Memo for the controversial bloggers, part IIIa: Jonathan Harrison: the master of misinterpretation – Rosenberg and Vernichtung

Both in his contribution to the manifesto and in many of his blog posts, Jonathan Harrison has specialized in the dogmatic insistence that even the most innocent of documents serve as proof of the extermination of the Jews, a matter on which he is far more rigid-minded than mainstream holocaust scholarship. Even when forced to read documents completely against the grain, he consistently finds a way to insist not merely that the documents are compatible with the extermination thesis, but that they can only be interpreted in that way. Given his readiness to insist that innocuous document cannot be read in a straightforward fashion, but must be interpreted through a conspiratorial lens that sees coded-language and cover-ups everywhere, it is no surprise that when confronting documents that use somewhat ominous language, Harrison assumes that they must without question refer to extermination. Precisely this type of reasoning was engaged in by Allied prosecutors[50] and early Jewish commentators[51] and consistently led to conclusions now acknowledged to be false. We will examine how Harrison’s analysis goes awry in one example, pertaining to Alfred Rosenberg, before entering into a more general discussion of the interpretation of certain German words, and then finally returning to Rosenberg.

Referring to a November 1941 speech in which the Ostminister called for a biologische Ausmerzung of Jewry and to a subsequent note in which he referred to an Ausrottung of Jewry, Harrison assumes that he has found key evidence that Hitler had announced ‘the decision’ to kill all the Jews (p. 118). While a naive interpreter like Harrison may imagine that the ‘biological’ in biologische Ausmerzung is a reference to killing, this is not its true meaning. As would have been entirely clear to individuals familiar with nationalist thinking, behind Rosenberg’s statement is an implicit distinction between biological and cultural solutions. For the Jews to be culturally extirpated in Europe would mean that Jews abandoned their separate Jewish identity – in other words, it means nothing more than assimilation. For an example of this distinction, one should think of Richard Wagner’s statements in Das Judenthum in der Musik, in which he recommends Selbstvernichtung and Untergang to the Jews. Despite the presence of the word Vernichtung, his remarks allude to nothing more than assimilation. While Wagner had not fully conceived of the Jewish problem in biological terms, and could therefore recommend assimilation, Rosenberg, and National Socialism in general, understood the Jewish problem as being, though manifested in culture, ultimately rooted in race. Consequently, what was needed was not cultural extirpation/eradication (assimilation) but biological extirpation (removal of the population from the territory in question, by one means or another). This is the meaning of Rosenberg’s speech.

Moving beyond this particular context, there is a need for some general remarks and examples concerning two of the words most often interpreted as implying extermination: Vernichtung and Ausrottung. In truth, these words have a wide range of meanings. They are more expressive and evocative than they are precise. Some concrete instances will help to illustrate this point. In September 1934 the Jewish Central Information Office complained of a Vernichtungsfeldzug against German Jewry.[52] With the standard holocaust-style translation, this would be a “campaign of extermination” – already in 1934. Even if one wished to play up the distinction between Judentum and Juden to explain this particular source, this would not account for the fact that a 1936 document collection spoke of the Vernichtung of the Jews in Germany, and was certainly not saying that they were being killed.[53] Nor was it only the Jews who were said to be suffering Vernichtung. One can find complaints in the early 1930s of the Vernichtung of the Germans in eastern Europe, which state that the process of Vernichtung began in 1914.[54] Such language was widespread among National Socialists. For example, in a 1925 speech, Julius Streicher stated that Jews had vernichtet the Völker for millenia and called for for preparation so that the people could vernichten the Jews.[55] In neither case did vernichten mean killing all of the people in question. Likewise, in Mein Kampf Hitler wrote that the SA existed to protect the German nation against those who threatened to vernichten Volk and Staat,[56] characterised the goal of the Jews as the Vernichtung of all non-Jewish Völker,[57] and stated that German objectivity risked the Vernichtung of their own Volk.[58] When he thus spoke of a Vernichtung of a Volk, he was not implying that all of its members would be killed.

——

[50] See the December 1944 UNWCC Summary of Information No. 11: The Planned Extermination of European Jews, in which statements going back to 1933 are interpreted as implying a policy of extermination.
[51] See for instance the argument that the Germans already intended to exterminate the Jews in September 1939 in Josef Guttman, The Fate of European Jewry in the Light of the Nuremberg Documents, YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 1947-48, pp. 313-327, here pp. 320-321.
[52] Various Reports from the Jewish Central Information Office: Der Vernichtungsfeldzug gegen das deutsche Judentum, in: Testaments to the Holocaust: Series 1: Archives of the Wiener Library, London, Reel 66.
[53] Dokumentensammlung über die Entrechtung, Ächtung und Vernichtung der Juden in Deutschland seit der Regierung Adolf Hitler, 1936.
[54] Heinrich Schröder, Die Systematische Vernichtung der Rußland Deutschen, Julius Beltz, Langensalza, 1933, esp. pp. 9-15, 20-25.
[55] Die Zukunft Wird uns die Rettung bringen, 3.4.25, in Julius Streicher, Kampf dem Weltfeind: Reden aus der Kampfzeit, Verlag Der Stürmer, Nürnberg, 1938, pp. 40-43, here p. 42.
[56] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Munich, 1936, p. 601.
[57] ibid, p. 351.
[58] ibid, p. 201.

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2 Responses to Memo for the controversial bloggers, part IIIa: Jonathan Harrison: the master of misinterpretation – Rosenberg and Vernichtung

  1. Per says:

    Hello Mr Jansson

    Would you debate Muehlenkamp in radio show?

    Best regards
    Per

  2. Pingback: Ausrottung yet again | Holocaust History Channel

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