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1940: Machinery of Hatred
 pg. 187 
  For Europe's Jews, the spring of 1940 went from bad to worse as it continued to reveal Nazi antisemitism and racism in ways that were both known and unknown to them. On May 25, for example, Himmler handed Adolf Hitler a secret memorandum that contained Himmler's recommendations regarding "the treatment of the peoples of alien races in the East." It called for "the racial sifting" of millions of people, an action that would reconfigure the demography as well as the geography of Eastern Europe.

In those areas, the Germans might find some people who would be racially valuable and capable of assimilation. The larger goal, however, would be to turn the so-called inferior populations into "laborers without leaders." They would perform "special tasks," the "heavy work" required for the "everlasting cultural tasks" of the German people. As distinct ethnic groups, these populations should be split up and dissolved into "innumerable small fragments and particles." Himmler envisioned minimal schooling for this non-German population in the East: "simple arithmetic--up to five hundred at the most; writing one's name; the doctrine that it is a divine law to obey the Germans and to be honest, industrious, and good. I don't think that reading is necessary."

Two other features of Himmler's memorandum to Hitler on May 25 are especially noteworthy. Without elaboration, Himmler referred to the possibility that Jewish ways would be "completely extinguished" in the East through "a large emigration of all Jews to Africa or some other colony." In addition, when speaking about racially acceptable children who should be separated from their parents for purposes of assimilation, Himmler stated that "cruel and tragic" though these steps might be in individual cases, they were still the "mildest and best...if, out of inner conviction, one rejects as un-German and impossible the Bolshevist method of physical extermination of a people." In Nazi Germany, such inner conviction did not run deep. When Himmler's "large emigration of all Jews" proved impossible, Nazi ideology implied that physical extermination of the Jews was neither impossible nor "un-German."

On May 28 Himmler prepared a summary of Hitler's reactions to the proposal about "alien races in the East." Himmler noted that Hitler had read "the six pages and considered them very good and correct." According to Himmler, Hitler directed that Himmler's report should be handled with "utmost secrecy," but he also authorized that key Nazi leaders in the East should be informed that "the Führer acknowledged and sanctioned this report as a directive." Himmler, who did more than any other Nazi to implement the deadly logic of racism, had obtained one of the authorizations that would help him launch the "Final Solution" when its time came.

That time had not yet come in the spring of 1940, but it drew closer by the end of the year. On December 18 Hitler secretly ordered preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the code name for Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. With that 1941 invasion, the mass murder of Jews in Eastern Europe would begin in earnest.

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The conqueror of France poses in triumph with Albert Speer (left) in Paris.
Photo: National Archives / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

Brick and stone walls seal off the Warsaw Ghetto from the world.
Photo: AP/Wide World

1940: Machinery of Hatred
 pg. 187 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.