Shortly after the end of World War II, historians began to interpret the events of the Holocaust. There are two dominant schools of thought with regards to the development of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Intentionalists argue that Hitler and the upper echelons of the Nazi Party are responsible for the development of the Holocaust and the attempts to destroy the Jewish race. However, structuralists argue that the development of the Holocaust would have occurred regardless of whether or not Hitler and his group had come to power. They believe that Germany in the post-World War I era was ripe for a social revolution. This is likely the case. Hitler was the effect, not the cause of the situation. Hitler achieved his power because the masses in Germany were struggling with the post-World War I issues, including crippling debt. In reality, the conditions foisted on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, resulted in a society that was angry and looking for a scapegoat. The Jewish people provided the scapegoat for the German people. Hitler and Germany did not cause anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism had been a common theme throughout history. Rather, the German people used the idea of anti-Semitism to find a way to blame the problems of their society on another group. Hitler merely acted as the leader of a group of people that demanded change, even if evil was required to accomplish the change.
Structuralism recognizes that society was the dominant force in the development of the Holocaust. Even if Hitler was in power, but the German people were not broke and angry, Hitler would not have been able to convince an entire society that one segment of the society needed to be secluded in a systematic fashion if the people were not ready for these statements. The Holocaust was not something that occurred in a short period of time. While the concentration and the death camps developed much later during the Holocaust, the systematic infringement on the rights of the Jewish people occurred over several years. First, they were required to be identified with their yellow stars. Then there were hoarded into ghettos where they suffered from this isolation. Later, they were sent to concentration camps and to death camps. This was a planned series of stages. However, if it were not for the acceptance of the German people to these stages, the final stage would have never occurred. Their acceptance came from an undercurrent in society that was trying to find someone to blame. Furthermore, to be accurate, Jewish people were not the only ones who were the scapegoats. Gays, disabled peopled and Roma people were also groups that were exterminated. These groups were also different and therefore easy to be labeled as a source of weaknesses in German society. German society wanted someone to blame for their tremendous losses in World War I and the economic devastation they suffered after the war.
While Hitler was by all means a charismatic leader who appealed to the silent majority of Germany, he essentially could have been replaced. Germans were looking for any leader; not one specific leader. They wanted someone to tell them that their anger was acceptable. They wanted to be heard. They desired a person who would have no moral issues with placing blame, as well as punishment, on a group of individuals. If the Germans could find a specific group to blame for their current troubles, they could exonerate their own decisions as a country. They could regain their nationalism and their pride in Germany. They were looking for anyone to give them the ability to do this.
If Hitler had not come along, another leader would have filled the void. History is full of examples of weakened and angry societies reaching for anyone. A pathological personality is always available to take advantage of a time of weakness or anger. Sadly, we are still seeing this today. Hitler is dead though. Others have just filled the void.