On May 25, 1940, Heinrich Himmler sent Adolf Hitler a memorandum in which he suggested “a large emigration of all Jews to Africa or some other colony.” Himmler also wrote that he “rejects as un-German and impossible the Bolshevist method of physical extermination of a people.”
Hard as it is to believe, in May 1940 Himmler, head of the SS and the man primarily responsible for ridding Germany of its Jews, thought that the “physical extermination of a people” was “un-German.” How Nazi Germany got from that point to the time, less than two years later, when it was sending hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths in gas chambers, is the main thrust of this S/DG. (We do not study the major killings in Auschwitz and the other extermination camps in 1942, 1943, and 1944.)
It was always a major policy of the Nazis to rid Germany of its Jews. The means changed as circumstances changed—the end never changed. The means can be described by the three “e”s—Emigration, Expulsion, and Extermination. Encouraging (to put it mildly) emigration by such means as the Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht was government policy from the Nazi takeover in January 1933 until the start of the war in September 1939. This policy was successful as 280,000 of the 500,000 Jews in Germany in January 1933 emigrated before the start of the war.
The second “e”, Expulsion, began at the start of the war, when emigration was no longer feasible, and lasted until early 1942 when expulsion (e.g., shipping the Jews to Madagascar or Siberia) was itself no longer feasible. This is when our core book, Christopher Browning’s The Origins of the Final Solution, begins. The subtitle of Browning’s book delineates the emphasis of the S/DG. It is The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939—March 1942. That is, we study the origins, not the implementation, of the Final Solution.