Arno J. Mayer

Dogmatists vs. Skeptics


  • refuse any opening or reopening of legitimate questions about the Jewish catastrophe
  • write and speak with empathy and compassion for the Jewish victims
  • warn of the enormous dangers and atrocious costs of racial and religious intolerance
  • insist that the Judeocide was unprecedented in history and totally unique in its time
  • insist that the Jewish suffering was ideologically predetermined due to the intrinsic racial anti-Semitism of Hitler and Nazi Germany
  • hold that Hitler had a plan from the start to implement a "Final Solution."

skeptics (deniers)

  • simply deny that the Holocaust ever occurred.
  • mock the Jewish victims with their one-sided sympathetic understanding for the executioners
  • deny the essential uniqueness and immense scale of the Jewish suffering during the Second World War.
  • assert that the Jews were victims not of a policy of deliberate and systematic extermination but of an exceptionally murderous war.
  • argue that Berlin resorted to such extreme measures for normal war time economic and security reasons.
  • observe that there is no written record of an official and explicit order to mass murder and gas the Jews (no "smoking gun")
  • minimize the number of Jewish victims

Rather than prove their assertions about the nonsingularity of the Jewish torment, the skeptics expose and scorn the discrepancies, contradictions, and exaggerations in the written and oral record concerning the exact places, times, and processes of killing, in particular of gassing, with a view to fomenting disbelief in the reality and monstrosity of the Judeocide.


  • Both extreme arguments affirm their argument rather than closely examine and substantiate a position that is in the nature of a given, almost an article of faith.
  • Their outlook is essentially dualist, in that they see only absolute truth and falsehood, unqualified certainty and uncertainty
  • They are complicit in perpetuating sterile and often poisonous polemics that interfere with what should be a civil and open-minded discussion of the principal issues

The Historians Task:

to conceptualize and portray reality in its disconcerting diversity and complexity, particularly when facing extreme and incomprehensible events

Historians Today Agree:

  •  the "Final Solution" was one of those rare, unfathomable, and troubling events like the terror in the French and Russian revolutions
  • there will never be a definitive or correct etiology and understanding of the Judeocide, except in places where an "official" version can be imposed momentarily

Two Interpretive Camps:

the reductionist (intentionalist) (historians of conservative and right-wing persuasion are prone to fashion or adopt an essentially reductionist perspective)

  • Their scope of vision is largely confined to the ideology of anti-Semitism, the person and mind-set of Adolf Hitler, and the infamy of the SS.
  • racial anti-Semitism was the epicenter of a preformed action-ideology which they presume was the essential moving force of the Nazi regime and project
  • the necessary and inevitable consequence of the absolute causal primacy of the Nazi ideology in general and of its immanent anti-Semitism in particular
  • focus their analysis on how and when Hitler, his chief acolytes, and their phalanx of executioners translated Nazism's immutable anti-Semitic animus into more and more radical policies and actions, culminating in the "Final Solution."


  • reductionist theories wrench the Judeocide out of the larger historical setting, apart from which it cannot be fully explained or understood
  • reductionists tend to affirm rather than problematize and explore the primacy of the Nazi ideology
  • presuppose the Nazi ideology to have been not only preformed but also frozen, with anti-Semitism at its core.


the extensionalist (structuralist) those of progressive and left-wing persuasion argue an essentially extensionalist one.

  •  emphasize, in the first place, the societal and political preconditions for and causes of the establishment of the Nazi regime and the dynamics of its rapid consolidation and eventual radicalization
  • every turn and phase in the Nazi movement and regime was fired by modern Germany's exceptionally intractable conflicts of class, status, and power
  • persecution of the Jews was rooted in and conditioned by the Nazis’ calculated accommodation with the old elites (of the army, bureaucracy, business, the churches, etc.)
  • anticommunism and the call for the conquest of eastern Lebensraum were at the heart of an ideology designed to reflect and cement the collaboration of the new and improbable Nazi elite with the old ruling classes
  • anti-Semitism was a concomitant and singularly irrational strand in this ideology
  • the "Final Solution" was largely contingent on the cumulative failure and entropy of the Nazi regime.


