Ideological thinking is at least as old as the Ancient Greeks, and beyond the idea of a political doctrine. Ideology is a system of beliefs that portrays and validates a prefered political order for society, and offers an approach. The Nazis (National Socialist German Worker's Party), for example, stressed the superiority of the Aryan race. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the issue of why and how did antisemitism play such an important part in Nazi ideology.
Brief introduction to NazismThe Nazi party is the most recognised example of Fascism - an extreme form of right-wing ideology that celebrates the nation or the race as an organic community surpassing all other loyalties. Fascism first arose in the early part of the twentieth-century in Europe. It was a response to the rapid social upheaval, the devastation of World War I, and the Bolshevik Revolution. Fascism emphasised a myth of national or racial rebirth after a period of decline and destruction.
Thus, Fascism called for a 'spiritual revolution' against signs of moral decay such as individualism and materialsm, and seeked to purge 'alien' forces and groups that threatened the organic community.When the Nazis came to power in 1933 they began to introduce a set of ideas into the German society. They offered the German population an easy solution to all their problems - eliminating Jews and democracy. The Nazis cleverly played on the 'political paranoia' of the middle class, and the Jews and communists worked excellently as representations of the enemy.
These ideas were based on the Nazi ideology and policies, which had been outlined by Hitler in his book "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle") a few years earlier. Nazis also stressed the superiority of the Aryan race, calling for the unification of all German-speaking peoples into one single empire. The overall aim for Nazis was to create a generation of racially pure Germans who were ready to serve their country. They celebrated the nation or the race as an organic community transcending all other loyalties, and promoted racial superiority doctrines, ethnic persecution, imperialist expansion, and genocide. Hitler used his book "Mein Kampf" to establish a plan of action for creating this racially pure state.
However, unlike Fascism, the state for Nazis was second in importance, behind only racial purity for the nation.Origins of antisemitismAntisemitism was first invented in Germany in the 1870s by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr to describe the 'non confessional' hatred of the Jews. Early antisemites stressed that they did not oppose Jews for religious reasons, but rather claimed to be motivated by social, political, economic or 'racial' factors. In the late nineteenth century Jews as a social and national group, were portrayed as being fundamentally 'alien' to their fellow citizens. The Jews were the only minority in this pagan world that claimed Judaism as being the sole truth and the supreme moral teaching. Not only did they persist in their historic survival as separate social and religious group, they even refused to interact with the rest of society due to their dietary laws, Sabbath observance and prohibition on intermarriage.
This provoked a great deal of hostility.Why antisemitism was one of the elements of Nazi ideology?Modern antisemitism was strongly present in the ideologies and policies adopted by Adolf Hitler as head of the German Nazi State. In Hitler's first written political statement on 16 September 1919, the future leader of the Third Reich supported a so-called 'rational' systematic antisemitism that would aim at eliminating the Jews from the German state. In his early speeches during the 1920s he referred to the Jews as being made in the image of the Devil, a universal form of 'racial tuberculosis" or a sub human species of vermin whose 'eradication root and branch' was a matter of life and death for Germany and mankind as a whole.
(Warum sind wir Antisemiten? Rede auf einer NSDAP Versammlung', in Eberhard Jï¿½ckel? Axel Kuhn (eds.) Hitler: Sï¿½mtliche Aufzeichnungen 1905-1924 (Stuttgart, 1980), pp. 176-7. Also the speech of 6 April 1920, ibid., pp.
119-20)In 1922 Hitler declared that should he gain power "the annihilation of the Jews will be my first and foremost task", and spoke of public hangings that would go on "until the last Jew in Munich is obliterated" and all of Germany would be cleansed. (John Toland - Adolf Hitler, New York 1977 p. 157). The 'Jewish question', he continuously highlighted, was an encounter of cosmic significance between two opposed forces fighting for world domination. Jews did not merely represent one danger amongst others, but rather the entirety of evils confronting the 'Aryan' civilization. Their elimination was seen as the only option for its future development.
Adolf Hitler came from a long-standing tradition of Christian antisemitism, which through the course of time transformed into biological racism. This biological racism viewed Judaism as a satanic force that is rooted deep in history from the Middle Ages. (On Nazism as a 'political faith' - Uriel Tal, Contemporary Jewish History Tel-Aviv University). In Hitler's early years as a political protester, he frequently speculated on the myth of his messianic role as a militant Germanic saviour bearing a sword rather than a crown of thorns, who would derive the Jewish Capitalists from the Temple of the Lord, "The task which Christ began but did not finish", he told a Munich crowd in 1926, "I will complete".
(Robert Wistrich, Hitler's Apocalypse, London 1985, p.139).Hitler's antisemitism and popular beliefs of a Jewish conspiracy against the Germans, could not have reached the intensity that it did without taking the other factors in German politics into consideration. These included the collapse of the Hohenzollern monarchy, the defeat in the First World War and the Munich and Berlin Revolutions in 1918 and 1919, which created a counter revolutionary mood and prejudice against the Jews and Slavs in the Weimar republic.
The fact that many leaders of the suppressed revolutions were Jews like Ernst Toller, Kurt Eisner, Eugen Levine, Gustav Landauer, Rosa Luxembourg and many more, was certaintly a crucial factor in intensifying German antisemitism. It offered Hitler and the German radical right a justification to declare a Jewish world conspiracy.Both Capitalism and Marxism were portrayed as part of the same international conspiracy to oblige Germany to the will of the revengeful Allied victors, which were responsible for inflicting massive war reparations on Germany. (Speech of July 28th 1922; Norman H. Bates, 'The Speeches of Adolf Hitler', vol.1 p.
