HANS MOMMSEN

From an interview with Hans Mommsen:

The typical escalation of political targets within the Nazi movement must be explained by the internal structure of the party as well as the political system that emerged after 1933. In both cases, there do not exist clear-cut separations between functional competencies within the party and in the state. Thus, you are confronted with never-ending rivalries between the Nazi chieftains, while the system is held together by the Fuehrer cult. Secondly, with the complete absence of any representative boards either in the Party or the state, the political decision-making process remained completely informal, and there was no institutional facility in which to discuss critical issues between divergent power holders. As a consequence, the alleged unity of the will did not really exist. The so-called Fuehrer orders that tended to replace ordinary legislation are far from being co-ordinated, and usually the competing chieftains would legitimize their conflicting ambitious by referring to varying orders by Hitler. 

Besides of this specific pattern of the decision-making with respect to the “Jewish Question” there is the phenomenon that the implementation of the Holocaust was proceeding on the basis of a certain ambiguity. On the one hand, the propaganda did not conceal the intention of the regime to settle the “Jewish Question” once and for all, but the actual intentions were far from being clear. Hitler himself tended to avoid any distinct option, although he always functioned as the ideological engine to intensify the persecution. When in Hans Frank went to Hitler in order to protest against Heinrich 1942 Himmler's order to withdraw the Jewish workers from the armament factories in the Generalgouvernement, the dictator replied that Frank should settle this affair with Himmler directly, thereby avoiding taking any specific option. 

Hitler's role was above all important on the ideological level because his insatiable hatred against the Jews lay at the bottom of the continuous escalation of anti-Jewish measures. His public utterances with respect to the “Jewish Question,” however, avoided any direct allusion to the ongoing annihilation process and was restricted to metaphors. Even in his late speech on the Platterhof in August 1944, when turning to the “Jewish Question,” he clung to the population statistics of 1938 and talked about the elimination of the Jews as a process still lying in the future. Obviously, he scrupulously avoided becoming personally identified with the Final Solution, which, as he knew very well, was extremely unpopular among the German population. 

Even before the war, Hitler tried to avoid any direct responsibility for the “Jewish Question,” as can be shown with respect to the November pogrom in 1938, when he did not openly support the anti-Jewish excesses. Also later on he reacted rather timidly when he was asked to formally approve an extension of the persecution with respect to the disruption of privileged mixed marriages, demanded by Himmler in 1942 and eventually rejected by the dictator. Hence, the protest at the Berlin Rosenstrasse, after the Gestapo had imprisoned hundreds of Jews who lived in privileged mixed marriages, successfully compelled the Gestapo to retreat. Hitler's role was always ambivalent. 

Hans Mommsen: Historian who believed that Hitler was a weak dictator.

Hans Mommsen was one of the foremost authorities on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, though his views were not without controversy. He saw the Final Solution as a result of what he called the “cumulative radicalisation” of the German state rather than a long-term plan on the part of Adolf Hitler. For Mommsen, although Hitler was clearly anti-semitic lacked a real idea of what he wanted to do with Jews.