Duration of the War
The Second World War had two primary theatres of war, the European Theatre and the Pacific Theatre, while there were also campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa. The war fronts and theatres differed greatly, while the Eastern Front was the epicentre of conflict. The Eastern Front saw roughly 10 million Red Army soldiers die between 1941-1945, and approximately 3 million German soldiers die – 3/4 of German military losses. Alongside military casualties, there were a number of civilian casualties including 10 million in Eastern Europe and 6 million Jews. Poland in particular was at the centre of conflict, and was occupied by either the Nazis or Soviet Union, used as a site for experimentation, like the Final Solution.
All governments recognised the importance of uniting their people behind the war. In Nazi Germany, citizens were prepared and even desensitised to the war before its outbreak, when the Nazis infiltrated the curriculum and introduced laws. Initially many were enthusiastic about the war, namely Britain and France defending Poland and their rights against an aggressor. Moreover, the Second World War was a battle for ideology and therefore was a battle between and within nations, and was not simply about military gain, but ethnic and ideological superiority too.
Like before, war enthusiasm was brief and somewhat unifying. The years of hardship, including rationing and evacuations, created misery and discontent towards the government. The distinction however was the ‘moral’ fight, which helped maintain enthusiasm – such as the war of ideology. When the pressures of war led to mutiny in Russia in 1916 and 1917, the result was defeat and revolution; while in Germany, the mutiny of Germany’s sailors spelt the final end of a war that, by the autumn of 1918, could no longer be won.
The extermination of the Jews was one part of a wider ambition to eradicate those deemed inferior by Nazi ideology or those a danger to society, including the Slavs, gypsies and homosexuals. However, the Nazis had a sustained campaign against ‘undesirables’ long before the war, introducing laws and legislation, which encouraged many to emigrate.
There are different schools of thoughts, and in the wake of the Nuremberg Trials (1945–46), many believed the Final Solution to be an inevitable and intended event. Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was none more apparent than in Mein Kampf and in his speeches, showing a direct correlation to the extermination camps. Historians who thought in this way are known as ‘intentionalists’, and include, for example, Andreas Hillgruber and Klaus Hildebrand
Later on the views changed and emphasized the chaotic political system that characterised the Nazi regime, where subordinates struggle for power and recognition from Hitler. This meant although Hitler was in charge, power was diminished and not every decision was necessarily made by Hitler. The policy of mass extermination was therefore conceived by Hitler’s high-ranking officials. This is the position of structuralists’ or ‘functionalists’, such as Hans Mommsen, Martin Broszat and Christopher Browning
As information has been released, there has been a merger of these two positions, and highlight the complex and multi-dimensional approach to decision-making in Nazi Germany. As more private records have become public, there is greater clarity on how local Nazi policies evolved. Historians with this view include Ian Kershaw, Michael R. Marrus, Ulrich Herbert and Wendy Lower
Do you believe Hitler intended for the Holocaust a Final Solution? Compare Hitler before and during the war to understand if you believe Hitler intended to create extermination camps, or if they were a response to the changing demands of society and war.