Holocaust Versus Wehrmacht

How Hitler’s “Final Solution” Undermined the German War Effort, Yaron Pasher, University Press of Kansas.

“Holocaust Versus Wehrmacht” considers to what extent implementation of the “Final Solution” affected the capabilities of the German Army during World War II. Covering the period between November 1941 and August 1944, the book focuses on the German military’s effectiveness during four major military campaigns—Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, and Normandy—and how those campaigns were impacted by Hitler’s effort to exterminate European Jews, which got underway in earnest around the same time as Operation Barbarossa.

The conventional wisdom is that Germany had no chance of winning the war once the United States joined the fight—and that Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union was his biggest mistake. But Pasher—the Claims Conference Kagan Academic Fellow at the International Institute for Holocaust Research Yad Vashem—makes the case that Germany’s military failures were inextricably linked to the logistical problems faced by the Wehrmacht as a result of the diversion of manpower and resources. In particular, Pasher focuses on how trains that transported Jews to concentration camps could have carried men, machines, and fuel to the front. It’s a compelling alternative to existing interpretations, one designed to compel interested observers to view the Final Solution as a factor in every military scenario.

Pasher’s arguments also tie in to the historical debate about whether Hitler was driven mainly by his desire to annihilate the Jewish people (the intentionalist school of thought), or whether the extermination campaign was more or less improvised (functionalist school)—the result of bureaucratic initiatives “that held within them a destructive internal momentum,” writes Pasher. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between, a view advanced by Tobias Jersak, who, according to Pasher, believes “it was Hitler who reached the decision to annihilate the Jews, but only after he had recognized the failure of his strategy to defeat the Soviet Union in a blitzkrieg; it was not necessarily as part of a blueprint.”

Regardless of where one comes down on the issue, “the innovation of this work lies in its presentation of the emergence and execution of the Final Solution as an integral part of military operations,” offers the author on the last page of the book. “After detailing Germany’s military needs in parallel with the deliberate policy of using the railways to transport Jewish populations to death camps … one may deduce that carrying out the Final Solution had a profoundly negative influence on the Germany military effort.”