Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War

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9780915042234: Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War
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Why did Hitler believe that it was necessary to destroy the Jewish race? What was the purpose and meaning of this extraordinary project that the Nazis called "The Final Solution?" In this pathbreaking book, Richard Koenigsberg shows how genocide grew out of the logic of warfare. Hitler reasoned that if he had the right to sacrifice his soldiers, he also had the right to send Jews to their deaths.

Hitler embraced his role as military leader, stating in the mid-thirties that if millions of Germans had to die in the next war, he would not shrink from this sacrifice. Based on a meticulous reading of Hitler's speeches and Mein Kampf, Koenigsberg shows how Hitler's thinking about warfare led to his decision to exterminate the Jews. Hitler reflected that if he had no compunctions about sending the "best" people to die in battle--German soldiers--why would he not also have the right to send the "worst" people--mortal enemies of Germany--to their deaths?

Nations Have the Right to Kill focuses on World War I and the Holocaust as two instances of societal mass-slaughter. Hitler fought in the First World War, witnessed the death of hundreds of his comrades, and knew that two million German soldiers had perished. He understood that soldiers are required to go into battle when their nations ask them to do so. But if nations can ask their healthiest and best people to die, why can they not also ask their least healthy and worst people to die? Koenigsberg shows how both the euthanasia program and Holocaust grew out of this line of thought.

Nazi ideology revolved around the idea that everyone was required to die for Germany. Just as German soldiers gave their bodies over to the nation-state--became obedient unto death--so Jews would be compelled to do so. The Final Solution sought to convey the message: "Do not imagine that anyone is exempt from the obligation to suffer and to die for Germany!"

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Despite the vast body of research devoted to the Holocaust, Nations Have the Right to Kill marks a seminal contribution to our understanding of this act of genocide. Prof. Koenigsberg reveals that as warped and twisted as Hitler's thinking was, his actions were firmly rooted within the ideology of nationalism. Hitler was a radical nationalist who believed that just as he had the right, even the duty, to sacrifice the cream of German youth in his struggle against the nation's external enemies, so too must he mercilessly destroy those he regarded as the nation's internal enemies, first and foremost the Jews. Thus, Koenigsberg claims, "The logic of genocide grew out of the logic of war." Nations Have the Right to Kill challenges the popular belief that Hitler was a uniquely inhuman monster. Hitler is placed squarely within the narrative of a much more widely held nationalist ideology that claims dying for one's country represents the apogee of love and devotion. The Holocaust thus becomes "a perverted, degraded version of dying for the country--a sacrificial death at the hands of the nation--state stripped of words like honor, heroism and glory." Given that both war and genocide remain all too pervasive in today's world, Nations Have The Right To Kill forces us to reexamine, and reflect, on the true causes of these phenomena.

--Brian A. Victoria, Professor of Japanese Studies, Antioch University, author of Zen at War

Using Hitler as a focal point, Nations Have the Right to Kill offers a riveting examination of the ideology of political violence, articulating the profound connection between the First World War and the Holocaust. Through careful analysis of Hitler's writings and speeches, Koenigsberg makes us aware of the ideology that was the source of both warfare and genocide. In his declaration of war on September 1, 1939, Hitler demanded--of himself, and of all Germans--not simply obedience, but absolute commitment. He required acts of sacrifice as a demonstration of loyalty. "In giving one's life for the existence of the community," Hitler declared, "lies the crown of all sacrifice." Everyone would have to be willing to sacrifice. No one would be exempt. Anyone who attempted to evade responsibility would be destroyed. Be ready to die for your country, or your country will kill you. Hitler understood Jews as a people unwilling to sacrifice; whose ultimate loyalty did not inhere in the nation. Thus did his perception of the Jews lead to genocide. The passionate obedience that became Hitler's demand was the pathology that led to war and genocide--both. Dr. Koenigsberg's is a message that anyone with an interest in changing the course of human history should internalize and reflect upon. Can human beings transcend war? If so, Nations Have the Right to Kill will be one of our most important guides. Its striking lucidity will be a catalyst for our collective evolution.

--Lee Hall, JD, author of Capers in the Churchyard

In Nations Have the Right to Kill, Dr. Richard Koenigsberg challenges us to make new connections between the traumatic events of the First World War, their impact on Adolf Hitler, and the "Final Solution"--the Holocaust. Koenigsberg argues that Hitler in the First World War experienced firsthand the gruesome toll and awful reality of trench warfare. Instead of reacting to the horror he had witnessed and becoming a pacifist, Hitler took a different turn when he posed the question (in Mein Kampf): "Why during the First World War had some men died--sacrificed their lives--while others had not?" "Why did the best die in warfare while the worst survived?" Hitler believed that the willingness of a soldier to sacrifice himself in warfare--to be obedient unto death--was the supreme human virtue. He reflected that if he as leader of the German nation had the right to send "the best" into bloody battles, then he also had the right to sacrifice the lives of "inferiors" and "shirkers."

Koenigsberg challenges us to reflect upon Hitler's thought processes as the source of mass-murder. In mid-1942 when speaking about the murderous work of the Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union, Hitler declared: "If I don't mind sending the pick of the German people into the hell of war without the slightest regret over the spilling of precious German blood, then I naturally also have the right to eliminate millions of an inferior race that multiplies like vermin." If Hitler did not regret spilling precious German blood, why should he not also have the right to eliminate Jews--an inferior race? Hitler thus justified mass-murder according to the logic: If the nation-state can sacrifice its most valuable citizens--soldiers--it also should have the right to kill citizens that make no useful contribution to society--for example, incurable mental patients and Jews.

Nations Have the Right to Kill proposes that solving the riddle of the Holocaust necessitates deconstructing the ideology of warfare. Hitler understood that war represents the occasion when a political leader is permitted to send his own soldiers to die. If a nation's commander-in-chief can send his "superior" citizens to their deaths, why can he not also send its "inferior" citizens to their deaths? Koenigsberg's work adds to our understanding of the relationship between the First World War and the Holocaust; and provides an intriguing insight into the origins of the tragic Second World War.

--Beth A. Griech-Polelle, Professor of History, Bowling Green State University, author of Trajectories of Memory: Intergenerational Representations of the Holocaust in History and the Arts

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