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Identifying summary and evaluation

The following two paragraphs come from a student's essay which looks at the issue of how the Holocaust began in the Second World War. Some historians think that the Holocaust was the systematic implementation of a plan that the Nazi regime had already developed. Others however, see it happening in a more haphazard way, driven mainly by military circumstances.

As we have suggested, analysis of a historical argument needs to involve:

  1. a summary of the argument
  2. an evaluation of the argument's merits

Read the following paragraphs from the essay. Here the student analyses the argument of one historian, Richard Breitman.

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

[1] Breitman, in his article Plans for the Final Solution, refers to the controversy about the origins of the Holocaust as the "intentionalist-functionalist" debate; that is one between those who think the Holocaust was a preconceived Nazi plan, and those who think it was improvised hastily, notably after early German victories in the Soviet Union in mid-1941. [2] Brietman, in contrast to Browning, is very much an 'intentionalist', arguing that the 'murderous intentions' of Hitler, Himmler and other key Nazis were well underway before the invasion of the Soviet Union. [3] Whilst he admits that many of the Nazi documents on this issue are "inexact", he suggests that this is not because the Holocaust plan itself was uncertain, but rather because the Nazi leadership wanted to "conceal" and "veil" its real intentions from others (p. 271). [4] To support his case for pre-planning, Breitman relies on two main sources of evidence: memos from two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time - Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker; and the Nuremberg testimony of Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery

[5] The memos in question indicate that high-level discussion of some form of 'final solution' did take place early in 1941. [6] Danneker's memo in January 1941 disclosed that Hitler wanted a 'final solution' of the Jewish question. [7] A month later, Eichmann in a meeting at the Propaganda Office announced to rival bureaucrats that Hitler was determined to implement a 'final evacuation' of the Jews. [8] The problem however, with such evidence is that there is doubt among historians about what these terms actually meant at the time. [9] 'Final solution' and 'final evacuation' may have been code words for mass extermination, but they may equally have referred to some less murderous Nazi policies. [10] It was known for example, that other options being considered around this time were the mass deportations of Jews to Madagascar, and also mass sterilisation. [11] Breitman's argument relies on an assumption that these terms could refer only to what later became the Holocaust. [12] He states that to require 'an unambiguous blueprint for extermination' from the Nazi archives is asking for an impossible standard of proof (p. 274). [13] But, unfortunately no such document has been uncovered by historians and so, we have to be cautious about how we interpret Nazi intentions at the time.

1. Where in the text would you say the student moves from summarising Breitman's argument, to offering some evaluation of it? Write the sentence no. in the box.

Evaluation begins at sentence no

2. Is the student's evaluation of the argument positive or negative?



Check your answers


  1. The student's evaluation begins at sentence 8:
    "The problem however, with such evidence is that there is doubt..."
  2. The evaluation is negative, signalled initially by the word "problem".
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