Whilst Churchill found himself accountable to the House of Commons for the progress of the war, Hitler was accountable to no-one but himself. Each January he made a speech at the Berlin Sports Arena to huge crowds. He was no less popular with the party faithful on this occasion, even if those who gave rational thought to the war situation could see that Germany was now in a terrible position.
The Wehrmacht had manifestly failed to break down the Soviet defences and achieve a quick victory in Operation Barbarossa. Now they faced a long and difficult war with Russia increasingly bolstered by supplies from the west. As more and more casualties came back from the Eastern front more and more Germans learned of the horrors that were unfolding there.
With the United States in the war there was now a huge imbalance in the resources available to Allies compared with the Axis powers. It was inevitable that sooner or later a ‘second front’ would open up in Europe.
Hitler’s response was a typically rambling review of the war blaming everyone but himself. He saw the German situation in apocalyptic terms. There had been a hardening of attitudes towards the Jews ever since the United States had openly lined up with Britain. The recent Wannsee Conference had merely confirmed the arrangements that were in place for organised mass murder. Now he made clear to the world that his promise, made before the war, to ‘annihilate European Jews’ had not been an idle threat:
It is clear to us that the war can only end with the destruction of the Germanic peoples or the disappearance of Jewry from Europe. On September 3, I already announced in the German Reichstag (and I am careful not to make rash prophecies) that this war would not develop as the Jews imagine, namely that the European-Aryan peoples will be destroyed. Instead, the result of this war will be the destruction of Jewry. For the first time others will not bleed alone.
For the first time the genuine old Jewish law will be applied: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!” And the more this war spreads, the more anti-Semitism will spread. This may be said to world Jewry. Anti-Semitism will be nourished in every prison camp, in every family which must be informed why they must sacrifice to the bitter end. And the hour will come when the most evil world enemy of all times will have played out its role for perhaps a thousand years at least.
This was not an isolated case of Hitler repeating his threat, as his Armaments Minister, Albert Speer made clear after the war:
I was present at the session of the Reichstag of 30th January 1939, when Hitler assured us that in case of a war, not the Germans, but the Jews would be annihilated. This dictum was pronounced with such certainty that I would not have felt permitted to question his intention to carry it through.
He repeated this announcement of his intentions on 30th January 1942, in a speech I also know of: The war would not end, as the Jews imagined, by the extinction of European-Aryan peoples, but it would result in the annihilation of the Jews. This repetition of his words of 30th January 1939 was not unique. He would often remind his entourage of the importance of this dictum.