This Day in Jewish History |

1939: Hitler Makes First Call for Jews’ 'Annihilation'

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German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his personal representative Rudolf Hess, right, during a parade in Berlin, Germany, on Dec. 30, 1938.Credit: AP

On January 30, 1939, the sixth anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s ascension to the chancellorship of Germany, the Fuhrer delivered a speech to the Reichstag in which he spoke explicitly about the annihilation of European Jewry. Toward the end of what was a more than two-hour speech, Hitler made a threat regarding what would happen to the Jews if they succeeded in dragging Germany into “another” world war:

“Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

The bulk of Hitler’s speech was devoted not to the subject of the Jews, but rather to recounting the glorious history of the Nazi party. In a 1997 article in the journal History & Memory, the German historian Hans Mommsen explains that Hitler’s insertion of a few paragraphs about the Jews came against the background of ongoing negotiations between the Third Reich and the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, on a plan for Jewish emigration from Germany.

The Final Solution did not really get under way until the summer of 1941, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union; in early 1939, the Germans were still hopeful that they could get rid of their Jews by way of emigration, while in return they wanted the Western powers to loan them money to carry out rearmament. In fact, serious discussions were going on with George Rublee, the American chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee, which had been set up in the wake of the failure of the Evian Conference, in July 1938, to find nations willing to accept Jewish refugees. The snag was that far from wanting to lend Germany money, these potential refuges were insisting that the Jews be allowed to leave the Reich with their accumulated wealth.

Hence Hitler’s mocking tone, in which he chided the Western democracies for their putative concern for Germany’s Jews, but who, when asked to do their part, say “’We … are not in a position to take in the Jews,’” unless “Germany is prepared to allow them a certain amount of capital to bring with them as immigrants.”

That, of course, was something the Third Reich was unwilling to consider. Germany, he asserted, was “merely paying this people what it deserves.” After all, “when the German nation was, thanks to the inflation instigated and carried through by Jews, deprived of the entire savings which it had accumulated in years of honest work, when the rest of the world took away the German nation’s foreign investments, when we were divested of the whole of our colonial possessions, these philanthropic considerations evidently carried little noticeable weight with democratic statesmen. “

Mommsen does not suggest or imply that Hitler had benign intentions toward the Jews, but he does assert that in January 1939, the Fuehrer was not yet convinced of the need to murder all of Germany’s Jews, not to mention those in the rest of Europe. But as someone who was intimately involved in the production of the virulently anti-Semitic film “The Eternal Jew,” he apparently approved the insertion of this portion of the January 30 speech, and he also repeated in the same language, in half-a-dozen speeches in the years that followed, his threat about the “annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

If Hitler’s language was meant to appease even more extreme Jew-haters in the Nazi party, says Mommsen, in the end, the historian suggests that it “inadvertently turned into actual politics by giving unrestricted leeway to the party radicals who demanded immediate implementation.”

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