Joseph Goebbels (29 Oct. 1897 – 1 May 1945) was the National-Socialist leader of the Berlin district as well as the Third Reich’s Minister of Propaganda from its very beginning to the bitter end, when he committed suicide.
Goebbels was meticulous in keeping a diary with almost daily entries. In addition, his list of speeches and articles published in various Third-Reich periodicals is long. He voiced his opinions on many things. Jews were only one of them. Still, putting all his elaborations – public and private – together in which he addressed the “Jewish Question” fills an entire book of its own.
The earliest entry in Goebbels’s diary about the impending fate of the Jews after the beginning of the war with the Soviet Union is dated 19 August 1941. In it, he remarked that “the Führer promises me he’ll deport the Berlin Jews to the East as soon as possible, when the first means of transport are available.” Referring to Hitler’s infamous prophecy during his Reichstag speech on 30 January 1939, Goebbels states that “[i]n the East, the Jews must pay the price” for presumably having caused the current war.
On 7 March 1942, Goebbels records in his diary his reaction on reading the Wannsee Protocol outlining the project of removing Europe’s Jews to the East. He wrote that the Jews
“will have to be concentrated first in the East; perhaps later after the war, an island can be assigned to them, such as Madagascar. In any case, there can be no peace in Europe until the last Jews are totally excluded from the European territory.”
Twenty days later, on 27 March 1942, Goebbels calls the deportation of the Jews “from the General Government [occupied Poland] to the east” “a somewhat barbaric procedure,” during which those unable to work (some 60% according to his estimate) “will have to be liquidated.” No doubt, according to common ethical standards, the forced resettlement of entire families to the economically barren east was “barbaric,” but his numerical estimates are not based on any known data or documents.
On 30 May 1942, Goebbels wrote that
“the Führer does not want the Jews to be evacuated to Siberia. […] He would much prefer to resettle them in central Africa. […] In any case, the Führer’s goal is to make Western Europe completely Jew-free. They can no longer have their homeland here.“
On 21 August 1942, one month into the evacuation of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, Goebbels was informed by officials involved as to what was going on. The orthodox narrative has it that these Jews were sent to the Treblinka Camp, where they were all killed on arrival. But here is what Goebbels wrote in his private diary:
“The responsible Higher-SS leader reports to me on the conditions in the [Warsaw] ghetto. The Jews are now in large part evacuated and established in the East. This proceeds quite generously.”
Goebbels’s diaries have a total of 123 passages where he talks about the Jews and their fate under National-Socialist rule. Except for two entries, they consistently refer only to expulsion and deportation, not to extermination.
One exception occurred on 7 October 1943, the day after Heinrich Himmler had given a long speech about his activities to the top leadership of the Third Reich. In this speech, he spoke about how he was in the process of making the Jews “disappear from the earth.” Goebbels wrote about it:
“As to the Jewish Question, [Himmler] gives a very frank and candid picture. He is of the opinion that we can solve the Jewish Question for all of Europe by the end of this year. He advocates the most radical and harshest solution, namely, that the whole of Jewry will be exterminated [auszurotten]. This is surely a consistent, if brutal, solution.”
Owing to the ambiguity of the German verb ausrotten (see the entry on extirpation), this could mean anything from forced evacuation to mass murder. In any case, Himmler’s boastful claims stand in stark contrast to the facts on the ground. Himmler was bragging and fibbing, in the face an increasingly deteriorating war situation. (See the entry on Himmler speeches.)
The second entry is dated 14 March 1945, where we read:
“The Jews are reemerging. Their spokesman is now arguing in the American press, that under no circumstances should Germany be given lenient treatment. Anyone with the power to do so, should kill these Jews like rats. In Germany, thank God, we have already thoroughly attended to this. I hope the world will take this as an example.”
It is unclear whether Goebbels refers here to Jews advocating a harsh punishment for Germany, or to all Jews in general.
Except for these two entries, and to some degree his entry on 27 March 1942, Goebbels’s diaries offer no support for the orthodox view, that a plan of mass extermination was being carried out. Did Goebbels systematically lie to himself in his own private diary? Or was he unaware of the mass killing that was allegedly happening? Neither of these are plausible. And why did he never mention the key camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc.) in any discussion of the Jews? And why would he use “code words” in his own diary? It makes no sense. The only reasonable explanation is that Goebbels was accurately recording a German program of mass evacuation and deportation.
(For more on Goebbels on the Jews, see the entry on extirpation, as well as Dalton 2019.)