The role of Adolf Hitler in the Holocaust

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Lim Li Feng

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Abstract

The debate regarding Adolf Hitler’s role in the implementation of the Holocaust emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century following the Nuremburg trials. This was largely a bimodal scholarship which focused on either Hitler’s own intentions or the initiatives of local officials within the chaotic hierarchy of Nazi Germany. While these two approaches are often presented in antithesis, this essay aims to demonstrate otherwise by acknowledging the strengths and limitations of each argument. Hitler’s anti-Semitism is widely recognised as genuine, serving as a reflection of long-standing beliefs that can be traced back to Hitler’s experiences during and after the First World War. Once Hitler gained power, however, the path between his hatred for Jewish people and the implementation of the Holocaust is more obscure. While Hitler certainly significantly contributed to the creation of an anti-Semitic environment, an executive decision, or ‘Führer order’, for the genocide of the Jewish people is next to impossible to trace, which is reflected in the historical debate shifting to decisions made by local officials. These choices were reactionary in nature, serving as improvisations and adaptations made by mid-ranking officials in the occupied territories in reaction to conditions on the ground. These insidious manoeuvres marked the beginnings of this systemic genocide, stemming from the very environment established by Hitler himself.

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