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The Logic of the Holocaust: Why the Nazis Killed
(17th Annual Holocaust Conference, April 14, 1997)
Richard A. Koenigsberg
This is Volume X of the History of Library of Social Science.
To read Volumes I-IX, please click here.
Richard A. Koenigsberg at the Holocaust Conference
LSS Book Exhibit at the
Holocaust Conference
The 17th Annual Holocaust Conference at Millersville University: "The Origins of the Holocaust in Germany and in Europe", Millersville, PA, April 13-14, 1997
Richard A. Koenigsberg at the Holocaust Conference
Richard A. Koenigsberg at the
Holocaust Conference
In Volume VIII of this history, I wrote about Omer Bartov’s presentation at the Holocaust Conference. I also spoke—making an effort to convey the “logic” of the Holocaust.

It’s necessary to explain what I mean when I say that the Holocaust was generated based on a certain “logic.” By logical, I don’t mean rational. I simply mean that many behaviors enacted during the Nazi period followed as a consequence of certain propositions put forth by Hitler and other Nazi ideologues.

Hitler was the “prime mover” of everything that occurred in Nazi Germany. To understand Nazism is to understand the nature of the propositions that he put forth, and to understand how he persuaded Germansto act upon these propositions.

On the evening of February 22, 1942, Hitler met with Himmler and a Danish SS major and expounded his conviction that

the discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world. The battle in which we are engaged today is of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew.

This statement is characteristic of Hitler’s way of thinking and speaking. Indeed, based on many years of research and numerous publications, I can confidently say that this statement embodies the core of Hitler’s thinking.

Of course, this statement is not a “rational” one. It does not describe a situation in the external world. It is not based on “reality.” Jews are not viruses. One would be hard-pressed to explain how various “diseases” originated with the Jewish virus—and how the German nation might regain its health by eliminating Jews.

Nonetheless, this statement reflects how Hitler spoke and thought. Some may say, “What nonsense. How could anyone in a position of authority in government make and believe such a preposterous statement?”

I realize now why people have difficulty understanding Hitler and the Nazi movement. The most significant impediment arises from the assumption that human beings are “rational” creatures who make decisions and act based on conclusions arrived at by virtue of a sober, realistic assessment of the external world.

In the statement above, Hitler is reacting to an emotional state of being—an experience occurring within him. Based on this inner experience or state of being, he creates a metaphor to express or convey this experience or state of being.

The Nazi movement evolved based on the fact that a substantial number of Germans resonated with metaphors Hitler put forth. Many Germans—for whatever reason—reacted to this idea of “the Jew” as a disease-generating pathogen.

The point is, a proposition put forth by a political leader does not have to be reasonable, rational or “true” to be believed. Once this proposition is embraced, however, even though it may be entirely irrational—certain forms of behavior follow logically.

If the Jew is a virus—the source of a disease from which Germany is suffering— then it’s necessary to destroy this pathogen—in order to prevent Germany’s death.

Jewish Inability to Assimilate

There is another statement cited in my paper that gets at the heart of Hitler’s thinking. In a speech of May 10, 1933, Hitler declared:

Our aim is the dictatorship of the whole people, the community. I began to win men to the idea of an eternal national and social ideal—to subordinate one's own interests to the interest of the whole society. There are, nevertheless, a few incurables who had never understood the happiness of belonging to this great, inspiring community.

Hitler idealized and promoted the idea of the community—the German volk. All Germans would be united—bound together as one—to constitute this community. On the other hand, Hitler believed there were some people—“incurables”—who did not understand the “happiness” of belonging to this great community.

The idea of “incurables” links to the idea of disease from which someone is suffering. For Hitler, a diseased individual was someone who did not fit in—could not assimilate to the “inspiring community.”

A“diseased” human being was someone who wished to be separate from the community. Separation was conceived as the primal sin. Nazism sought to destroy these “sick” people who did not want to be part of a community; whose diseased state of being made them incapable of union with others.

This is where “the Jew” came in. One can talk forever about German anti-Semitism, racism, etc. But these terms are abstractions, providing no sense of how Germans experienced “the Jew” in a visceral way. Which is to say: the idea of the Jew contained profound meaning.

Hitler was a philosopher of anti-Semitism. Nazism was not simply mindless “racism,” but grew out of very specific conceptions of the nature of Jews and Judaism. This idea is embodied in the following judgment by the Cologne Labor Court dated January 21, 1941, which denied the claim of Jewish employees to a vacation:

The precondition for the claim to a vacation—membership of the plant community—does not exist. A Jew cannot be a member of the plant community on account of his whole racial tendency which is geared to forwarding his personal interests and securing economic advantages.

There it is—in a nutshell. The Jewish employee was not entitled to a vacation because the precondition to a claim to a vacation—being a member of the plant community—did not exist.

The Jew could not be a member of the community because of his to tendency toward “forwarding personal interests and securing economic advantages.” This inclination to serve individual interests at the expense of the community, Hitler believed, was racially given.

The idea of Jewish “inferiority,” it seems to me, is completely misunderstood. I cannot recall Hitler, Himmler or Goebbels using this term to describe the Jew (on the contrary, they attributed superhuman powers to Jews). Their idea of the Jew—what generated rage and the desire to destroy—was their concept of Jewish “individualism,” i.e., the inability of the Jewish race to assimilate into the community.

The Jew, Hitler believed, was incapable of being reformed. The Jew could not be changed because his inclination to pursue personal interests at the expense of the community was a “racial tendency.”

Hitler stated that the Jew completely “lacked the conception of an activity which builds up the life of the community.” Thus it was beside the point whether any particular Jew was “decent or not”—because he carried within himself “those characteristics which nature has given him.”

The nature of the Jew—contained within his biological makeup—was his inability to assimilate into a national community. Because of this “inherited” hostility to human society, there could be no solution to the Jewish question. A true understanding of Jews and Judaism, Nazi scholarship declared, “insists on their total annihilation.”