Can we classify the Holocaust as one of Hitler's war time strategic mistake?

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    Given that this question assumes intentionalism, have you looked at other questions about intentionalism and functionalism. "The prior question" is: did Hitler take the decision to annihilate the Jews from the face of the earth? Much contemporary scholarship suggests most of the German State, political and economic Elite, and Armed forces also made the same decision at the same time and often with an independent scope of action and responsibility. Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 5:05
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    There is simply too much assumption in this question and not enough research. Does "war time strategic mistake" mean "strategic decisions"? Was genocide a strategic military decision? (I don't think so).
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 11:21
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    @Mark C.Wallace: It was not a "strategic military decision." But it was a political decision that (probably) had military implications.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 13:05
  • Welcome to the site. A decent first question and an upvote. Thanks for TRYING to define the terms in your question. Unlike some other commentators, I believe you succeeded.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 13:09
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    @bhau It would be best to focus this question to avoid assessment of Hitler's other "war time strategic mistakes" and ask specifically about the effect of the holocaust on the German war effort. This makes it far more answerable. That answer would help in comparing it to other decisions like the invasion of the USSR, which is a huge subjective question of vast scope.
    – Nathan
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 14:21

4 Answers 4


The German and Austrian Jewish population was about 750,000, of which three quarters were exterminated. Whereas the total German population was about 70 million. But 1941, when the extermination program began the number of Jewish forced labourers in German was 60,000, compared to the 2,000,000 foreign labourers (Fremdarbeiter) [source]. The Nazis decided that this was not an economic impediment to the Holocaust. Furthermore, in regions where the sudden absence of Jewish Labour would have been a problem they delayed the process to allow for their replacement.

It seems logical that the movement from forced labour to Extermination through Labour and the Holocaust of the Jewish population would have lead to costs (from the inefficiency of moving skilled workers to hard labour, to the expenses of diverting effort to commit to commit these awful crimes). These must have been the disruptions the Nazis had in mind and saw as no economic reason not to proceed. I will say the Jews brought from conquered lands for forced labour probably would have been an overall benefit to the German war effort, but I'm not including that as the "holocaust" as I'm assuming the alternative the questioner has in mind is assigning these foreign Jews to the Fremdarbeiter system anyway.

So no, it wasn't a massive strategic mistake. I've not considered other angles, like it's effect on their nuclear program, but in raw economic terms the Nazi's don't seem to have been punished for their terrible crimes. So, to conclude, Holocaust, whilst being one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity in history, wasn't as economically significant as OP may have suspected.

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    @Virgo yeah, thanks, you're right. Edited.
    – Nathan
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 23:50

If the thrust of the question is, did Hitler lose World War II because of the way he treated the Jews and other people he didn't like, that is a very interesting question.

There are actually TWO issues here. 1) Did the cost of resources expended in the Holocaust help defeat the war effort, and 2) Did the "opportunity cost" of the Holocaust help the defeat the war effort.

The answer to 1) is probably not. Others have answered better than yours truly, that when you net out Germany's gains from "forced labor" and the cost of running the "program," the net result was probably close to zero.

The more interesting question is, did Hitler miss an opportunity to win World War II by treating the Jews (and others) BETTER than he did?

One of the big "what ifs" of World War II, was "Suppose Hitler had declared war on "Russia" instead of the Soviet Union, and posed as a "liberator" to the people of the Baltic, Belarus, Ukraine, etc., enlisting their young men in his army (and depriving Russia of them). What would have happened?"

In fact, many "Soviet" people initially welcomed the Germans as such, until the effect of Nazi policies became apparent. Without going into the question of whether Hitler would have actually won the war, it is safe to say that he would have gotten "closer" to winning if he had treated Jews, Poles, and non-Russian Soviets better. (Fewer partisan attacks in Russia and revolts in Warsaw, for one.) Not doing so was a major strategic mistake.

Regarding what he considered a "lost opportunity," a former Luftwaffe pilot (aged 77 when I met him in 1991) opined, "If we had hung on to people like Einstein (the Jewish atomic scientists), they could have won the war for us. I don't love those people, but I don't hate them, either." He was perhaps a minority among Germans is thinking in terms of "whatever we needed to do to win," but considering who he had been, that was a very interesting observation.

