews were enacted as early as on April 7, 1933.10 Jews were progressively erased from almost every facet of German life.11 The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, further tightened the noose, depriving the Jews of almost every remaining right and freedom.12 This culminated in the bloodiest pogrom to date the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938. Over 100 Jews were murdered and a “fine” was levied against the Jews in excess of 1 billion RM.

By the outbreak of World War II, actions taken against the Jews included marking them13 and ghettoizing them.14 By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the decision had been taken to kill the eastern European Jews by shooting them where they were found ( and by the end of the year at the latest, the decision was taken to kill all European Jews. ( december-12-1941/).

The one common thread throughout this “process of destruction,” as Hilberg calls it, was the Jews. The Communists were often explicitly targeted as well, but the Nazis believed that Communism was a creature of the Jews in any event. The expression often used was “Jews and other undesirables,” and the Jews were almost always the first group targeted in any initiative. There is no doubt that they were the focal point from beginning to end.

The Germans set up an office on the “Jewish Question” under the direction of Adolf Eichmann — the infamous Bureau IV B 4. The name used for the ultimate killing action was “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” Others were drawn in — with horrific results — but the key object and common thread was always the Jews.

There are thousands of captured documents dealing with the killing actions. Almost every one of them deals with the Jews and there are almost no documents that deal with another target that do not also address the Jews. The Einsatzgruppen reports almost always separate out the Jews from the other people shot, going so far as to break down the Jews by age and gender ( intro-einsatz).15 And the Report 51, submitted by Himmler to Hitler in 1943, breaks down the victims into a variety of categories (bandits, partisans, etc.), but only lists the Jews as “Jews executed.”16

Finally, the Korherr Report is entitled “The Final Solution of the European Jewish Question: A statistical report,”17 and once again, addresses virtually only the Jews.

Hitler said before the outbreak of the war that if there were another war, he would annihilate the Jews.18 He said during the war that he was in the process of annihilating the Jews.19 And he said in his Testament that he had done exactly what he had said he would do.20

The ultimate aim and the primary target never varied. Others were murdered in the course of the Final Solution, e.g. Gypsies, Russian POWs, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on, but the first and constant target was always the Jews. The Final Solution was intended for the Jews, was about the Jews and chiefly affected the Jews. There is no denying that, without the Jews, there is no Final Solution.

To minimize or trivialize the “Jewishness” of the Final Solution is to seriously understate, if not, unintentionally perhaps, deny its essence. This does not mean that the suffering of other groups is to be ignored; on the contrary, it was terrible. But without the Holocaust, without the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, the others live. The term “holocaust” was coined to describe the uniquely Jewish aspect of the Final Solution. It does not seek to negate the suffering of the other victims.

Albert Speer put it well:

The hatred of the Jews was Hitler’s driving force and central point, perhaps even the only element that moved him. The German people, German greatness, the Reich, all that meant nothing to him in the final analysis. Thus, the closing sentence of his Testament sought to commit us Germans to a merciless hatred of the Jews after the apocalyptic downfall. I was present in the Reichstag session of January 30, 1939 when Hitler guaranteed that, in the event of another war, the Jews, not the Germans, would be exterminated. This sentence was said with such certainty that I would never have doubted his intent of carrying through with it.21

It should be remembered that the centrality of the Jews in the Holocaust in no way lessens the killing of others. The Gypsies were marked for extermination in the same way as the Jews were and suffered terribly. ( questions/gypsies.shtml)22 The testimony of Otto Ohlendorf at Nuremberg on this is chilling:

US prosecutor J. Heath: And what was the story with the Gypsies? I believe you have no idea how many Gypsies your commando killed?
Ohlendorf: No, I don’t know.
Ohlendorf:There was no difference between the Gypsies and the Jews. The same order applied to both of them.23


