- Holocaust versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler’s Final Solution Undermined the German War Effort by Yaron Pasher
This book addresses four German defeats during World War II, each chronologically close to a wave of deportations of Jews: Moscow 1941, as the first transports left Germany; Stalingrad 1942–43, during Operation Reinhard (the massacre of the Jews of Poland); Kursk 1943, following suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; and the Allied invasion and breakout from Normandy in 1944, overlapping with the deportations from Hungary. The author contends that in each case the diversion of locomotives and rolling stock to the Holocaust translated into a decisive shortage of German troops and supplies.
Pasher challenges two established historical consensuses. The first is that Germany’s defeat in each of these instances was virtually pre-determined. The arrival at Moscow of fresh armies from Siberia in November 1941; the Red Army’s destruction of the irreplaceable Hungarian, Italian, and Romanian troops on the German flanks before Stalingrad; the Soviet superiority of more than two to one at Kursk; and the landing of [End Page 278] a million men in France in June 1944—none of these could have been reversed with the resources Germany had to hand. A few years ago, this consensus about battlefield outcomes was strengthened by Adam Tooze’s demonstration that Germany never possessed the economic capacity to win a modern, multi-front war.1
The second consensus reinforces the first because Holocaust historians concur that the murder of the Jews required relatively little rolling stock—far too little to have carried what victory required even if the resources had been available. Wolfgang Scheffler’s studies prepared in the 1960s and 1970s established that Germany needed a mere 2,000 trains to move approximately 3,000,000 Jews to camps between 1942 and 1944: roughly two transports a day. Raul Hilberg quotes a former railroad official as saying that the Reichsbahn operated 20,000 trains per day during that period.2 Deportation trains usually included about sixty passenger or freight cars; the Reich possessed 850,000 cars in mid-1942—of which 130,000 stood idle on an average day—and added about 100,000 cars thereafter.3 Clearly, the share of German railroad traffic devoted to the Holocaust was tiny. The following figures suggest the scale: German rails brought an average of 2,500 trains a day to the staging areas just before Operation Barbarossa; they carried 6.6 billion passenger trips in 1942 and 1943 alone.4 Even in the most murderous period—the deportation of 437,000 Jews from Hungary between May and July of 1944—the transport trains constituted just one to two percent of total railroad trafficthere.5 Alfred Mierzejewski confirms authoritatively that in Poland, “the groups of cars were kept together and circulated between the camps and the loading locations without being broken up.”6
How does Pasher call these consensuses into question? Partly by overlooking much of the secondary literature. His bibliography contains no reference to the works cited here other than Mierzejewski’s. Omitting Tooze and citing selectively from standard military histories, Pasher overstates Germany’s chances for success in each campaign and blurs the distinction between insisting that “every train counted” to the Germans and proving that every train mattered to the military outcomes. Neglecting to consult Hilberg or heed Mierzejewski, he presents every deportation trip as equivalent to and interchangeable with a fully loaded supply train to the front.
Pasher swamps readers with statistics about how many infantrymen, weapons, horses, loads of fodder, tanks, artillery pieces, and other equipment could fitina boxcar. His numbers are, however, irrelevant, as he never shows that these potential reinforcements were available at the key moments, or that they were blocked by an insufficiency of rail transport. He does not quote directly any authority attributing Germany’s supply problems in these campaigns to a shortage of locomotives and freight wagons. Footnotes that imply such connections lead instead to authors and pages ascribing supply...