Progression of Prejudice
Thesis: The progression of prejudice leading to the Holocaust was the combined result of of Germany's ideological and historical roots during a time of social, political, and economic upheaval.
Germany's Progression of Prejudice
Grim thoughts of concentration camps, heaps of human skeletons, and gas chambers symbolize common images associated with the Holocaust. However, these pictures illustrate only the conclusion to an irrational saga of hatred and prejudice. The systematic annihilation of six million Jews is antedated by a gradual evolution of hatred that started with common verbal abuse. This progression of prejudice demonstrates the combined result of Germany's ideological and historical roots during a time of social, economic, and political upheaval ("The Approaching Night").
Germany's progression of prejudice is founded in a deep-rooted illogical ideology. The volkish dogma, a desire to maintain the purity of native blood and an intimacy with the native soil which allows man to become "in tune" with the "universal spirit," is the basis of Germanic values (Mosse 4). The ideal volkish German is native, has unmixed blood, possesses a moral character, and a bellicose, bloodthirsty nature (Mosse 25). The volk concept, strengthened by German myths and the popularity of occultism, promoted Germanic irrational ideology (Mosse 71).
Germany's incredible historical roots reinforced the volk concept. Germans insisted their culture created all intellectual, creative, and political accomplishments (Shirer 123). Due to volkish thought, Germans believed their native habitat (deep, dark forests) forced a continual search for the sun. Incessant pursuit of symbolic light, good, and hope made Germans creative and intellectually superior in comparison to races from less desirable landscapes, such as the dry, barren deserts - home to the Jewish race (Mosse 71-72). Germany pointed to its defeat of the corrupt Roman empire, its power during the Middle Ages, and its myriad intellectuals and artists like Beethoven, Brahms, Luther, and Charlemagne as proof of this supposition (Shirer 143).
Beginning in the nineteenth century, a legion of racial theories rooted in the German ideology emerged and grew popular with various groups. Fichte and Gobineau preached the importance of race to history and civilization while proclaiming the racial superiority of Aryans ( Shirer 143, 151). Hegel and Nietzsche expounded the Superman theory (Shirer 161) and glorified the necessity of war with Treitschke (Shirer 144-145). H.S. Chamberlain, the "spiritual founder" of National Socialism, believed "the Teuton is the soul of our culture" and explained history through this perspective (Remak 4-6). According to Darwin's evolutionary theory, Teutons were more superior in the constant battle for survival when their blood was purest (Remak 3-4). Wagner's music, expressing the core of the volkish concept, stirred the primitive Germanic desires with its quixiotic heroes and their brave, fiery quests (Viereck 123-125). Social circles, like Wagner's circle, the German Youth Movement, and the educational system spread these theories (Mosse 91-93).
The Volk concept and racial theories alone were not enough to make Germans receptive to Nazism. However, the tumultuous years after World War I prepared Germans for any solution to their problems.
After Germany's defeat in World War I, the Weimar Republic, led by the Social Democrats, replaced the monarchy ( Shirer 83-84). Germans, attached to the traditional monarchy, rejected weak democracy. Germans wanted a nationalistic government without the privileged aristocracy. Socialism promised class equality but destroyed national unity and pride (Abel 143). Political parties proliferated; one Reichstag ballot had 28 different candidates representing everything from the Communist Party to the Farmers' Party (Remak 21).
In addition, Germany experienced a time of social turbulence and upheaval. Soldiers returned home to find their jobs taken over by Jews and Marxists. Patriotic Germans felt that Jews and Socialists were responsible for their defeat in the war because they were pacifists, took over businesses at home, and betrayed nationalists by supporting the formation of the Weimar republic ( Shirer 54-56). Industrialization and modernization, symbolized by successful Jews and Marxists, bonded people with artificial ties of materialism and greed instead of the Volkish bond of unadulterated blood (Abel 137). Germans longed to return to their past glory and unity (Abel 143).
During these years, German economy suffered severe depression and inflation causing mass unemployment, starvation, and hopelessness. Bread rose to 2500 marks and an egg cost 800 marks (Remak 23). In April 1921, the weak German economy was burdened with 33 billion dollars for reparations (Shirer 81 ). The Great Depression was a staggering blow to an economy supported by American loans (Abel 121). Between 1930 and 1932, unemployment rose from three million to six million (Remak 24). Suicide became a common solution to unemployment, starvation, and fear (Abel 125).
Adolf Hitler's National Socialism, combining class equality of socialism with the strong nationalistic government loved by Germans, appeared to be a solution to Germany's growing problems (Abel 143). Hitler incorporated Volkish values into his program by preaching Aryan superiority (Hitler 163) and blood purity (Hitler 13).
Racial superiority was the driving force behind the Nazi message. In Mein Kampf, Hitler expounded blood purification for a higher human evolution as the ultimate human right (Hitler 162). Hitler used his dynamic oratory skills, propaganda, and terror to attract Germans to Nazism. Murderers, businessmen, farmers, and students, found hope in the Nazi message of social justice, economic recovery, and national rebirth (Shirer 79-80). The Nazi Party grew from 64 members in 1920 to an astounding one million in 1932 (Abel 311). When Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, Germans opened the door to Hitler's plan to create a united Pan-Germany based on common blood and restore Germanic glory (Shirer 163-164).