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    Hitler DID welcome Ukrainians and Baltic people into his supporters. A large portion did participate (see Vlasov as a random example)
    – DVK
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 17:21
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    @DVK: Yes, initially there was a large pool of latent support for the Germans but they squandered it very quickly by treating practically everybody else as some form of non/semi-human scum. Vlasov joined up with the Germans on the assumption they would let him form some sort of semi-autonomous government but this never happened, as the Germans went East looking for slaves, not for allies of any degree of subservience. Thus Vlasov's movement never really got of the ground - people did not sign up with him, seeing he had nothing much to offer in terms of perspectives for the future. Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 9:53
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    and you discount the fact that one of the reasons he had the support he had among the German people was his stance against Jews and other "undesirables". Without that, it's quite likely he'd not have gained the fanatical loyalty of the German people, that they'd not have put up with the hardships they did put up with.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 9:17

DISCLAIMER - the answer is written from the point of view of Reich's rulers

Invading the USSR was not a strategic blunder, the timing however was unfortunate.
The alliance with Japan was intended to provide the Soviets with a second front in the east, drawing their troops away from the west, thus making things easier for the Germans. And for a while it worked, until Stalin finally gave permission to withdraw some troops from Siberia to reinforce Stalingrad in light of Japan not launching its campaign as expected.
The elimination of Jews was popular at home, made for good propaganda. The resource drain on German manpower and industry was relatively light in comparison. The system also provided for a nice base of cheap (slave) labour, most Jews were NOT as is often portrayed gassed or shot to death, they were worked to death (the gas chambers in the larger camps were used mainly to dispose of the sick and weak, the rest were sent to factories in the vicinity where they were rented out to the factory owners, the SS being paid for their service).
This system was put in place in part as a response to the initial and largely independent killings undertook by invididual Wermacht and SS units in eastern Europe, which were starting to eat up valuable supplies of bullets and manpower needed on the front lines.

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    I am not sure about the propaganda bit - as far as I know the Nazis were actually sort of covering up the killing of the Jews, telling the Germans that the Jews were being "deported to the East" for some vague form of forced resettlement. Putting the thorny quesiton of what really did the average German know about what was going, I think that stamenet of your is factually wrong. Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 9:44
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    From what I've been taught in school during history classes, those vague "deportation for resettlement" stories were mostly for the Jews themselves, to keep them pliable and acquiescent to the process. And it worked, many of them boarded the trains voluntarily, or reported to local and regional preprocessing facilities (Durchgangslager) quite willingly, at least until stories of what was really going on filtered west and people started wisening up to the truth.
    – jwenting
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 5:22
  • Downvote removed, based on disclaimer.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 20:29
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    @TomAu I find downvoting something because you personally find it offensive to be extremely offensive.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 8:37

In Hitler's ideology exterminating Jews was the purpose and the goal of the war.

The large-scale extermination started in 1942 when Germany's victory became uncertain. At that time Hitler had no longer possibility to postpone the extermination until the victory.

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    So by the time the Holocaust got into full swing the Nazis were facing inevitable defeat? I'm not sure that's completely true as the gassings at Auschwitz had already begun before the battle of Stalingrad.
    – Nathan
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 15:38
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    The holocaust was NOT the reason for Germany going to war in 1939. The reason was first to expand (Lebensraum) and gain economic resources, second to "get even" with those who'd defeated and humiliated them in WW1 and the Weimar era. Getting rid of "undesirables" was and is a common theme in the legal systems of many countries, and was in place in e.g. the USA as well at the time (though there people weren't killed who "looked funny", they were "merely" subjected to forced sterilisation and/or put in insane asylums).
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 5:22
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    My first instinct is that I agree with the answer as stated (to a certian extent. He did also want to raise his own "race", but he certianly saw things in those terms). However, it would make this answer better if it had an external reference, rather than just sitting on its own looking like an unsupported assertion.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:33
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    @Anixx: Yes, they planned to get rid of Jews from the German homelands from the beginning. The war was not a prerequisite for this. This answer is factually incorrect. Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 8:10
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    @Anixx: No that number is also wrong. And the goal was only to get rid of Jews from the areas were Germans were living. Germany controlled most of those areas well before the war, after having annexed these areas. You are, as usual, completely wrong. Please check your facts before answering questions. Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 8:13

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