Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Essays & Editorials
2008 - 2009
2007 - 2008
2006 - 2007
Analyse the Techniques used by the Third Reich in the Final Solution
By Joseph Bench
The origins of the Final Solution remain uncertain. What is clear is that the genocide of the Jews was the culmination of a decade of Nazi policy under the rule of Adolf Hitler. Throughout the Holocaust no one method of extermination was used to murder the Jewish population, but methods did advance. Jews had been witness to cruelty as far back as 1933 though these were largely not violent acts; they were mainly one of politics and principle. One could argue that a psychological breakdown of the Jews had started before a violent one had. We see throughout the years of World War II violence erupted and methods towards total annihilation developed with speed and efficiency. This essay will highlight three main stages in the destruction of the European Jews: ghettoization, mass shootings and finally the move to gassing both by gas vans and death camps. It must not be misunderstood that the Holocaust did see other developments in destruction and removal of the Jews that this essay will not focus on, for this is a huge subject that needs room for heavy judgement and debate.
Nazi policy between 1939-1941 saw plans for the systematic ghettoization of the Jewish population. These were going to be the first planned steps into the removal of Jews from German society. Freidlander believes that no direct order came from Heydrich or Frank for the establishment of these ghettos. He believes that they came about due to a number of different circumstances from place to place. From the outset ghettos were seen as a temporary way of segregating the Jews. The ghettos were overcrowded, disease ridden and costly they were never meant for permanent lodgers. Rutka Laskier and her family were forced into Bedzins ghetto in Poland she describes her experience and her anxiety while she waits for selection.
‘I’m not allowed to go out and I’m going crazy, imprisoned in my own house… For a few days, something’s in the air… The town is breathlessly waiting in anticipation, and this anticipation is the worst of all. I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts, of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies…’
Ghettos had their own law and administration separate to the outside world. The oldest or most powerful Jews in the ghetto found themselves in control taking orders from the German authorities. ‘The Jewish self-governing body was directly subordinate to the food supply and provisioning agency for the ghetto’, and it was heavily corrupt. There were no schools in the ghettos, no hospitals; most places of worship had been destroyed already; no banks, and no places of entertainment like theatres or parks. Jews were totally cut off from the outside world, and ghettos helped in the mental breakdown of the Jews immensely, they were literally holding cells until all the inmates could be transported to a death camps or shot. During their time in the ghettos the Jews were forced to work, Yahil believes that the purpose of this forced labour was not to benefit Jews or even the Nazis, but to gradually kill them. Yahil believes that this method of death was to slow, so this provoked the next step in the Nazis’ plan. This is highlighted by the Warsaw ghetto in Poland in 1940: 500,000 Jews were deported there, while 6,000 a month died from starvation disease, exposure and shootings.
In the summer of 1941, a new stage of the Holocaust had begun. Under cover of war and confident of victory, the Germans turned from the forced imprisonment of Jews to mass murder (though ghettoization still remained throughout the war). The Einzatsgruppen moved hastily behind the advancing German army. They murdered any resident Jews that they came across in the newly occupied Soviet territory. Men, women and children of all ages were taken into secluded areas, shot and buried in mass graves. This was the first sign of systematic murder, they were murdered as efficiently as a production line in a factory. One major problem that affected this efficiency however was the effect it was having on members of the Einzatsgruppen themselves. They were not trained in how to deal with mass murder as Browning illustrates‘...they were certainly not a group carefully selected for their suitability as mass murderers, nor were they given special training and indoctrination for the task that awaited then.’ Yahil on the other hand believes that these men were trained in the art of cruelty and they and had to be prepared for what they were about to do, and takes an example from Marshal Walther Von Reichenau’s report on October 1941, supreme commander of the Sixth Army: ‘The soldier must fully understand the need for the severe but just atonement of the Jewish subhumans.’ A number of different problems arose from mass shootings the expense was a burden, having to equip bullets on a massive scale both of the frontline and in occupied territory, finding an appropriate area to carry out the murders, finding suitable areas for mass graves and trying to keep the murders as secret as possible became a significant problem.
Mass murder by shooting was soon found to be causing too much public attention and was putting too much strain on the murderers, a new method was needed. Experiments with gas were beginning to be used near Minsk in early September 1941 on Euthanasia patients. After successful trials with gassing by using car exhaust fumes, Artur Nebe (leader of the Reich’s Criminal Police Department) bought forward the idea for constructing a car with a hermetically sealed cabin for killing purposes. Heydrich adopted Nebe’s idea and Gas vans were supplied to the Einsatzgruppen in Chelmno. Problems began to occur; death times could range from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the individual, as well there was still the impact on men when they opened the gas tight chambers at the end of gassing to find the dead crumpled bodies, as an account from commando member Lauer describes ‘As the doors were opened, dense smoke emerged, followed by a tangle of crumpled bodies.’ The soldiers themselves were damaging their health due to the constant exposure to carbon monoxide. Gas vans were expensive to transport and high maintenance, they couldn’t always reach their next destination in a suitable time, they were also very recognisable to local people and soon their secrecy was no longer safe and it was soon realised that a new permanent and more efficient method was needed.
