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Killing Baby Hitler: A Jewish Response


Last week Twitter was quite atwitter and op-ed columnists had a field day in response to a fascinating question raised by the New York Times Magazine. Perhaps to celebrate the 2015 arrival of fictional Marty McFly popularized in the classic time travel film Back to the Future II, the Times took to Twitter to ask people: “If you could go back and kill Hitler as a baby, would you do it?”

That opened the floodgates to a stunning and widely varied number of responses. None of them however, to the best of my knowledge, offered the traditional Jewish reply to almost exactly the same question – a question asked millennia ago of God by no less than His angels.

But before we get to that let’s see the direction most people have taken.

As a number of responders pointed out, justification for killing baby Hitler on the assumption that it would have prevented the far greater evil of the Holocaust can’t really be considered a certainty. Matt Ford, in the Atlantic magazine, offers the intriguing suggestion that the historic nonexistence of Adolf Hitler would in all probability not have altered the inevitability of World War II as well as the Holocaust.

“His [Hitler’s] absence from history would not remove the underlying political ideologies or social movements that fueled his ascendancy. Before his rise to power, eugenic theories already held sway in Western countries. Anti-Semitism infected civic discourse and state policy, even in the United States. Concepts like ethnic hierarchies and racial supremacy influenced mainstream political thought in Germany and throughout the West. Focusing on Hitler’s central role in the Holocaust also risks ignoring the thousands of participants who helped carry it out, both within Germany and throughout occupied Europe, and on the social and political forces that preceded it. It’s not impossible that in a climate of economic depression and scientific racism, another German leader could also move towards a similar genocidal end, even if he deviated from Hitler’s exact worldview or methods.”

So it wasn’t just Hitler. History seems to have a way of fulfilling its own agenda which can’t be stopped with the elimination of any one player, no matter how important his or her role – so killing baby Hitler, Ford says, would have been pointless and perhaps nothing less than murder.

More intriguing still, are some fictional depictions of attempted retroactive Hitler assassinations. In a famous Twilight Zone episode, a character sent back in time to kill baby Hitler succeeds – but Hitler’s mother then adopts another baby and raises it as Adolf who grows up to commit all of the very crimes history records in his name. The trajectory of history simply can’t be altered.

Somewhat similarly, Eric Norden, in his novel The Primal Solution,conjures a Holocaust survivor who


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