When did Hitler decide on the genocide of the Jews in Europe? Nobody knows because he didn’t put it in writing. One thing we do know is that, in the 1930s, there were proposals, by other European leaders, to resettle the Jews in Uganda, Madagascar or Biro Bidjan in Siberia. In other words, any place besides Palestine.
After the conquest of Poland in 1939, Germany got in on it, with a settlement for the Jews in Nisko, a little town in Poland. The settlement quickly failed because of poor prior planning.
Before World War II, the Polish Nationalists had asked the French right-wing parties to back the idea of a mass emigration of the Polish Jews for a settlement on the island of Madagascar. At the same time, in the Soviet Union, Stalin had launched the project of the Jewish Republic of Biro Bidjan, located in Siberia.
This information is from an article, written by Dr. Wolf Murmelstein; here is a quote from the article:
The Arab Group in Palestine started a campaign of armed attacks against the Jewish settlements there. From 1933 on, the Fascist government of Italy – being hostile to the socialist-wing majority in the Jewish Agency – had granted the necessary arms supplies. The Mufti, El Husseyni, obviously considered that, while Mussolini could grant material help, Hitler had the possibility to address Jewish emigration, from Germany and Eastern Europe, to destinations far away from Palestine.
Indeed the Nazi Foreign Organization called attention to a possible alliance with Arab Nationalist Parties – which were ideologically alike – so in Palestine as in other countries. As the official Foreign Office could not be directly involved, contacts had to be taken care of by the SD, the SS security service, led by the terrible Reinhard von Heydrich, who sent, in November 1937, Adolf Eichmann, already a “specialist for Zionist affairs,” to Palestine and Egypt for talks, whose results can only be conjectured.
The very moment to show the Arab friends how Nazi Germany could address Jewish emigration to a destination far away from Palestine came in October 1939 after Poland had been overrun. On October 6th, Hitler, in his speech before the Reichstag, offering in this manner peace talks to the Western Allies, spoke about the new assessment of Poland and mentioned vaguely the idea of a Jewish Settlement Area there.
In the same days of October, a transport of Jewish men of working age from Vienna and Bohemia-Moravia had to be set up, and some leading Community Officials – Murmelstein from Vienna and Edelstein from Prague – with other staff members – had to join. On October 19, 1939, this first transport reached the station of Nisko, a little town in the Lublin area, near the border between the German and the Soviet zones of Poland. After a long march, the group reached a meadow, their destination. The following day, Eichmann gave a speech about building shanties, setting up a health service, an organization to start, etc. as “otherwise it should mean to die.”
In a personal talk, Murmelstein asked about the means available, realizing that there was nothing, as Eichmann advised only: “kick the Polish peasant out and settle in his house.” This seemed to be madness, but a Jewish official, within this mess and ignoring, of course, the political background, could not appreciate the method there was in it.
In those days, other transports arrived; people had been led by armed SS men for some miles and then ordered to disperse: colonization by dispersion of people. A group had been directed right into the marsh; wounded persons lying around had been picked up by the peasants; some brave man had been able to cross the border line towards the Soviet zone.
Murmelstein, after some days, obtained an authorization to leave the camp to look for accommodation opportunities; clearly the very intent was to reach Lublin, asking the Community there for help. In order to have official evidence of efforts performed to find out accommodation opportunities, Murmelstein asked the area prefect for a hearing in order to ask for assent to use some abandoned building as accommodation. As the prefect stated he had no information about things going on, it appeared possible to let local authorities stop the Eichmann action. Murmelstein therefore referred to the October 6th Hitler speech and then to the advice to “kick the Polish peasant out and settle.” The Eichmann march order did not allow putting Murmelstein and his group under arrest, so the prefect ordered them to go to Lublin without any further delay and wait there for instructions.
The Lublin Community leaders were surprised, learning about things going on nearby. Important is that Area Commander SS Colonel Strauch, did not know anything about the Eichmann action. After ten days, Strauch ordered Murmelstein and his colleagues: Return to Nisko for instructions.
Eichmann, at Nisko, sent the leading Jewish officials home in order to catch every possible further emigration opportunity. From Vienna, Prague and Berlin, some thousand persons, until March 1941, could still emigrate during increasing difficulties. No further transports were scheduled to arrive in Nisko any more. The 450 workers returned home after six months. The camp had been set up for the transit of Germans returning from Eastern European countries to the Reich.
Dr. Wolf Murmelstein was a child in the Theresienstadt ghetto; he is the son of Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Elder of the Theresienstadt ghetto. He wrote five essays which he sent to me several years ago for publication on my web site; you can read all five of the essays here.
I was very surprised to learn about the early plans to settle the Jews in Nisko, Poland because this proves that the genocide of the Jews was not planned until some time after October 1939.
On January 20, 1942 a conference was held at a mansion in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. The subject of this Conference was The Final Solution to the Jewish Question, which the Nazis claimed to be the “transportation to the east” or “evacuation to the east” (nach dem Osten abgeshoben) of the Jews in Europe.
In the minutes of the meeting, nothing was written about killing the Jews, but the innocuous words used in this document are now regarded by Holocaust historians as euphemisms for the extermination, or genocide, of the European Jews. When the Presiding Judge at Eichmann’s trial in Israel asked him what the men at the conference had talked about, Eichmann answered, “The discussion covered killing, elimination, and annihilation.”
On the basis of Eichmann’s testimony, it is now accepted that the minutes of the Wannsee conference were written with euphemisms, instead of the actual words used at the conference.
By January 1942, when the Wannsee conference was held, Hitler was in a position to implement his goal of the extermination (Ausrottung) of all the Jews in Europe, the plan that was code named The Final Solution to the Jewish Question. By late 1941, the Nazi empire extended from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert and from the Pyrenees mountain range to the Ural mountain range. The Germans controlled most of Western Europe and in Eastern Europe, they had conquered all of Poland, the Ukraine, White Russia, and the three Baltic states: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Most importantly, they were in control of territory a thousand kilometers into Russia and they were on the verge of defeating the Soviet Union.
Germany was then called the Greater German Reich. It began with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic in 1938, Silesia in Poland in 1939, and Luxembourg, along with the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in France, in 1940. Ethnic Germans from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been relocated to the area in western Poland which had been annexed into the Greater German Reich.
Hitler’s ultimate goal was to unite all the ethnic Germans into one country, and to unite Europe against the threat of Communism. Considering that the Nazis had many allies, including Italy, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, his plan was entirely feasible in January 1942.
Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann had been concerned with the Jewish Question ever since his youth; he had spent time living in Palestine in order to learn more about Zionism and the developing Jewish State. He had studied the traditions and customs of the Orthodox Jews and had even learned to speak and write in the Hebrew language. At the time of the conference, he was Director of the Jewish Department of the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin (RSHA), the second man to hold this office.
Most of the Jews in Germany were assimilated and did not want to leave their country, but Eichmann had worked with the Zionists to help as many Jews as possible to emigrate to Palestine before 1938. Palestine was a protectorate of the British, and immigration was restricted, but the Nazis aided the Zionists in illegal immigration. Hitler established farms and workshops where young German Jews could be trained in agriculture and blue-collar jobs, which would qualify them for legal immigration to Palestine.
You can read the official history of the Wannsee Conference here.