Weimar and Nazi Germany
The early 20th C., late 19th C., saw a resurgence in anti-Semitism, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.
- this was partly a reaction against the greater equality being granted to Jews.
- Religious hostility felt by the Christian church.
- 19th C. saw new “scientific” theories about race. Tales of a Jewish “world conspiracy” were common before the 1st World War. Darwin’s “survival of the fittest,” in particular, was used to endorse a racist belief in the hierarchy of peoples.
- In Mein Kampf, Hitler divided the world into three racial groups:
· the creators of culture (Aryans)
· the bearers of culture (those who can imitate the creations of superior races)
· destroyers of culture
- According to Hitler, mixing superior races with inferior ones leads to a contamination of the nation’s bloodstock. “Racial hygiene” (eugenics) was therefore seen as essential and racial intermixing should be prevented. (N. B. superiority was not associated with the intellect but with capacity for work, the fulfilment of public duty, self-sacrifice and idealism.)
- Since race is genetically determined according to this theory, Jews cannot renounce their “Jewishness” by conversion to Christianity.
- In racist ideology, Jews were attempting to subvert civilisation through international finance and Communism.
- Since Jews cannot possess a culture of their own, they were seen as parasitic. Hitler likened them to rats, vermin, disease, the plague, germs, and baccilli.
- Hitler blamed Jews for almost everything he disliked
· defeat in World War 1
· Russian Revolution
· Treaty of Versailles
- Mein Kampf speaks of the need to “exterminate” the “international poisoners”
- Pogroms in Russia meant that many Russian Jews fled to Germany. Their numbers were exaggerated.
- In Eastern Europe and Austria-Hungary, Jewish minorities in Vienna and Budapest were easy targets.
- Jews were associated in peoples’ minds with Communism and revolution 1918-1919. Since Marx was a Jew, Hitler saw Communism as yet another means of destroying civilisation, concocted by Jewish influences.
- In Eastern Europe and Austria, Jews wore distinctive clothes. