War as Extermination: Review essay by Brian Crim

Developmental Time, Cultural Space
Author: André Mineau
Format: Paperback
Published: Apr. 2012
ISBN-10: 9042035064
Language: English
Pages: 144

For information on purchasing this book through Amazon, click here.

SS ideology was the expression of a philosophical self-containing system of thought, articulated around a systematic body of knowledge. It portrayed itself as a global approach to society and civilization, based on eugenics and ethnic cleansing. SS theory and praxis was a response of the cultural shock brought about by World War I — and promoted total war for the sake of total health.

SS Thinking and the Holocaust is part of Rodopi’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies (HGS) series, which is committed to philosophical examinations of the Holocaust and genocide.

About the author: André Mineau is Professor of Ethics and History at the University of Quebec at Rimouski.

About the Reviewer

Brian Crim is Associate Professor of History at Lynchburg College, where he teaches courses in modern European history and the Holocaust. His research revolves around war, political violence, and antisemitism in modern Germany.

His monograph entitled Antisemitism in the German Military Community and the Jewish Response, 1914-1938 will be published by Lexington Books in 2014.

Dear Colleague,

In his essay on Heinrich Himmler, Max Hastings writes about the “stunning incompetence” with which the Nazi war machine was conducted. Even with his familiarity with the period, he never ceases to be amazed by the authority entrusted to men of miserably meager talents.

Himmler, Heydrich and the SS, Hastings says, were amazingly careless of the “rational priorities of war,” devoting themselves with “demented single-mindedness to pursuing, herding, eventually killing Europe’s Jews.”

Brian Crim’s complete review essay of SS Thinking and the Holocaust appears on our website.

Click here to read the complete review essay.

We would appreciate your comments on this Newsletter — or the entire review essay. Leave your reflections and commentary below.

Hastings writes about the economic and strategic cost to Germany of undertaking a program of “liquidating those who were unwanted, while the outcome of the war still hung in the balance.” Only fools could have chosen to “address the agenda of supposed ethnic purification before Nazi hegemony on the Continent was secure.”

Like other conventional historians, Hastings sets up a dichotomy between the “rationality” of warfare, on the one hand, and the “irrationality” of genocide or ethnic cleansing, on the other. But what if the primary objective of Nazism was precisely ethnic cleansing, specifically ridding the world of Jews? How then will we understand Nazi warfare?

Brian Crim is a young historian challenging the view that genocide and warfare are inct political forms. Building upon Andre Mineau’s book, SS Thinking and the Holocaust, Crim demonstrates that the Holocaust and Second World War were two sides of the same coin: the struggle to free the world of “Jewish Bolshevik bacteria.”

Crim cites an order issued by Field Marshall Reichenau to Wehrmacht forces in October 1941, just three months into the German invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). Reichenau states that the objective of war against the “Jewish Bolshevik system” was “complete destruction of their means of power and elimination of the Asiatic influence from European culture.” The troops faced tasks that “exceed the one-sided routine of soldiering.

The need to eliminate “Asiatic influence from European culture,” Crim suggests, meant that “nothing short of genocide, a racial reordering of the continent under National Socialist terms, accomplishes this goal.” Reichenau’s directive, Crim says, encapsulates the National Socialist worldview by framing war as a “clash of civilizations inevitable and indispensable to saving the German race.” Nazism grew out of the belief that Germany and the world were threatened by “biological evils.” Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust therefore, according to Crim, were “inextricably linked to the same massive biological engineering project.”

Brian Crim’s complete review essay of SS Thinking and the Holocaust appears on our website.

Click here to read the complete review essay.

We would appreciate your comments on this Newsletter — or the entire review essay. Leave your reflections and commentary below.

Mineau puts it more starkly: “Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust can be understood as a single and gigantic sanitary operation.” To the SS, space management — providing for the security of the German Lebensraum — was essentially an “antibiotic operation.” Confronted with the pervasiveness of biological evil, Nazism was the “politics of hypochondria.”

The Nazi party, Crim observes, consistently portrayed Germany as a “patient in danger of racial infection.” War was a matter of self-defense, a “prophylactic,” and therefore ethical. Total war sought “total health.” The war against the Soviet Union was officially discussed by Hitler on March 30, 1941, during a speech to top Wehrmacht commanders. General Franz Halder noted the essentials:

This would be a “clash of two ideologies,” a “war of extermination.” It was necessary to fight against the “poison of disintegration.” Commanders would have to “overcome their personal scruples.” After decades of fostering an anti-Semitic world view, Crim says, the Wehrmacht was encouraged to “act against Judeo-Bolshevism without restraint.”

If the “Final Solution” sought the extermination of the Jewish people, and Operation Barbarossa was a war of extermination, what is the difference between genocide and war?

Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in the largest military operation the world had ever seen. By the time the brutal Russian winter descended, millions of Soviet POWs were dying in captivity, penned in behind barbed wire with no protection from the elements, being executed  en masse by the German Army or transported to Germany for extermination by the hundreds of thousands.

Adam Jones estimates that in a mere eight months, 2.8 million Soviet prisoners-of-war died from systematic starvation, forced labor, disease, shooting and gassing. This case, Jones says, vies with the genocide in Rwanda as the “most concentrated mass killing in human history.” During the course of the Second World War, according to Crim, 5.5 million Soviet POWs died in captivity.

If nearly 6 million Soviet prisoners-of-war were killed by German soldiers, what was the difference between the Holocaust and Operation Barbarossa?

Brian Crim’s complete review essay of SS Thinking and the Holocaust appears on our website.

Click here to read the complete review essay.

We would appreciate your comments on this Newsletter — or the entire review essay. Leave your reflections and commentary below.

Max Hastings disparages the Nazi leadership for undertaking a program of ethnic purification while the “outcome of the war still hung in the balance.” However, if the objective of warfare was precisely ethnic cleansing—to destroy Jewish-Bolshevik bacteria—was the Nazi way of waging war ineffective?

Historians twist about, straining to maintain their belief in rationality: to pretend sense exists within a sea of senselessness. Hitler could have defeated Great Britain had he focused exclusively on achieving this goal. However, he was preoccupied—distracted by his belief that Europe was being inundated by “disease bacilli which at the moment have their breeding ground in Russia.”

Andreas Hillgruber sees a parallel between the launching of the war against the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Final Solution, suggesting that the conquest of European Russia, for Hitler, was inextricably linked with the extermination of these bacilli, the Jews. The racist component of Hitler’s thought was so closely interwoven with the central political element of the program that “Russia’s defeat and the extermination of the Jews were—in theory and later in practice—inseparable for him.”

Hastings claims that Nazi leaders like Himmler, Heydrich and Goering were amazingly careless of the “rational priorities of war.” Yet it is estimated that over 21 million people died in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. And that nearly 60 million people overall died in that war. Even if Germany had “won” the Second World War, by what measure could this war have embodied or reflected rationality?

From a conventional military perspective, Hitler had lost the war. But if his goal was to kill as many Jews (and other humans) as possible, did Hitler fail?

Brian Crim’s complete review essay of SS Thinking and the Holocaust appears on our website.

Click here to read the complete review essay.

We would appreciate your comments on this Newsletter — or the entire review essay. Leave your reflections and commentary below.

On February 4, 1945, Hitler dictated a note to Martin Bormann, proudly declaring that National Socialism had “tackled the Jewish problem by action & not by words.” This action had been an essential “process of disinfection.” Hitler had been true to himself: had achieved the objective he set out to achieve when he entered politics 25 years before. He set forth the substance of his achievement: “We have lanced the Jewish abscess, and the world of the future will be eternally grateful to us.”

Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph.D
Telephone: 718-393-1081
Fax: 413-832-8145

One thought on “War as Extermination: Review essay by Brian Crim

  1. Norman Markowitz

    Crim’s review, which relies among other things on the work of my former colleague Omer Bartov is good. I would make a few additions from my own perspective. German fascism was less an ideology than a form of sociopathic world view. By focussing on the world view narrowly, one loses sight of what its underlying purposes were and why it could gain the support of powerful economic interests in Germany and the de facto toleration if not collaboration of similar groups in major nations like Britain, France, and the United States.

    First, Hitlerite racist anti-Semitism, pathological even by the traditions of the anti-Semitic Euro American right, was inexorably connected to Hitlerite anti-Communism which was murderous from the founding of the NSDAP to the end of the regime. the anti-Communist component gave the Nazis their elite support in Germany and Europe. There aim was to create a colonial empire in Europe, with Jews at the bottom and save Europe from the Bolshevik hordes. The invasion of the Soviet Union and the war of extermination against the Jews was one and the same and continued to the end. Those who supported the anti-Communist and anti-Soviet component to the end, resisting an early Second Front, made the Holocaust in the form it took possible

Comments are closed.