On 20 January 1942 a meeting was held at Wannsee. Fifteen high-ranking Nazi party and German government leaders attended. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe. The result of this meeting ended with the plan for the total extermination of the Jews in extermination camps, by using gas as the means of execution.
In the months following the Wannsee conference, a huge amount of Jews were deported to six concentration camps all located in Poland, these being Chelmo, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek-Lubin. The areas where these camps were erected were mainly rural preventing disturbance to local communities and to keep the secrecy. Most of the deportees were immediately murdered after a long train journey to the camp, very few were selected for work, or experimental reasons. The Nazi’s preferred gassing over other methods as it was cleaner and more efficient. Gassing spared the murderers the emotional stress of having to kill, this was a major advantage in the advancement of extermination camps. Often other Jewish inmates were made to clear the gas chambers after a gassing, again relieving those in charge of any mental trauma.
Extermination camps themselves were inescapable they were guarded constantly by machine guns and guards, often like Auschwitz they had two electric fences, barbed wire and no signs of civilization for miles around. They were designed to perfection, for their use.
It was purely by coincidence that Zyklon B was going to be used in gas chambers. It was discovered in Auschwitz in Block 11 where it was found to be piousness and toxic to humans, when it was tested on a group of Soviet prisoners in 1941. It was soon found that this method of murder was cheap, quick and easy to implement. It was found that when Zyklon B came into contact with heat and air it became immediately toxic, pellets were dropped though holes that were located in the roof of the gas chambers. Children would have been the first to perish followed swiftly by their elders. Death times were much improved using Zyklon B, they could range from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the person, showing an obvious advantage from earlier methods. What must be remembered is that though this method of death was the most favourable, mass shootings was never abandoned by the Nazi’s, even when extermination camps were near, mass shootings still took place. Friedlander believes this was due to ‘a matter of routine’, that the SS had an important role and they were going to carry out that role in any way necessary.
The use of gassing and extermination really shows the systematic plan for murder by the Nazis’. It shows how extermination was almost used like a production line, dehumanising all involved.
For the first time in the Reich it was clear to all that expulsion was no longer what was planned for the Jews, but instead total annihilation was going to be the only way to deal with them, as Browning comments ‘...people within the Nazi regime began to receive unmistakeable signals from their colleagues in the SS that Nazi Jewish policy had passed a fateful divide. Not expulsion but mass murder awaited the European Jews.’
By the end of October 1941 the conception of the Final Solution had taken shape. Jews were going to be taken to secret camps and murdered by gas. Though this wasn’t implemented until the spring of 1942 when all the necessary equipment was in place. Death by gassing was now going to be used to solve the Jewish problem. Again it must be clear that throughout the Holocaust the Nazis were striving to find the quickest and most effective way to kill the Jews, their speed in design and hast of moving from one method to another shows the dedication and belief in what they were doing. The most prominent reason for deciding to use death camps as the ultimate method in the Final Solution was the efficient and systematic way that they delivered death.
Aly, Gotz, and Susanne Heim. Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction. Oxford University Press, 2002: Oxford
Browning, Christopher. The Origins of the Final Solution. The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy 1939-1942. Arrow Books, 2005: London
-, ed. The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution. Cambridge University Press 1992: Cambridge
Burleigh, Michael, ed. The Third Reich. A New History. Pan Books 2001: London
Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews: Volume 1. Holmes & Meier 1985: London
Friedlander, Saul. The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945. Weidendield & Nicolson 2007: London
Laskier, Rutka. Rutka's Notebook - January-April 1943. (20 February 1943). Yad Vashem Publications, 2007: Jerusalem
Rieger, Berndt. Creator of Nazi Death Camps: The Life of Odilo Globocnik. Vallentine and Mitchell Publishing, 2007: Middlesex
Leni Yahil. The Holocaust. The Fate of European Jewry. Oxford University Press 1990: Oxford
www.holocaustresearchproject.org Access dates: 5/4/2008, 20/4/2008, 1/5/2008
 Friedlander, Saul. The Years of Extermination, p.38.
 Aly, Gotz. Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation. Auschwitz and the logic of destruction, p.187.
 Yahil, Leni. The Holocaust, p.225.
 Rieger, Berndt. Creator of the Nazi Death Camps. The Life of Odilo Globocnik.
 Browning Christopher, ed. The Path to Genocide, p.181.
 Friedlander, Saul. The Years of Extermination, p.234.
 Friedlander, Raul. The Years of Extermination, P.236.
 Browning, Christopher. The Origins of the Final Solution, p.369.
Copyright: 2009 Joseph Bench & H.E.A.R.T