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Focus on evaluating

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Now we shall focus on the evaluation section of the essay extract. To make judgements about what a professional historian has written may seem a daunting task. This is how one of your lecturers sees it:

Eleanor: Students are understandably anxious about making such judgements. But we don't expect you to come up with some new answer that's never been thought of before - you're not in a position to do this. What we hope is that you will just "have a go" - to look at various accounts and to think "Well maybe there's a problem here".

The student writing about Breitman's article has done just this - she has "had a go", and thought "maybe there's a problem here". Read this section of the extract again.

Essay extract

[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.

What problems has the student identified?

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The problems are ones of:

  1. interpretation of evidence - Did Nazi references to the "final solution" mean at that time what we know it later became?
  2. a lack of evidence - no "unambiguous" document outlining extermination plans exists from that time.
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