The Origins of the Final Solution


The Origins of the Final Solution

The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942

Christopher R. Browning
With contributions by Jürgen Matthäus

Comprehensive History of the Holocaust Series

616 pages
3 maps, 2 tables, index

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May 2007


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April 2004


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December 2013


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About the Book

Published by the University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, and Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

In 1939, the Nazi regime’s plans for redrawing the demographic map of Eastern Europe entailed the expulsion of millions of Jews. By the fall of 1941, these plans had shifted from expulsion to systematic and total mass murder of all Jews within the Nazi grasp. The Origins of the Final Solution is the most detailed and comprehensive analysis ever written of what took place during this crucial period—of how, precisely, the Nazis’ racial policies evolved from persecution and “ethnic cleansing” to the Final Solution of the Holocaust.

Focusing on the months between the German conquest of Poland in September 1939–which brought nearly two million additional Jews under Nazi control—and the beginning of the deportation of Jews to the death camps in the spring of 1942, Christopher R. Browning describes how Poland became a laboratory for experiments in racial policies, from expulsion and decimation to ghettoization and exploitation under local occupation authorities. He reveals how the subsequent attack on the Soviet Union opened the door for an immense radicalization of Nazi Jewish policy—and marked the beginning of the Final Solution. Meticulously documenting the process that led to this fatal development, Browning shows that Adolf Hitler was the key decision-maker throughout, approving major escalations in Nazi persecution of the Jews at victory-induced moments of euphoria. Thoroughly researched and lucidly written, this groundbreaking work provides an essential chapter in the history of the Holocaust.

Author Bio

Christopher R. Browning is Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. He is the author of numerous books on Nazism and the Holocaust, including Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers and Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.


"The definitive work on the road Germany took toward the Final Solution during the crucial first three years of the war."— István Deák, New York Review of Books

"This magisterial work does offer us something new—an unrivaled account of how the Nazi leadership ended up with a policy of industrialized mass murder of Jews as it fought a war of territorial expansion against the threats supposedly posed by Polish nationalism and Soviet Bolshevism. Probably no one is better qualified for this task than Christopher R. Browning. . . . In this summation of more than 20 years of research, he explains how the grand design emerged. . . and points the way to a reintegration of the whole subject in a much broader history of nationalist conflict, forced population movements and colonial settlement."—Mark Mazower, New York Times Book Review

"Superb. . . .[Browning] has created an eloquent, painstaking narrative of how the Final Solution evolved until it 'could evolve no further in concept. It remained only to be implemented through action.'"—Joshua Rubenstein, Wall Street Journal

“Extraordinary. . . . Browning has obviously mastered every pertinent document available—from archives in Germany, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and Israel—and assimilated them all into his sometimes day-by-day account of the development of Nazi policy. In sifting the evidence he makes clear what’s known and what’s not, what’s probable, what’s possible, and what’s unlikely; with rigor and unusually incisive writing style he places events, decisions, and debates in a precise historical context. . . . And above all, with exactitude he lays bare his own suppositions as he transparently builds his arguments and his narrative. A masterpiece of the historian’s art.”—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly

“The more Nazi leaders talked of radical solutions, fundamental solutions, total solutions, eradication, total liquidation and final solutions, the more obvious it became what finality would consist of. Browning takes us there, step by step, false lead by false lead, with never-failing intellectual mastery. It is difficult to see this work being superseded in the foreseeable future.”—Times Literary Supplement

"An internationally renowned historian of the Holocaust, Browning explains the evolution of Nazi anti-Jewish policies from discrimination and expulsions to outright systematic murder. . . . Based on a superb mastery of the archival sources and the secondary literature, Browning leads his readers through the step-by-step radicalization of Nazi policies in the critical months after the outbreak of WWII. . . . Even though Hitler rarely issued explicit orders, Browning shows he was intimately involved each step of the way. . . . This book is sure to become the standard work on the emergence of the Holocaust."—Publishers Weekly starred review

"Christopher R. Browning firmly ties what the Nazis called their 'war of destruction' against the Soviet Union to the Holocaust. In Mr. Browning's view . . . Germany's mass murders of Jews and non-Jews alike on the Eastern Front crystallized Nazi policy regarding the eradication of European Jewry."—The New York Times

"Compellingly reconstruct[s] German policy toward the Jews in the war's first years, shedding new light on its evolution and the role Hitler played in implementing it. . . . Christopher Browning's arguments present a complex and subtle portrait of how policy was transformed and radicalized by the war."—The Jerusalem Report

