It happened today - July 31, 2015

Reinhard Heydrich On July 31, 1941, Herman Goering ordered S.S. general Reinhard Heydrich to start planning the Holocaust. On Hitler’s instructions. Which is surely obvious.

That’s why I’ve always found it an odd aspect of the Holocaust that there is some debate about the extent of Hitler’s involvement in it. I don’t mean on the lunatic fringe, where you get this typically surreal combination of denial that he knew about it with praise for his undertaking it. I mean among reasonable people including reputable scholars who note the lack of direct written evidence.

I do find the lack of written evidence significant. But not in that way. I think it underlines the way conscience is always peering over your shoulder. The Holocaust is so overtly and obviously evil that even people eager to carry it out flinch at putting it down in black and white where it would sit there indicting them.

Thus Goering’s wording is somewhat nesh, requiring of Heydrich “a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question.” You’d think a man willing to try to kill all the Jews would be willing to write an SS general a note saying “Hey, bud, what would it take to kill all the Jews?” But no.

As to the question of Hitler’s direct involvement, the whole concept of something this major happening in Nazi Germany without the “Fuhrer’s” knowledge and enthusiastic support is absurd. By 1944 the Holocaust was consuming resources desperately needed for the war which could not happen without his enthusiastic support. Besides, Hitler famously hated Jews. How can anyone believe that a totalitarian regime headed by an anti-Semitic maniac would attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe by sheer coincidence?

There the answer lies in the curious reluctance to take ideas seriously. In modern democratic politics nearly everyone declares themselves “pragmatic,” meaning even if they have beliefs they have no intention of letting them influence their words or deeds. And they assume everyone is as emptily cynical.

Regrettably it is untrue. History is full of maniacs, as are current affairs. They mean what they say and they say what they mean and they act on it. Including Hitler, whose anti-Semitism frenzy was the direct prime cause of the Holocaust.