29; 'The Stock Exchange Revolution of 1918', ibid., pp.42). The Jews metaphorically represented these foreign powers, and supposedly controlled big capital, international finance, the bourgeois parties, parliamentary democracy and all those 'sinister' forces that could undermine the authority of the state and national dependence.
For Hitler and the Nazis, in contrast to the traditional teachings of Christianity, no spiritual redemption of the Jews was possible. This mystical and biological racism was later to be used against all Jews, no matter what their social status was, beliefs or even political convictions. Unlike Christian churches, which never officially authorized the slaughter of Jews, but had simply been content to degrade, stigmatise or ridicule them, the Nazis went to extreme lengths to institutionalise their irrational beliefs. So as to demonstrate the truth behind the myth of 'Aryan' racial superiority, the Nazis committed themselves to the total eradication of the Jews as people.
How did Nazis use antisemitism to achieve their ideological objectives?Unlike many racist predecessors before him, Hitler recognized that antisemitism and the 'Aryan' myth could not alone appeal to the German public. He understood that the widespread identification of Jews with world revolution and avant-garde modern culture offered him a way to capitalise on German bourgeois anxieties by focusing them on a single scapegoat. (Saul Friedlander 'Some aspects of the historical significance of the Holocaust', The Jerusalem Quarterly p.51).
This idea of the Jews being the scapegoat for every social, economic and political setback was strengthened by the widespread phobia towards Communism and Bolshevism, which were seen as a Jewish scheme for international domination. Only complete elimination could guarantee the health of the Whole European civilization.Nazis permanently suspended all civil liberties following the Reichstag fire in early 1933. To keep control of the population and maintain the law, Hitler setup militia groups to see that everything was in order.
Hitler began to organize the SA, his Nazi storm troopers, which in "Mein Kampf" he referred to as "an instrument for the conduct and reinforcement of the movement's struggle for its philosophy of life." (The Rise of Hitler: A New Beginning). He then created a special unit that would only answer to him and be his personal body guards. The elite groups were known as the SS (defence squads) for short.
The Gestapo, established in 1933, was a secret state police. All these groups were used to carry out mass murders of anyone or any groups that posed a threat to Hitler and the party's beliefs.The regime dissolved all political parties other than its own, despite the fact that more than half of the German electorate had voted for parties other than the Nazis in March 1933 elections. As a result of the suppression of civil freedoms and all opposition (including the opposition press and publishing houses), the regime attained the control of information, which helped assist the elimination of the Jews and the measures taken against them. These lay at the core of the regime's racist policies.
One of the Nazis' objectives was to create a racially 'homogeneous' class of overlords, a new aristocracy as represented by the SS. These overlords were in charge of accomplishing the regime's imperialist aims, and hence the subjection or destruction of the "racially inferior" people who inhabited the "living space" required to fulfill those aims.For Hitler, by connecting his racist obsessions with a long term plan to reconstruct Germany along authoritarian lines, to expand Living Space (Lebensraum) to the East, and the destruction of Communism in Soviet Russia, all ensured a broader appeal to the conservatives and middle classes as well as to the unemployed masses. Living Space was gradually put forward as the main objective of Fascist expansion and the ultimate measure of Fascism's success in revitalizing the national community, and in promoting its historic universal mission.However, this Nazi antisemitism with the Jew being the root of all-evil did not initially infect a large number of the German population, but with extreme propaganda it did affect public attitudes. After 1933 the Nazis felt free to apply their antisemitic programme through a series of stages from legal discrimination, forced emigration to ghettoisation and mass extermination during the Second World War.
The 1935 Nuremberg Laws introduced by the Nazis created a division between the Germans and the Jews. Before Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) in November 1938, they removed all Jews from public office and German cultural life. A major intention of this propaganda was to bring about mass emigration of the German Jewry. The regime's monopoly of information and propaganda was not merely designed to stifle opposition; it was used to attain its racist objectives, in particular, to train younger Germans with its racist ideology who would in time serve in German military organizations.Kristallnacht had however shown that the German public as a whole was less than enthusiastic about the destruction of property and burning down of synagogues. As a consequence, future violence against the Jews was carried out in secrecy and in a more 'orderly' manner using the SS.
Nazi antisemitism achieved its success in the complete depersonalization of the Jews, and their gradual dehumanization as a result of endless propaganda and their transformation in the eye of ordinary Germans first into social outcasts and then into total outsiders. Mass murder was rationalized as an act of apocalyptic 'idealism', and was characteristic of the SS.ConclusionAs an ideology, Nazism is difficult to characterise because of its complexity and its basic lack of logical content. It builds on artificially created enemy figures. It is an ideology that encourages more criticism than suggestions for improvement; it is an anti-Semitic ideology where the Jews are the subjects for all kinds of problems; it is a racist ideology that builds on the idea of a superior Aryan race; and finally, it is a nationalistic ideology that puts the nation before the individual.Large parts of the German population were more dedicated to Hitler as a charismatic person than to the content of Nazi ideology.
Political antisemitism did not lead directly and inevitably to Nazism, and the Nazi take over of Germany was not mainly a result of antisemitism. Nazism came to power as a form of German nationalism, aided by the prevailing circumstances of defeat and crisis. Yet antisemitism helped Nazis to gain power and win the hearts of the German masses.