“How, when, and why the Nazis’ decision to exterminate Europe’s Jews was made remains one of the most vexed and disputed of all important questions concerning the Holocaust. . . .The Origins of the Final Solution by the universally respected historian Christopher R. Browning . . . is a magisterial examination of this subject. . . .While new interpretations are, of course, likely to be offered in the future, it is most unlikely, barring the discovery of new documents of great importance, that we will ever have a clearer picture of this process than the one Browning offers.”—William D. Rubinstein, First Things

"Browning recounts the sequence of events that led from 'ethnic cleansing' to the mass murder of Europe's Jews. . . . This book is the first in the University of Nebraska Press' new series, The Comprehensive History of the Holocaust, copublished with Yad Vashem. It is the most detailed examination of this aspect of the Holocaust yet published." —Booklist

"Browning's volume is essential reading for all students of the Shoah."—Library Journal

“The prodigious scholarship and comprehensive bibliography that inform this volume makes it indispensable for understanding the origins of the Final Solution.”—Choice

“His sources strikingly reveal just how far and deep scholars have delved into the subject. The accumulated wealth of such detailed studies contributes equally with primary sources to produce this comprehensive overview."—George C. Browder, Holocaust and Genocide Studies

“This book is clearly structured, well-written, and free of intentionalist determinism. Its strength lies in the author’s remarkable precision and eye for detail…. He analyzes its history as a fully open, multifactored, and contingent political process.”—American Historical Review

"The strength of the book is in the meticulous and painstaking research, carried out over many years in scattered archives, and clearly demonstrating that the ‘Final Solution’ emerged not as the culmination of a long-term plan, a vision pre-conceived by Hitler many years earlier and now logically implemented, but out of the Nazis’ own incapacity to realise their utopian dream of a ‘Jew-free’ Europe to be brought about by expulsion and deportation. . . . This is a work of a historian at the peak of his powers, a magisterial study, a profound analysis of how the darkest chapter in human history could come about."—Sir Ian Kershaw, Corriere della Sera

"This work is by far the most incisive analysis of the decisions that gave rise to the annihilation of the Jews in Nazi Europe."—Raul Hilberg, Appointee to the President's Commission on the Holocaust and to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and author of The Destruction of the European Jews

"Effective and powerful. . . . Not a cheerful book but one of the most profound meditations, however indirect, on the character of human wickedness in the 20th century. Read it and weep."—Charles T. Mathewes, Virginia Quarterly Review

"Browning has sifted the available documentation…with a punctilliousness that reflects a deep knowledge of the German language and a commitment to ferreting out the complete truth about a complex historical event."—Arnold Ages, Jewish Press

“In his analysis of the sources, Browning has turned up a rich mine of information, which nuances and enhances our understanding. . . . Browning has made an heroic effort to explain the inexplicable and if he has faltered in this attempt, this does not, in any way, detract from what is arguably the best book to appear yet on the Holocaust.”—Midstream

“The choice of Browning as primary author of this volume speaks to his central position in the past three decades of scholarly debate. Although other prominent scholars will differ over significant details, his evolutionist position includes the consensus that exists among them and transcends the old intentionalist-functionalist dialectic. His sources strikingly reveal just how far and deep scholars have delved into the subject. The accumulated wealth of such detailed studies contributes equally with primary sources to produce this comprehensive overview.”—George C. Browder, Holocaust and Genocide Studies

"An impressive contribution to understanding the origins of the Final Solution."—Charles Patterson, Martyrdom and Resistance

“With his characteristically meticulous research and reasoning, Browning has written what will quickly become a classic in Holocaust studies.”—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Anyone familiar with Browning’s work knows his books are a pleasure to read. Not only is he one of the foremost experts on the Nazi ‘Final Solution’ to the Jewish question, but in transmitting his arguments, he is always eloquent and articulate, and judicious in his use of language. . . .Who made the decision to murder all of Europe’s Jews? When was the decision made? Why and how was it made? The Origins of the Final Solution is an answer to these questions and for this reason is an extremely important book.”—H-Net Book Reviews, H-German

“Historians still grapple with one of the central questions of the Holocaust: When and why did the Nazis move from a policy of random killings and forced emigration to the systematic murder of Jews? Christopher Browning. . . . provides compelling answers in a first-rate study, The Origins of the Final Solution.”—Canadian Jewish News

“Faced with difficult problems of interpretation, good scholars examine the relevant documentation carefully, consider the alternatives, and set forth clearly why they have reached their views. Browning and Matthäus have both done this and more in this splendid volume.”—Richard Breitman, Central European History

"In The Origins of the Final Solution, Browning has produced a landmark narrative of the unfolding of the Final Solution in its early stages."—Simone Gigliotti, The Historian


History Book Club Main Selection, Book-of-the-Month Club Selection, Military Book Club Selection
2004 National Jewish Book Award, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, holocaust category winner
2004 "Book of the Year," sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly

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