Motives for Massacre: Nazi Anti-Semitism

By Jennifer Berringer
Winter Park, Florida


 

Thesis Statement: In recent history, experts on Holocaust research have studied the motives of

Nazi anti-Semitism during their reign of terror. Many of them agree that previously held theories on the Nazi psyche are somewhat inaccurate. It is important for us to explore these ideas, in order to prevent the reoccurrence of the Nazis' Jew hating philosophies in modern times.

 

Motives For Massacre: Nazi Anti-Semitism

 

The Holocaust involved the deliberate, systematic murder of approximately six million Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe between 1941 and 1945. It was perhaps the most savage and significant single crime in recorded history; yet it remains, on many levels, an unfathomable mystery. (Landau, 3) Though the events that took place during this destructive era have been thoroughly documented and almost endlessly studied, there is still no sure agreement on several central issues. Historians, psychologists, theologians, and philosophers alike, have agreed upon many facts concerning the Nazis' actions during World War II. But, what many of them still question are the motives and ideals that led Germany's leaders to attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Central Europe.

In recent years, compelling research has been done, in an attempt to understand the reasoning behind Hitler's need for a `Final Solution to the Jewish Question.' Several issues that have long been believed to be the basis for Nazi anti-Semitism have been both explored and questioned by a number of respected scholars.

When Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came into power in Germany in 1933, prejudice against people of the Jewish faith was not a new concept. (Rogasky, 21) Jews had been the objects of hatred in many societies for centuries. Throughout history, the Jews had been discriminated against by nearly all groups of people. They were accused of horrific crimes and blamed for the misfortunes of their communities.

While the Nazis did not initiate anti-Semitism in Europe, they used it as a foundation to help them succeed in their work of destruction. (Rogasky, 10) In many ways, the Nazi party molded the common anti-Jewish views of the time period, to fit their master plan for genocide.

 

Perhaps, the most widely known anti-Semitic ideal produced by Hitler and his followers, is that which ascribes anti-Semitism to racism. For years, anti-Semites hated Jews for their beliefs, and for the threat their beliefs posed to the ruling power of the time. (Rogasky, 13) But, the Germans took these ideas one step further, and built their hatred on what they considered to be an unchallengeable scientific system. (Meltzer, 7) They based their prejudice against Jews on a theory of racial superiority. Nazi leaders insisted that the Jewish people had inborn traits that made them inferior to the Germans, or Aryans who were the "master race". In this way, the `Jewish question' became an issue of birth and blood, no longer belief. (Rogasky, 14)

Recently, this commonly accepted ideal of Nazi anti-Semitism as racism, has been carefully studied. It was originally thought, that the Nazis were racists and therefore hated the Jews and all other "non-Aryans." But, lately this way of thinking has been questioned.

For several reasons, the racism claim makes little sense. First, if racism was the basis for the Nazis' world view, it is not logical that the Nazis focused their hatred on the Jews while excluding virtually all other "non-Aryan" races. (Bauer, 36) Also, it seems irresistibly logical to point out the simplicity of the Nazi racism claim- the Nazis hated "non-Aryans";the Jews were "non-Aryans"; therefore, the Nazis hated the Jews. (Rogasky, 26) But, while considering this we must remember that the Jews were the only non-Aryans whom the Nazis attempted to annihilate, and that anti-Semitism, not anti-non-Aryanism, was the essence of Nazism.

Today, many Holocaust historians believe that it was not because of racism that the Nazis hated the Jews, but because of their hatred of the Jews that the Nazis utilized racist arguments. The Jew hating came first, and racism was only an explanation. While other anti-Semites believed that Jew could change to become like them, Hitler and the Nazis needed to deny them this possibility. (Rogasky,16)

Hitler himself explained these ideas in Mein Kampf, when he wrote, "In his new language [the Jew] will express the old ideas; his inner nature has not changed...the Jew...can speak a thousand languages and nevertheless remains a Jew. His traits of character have remained the same... It is always the same Jew." (Hitler, 312)