  1. 4.Only “folkish” comrades can be state citizens. “Folkish” comrades can only be those of German blood, regardless of their religion. No Jew can therefore be a “folkish comrade”.
  2. “I have also left no doubt that, if the nations of Europe are again to be regarded as mere shares to be bought and sold by those international money and finance conspirators, then that race, Jewry, which is the real guilty party in this murderous struggle, will be saddled with the responsibility. I also made it clear that this time, not only would millions of children of European Aryan races starve, not only would millions of grown men meet their death, and not only would millions of women and children be burned or bombed to death in the cities, but that the real culprit would atone for his guilt, even if by more humane means.” Adolf Hitler, Testament, April 29, 1945. See also Note 19 below.
  3. Kubizek The Young Hitler I Knew
  4. One of the wildly popular authors in Austria at this time was Lanz von Liebenfals, whose journal Ostara postulated a blond, blue-eyed master race – the Aryans – which was in perpetual danger from a parasitic subhuman race – the Jews. Liebenfals’ influence can be seen in some of the more perverted imagery in Mein Kampf and in Julius Streicher’s Der Stuermer.
  5. See Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler, pages xliv-xlv, 376-377
  6. Chamberlain’s Grundlagen des 19. Jahrhunderts (Foundations of the 19th Century) [1899] postulated a superior Aryan race of “creators” and an inferior parasitic race – the Jews. It was wildly popular at the beginning of the 20th Century.
  7. Eckart was an early mentor of Hitler’s to the extent that he was one of people to whom Mein Kampf was dedicated. He co-wrote with Hitler Von Moses bis zum Bolschewismus: Zwiegespraeche zwischen Adolf Hitler und mir (From Moses to Bolshevism: Dialogues between Adolf Hitler and me) which painted a particularly repulsive picture of Jews.
  8. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Volume I, page 61
  9. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Volume II, page 772
  10. “The Law for the restoration of the Civil Service”; Krausnick et al. Anatomie des SS-Staates, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, 1999, page 574
  11. Raul Hilberg, Die Vernichtung der europäischen Juden, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1990, Volume 1, pages 85-163
  12. Hilberg, ibid., pages 73-84. Krausnick op cit., pages 579-585
  13. Obligation to have Jewish names, forbidden to fly the Reich flag, obligation to wear the Star of David. Hilberg, op cit., pages 184-186
  14. Gerald Reitlinger, Die Endlösung: Hitlers Versuch der Ausrottung der Juden Europas 1933-1945, Colloquium Verlag, Berlin, 1992, pages 59-79. See also the Jäger Report, reproduced in Klee, Dressen and Riess, The Good Old Days, The Free Press, New York, 1991, pages 46-54
  15. Hilberg, op cit., Volume 2, pages 332-350
  16. Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984, pages 3, 110, 129
  17. Fleming, op cit. page 139
  18. “Jewry will have to adapt itself to respectable constructive activity as other peoples do, or it will sooner or later succumb to a crisis of unimaginable proportions.If international finance Jewry in and outside Europe should succeed in once again plunging the nations into a world war, then the result will not be the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

    Reichstag Speech, January 30, 1939

  19. “You will recall still that meeting of the Reichstag in which I declared: If Jewry perchance imagines that it can bring about an international world war for the annihilation of the European races, then the consequence will be not the annihilation of the European races, but on the contrary, it will be the annihilation of Jewry in Europe. I was always laughed at as a prophet. Of those who laughed then, countless ones no longer laugh today, and those who still laugh now will perhaps in a while no longer do so.” Reichstag Speech, November 8, 1942
  20. See note 2 above.
  21. Sworn Affidavit, June 1977
  22. Other information on this is in Robert N. Proctor Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the NazisHarvard University Press; 1988; Martin Gilbert The Holocaust Henry Holt; 1985.One of the better sites on this subject in the Internet is:
  23. Testimony of Ohlendorf at Nuremberg, Text 46, S. 115. [German edition] Translation by author

The Hungarian Holocaust: 70 Years Later

 CEU hosted “The Hungarian Holocaust: Seventy Years Later” conference on April 6, bringing together the top scholars in the field to share their research on the leadup to the atrocity, the responsible actors, the effects of the destruction, and the ways in which the Hungarian Holocaust is remembered and commemorated.

CEU President and Rector John Shattuck opened the event, calling it a “momentous, solemn and far-reaching occasion for those who have the capacity to look deep into history and to understand it.” The conference is held every 10 years in conjunction with a related conference in the U.S. Shattuck expressed pride in CEU as the conference’s sole sponsor and for the dual goals of the University and the conference in engaging in the pursuit of truth and desire for an honest engagement with history. He underscored the enormous importance of the conference proceedings, “so that record of what actually happened cannot be twisted and shaded against the truth that we all know.”

Professor Andras Kovacs, who teaches both in CEU’s Jewish Studies and Nationalism Programs, preceded the panels with a story of a very good friend whose personal history Kovacs never knew until he heard it from another source. The friend was born after the war to a Hungarian woman whose husband had been sent to a labor camp before she was snatched from her home by the Arrow Cross, forcing her to leave her 18-month-old son behind. Although at first, neighbors tried to care for the child, he eventually died of starvation before his mother returned to Hungary. Kovacs’s friend was the younger brother of the child who died, but he had never shared the story. The secrecy of such stories was the norm, not only just after the war, but throughout the communist regime, when it was essentially illegal to discuss the Holocaust, despite the Soviet portrayal of the Germans were relentless tyrants.

Renowned author and Holocaust scholar Randolph Braham gave the keynote address via taped video message from the U.S. “This conference is being held at a significant juncture in the history of Hungary and Hungarian Jewry, on the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust,” said Braham, a distinguished professor emeritus of political science at the City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “The destruction of Hungarian Jewry, on the eve of Allied victory, represents one of the most controversial chapters in the history of the ‘Final Solution’ in Europe.”