Becoming Chancellor, Hitler immediately began filtering Jews out and purifying German blood. Initially, Hitler portrayed Jews as the anathema of the German volk through progressing acts of humiliation and discrimination (Remak 146). Hitler launched a propaganda attack designed to reinforce the anti-Semitic message rooted in German ideology. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, controlled all literature, music, newspapers, radio, and film production by September 1933 (Reuth 175). Goebbels, "protecting the German people," banned books, movies, composers, and newspapers which conveyed the wrong attitudes toward Jews and Nazism. Germans looked at Jewish friends in a new, suspicious perspective, German students gathered to burn books with anti-German ideas, (Shirer 333) and soldiers took dates to see the latest anti-Semitic flick (Reuth 277).
Once the German mind was manipulated to see Jews as the cause of decadence in the German empire, Hitler implemented laws removing Jews from society. September 1941 brought laws that forbade Jews to be seen publicly without a visible Star of David, making avoidance easier; Germans who associated with Jews were threatened to be treated as Jews (Remak 154). Following Hitler's ascension to power, 300,000 Jews left Germany (Remak 151). In September 1939, the remaining Jews in Germany, fenced off into cramped, sordid ghettos, were forbidden to leave without written permission from local police (Friedman 1). Germans accepted that Jews were the paramount threat to the Volk and shunned so-called "sub-humans" (Shirer 1223).
Avoidance progressed into discrimination against Jews. In April 1933, Goebbels proclaimed the first Jewish store boycott; smashing store windows and raiding synagogues, storm troopers surrounded Jewish shops (Reuth 179-180). Jews lost professional jobs in government, medicine, and universities; marriage between Jews and Germans was forbidden (Remak 146). The September 1935 Nuremberg Laws abolished Jewish citizenship, voting rights, and the right to hold public office (Friedman 1). Signs on stores and streets read, "Jews Not Welcome" and "Jews Enter At Your Own Risk" (Shirer 323).
The evolution of Jewish hatred escalated from verbal abuse into violent acts against Jews. Various groups were in charge of doing Hitler's dirty work. The barbarous storm troopers broke up political parties, raided synagogues, and persecuted Nazi enemies. The Gestapo terrorized Germany by arresting and murdering opponents while the S.S. controlled the grisly task of operating the concentration camps (Shirer 373-375). The first concentration camps were established in 1933 under the pretext of "protective custody" for disobedient citizens. However, Germans began to realize that humans sent to Dachau or Sachsenhausen never returned. Prisoners performed forced labor, were beaten, and suffered experimental medical research and gassings (Shirer 374-375). Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938) was one of the worst examples of violence against the Jews and their property: 101 synagogues destroyed, 26,000 Jews incarcerated in concentration camps, and 91 murdered (Friedman 1).
Following Kristallnacht, a secret meeting of powerful Nazi officials to discuss Hitler's request for "a final solution to the Jewish question" marked a turning point in the progression of violence. The Nazi's territorial gains made Jewish emigration impossible. Hitler had already prepared over fifty concentration camps and realized that the German people would offer little opposition, as seen from their apathy after Kristallnacht (Friedman 1). Nazi officials decided that now was the time to begin "the extermination of Jewry" (Shirer 1255) or as Hitler had promised, "...the annihilation of the Jewish race throughout Europe" (Shirer 1256). By 1941, Nazi genocide was in full swing. Jews were deported to the concentration camps where they performed forced labor or were murdered. The S.S. employed gas chambers, starvation, shootings, and crematories to carry out Hitler's "final solution." Allied invasion ended Hitler's genocidal dreams too late for the six million Jews who were victims of Germany's progression of prejudice (Shirer 1260-1261).
Hitler's attempt to decimate the entire Jewish race was only the psychotic ending to a progression of prejudice produced by Germany's ideological and historical roots distorted during the social, economic, and political turbulence. Focusing on the horror of gassing thousands of people in one day and crying out against the atrocity of massacring six million human beings ignores the fact that genocide develops from something every human is guilty of verbal abuse. Examining the German evolution of hatred proves that a deeper network of hatred with the potential to develop into escalating levels of animosity lies under the words of racial slurs and slander. Understanding this latent hostility demands that men break down the barriers of race, religion, and nationality to prevent future holocausts.
"The Approaching Night: Examining the Progression of Prejudice in the Holocaust." The 1998 Holocaust Remembrance Project. Holland and Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc., 1998.
Abel, Theodore. Why Hitler Came Into Power. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Friedman, Saul S. "Holocaust." The New Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia (1991): 2pp. Online. Local Area Network. 20 Feb. 1998.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Trans. James Murphy. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1942.
Mosse, George L. The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964.
Remak, Joachim, ed. The Nazi Years: A Documentary History. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969.
Reuth, Ralf G. Goebbels. Trans. Krishna Winston. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1993.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
Viereck, Peter. Meta-Politics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind. New York: Capricorn Books, 1965.
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