The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees

Author:Laurence Rees [Rees, Laurence]
Language: eng
Format: epub, azw3
ISBN: 9780241979952
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Published: 2017-01-26T04:30:00+00:00

11. The Road to Wannsee


In October 1941 the Germans still appeared to be winning the war against the Soviet Union. During the giant encirclement action at Vyazma and Bryansk the Germans took 660,000 prisoners and it looked as if the road to Moscow was open. There was panic in the Soviet capital and Stalin’s train waited to take him further east to safety. ‘How are we going to defend Moscow?’ demanded Lavrenti Beria, head of the NKVD, the secret police, in the Kremlin on 19 October. ‘We have absolutely nothing at all. We have been overwhelmed …’1

But the course of the war in the east was about to change drastically. Stalin decided to stay in Moscow and rally his troops – a decision which coincided with the winter rains that turned the landscape around the capital into a morass of mud. Suddenly it seemed unlikely that the Germans could defeat the Soviet Union before the onset of the worst of the Russian winter. This was potentially disastrous for them: German supply lines were stretched almost to the point of collapse and German soldiers possessed little winter clothing, as the war against the Soviet Union had been supposed to last only a few weeks.

At this vital moment in the war Hitler returned from his field headquarters in East Prussia to Munich for celebrations to commemorate the anniversary of the Beer-Hall Putsch, and on 8 November 1941 he gave a speech at the Löwenbräukeller to the party faithful. He was not in the easiest of positions. Just a month before he had told his audience that the Red Army would ‘never rise again’, and yet it had appeared to do just that. Here he was, facing followers who wanted to bask in more good news, and he had no such news to offer. He could not announce that the war in the east had been won – he could not even say that Moscow had fallen, or was likely to fall in the next few days or weeks. In these difficult circumstances he needed someone to blame for what had happened. And for Hitler, of course, it was always easy to find a scapegoat – the Jews. In his speech he said that although the Jews had influence in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Britain, the ‘biggest slave’ of the Jews was the Soviet Union where ‘only stupid, forcibly proletarianized subhumans remain. Above them, there is a giant organization of Jewish commissars, who in reality are the slave-owners.’ He claimed that German forces in the east were fighting in pursuit of a noble goal: ‘in this struggle we finally want to free Europe of the danger posed by the east, and … at the same time, we [want to] prevent the east with its immense fertility, its immense richness in natural resources and ores, from being mobilized against Europe, and instead place it in Europe’s service.’ In pursuit of that objective, he said, in words tinged with menace, he would ‘make


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