“I herewith commission you to carry out all preparations with regard to . . . a total solution of the Jewish question.”
– excerpt of Reichmarschall Hermann Göring directive dated July 31, 1941, to RSHA Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich
When Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, he attained the power to turn his anti-Semitic “Jewish Question” (Judenfrage) ethnic-cleansing words into deeds.
The “first solution,” initiated shortly after he came to power, was the creation of “Jew-Free” (Judenrein) municipalities in which German Jews were forcibly evacuated from villages and towns where they had lived for generations. This was almost immediately followed by a “second solution” which encouraged – in the most callous and brutal way – the emigration of German Jews through the passage of a series of anti-Semitic laws that stripped Jews of civil liberties, robbed them of careers, and allowed the destruction of Jewish property, epitomized by the “Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht) in 1938. Hundreds of thousands of Jews in Germany and the annexed territories of Austria, Bohemia, and Moravia emigrated, often with nothing more than the clothing on their backs. Though a concentration camp system was installed in the years leading up to the war, it was initially designed to punish individual foes of the Nazi regime and had yet to target Jews en masse.
In the winter of 1939, a “third solution” was activated, which affected Jews in the German controlled half of western Poland. Polish Jews were forced to live in designated ghettos, where they were slowly murdered through starvation.
Yet, as bad as things were for Jews within Germany and the occupied countries, as late as the spring of 1941 there was not yet in place an official policy promulgating the coordinated extermination of them.
Then, in June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and a “fourth solution” was activated. Once Wehrmacht troops had conquered a region and moved on, special SS death squads called Einsatzgruppen swept in and began the killing of all Jews they found. But, that only applied to Jews in the Soviet Union, for a country legendary for its mania on having Ordnung – imperfectly translated as “order” – there was still no policy document uniformly dealing with all Jews under Nazi authority.
But, with millions of Jews now under Nazi control, if Hitler was to achieve his stated goal of “the annihilation of the Jewish race throughout Europe,” at some point something had to get written.
On July 31, 1941, Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring, the second most powerful man in Germany, wrote a directive to Reinhard Heydrich, the second most powerful man in the SS. Göring’s directive said, in part:
“I herewith commission you to carry out all preparations with regard to . . . a total solution of the Jewish question in those territories of Europe which are under German influence. . . .
“I furthermore charge you to submit to me as soon as possible a draft showing the . . . measures already taken for the execution of the intended final solution [Endloesung] of the Jewish question.”
Heydrich, who had advocated such a move approximately a year previously, finally had the written authorization he needed. The “final solution” – the coordinated and systematic murder of a race – was now official policy, and he implemented it.
After Germany’s defeat in 1945, the Allies convened the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, to try surviving Nazi leaders for war crimes. The most important Nazi on trial was Göring (Heydrich was assassinated in 1942).
In their interrogations and research, though prosecutors discovered verbal and written mention of what was called the “Führer Order on the Final Solution” they were unable to find any such document signed by Hitler. But they did discover Göring’s directive. America’s lead prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, used it and other documents to indict Göring. Protesting that the directive had been mistranslated Göring claimed that “Endloesung” should be read as “desired solution,” not “final solution.” His attempt to wriggle out of culpability didn’t work. For this, and other war crimes, Göring was sentenced to death. He escaped the hangman by committing suicide.
The Robert H. Jackson Center has posted a series of videos from the Nuremberg trials on YouTube. Göring’s denial attempt scene, titled “Nuremberg Day 86 Goering (Jackson Cross re Jewish Issue),” is one of a number that can be viewed. Additional information can be found on the Center’s website: www.roberthjackson.org.