December 14

Historians have long searched for the order to annihilate the Jews or -
insofar as they excluded a Fuehrer-order - for other central documents. The
Wannsee Protocol was rejected. Here second-level men were to be found, here they
spoke not of an order, but rather an authorization of Hitler.
Characteristically, a pre-arranged agreement applied to this meeting, ordered
from above. At the least, documentary criteria had to be found that permitted
plausible inferences as to place, point in time and personal construction of
such a conversation. The research led nowhere.

Now however a 34-year old Berlin historian [translator\'s note:
Geschichtswissenschaft is science of history] has precisely answered the old
question. And to say it right up front: the proof is ingenious. He didn\'t
publish it in one of the eternally boring academic tomes and in so doing made
the right choice. The work appeared in Volume 18 (6th year, November 1997) of
the unorthodox, independent magazine "Werkstatt Geschichte." Written
with practically mathematical precision, the essay covers 37 pages, including
223 source notes. The title is: "The Wannsee Conference, the fate of German
Jews and Hitler\'s fundamental political decision to murder all European
Jews." The author\'s name is Christian Gerlach. He has found proof of an
internal speech of Hitler\'s from 1941 that no other researcher had even
mentioned before.

The weak dictator

Already Hans Mommsen, the foremost Holocaust researcher, grumbles: the young
man is to be sure "exceptional," has however "gone astray,"
using "outdated methods," and above all, makes "too much
noise." In fact Gerlach - in no way naive - falls between those two schools
of thought that contemporary historians have occupied for decades, passed down
and in every case retreated from even a centimeter only reluctantly.

On one hand, the so-called intentionalists impute an absolute desire of Adolf
Hitler for genocide, evident already in the earliest program. Even the means of
the extermination - poison gas - was determined by him in the "Kampfzeit"
[the years of struggle preceding the assumption of power]. Others underscore the
anticipated obedience, better put: the extensive freedoms of the
"paladins." They operated freely in accordance with the highly
flexible motto: "It is the Fuehrer\'s wish." If one ignores the now
defunct variants ("if the Fuehrer had known!") or the similarly
outmoded simplification ("puppets of the monopoly capitalists"), one
is able to posit a thesis that is to be taken seriously of a vascillating, even
weak dictator: he avoided conflicts, put off making decisions, thus his
receptiveness of grand visions for the future, conquest and new orders.

In spite of many differences in details and in weighting, one thing is
considered constant in the view of all the so-called functionalists: the German
policy towards the Jews became progressively more and more radical. "It
must be seriously considered," wrote never charged jurist Rolf Heinz
Höppner in June 16, 1941, "whether the most humane solution is not to
finish off the Jews who are unable to work by means of a quickly working agent.
In any event, this would be more appropriate than to let them starve."

The letter was addressed to Eichmann who telephoned almost daily to Höppner,
his agent in Posen. "Give me that in writing" Eichmann would have
said, and put the written letter into the hierarchical process. Höppner did not
want an order, he asked for the complete examination of his new recommendation.
He found it audacious, "partially fantastic" but "completely
feasible." In addition, he spoke exclusively of the murder of those unable
to work, not all the 500,000 Jews for which he was responsible in the Warthegau
and especially in the Lodz Ghetto. The others he wanted to confine in a work
camp, all child bearing women sterilized, "so that the Jewish problem will
be completely resolved with this generation."

By the end of September 1944, Eichmann still had been able to only
circumspectly answer the incessant pressure of Höppner. In any event the
document strengthens the theory of the progressive discrimination against the
Jews to the point of complete segregation and impoverishment in which the long
practiced policy of social death transformed itself into industrial
extermination in conformity with internal logic, no longer directed by anyone.

Apart from the question of whether an order preceded the Holocaust, confusion
reigned as well about the date of the decision. Some historians opined with good
reasons for March 1941, others increasingly for September/October of the same
year. The predominant opinion was nonetheless that "at the high point of
the expectation of victory" in the eastern war on July 31, 1941 "all
had become clear." Regardless however whether they saw Hitler as the
originator or the moderator, almost