During a long speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939 (the sixth anniversary of his seizure of power), Hitler also raised connections between the coming war and the elimination of the Jews. Scholars have interpreted one key passage – Hitler’s “prophecy” that a war would result in the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe – in widely divergent ways. Did his words, for example, aim to pressure Western countries to admit German Jews as immigrants? Or did they forecast what could happen if all of Germany’s potential enemies joined against her? By making every effort to paint the Jews as responsible for a war that had not yet begun, Hitler seemed to suggest that Nazi Germany would observe no restraints against them in a future wartime situation. His speech might have also been a signal for the SS leadership to begin planning for the most radical outcome.
How did the outside world react to Nazi efforts to expel German Jews? Approximately six months earlier, in July 1938, representatives of 32 nations had held a special conference in Evian, France, at the behest of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. None of the nations represented at the Evian Conference was willing to negotiate directly with Germany or to admit more Jewish refugees than it was already accepting under current laws and policies. Instead, these nations created the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees (IGC), which was charged with devising some kind of orderly procedure for the emigration or resettlement of Germans Jews seeking to leave the country.
Raymond H. Geist, the American consul in Berlin, was directly involved in American and international efforts to alleviate the situation of Germany’s Jews. Geist tried to facilitate the ICG’s work by arranging a meeting between its chairman, the American international lawyer George Rublee, and German government officials. Geist’s efforts led to a misleading newspaper dispatch by a Jewish Telegraph Agency reporter named Mr. Bernstein. In April 1939, Geist wrote to his former supervisor in Berlin, George S. Messersmith (who had since been appointed Assistant Secretary of State) to correct misquotes in the article and to offer a general assessment of the options available to German Jews. Geist accurately observed that the issue of Jewish emigration met with mixed sentiments within the Nazi regime. Toward the end of his letter, Geist drew upon confidential sources within the SS to make predictions about the fate of Germany’s remaining Jews in the event of war. Geist’s letter suggests that genocide was part of the Nazi agenda even before the war started.
Nazi authorities proceeded cautiously in acting against the Jews because of potential repercussions among non-Jewish friends and neighbors. The large-scale massacre began not with German Jews, but rather with those in Nazi-occupied territories. There was, however, one program of mass murder that was implemented within Germany early on: the so-called Euthanasia Program began more or less simultaneously with the war. People formerly subject to sterilization under the “Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases” (July 14, 1933) were now subject to murder.