Who ordered the ‘Final Solution’?

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One of the most difficult questions historians have to answer is when did the Nazis decide to kill all the Jews of Europe? Was murder always in the mind of Adolf Hitler? Certainly, up until the invasion of the Soviet Union Jews did manage to emigrate from Germany. We will never know precisely when the order for mass killing was given, but the wholesale murders began with the invasion of Russia.

Some people believe that Hitler always intended to murder the Jews. In a letter of 16 September 1919 he wrote, ”the final objective must be the complete removal of the Jews”. Was the road to the death camps foreseen and pre-planned? Or was it, as others believe, an unplanned response to circumstances that arose?

What is certain is that Hitler and his inner circle were obsessed with the Jews. They believed that they were responsible for all the ills of the world. In fact, in Hitler’s last letter, before he committed suicide, the last paragraph was about the Jews. ”But before everything else I call upon the leadership of the nation and those who follow it to observe the racial laws most carefully, to fight mercilessly against the poisoners of all the peoples of the world, international Jewry.”

In January 1939, Reinhard Heydrich (chief of the Security Police) had received an order to solve “the Jewish question by means of emigration or evacuation in the most convenient way possible”.

This was upgraded on 31 July 1941, when Hermann Goering sent an order that Heydrich should make “all necessary preparations with regard to organisational, practical and financial aspects for an overall solution to the Jewish question”. Heydrich was to “submit an overall plan... for the execution of the intended ‘Final solution’ of the Jewish question”.

Although Goering had given the order, Hitler had approved it. He also allowed the use of the railway system to transport Jews from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany to occupied Poland and Soviet Union.