There is no documentary evidence that Adolf Hitler ever ordered the Holocaust (“the Final Solution of the Jewish Question”). Or any written order to commence the “Final Solution” for that matter.
IMHO, he never gave an explicit order to physically exterminate all Jews of Europe. This was simply not his management style. Usually, he gave broad oral directives leaving the specific ways and means of their implementation to his subordinates. And the “Final Solution” was, obviously, not an exception.
Documentary evidence (which I will present in the appropriate detail in “The Essential Guide to the Holocaust”) proves beyond the reasonable doubt two facts.
First, Adolf Hitler intended to make Europe Judenrein (“clean of Jews”) from the very beginning of his political career. And second, prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22nd, 1941 he intended to use tools other than physical extermination for the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”.
Initially forced emigration (to Palestine and elsewhere) and subsequently, deportation to a certain geographical area (Nisko Plan, Madagascar Plan, etc.). Only after the invasion of the Soviet Union triggered what Hitler believed was a “hot” and open war with “Judeo-Bolshevism”, he decided to physically exterminate all Jews in Europe (he perceived civilians of both genders and all ages of them as combatants that had to be annihilated). Most likely, he made this decision sometime in early or mid-July of 1941.
Still, it appears that he did not give a direct order to exterminate all Jews in all territories controlled by Germany. Given his habit of giving the broadest possible directives, he most likely ordered Hermann Göring (officially #2 man in Germany and the one formally in charge of security) to prepare and execute the plan for the “Final Solution”.
However, Göring did not give the direct order – neither written or oral – to exterminate all Jews of Europe. Instead, he sent an official letter to then SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Chief of the Main Security Office of the Third Reich) which ordered the latter
“to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a final solution [Gesamtlösung] of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.”
It is important to note that both Hitler and Göring were well aware of the fact that only the physical extermination of the Jews would do the job during the all-out war with the Soviet Union in the East and Britain in the West (the latter flatly refused to allow Germany free passage of ships with the Jews to Madagascar).
Hence de-facto they both gave direct orders to commence the Holocaust (although de-jure they did not). Consequently, both are guilty of mass murder as the one who gave the order is as guilty as the one who pulled the trigger (or dropped pellets with cyanide into the gas chamber).
In other words, they are both as guilty as Heydrich who gave direct orders to set up death camps (Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec), convert other camps (Auschwitz, Majdanek, Maly Trostinetz) into death factories and focus the activities of Einsatzgruppen on shooting Jews – men, women, children, the elderly… in short, all of them.
The six-million-lives question is: Why? Why on Earth did Adolf Hitler hate the Jews so much that he gave the order to physically exterminate all 11 million of them in Europe?
His passionate, virulent, vicious, murderous and genuinely insane Judeophobia (his anti-Jewish diatribes make no sense and have nothing to do with reality) is actually quite strange because his personal relationships with Jews were actually quite positive and comfortable.
His family physician was Jewish and so were his business partners when he painted postcards in Vienna (he sold them mostly via Jewish dealers). His commanding officer that recommender him for Iron Cross First Class (rarely awarded to a mere corporal) was Jewish. True, there are individuals that hate Jews in general but have Jewish friends and business partners but their Judeophobia is never nearly as severe as Hitler’s.
The short answer is simple – Adolf Hitler sincerely believed that the German nation and the whole “Aryan race” was fighting an inevitable and existential “racial war” with the “Jewish race”.
And that this war was genuinely existential; in other words, the winner will inevitably at least enslave and at most physically annihilate the loser. The “racial” nature of the war meant for him (and for his fellow Nazis) that there were no “civilians” in that war – everyone was a combatant, regardless of age and gender. And combatants are supposed to be killed – in the racial war, no prisoners are taken.
The (another six-million-lives) question is: Where did this idea come from?
Some sources are obvious: general anti-Semitic environment (especially in Vienna which at that time was probably the most Judeophobic major city in Europe); influence of certain vicious anti-Semites (e.g. Karl Lüger); the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (a fake concocted by Russian political police); the inescapable fact that many key Marxist and Bolshevist leaders were Jewish (Marx, Trotsky, Sverdlov, Kamenev, Zinoviev, etc.)…
But the key two events that made Hitler’s Judeophobia so vicious, passionate, immutable (I would say, incurable) and murderous were the November revolution and a de-facto German surrender in the Great War.
Adolf Hitler was a quintessential Army Man, the ideal soldier and consequently had an absolutely vicious, passionate, immutable and murderous hatred for traitors. For him, any and all traitors must be executed right then and there – on the spot.
He (incorrectly) perceived the defeat of Imperial Germany in the Great War as the result of a “stab-in-the-back” committed by traitors (“November criminals”). Who for the most part were Jewish (they were not).
Consequently, his hatred for traitors was transformed into a hatred for Jews (for him there was no difference between the qualities and actions of an individual and a nation).
And as “November criminals” did kill the Second Reich, he perceived the traitors (and thus the Jews) as a genuinely existential threat to Germany (and ultimately Europe and the whole Western Civilization).
This explanation is supported by the fact that the earliest anti-Semitic document authored by Hitler is the so-called “Gemlich letter” written (more likely, dictated) in mid-September of 1919.