He went on to note that most of the 565,000 Hungarian victims considered themselves loyal Magyars (Hungarians) of the Jewish faith, citizens of a country that has yet to acknowledge a role in the Holocaust, let alone apologize.

“It is this failure to honestly and courageously confront the past that largely contributed to the increasingly virulent assault on the historical memory of the Holocaust,” Braham said. “Following the systemic change of 1989, the leaders of the successive democratically-elected governments, while aware of the reality of the Holocaust, have, with a few exceptions, consistently pursued policies that one, aim to deflect attention from the Holocaust by focusing on the positive experiences of the Jews in their emancipation in 1867 and on the rescue activities of the relatively few Christian Hungarians during the German occupation, including [Regent Miklos] Horthy’s rescue: the halting of deportations in early July 1944. These policies also strove to bring about the rehabilitation of the Horthy era and the revitalization of the national Christian principles that had guided it. Finally, these policies were designed to absolve Hungary of any guilt for the Holocaust by placing ultimate and exclusive responsibility onto the Germans.”

In the first panel, scholars addressed “The Road to the Holocaust,” dissecting official policy of the Hungarian government, including the 1920 “numerus clausus” law, the first to place strict quotas on the number of Jews who could attend university.

CEU Professor Maria Kovacs, director of the Nationalism Studies Program who published a groundbreaking book on numerus clausus in 2012, noted that historians can neither confirm nor deny a straight line between the anti-Semitism of the 1920s and that of the 1940s. Kovacs is, instead, very interested in whether or not – in the history of Horthy regime – a serious attempt was made to reconsider the 1920 Jewish quota or to try to put an end to discrimination.

“It is important because, 18 years later, the 1920 legislation served as a prototype legislation for the new anti-Jewish law,” she said. “Proponents of the 1920 university quota were very explicit in that they intended to expand it to all income-earning occupations.”

Interestingly, Kovacs contrasted this with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful efforts to curb discrimination during the same era. In Hungary, Prime Minister Istvan Bethlen’s 1928 reform of numerus clausus (which eased the quotas somewhat) was meant to satisfy foreign demands but not to genuinely eliminate discrimination, Kovacs said. “It was a phony paper reform. Lower-level government decrees were then implemented [to continue discrimination].”

Krisztian Ungvary, a research fellow at the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, discussed decision-making regarding the deportations of Hungarian Jews.
He believes that the deportations were not part of a master plan, but a

series of political decisions made by Hungarian authorities. “When Germans were sent here, it wasn’t even clear that they had to collect Jews and deport them,” Ungvary said. “Everything that happened here did so in strong cooperation with Hungarian authorities. There was no German office that would’ve taken over Hungarian administrative tasks, there were liaisons.” In fact, Ungvary noted, according to phone books, the number of those Hungarians who worked with Nazi leader Adolph Eichmann on deportation numbered 60 and the whole of the Nazi staff in Hungary was no more than 200.

Regarding the effects on Jewish society after the war, CEU Professor Emeritus of History Viktor Karady reviewed his data on how many doctors had disappeared as a result of the Holocaust. Because Jews in the countryside were targeted first, many doctors moved to Budapest. “The losses of the Jewish groups is much bigger than Christian groups,” Karady said. “It is a very clear distinction which we have to make here between the various rates of losses.” Karady found that the survival rate of female Jewish doctors was higher than male and also noted that social status mattered. He also studied records of those who changed their surnames from Jewish names to Hungarian names to try to avoid persecution.

Karady’s colleague Peter Tibor Nagy, head of the Wesley Research Center for Sociology of Church and Religion, reviewed similar data to determine the different kinds of social capital that could affect survival rates. “How can you hide? What kind of habits are necessary for this?” he asked. The level of education and chosen profession mattered as well as how well Jews were integrated into Christian society.

The final panel dealt with remembrance and commemoration of the Holocaust in Hungary. Gabor Gyani, who teaches at both CEU and Eotvos Lorand University, again pointed out that many commemorations have focused on rescuers and not victims. Under communism, it was essentially forbidden to discuss the Holocaust, so many memories were lost. “Personal biographic narratives have emotional impact,” Gyani said. “The Holocaust experience impacts the national myths. This might have led to self-scrutiny [for Hungary].”

Andrea Peto, CEU associate professor of gender studies, is using the Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive to study personal recollections of Hungary’s people’s tribunals that tried members of the Arrow Cross after the war. Peto has reviewed 800 interviews and looked carefully at how the participants talked about the trials, how they are narrating, and how they discuss their participation in the legal process. “These stories are about revenge and satisfaction – they are atypical for Holocaust stories,” Peto said. In her related paper, she argues for understanding the different kind of truths constructed by digital storytelling. “Most damage is done by historians who think they know the truth and are the only ones who can share the truths,” she said. “Looking at memories of the trials warns us how necessary it is to recognize the fragility of memory.”

For full conference program and abstracts, see attachment.

Watch Randolph Braham’s keynote address here.