Hitler, as we have observed, imagined that Jews had evaded their obligation to fight (and to die) in the First World War. He was tormented by the question: why do the best men die in warfare, while the worst men survive?
|In war, “dying for one’s country” is conceived as honorable and noble. The Holocaust depicts death at the hands of the nation-state without sugar-coating: degradation and death stripped of words such as loyalty, honor and duty.
He wrote in Mein Kampf (1924) that if the best men were dying at the front “the least we could do was to wipe out the vermin.” He stated that if during the war “twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas,” then the sacrifice of millions at the front “would not have been in vain.”
In the next war, Hitler insisted, things would be different. Jews would not evade the sacrificial obligation. As German soldiers had been “held under poison gas” during the First World War, so during the Second World War—Jews would be held under poison gas.
There would be no shirkers. No one would be exempt from the sacrificial obligation. Everyone would be required to submit to the German nation—to be obedient unto death.
Once again, German soldiers would lose their lives on the field of battle. This time, however, Jews too would be required to die.
As the Final Solution was gaining momentum in mid-1942, Hitler claimed to be undisturbed by the murder of men, women, and children:
If I don’t mind sending the pick of the German people into the hell of war without the slightest regret over the spilling of precious German blood, then I naturally also have the right to eliminate millions of an inferior race that multiplies like vermin (Meltzer, 1991).
If Hitler—as national leader—had the “right” to sacrifice the best people, young German men, then surely he had the right to sacrifice the worst people, Jews—mortal enemies of Germany.
The logic of genocide followed from the logic of warfare.
Warfare requires that soldiers give over their bodies to the nation-state. They are required to suffer and to die when national leaders ask them to do so. The Holocaust represented an extension of this logic. Jews—like German soldiers—would be compelled to be obedient unto death—to die at the behest of Germany.
In war, “dying for one’s country” is conceived as honorable and noble. The Holocaust depicts death at the hands of the nation-state without sugar-coating: suffering, degradation and death stripped of words such as loyalty, honor and duty.
Upon the death of a German soldier in the Second World War, newspapers carried the obituaries of or farewells to men killed in action (Sorge, 1986). These announcements provided the name of the soldier, stating that the husband, father, brother or uncle had died “for the Fuehrer, the German people and the Fatherland.” Of course, victims of the Holocaust received no such congratulatory message.
The Final Solution was undertaken as a project of revenge against those who seemed unwilling to embrace the sacrificial imperative; and as a means toward “balancing the scales of death.” According to Hitler’s fantasy, Germans had died in the First World War, whereas Jews had not. During the Second World War, Jews too would die.
The Final Solution was undertaken to teach Jews a lesson—“Do not think it is possible for you to evade your responsibility to sacrifice your life.” Since Jews—by their very nature—were incapable of sacrificing their lives for a national community, they would have to be compelled to die.The Holocaust was undertaken according to the totalitarian idea that nothing could be separate from the state. The power of Germany had to be total: no one could escape her reach; everyone was obligated to die.