What did Hitler do to the Nazi Jews?
Victims of the Nazi Era: National Socialist Racial Ideology
The Holocaust, i.e. the willful mass murder of millions of innocent civilians, is an event that has had a lasting impact on our understanding of Western civilization, the nation state, modern bureaucratic society and human nature. Convinced of a racial ideology that described Jews as "parasitic vermin" that had to be "exterminated", the National Socialists committed genocide of unmatched proportions. All Jews in Europe, whether sick or healthy, poor or rich, Orthodox, converted to Christianity, young and old and even small children, were all condemned to extermination.
About two thirds of the Jews who lived in Europe before the war fell victim to the Holocaust. When World War II ended in 1945, six million European Jews were dead, and more than a million of the victims were children. But even this statistic is misleading, because most of the survivors lived in areas of Europe that were not occupied by Germany during the war: in the eastern areas of the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Bulgaria, as well as in neutral states such as Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden. Tens of thousands of Jews also survived in parts of Europe that were occupied by the Germans, mostly in hiding places or in concentration camps, where they were ultimately liberated. The Germans and their collaborators were relentless in the persecution and killing of Jews in the areas they controlled in Europe.
Much has been written about what happened during the Holocaust and where, when, and how the Nazis carried out their murderous plans. In order to be able to understand the acts of the National Socialists in the broadest sense, one must first deal with the theoretical foundations that prompted them to come up with these plans in the first place. A closer examination of the National Socialist racial ideology may to some extent explain this tireless commitment to the physical extermination of European Jews.
The National Socialist Racial Ideology
Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist Party, formulated and shaped the principles that later became known as Nazi ideology. He saw himself as a profound and forward-looking thinker and was convinced that he had found the key to understanding an extraordinarily complex world.
Hitler believed that a person's character traits, attitudes, abilities and behavior were determined by their so-called racial composition. According to Hitler, all groups, races or peoples (he used these terms as synonyms) had certain traits in them that were passed on from generation to generation. No man could overcome the peculiarities of his race. According to him, the whole of human history can be explained as an ongoing racial struggle.
In formulating their racial ideology, Hitler and the National Socialists drew on the thoughts of the German Social Darwinists of the late 19th century. Like the Social Darwinists before them, the National Socialists believed that everyone could be assigned to a “race”. Each race has unmistakable characteristics that have been genetically passed on since the beginning of mankind in prehistoric times. These inherited traits relate not only to external appearance and physical structure, but also shaped mentality, way of thinking, creative and organizational skills, intelligence, cultural taste and cultural appreciation, physical strength and military skills.
The National Socialists also adopted the social Darwinist approach of the Darwinist theory of evolution, according to which ultimately the most adapted living beings survived. For the Nazis, a race's survival depended on its ability to reproduce and reproduce, on its accumulation of land to support and feed this growing population, and on its vigilance in maintaining the purity of its gene pool. This was to preserve the unique "racial" characteristics with which "nature" had equipped them for success in the struggle for survival. Since it was the endeavor of every "race" to spread, but space on earth was finite, the struggle for survival led "naturally" to violent conquest and military confrontation. Hence, even ongoing war was considered part of nature and part of human existence.
To define a race, the Social Darwinists used positive and negative stereotypes about the appearance, behavior and culture of an ethnic group. These stereotypes were supposedly codified and inherited biologically. They remained unchanged over time and were immune to environmental changes, intellectual advancement, or socialization. According to the National Socialists, it was not possible for members of one race to adapt to another culture or ethnic group, since the original, inherited characteristics could not be changed. These would only worsen through so-called “racial mixing”.
Who was the ideology directed against?
The National Socialists defined the Jews as a "race". They viewed the Jewish religion as irrelevant and attributed a variety of negative stereotypes about Jews and "Jewish" behavior to an unchanging, biologically determined heritage. This would lead the "Jewish race" as well as other races to survive through expansion and at the expense of other races.
Although Jews were regarded as the greatest "enemy" in the Nazi racial ideology, this also envisaged other groups for persecution, imprisonment and extermination. These groups included Sinti and Roma, people with disabilities, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and Afro-Germans. Political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and so-called anti-socials were also seen as enemies and embodied security risks, either because they consciously opposed the Nazi regime or because their behavior was incompatible with the National Socialists' ideas of social norms. The National Socialists tried to eliminate domestic nonconformists and "racial threats" by continually cleaning up German society.
They held the view that "superior races" not only have the right but also the duty to subdue and even destroy "inferior races". They were convinced that this race of races was a law of nature. In the strategic vision of the National Socialists, it was the task of the dominant German race to rule subordinate peoples who were considered inferior from birth. As such, they viewed the Slavs and "Asians" in particular (by which they meant the peoples of Soviet Central Asia and the Muslim population of the Caucasus region). For propaganda purposes, the National Socialists often portrayed this strategic vision as a crusade. They saw themselves as saviors of western civilization from the "Eastern" or "Asian" barbarians and their Jewish leaders and organizers.
