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Hitler’s willing executioners by Daniel Goldhagen Assignment

‘No-one could believe that anything but a dire fate awaited the Jewish men and women, the elderly and the children, whom, in the midst of this war , the German government was forcibly sending, often with open brutality, to the East. Their attitudes indicate that Germans assented to these measures to make Germany judenfrei, free of Jews….. The inescapable truth is that, regarding Jews, German political views had evolved to the point where an enormous number of ordinary, representative Germans became…. Hitler’s willing executioners. ‘

Using all the sources explain whether or not you agree with this view. Daniel Goldhagen’s extract is a controversial interpretation of what he believes to be the German people’s knowledge of and participation in the Final Solution. His view is probably biased as his father was a survivor of one of the death camps and so his hatred for the Nazi’s and German’s at the time may have clouded his judgement. His opinion creates controversy when he claims that the whole German nation had knowledge of the Final Solution and that ‘ordinary, representative’ Germans became ‘Hitler’s willing executioners’.

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Goldhagen’s use of the term ‘willing executioners’ suggests that the Germans played an active role in the Final Solution and so had an equal amount of knowledge as everyone else surrounding the Final Solution. Goldhagen’s claim seems outrageous when we look at sources one, two, three and four which each show what seems to indicate an operation shrouded in secrecy. If Goldhagen’s point of view was true, and ordinary German’s did have such knowledge of the Final Solution, then there would have been no need for the Nazi’s to place death camps in other countries, far from German eyes as we can clearly see in the map in source one.

Source two confirms this as it tells us that ‘The Nazis tried to shroud the operation in secrecy by carrying it out in a remote part of Poland’ as shown in source fourteen, which is a photograph of three Jewish children begging in a Warsaw ghetto in the early 1940’s. Sources two, three and four, all claim that there were rumours circulating at the time of the Final Solution as to the fate of the Jews and this would suggests a lack of certain German knowledge as to the nature of the Final Solution.

Sources three and four both claim that there was physical evidence of the extermination of Jews. Source three claims that at Dachau, when the crematoria were turned on, the electricity in the surrounding houses went down and when the ashes from the crematoria fell, they settled on the front lawns and source four informs us that the greasy smoke and the unmistakeable odour of burning bodies could be detected for miles around.

Daniel Goldhagen believes that all Germans had knowledge of the Final Solution and although these sources prove that there was physical evidence of the extermination of Jews, but none of the physical evidence is very widespread and therefore only a select few Germans would have had access to such evidence and knowledge. Sources eight and nine both show that the German people claimed to have had no idea of what had been going on inside camps situated just outside of their towns.

These sources, although not in support of sources three and four still would suggest the knowledge of the Final Solution was not as widespread as Goldhagen believed. Although there are many sources opposing Goldhagen’s view, there are also those which support it, such as source five and six. Source five again reports the rumours which were circulating and without any real evidence supporting his view, Gerald Reitlanger comes to the conclusion that ‘More than a hundred million people must have known such things and whispered about them’.

Source six reports some of the ways in which Germans may have got an insight into the nature of the Final Solution. David Bankier writes of SS men and Army personnel divulging such information in casual conversation, also he writes of the Allied radio broadcasts and of the US Air Force scattering nine million copies of leaflets revealing what was going on in the camps, but, the Americans were not only dropping leaflets on Germany, they also dropped bombs and so many Germans may have rejected the information as simply enemy propaganda.

Out of all the sources, source seven is most alike Goldhagen’s source, it is an extract from an illegal pamphlet released by an anti-Nazi resistance movement named ‘The White Rose’. It, like Goldhagen’s source, condemns the German nation as a whole for ignoring what was going on around them, the distribution of this and allied pamphlets and broadcasts show us that most Germans must have had some knowledge of the Final Solution, but this does not automatically make them ‘willing executioners’, it doesn’t even mean they were in support of what was happening as William Carr explains in source two, ‘to ask too many questions… as to risk arrest and possibly death, this underlines how abnormal life in Nazi Germany was at this time. Source ten is another source from Daniel Goldhagen, it is the diary entry of a woman who worked to save Jews in Berlin, it notes “The Jews are disappearing in throngs. Ghastly rumours are current about the fate of the evacuees – mass shootings and death by starvation, tortures, and gassings”.

Both Source seven and source ten are written by people who have seen the atrocities first hand and so have a more in-depth knowledge than the ordinary, representative Germans which Daniel Goldhagen speaks of. Source three gives us a useful insight into the workers at an extermination camp in Austria and shows us that the workers at the camps didn’t always take part in the execution of the Jews from their own free will as Phillip Sauvain informs us of how the workers their were threatened with death if they ever told anyone of what was going on.

This also tells us that the people surrounding this camp either had no idea of what was happening inside the camp or they had some knowledge, but it was limited and the fact that the Nazi soldiers had to threaten their workers to keep quiet about the extermination of Jews suggests that the people living around the camp would have been outraged and wouldn’t have supported it. Sources eleven, twelve and thirteen are all prime examples of typical Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda.

Each of the three sources show stereotypical images of Jews i. e. hooked nose, fat and with shifty eyes. Source twelve is a beer mat with an image of a Jew surrounded by an anti-Jewish caption which shows how relentless the Nazi’s indoctrination of their citizens was, even in their free time. Source thirteen is perhaps the most disturbing of the sources as it is aimed blatantly at the indoctrination of the children. It’s an extract from a children’s book published by the Nazi party titled ‘Trust No Fox and No Jew’.

It show the Aryan man leaning on a shovel on one side of the page and on the other side is the Jewish stereotype carrying a briefcase in an overt attempt to discourage young children from liking or having the desire to aspire to be like the Jew illustrated. All of this indoctrination suggests that without it the German people would not have allowed Jews to have been massacred in such a way and would have opposed such an operation in a more open way.

Having investigated each source and having applied it to Daniel Goldhagen’s opinion of how during the Final Solution the German people became Hitler’s ‘willing executioners’, I believe that he is wrong to have said that ordinary, representative Germans became willing executioners, as for this they would have required an in-depth knowledge as to what was going on in camps around them.

However, I do believe that most, if not all Germans had some sort of knowledge about the Final Solution be it through rumours, pamphlets or allied broadcasts, although it was not as extensive as that of some Germans such as Hans Scholl, who served on the front line.

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