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1939: The War Against The Jews
 pg. 149 
    On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, head of Nazi Germany's Security Police, dispatched a secret message. It went to the chiefs of special task forces (Einsatzgruppen), whose responsibilities covered Polish territory controlled by Nazi Germany after its successful invasion of Poland on September 1. The subject of the message was the "Jewish Question in Occupied Territory," and Heydrich wrote about the final and intermediate goals.

Heydrich did not define the Endziel (final goal), but his memo was clear about many of the intermediate stages. Jews should be concentrated; that is, moved from the countryside and villages into large cities, where railroad transportation was readily available. Certain parts of Occupied Poland would become judenrein (cleansed of Jews) to facilitate the resettlement of ethnic Germans. Jewish councils (Judenräte) were to be appointed and held responsible for carrying out "the exact and prompt implementation of directives."

Heydrich also ordered his Einsatzgruppen chiefs to give him updates on the number and location of Polish Jews as well as their property. These orders contained an ambitious demographic plan. Specifically, it was an order to start the ghettoization of Polish Jewry, a deadly decision that would eventually doom millions of Jewish children, women, and men. Under the cover of conventional war, a different war--one against all of Europe's Jews--was beginning.

Eight months earlier, on January 30, 1939, Hitler spoke to the Reichstag about the future of Europe, and the fate of European Jewry in particular. The evening's two-and-a-half-hour speech included his by then familiar anti-Jewish tirades, but on this occasion Hitler's menacing forecasts were more ominous than usual. "If international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe again succeed in plunging the nations into a world war," Hitler insisted, "the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth and with it the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."

Hitler did not detail what he had in mind. Forced emigration or large-scale Jewish resettlement were the anti-Jewish objectives most in play at the time. But Hitler also had plans to annex Czech territory, and he may have intended to keep international interference at bay by signaling that the Reich's Jews would be held hostage. Be that as it may, few listeners took Hitler's murderous threats literally. Nevertheless, as the search continued for "solutions" to Nazi Germany's "Jewish question," Hitler's speech advanced the idea of annihilation, which would eventually become the Reich's policy

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A young boy ponders his fate while sitting among the ruins of his Warsaw, Poland, home.
Photo: Julien Bryan/ courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive Archives

1939: The War Against The Jews
 pg. 149 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.