Racially defined collective
For Hitler and leading representatives of the Nazi movement, the highest value of a person was not in his individuality, but in his belonging to a racially defined, collective group. The ultimate purpose of a racial collective was to ensure its own survival. Most should agree with the idea that humans have an individual urge to survive. However, Hitler assumed that there was a collective survival instinct based on belonging to a group, a people or a race (he used these terms as synonyms). For the National Socialists, this collective survival instinct always went hand in hand with the preservation of the purity of the “race” and the struggle with competing “races” for territories.
According to Hitler and others, maintaining the purity of the breed was so important because mixing with other races would lead to "bastardization" and "degeneration" of a race over time. The consequence would be that the breed would lose its distinguishing features and thus its ability to defend itself effectively, so that it would ultimately be doomed to extinction. Territories were indispensable for Hitler because these, he always insisted, were needed for the growing population of the race. With no new areas to house and feed the growing population, Hitler believed that the breed could eventually stagnate and face extinction.
The Nazi racial ideology also included the concept of a qualitative hierarchy of races in which not all races were equal. Hitler was convinced that the Germans were part of a superordinate racial group that he called "Aryans". According to Hitler, the German "Aryan" race was endowed more than any other with a biological superiority which made the Germans virtually predestined to rule a huge empire in Eastern Europe.
However, Hitler warned, the German “Aryan” race was threatened from inside and outside by disintegration. The internal threat lurks in mixed marriages between “Aryan” Germans and members of “inherently inferior races”: Jews, Sinti and Roma, Africans and Slavs. The offspring of these marriages would allegedly dilute the superior characteristics anchored in German blood and weaken the breed in the struggle for survival against other races.
The German state after the First World War also weakened the German “Aryan” race according to the Nazi view by tolerating the reproduction of people who were viewed by the National Socialists as “genetically degenerate” and “harmful to racial hygiene” as a whole. This included people with physical and mental disabilities, petty criminals and professional criminals and everyone who, according to the Nazi view, compulsively behaved socially “deviantly”, such as the homeless, allegedly sexually permissive women, people unable to work, alcoholics, etc.
The German “Aryan” race was also threatened with dissolution from outside. According to Hitler, the Weimar Republic lost the competition for land and population to the “inferior” races of the Slavs and “Asians”. In this competition, the “Jewish race” would have further refined its traditional socialist tool - Soviet communism. In this way, Hitler believed, they wanted to mobilize the otherwise incompetent Slavs and make the Germans believe that the artificial means of class conflict undermined the natural instinct of racial struggle. Hitler believed that the lack of housing drove the birth rate among Germans to dangerously low levels. In addition, Germany had lost the First World War and was forced by the Treaty of Versailles to cede huge areas of valuable land to its neighbors.
For Germany to survive, Hitler said, the rearrangement of the country by the enemy would have to be broken and large areas in the east had to be conquered by the Slavs. The conquest of the East would give Germany the space it needs to expand its population enormously and provide the resources it needs to feed that population. It would also enable the country to take its biological fate in hand, namely to establish itself as a “master race” with an appropriate world power status.
Elimination of racial enemies
Hitler and his party presented their racial enemies in clear and unmistakable terms. For Hitler and the National Socialists, the Jews were the primary enemy inside and outside Germany. Their supposedly racial and inferior genetic makeup would have produced the exploitative systems of capitalism and communism. In their urge to expand, the Jews promoted and used these systems of government and state to undermine the racial consciousness of higher races such as the Germans. To this end, they refer, among other things, to constitutions and proclaimed equality and world peace. They diluted "superior blood" through assimilation and intermarriage.
The Nazis claimed that Jews were using instruments in their power to fuel their biological expansion into world power. These instruments allegedly included the media, parliamentary democracy with its focus on individual rights, and international organizations that advocate the peaceful settlement of national conflicts. If Germany did not take decisive action against the Jews at home and abroad, so Hitler said, hordes of “sub-humans”, “uncivilized Slavs and Asians”, who could be mobilized by the Jews, would sweep away the “Aryan” German race.
For Hitler, government intervention in racial segregation, in promoting the reproduction of people with the "best" traits, in preventing the reproduction of people with "inferior" traits and in preparation for wars of expansion was necessary for Germany to achieve its natural, biologically anchored survival instinct could follow. In addition, the National Socialists tried to create a “natural” racial awareness in the German population. Allegedly Jews tried to suppress the Germans through parliamentary democracy, international cooperation agreements and class conflicts. Because of their racial superiority, according to Hitler, the Germans had the right and the duty to appropriate the territories in the east from the Slavs, "Asians" and their Jewish puppeteers. In pursuing these goals, according to Hitler, the Germans were merely following their natural instincts. In order to permanently defeat and rule the Slavs, it was almost the task of the German “master race” to destroy the leadership classes there and the Jews. The latter were seen as the only "race" capable of organizing the lower races through brutal Bolshevik-Communist doctrine. According to the Nazi view, this was a biologically determined “Jewish” ideology.
The National Socialists were of the opinion that the elimination of this "threat" to the survival of the Germans could only succeed by eliminating the people who, according to their racial ideology, embodied this threat. Hitler believed that this was a natural process. Hitler's plan of war and genocide was ultimately based on a conviction that he internalized like a formula: "Aryan" Germans could not avoid spreading and dominating others if they did not want to go under themselves. This included the elimination of all racial threats, especially those of the Jews.
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