Was Hitler a Weak Dictator?

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The two schools of thought in contemporary studies of the holocaust origins fall under the categories of functionalism and intentionalism. Functionalists believe that Hitler was an anti-Semite yet held no permanent orchestrated plan to eliminate the Jewish race, rather that the vast genocide of the Holocaust was a result of the continual German anti-Semitic policy changing to become increasingly radical and the failure of the Jewish deportation plans. In contrast Intentionalist Historians generally agree that Hitler did have a fixed long-term plan to kill the Jews from the beginning of his political career and that he was the dominant and driving authority force which encouraged the mass slaughter which occurred throughout the Holocaust. The four sources offer conflicting viewpoints on the nature of Nazi plans against the Jewish race but in general the accepted view by the majority of historians which exists concludes that there was no long-term plan for the annihilation of the Jews and that deep and ancient rooted anti-Semitism irrefutably existed in Germany in the first half of the 20th century.

Interpretation C and D are accepting of the view that the Holocaust was mainly the result of a long term plan by Hitler to eliminate the Jews. In interpretation C it states that even before Hitler was propelled into Governmental power his eliminationist desire was ‘clear and constant’. Furthermore, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen suggests that the Nazi regime ‘came into power determined to undertake a task – the elimination of the Jews from all spheres of social life in Germany and also their capacity to harm Germany’. The genocide of the Holocaust was not ‘linear and unambiguous’ and did not come about as a simple progression due to the war circumstances or neither as an ‘outgrowth of Hitler’s moods’, but rather it was part of ‘Hitler’s long held ideal to eliminate all Jewish power’. A fundamental theme of the book, ‘Hitler’s willing executioners’ that Goldhagen expressed is that the radical anti-Semitic ‘goal directed’ and premeditated Nazi policy and plans towards the European Jewry was supported by the public because of the long held widespread hatred of the Jews.

Interpretation D holds similar, yet weaker beliefs that Hitler had a long-term plan to deal with the Jewish race. According to this Historian, there was no need for Hitler’s personal involvement in the Holocaust because he signalled his intentions in ‘unmistakeable terms’ about the fate of the Jews now that Germany was embroiled in another world war and by this time the ‘killing initiatives had already developed their own momentum’. The interpretation argues that the Nazi leader had an explicit and clear-cut plan to deal with the Jews which would eventually end in an extermination programme and that the Second World War was essentially the spark to alight and fire up the mass genocide which proved fatal to the Jews. Hitler was not interested in detail but one significant aspect of his plan was that a war would add the impetus and momentum required to begin such a devastating plan to eradicate the Jews immediately.

Interpretation A does not support the view that the Holocaust was a long-term plan and Berghahn seems to argue that the mass genocide was a war accelerated plan. The fanatical and ‘rabid’ anti-Semites, by 1939, gave the Jews good and genuine reasons to fear for their lives, however there is no implication that Hitler had decided to solve the Jewish problem by a mass slaughter programme before the occurrence of the war. Furthermore, Berghahn suggests that the existence of total war ‘seriously weakened the Jew’s chances of survival’. Berghahn stresses that the German military victories added millions of Jews to the Reich and now the ‘resettlement plans’ had become a ‘major logistical and bureaucratic operation’ which were so vast it ‘helped tip the scales in favour of physical annihilation’. Interpretation A states that the outbreak of war significantly...
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