Hitler and the Nazis found the association of anti-Semitism to racism to be extremely helpful in solving the 'Jewish Question.' Now that the Germans understood the concept of "Once a Jew, Always a Jew," any campaign directed against the Jews must be directed against all of them no matter what non-Jewish religious or nationalist identity they may hold. (Rauschning, 229) Hitler pointed out that all previous forms of anti-Semitism were in error when assuming that if Jews abandoned Judaism and adopted new values that they could assimilate and become non-Jews. (Wistrich, 68) The Nazis believed that by pointing out that the Jews had fixed characteristics and could not be changed for the better, they had established a reason to exterminate a group of people who could find no redemption. The only way to rid the world of the Jews' "hostile ideologies," in Hitler's mind was to physically rid the world of all Jews. Every other solution, the Nazis said, had been tried and failed; they would implement the "Final Solution." (Wistrich, 69)

Racism is only one of two commonly held explanations for Nazi anti-Semitism. The second is the scapegoat thesis. According to this explanation, in order to obtain power, Hitler and the Nazis needed a scapegoat upon whom to blame the ills of Germany, and the Jews served this purpose most conveniently. The Nazis attacked the Jews not because attacking the Jews was central to the Nazi world view, but because attacking the Jews was the politically wise thing to do.

Though this explanation seems as plausible as the racism ideal, it has been strongly opposed by modern educators. Today's scholars believe in large that the Nazis did not attack the Jews in order to achieve power; rather they wanted power in order to attack Jews. (Dawidowicz, War Against Jew, 84)

In many ways, current researchers have proven that the `Final Solution' to the 'Jewish Problem" was more important to Hitler and his Nazis than even winning World War II. Late in the war, when Germany was losing, German troops were taken from the Allied fronts and deployed to murder Jews. In July 1944, when the Germans needed every train to begin evacuations of Greece, not a single train was diverted from those taking Jews to death camps. When the Germans declared a ban on all non-military rail traffic in order to free trains for an offensive in southern Russia, the only trains exempted were those transporting Jews to their death. (Dawidowicz, War Against Jew, 141-142)

Another fact, that has been used to eliminate the scapegoat thesis deals with Nazi policy for murdering Jews. Considering the Nazis' severe manpower shortages, they should have used Jewish prisoners as slave laborers, not murdered them. Instead, the Nazis' killed the majority of Jews who fell into their hands. Even the Jews that were used for labor, were often so mistreated that they died within a matter of weeks or months. While to most German military leaders the primary war was against the Allies, to the Nazis it was against the Jews.

A third fact undermining the scapegoat thesis is that in the early years of the Third Reich the Nazis did not want the Jews to remain in Germany where they could have been used as scapegoats; in actuality the Nazis encouraged Jews to leave. In January 1935, the Nazi party issued a decree that it would fully cooperate with the German Zionists (those persuading Jews to emigrate to Palestine). (Dawidowicz, Holocaust Reader, 85) And, amazingly, two months later, also forbade Jewish organizations from encouraging Jews to stay in Germany. All this was rather strange behavior toward "scapegoats."

The final error in the scapegoat thesis concerns the ideal that anti-Semitism was politically effective in Germany that the Nazis needed it to achieve power. On the contrary, the main appeal of the Nazis to the German voters was not the party's anti-Semitism, but rather it's promise for economic improvement, it's appeals to patriotism, and declaration of intent to avenge Germany's humiliation from the Versailles Conference which concluded World War I. While it may be true that many of Germany's voters were historically anti-Jew, most of them did not vote for the Nazis' because of their anti-Semitism. The most important factor in the Nazi success at the polls was the economic situation in Germany. (Field, 457)

Overall, today's leading Holocaust authorities are trying to make evident the real motivations behind the Nazi reign of terror. Many of our ideas about the Nazi idealogy are actually misunderstandings, that we must strive to correct. In order to understand how Hitler and his followers went about taking the lives of six million innocent people, we must first try and grasp why they felt the need to do it. At this point in history, it is not enough to write the Holocaust off as the terrible misfortune of a lost generation. We must look back to fully understand the significance of this terrible loss of life, so that history, in this case, will never repeat itself.

 

Works Cited

 

Bauer, Yehuda. The Holocaust in Historical Perspective. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978.

 

Dawidowicz, Lucy. A Holocaust Reader. New York: Behrman House, 1976.

 

Dawidowicz, Lucy. The War Against the Jews. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975.

 

Field, Geoffrey G. Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

 

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Sentry Edition, 1971.

 

Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1992.

 

Meltzer, Milton. Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1976.

 

Rauschning, Hermann. Hitler Speaks. London: T. Butterworth, 1939.

 

Rogasky, Barbara. Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust. New York: Holiday House, 1988.

 

Wistrich, Robert S. Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991.

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of 
Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.


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