  • it postulates connections between, on the one hand, socioeconomic, political, and military developments, and, on the other hand, the Judeocide, connections which may be difficult, if not impossible, to establish with precision
  • difficult task of ranking the relative importance of different factors at any given moment and of showing their reciprocal relations
  • extensionalists suppose Nazi ideology to have been basically unsystematic, extrinsic, and contingent. They make little, if any effort, to probe the overall consistency, internal logic, and relative autonomy of Hitler's action-ideology, in which anti-Semitism had a persistent if changeable place.

Mayer's Thesis:

  • Nazi ideology was an inherently unstable and kaleidoscopic syncretism in which anti-Semitism coexisted with racist social Darwinism, anticommunism, and territorial expansionism in eastern Europe.
  • Until 1938, in Germany anti-Semitism was murderous neither in word nor deed, nor was it of the first priority of the Nazi project.
  • general crisis, total war, and the Judeocide were a seamless web, and they need to be treated as such.
  • the ultimate steps from emigration, expulsion, ghettoization, relocation, and sporadic killing on the one hand, to mass murder and systematic destruction on the other, were not taken until some time after the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
  • During the first weeks of the eastern campaign, Jews were, in addition, subjected to largely spontaneous pogroms by gangs and militias of Baltic and east European nationalists, but there is no evidence to suggest that they were part of an exterminationist blueprint.
  • a major change in policy and practice took place during the midsummer and early fall of 1941: when the Wehrmacht's advance in Russia was seriously slowed, the killing of Jews spiraled to include mass executions of women, children, and the elderly: Babi Yar and Odessa massacres in the early fall of 1941. But even at this point these killings were still connected with military developments on the eastern front and were confined to Jews in Soviet-held territories.
  • January 20, 1942, at the Wannsee Conference: the switches were set for the "Final Solution," which called for the torment and annihilation of the Jews from all over Nazi-occupied and controlled Europe.

The central question is whether ideology or circumstance was the prime (but not exclusive) radicalizer of the Jewish catastrophe. The same problem exists for people seeking to understand the extreme civil violence during the French or Russian Revolutions.

  • the steps to the Judeocide were nonlinear and inseparable from the climax of what I have called the General Crisis and Thirty Years War of the twentieth century
  • a constant interplay of ideology and contingency in which both played their respective but also partially indeterminate roles

Operation Barbarossa gets the primary blame:

  • Rooted in racist social Darwinism, the war in the east had the fourfold purpose of conquering Lebensraum from Russia, of enslaving the Slavic populations, of crushing the Soviet regime, and of liquidating the alleged nerve center of international bolshevism.
  • For the political warriors of the Third Reich, the elites of Soviet Jewry were prominent, if not leading, members of the "common enemy" to be slain in the crusade against “Judeobolshevism”.
  • Unlike the military campaign on the western front in the Second World War, the eastern front was from its inception a total war.
  • the war against the Jews started to escalate only during the second half of the summer and early fall of 1941, when it may still have been reversible.
  • the fate of the Jews is likely to have been sealed in a moment of failing rather than soaring hubris.
  • The Primary Debate: As of today, it is difficult to tell for certain whether, when taking the ultimate steps to extermination, the Nazi leaders, and in particular Hitler, acted out of unswerving euphoria and optimism or out of incipient frustration and wounded pride.
  • The hard-fought and fatally delayed capture of Kiev was the manifest trigger for the massacre of close to 34,000 local Jews at Babi Yar which, as we saw, signaled the shift to the systematic and indiscriminate mass murder of Soviet Jews.
  • the first gassing of Jews probably took place at Chelmno, west of Warsaw, in early December 1941, which was the time of the devastating reversal at Moscow.
  • the growing military impasse between September and the end of the year quickened and precipitated the turn toward the "Final Solution" which was ratified and devised at and immediately following the Wannsee Conference of January 1942: the demonized Jews became the quintessential scapegoat

History of Auschwitz: