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.
6. Left Wing Functionalists-Hans Mommsen & Timothy Mason:
Mommsen is a left wing German holocaust scholar. He saw the Holocaust as the cumulative radicalization of the Third Reich. He also believed that Hitler was a weak dictator. There was no cohesive idea for what to do with the Jewish people.
Mason was also left wing and was a scholar who lived in Britain. He criticized Karl Bracher and Klaus Hilderbrand for focusing too much on Hitler.
7. Synthesis-Saul Friedlander:
He sees the Third Reich and Nazism as the negation of life. Holocaust for him cannot be put into words. He also sees the Holocaust as unique in history. There was no intention to annihilate Jews before 1941.
8. Synthesis: Yehada Bauer:
Bauer believes that the origins and motives of the Holocaust were ideological. According to Bauer, it was also based on the imagination and illusion of the Jewish people being inferiors and trying to take over the world.
With regard to Hitler’s role in the Holocaust, Bauer believes that there was no master plan. However, he believes that Hitler did in fact give orders to initiate the final solution sometime in 1941. He made reference to Himmler’s diary where Hitler responded to the question about what to do with Jews with “exterminate them”.
9. Synthesis: Raul Hilberg:
Hilberg believed that the Holocaust was the result of a large bureaucratic machine with thousands of contributors. For him, it was never the fulfillment of a predetermined plan or a single order by Hitler.
There are a number of revisionists who are Holocaust deniers. This view looks at the conspiracy theories and David Irving is one of them. But the question I would like to pose to them is: How can they account for the deaths of 6 million people? They seem to go around that question without answering it. It is one view that builds on dogma.