Moderate Functionalism on Nazi Germany


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Lesson Worksheet Snapshot:

The two different points of view, intentionalist and structuralist (sometimes referred to as functionalist), do not satisfactorily suggest enough definite reasons for the Holocaust and there is enough evidence to make people look for a third option. Moderate functionalism represents an attempt to combine the strengths and weaknesses of the two opposing views.

According to moderate functionalists such as David Cesarani:
• Hitler did not decide on the Final Solution as the final aim of any long-held or premeditated plan. But he did make a series of key decisions in 1941 which led to the mass murder of European Jews.
• There was no preordained plan to kill the Jews; rather the Holocaust happened as a result of responses to circumstances created by the war.
• However, despite the absence of a written order from Hitler, the evidence clearly shows that he was an active and continuing participant in the decision-making process.
• No major change in Nazi Jewish policy took place without his knowledge and approval.
• The gradual increase in anti-Jewish policy between 1939 and 1941 seems to be linked to the series of military victories won by Hitler’s armies.
• It was in his moments of euphoria that Hitler apparently radicalised his policies and made the drastic decisions that led to the annihilation of the Jews.

Other more modern Moderate Functionalists also have the following theories about the Holocaust:

Saul Friedlender’s view:
• “The crimes committed by the Nazi regime were neither a mere outcome of some haphazard, involuntary, imperceptible, and chaotic onrush of unrelated events nor a predetermined enactment of a demonic script; they were the result of converging factors, of the interaction between intentions and contingencies, between discernible causes and chance. General ideological objectives and tactical policy decisions enhanced one another and always remained open to more radical moves as circumstances changed.”

A group of young German Moderate Functionalists Dieter Pohl, Thomas Sandkhler, Christoph Dieckmann and Christian Gerlach have the following ideas:
• They believe that much of the early mass murder resulted from the initiatives of local Nazi officials, often in response to logistical difficulties and food shortages.
• These studies reconstruct a complex system of poor communication between Berlin and the outer colonies which left isolated Nazi officials struggling to cope with increasingly difficult wartime conditions (of their own making, it must be stressed).
• While antisemitism is not seen as the primary driving force behind the killings (as in Goldhagen’s interpretation), its role as a conditioning factor which informed the decisions of Nazi administrators is acknowledged.

Dieter Pohl actually states that while:
• “the decisive impulse for the murder of the Jews naturally came from Berlin” much of the killing, especially between October 1941 and April 1942, was in fact started and organised by local officials.”
• He describes “the actual killing process of Jews as a brutal form of “human hunting” characterised by “improvisation and chaos,” a far cry from the process of scientific, detached killing suggested by the supporters of the intentional model.”

Worksheet Lesson Plan:

  • Aimed at Students studying across UK Year 7,8 & 9 or equivalent
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