Two historical schools of thought have emerged regarding the origins of The Final Solution. In 1982, Tim Mason created the intentionalist vs. functionalist debate. The intentionalists argue that it was Hitler’s intention from the beginning to annihilate and exterminate the Jews. The functionalists on the other hand focus more on the structure of the Third Reich. They believe that the Final Solution was decided upon as a final straw.
Each school of thought has different factions. This article looks to examine the different factions and theoretical perspectives of the Holocaust. Each one has a unique point, especially those who argue on both sides. This article tries to examine the main ones, including the revisionists who spurred a neo-Nazi era.
1. Intentionalist-Dr. Hilary Earl:
Dr. Earl is Canadian scholar. She takes a wholly different perspective than her predecessors. In her book The Nuremberg SS-Einsatzgruppen Trial, 1945-1958: Atrocity, Law, and History, she agrees that if there were no Hitler, there would be no Holocaust. By looking at the testimonies of the Nuremberg Trials, she discovered something else and digs deeper into Hitler’s direct role. She argues that many commanders were simply following Hitler’s orders. This was more than apparent in Hans Frank’s and Himmler’s testimonies and diaries.
2. Extreme Intentionalists-David Goldhagen:
Goldhagen believed that the Holocaust was a result of the eliminationist anti-semetic culture of the Germans. He also believed that Germans, especially the common people were enthusiastic and willing to take part in the annihilation. One can read more in his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners.
3. Moderate Intentionalists-Ian Kershaw & Richard Breitman:
Richard Breitman pinpoints Hitler’s direct involvement in the Holocaust to a time period between late 1930s and 1941. He also made reference to Hitler’s 1939 Prophecy Speech. The quote significant to him was “if Jewish financiers started another war then the result would be total annihilation of the entire Jewish race…”
Kershaw was also quick to point out quotes from Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister during the Third Reich. Kershaw wrote about Goebbels and how he hinted on the Fuhrer’s prophecy coming to light. He builds on Richard Breitman’s theory.
4. Extreme Functionalists-Gotz Aly:
He is a German scholar who in the 1980s believed that the Nazis bought the German people’s support with redistribution of wealth. He also traced the Holocaust to the envy of the Germans in the Third Reich. He believed that the problem originated in the 19th century when German Christians were left out of the modernization. Resentment and inferiority never went away.
5. Moderate Functionalists-Christopher Browning:
Christopher Browning wrote an interesting book called Ordinary Men. In his book, Browning looked at what motivated ordinary Germans to become genocidal. He agreed that ordinary German men were willing to be executioners; however, he also noted their shyness. Many soldiers felt sick, wanted to transfer and hated killing infants. He argues that many men had no choice but to kill the Jewish people.
His work mostly focused on the structure of the Third Reich and did not zero in on Hitler himself.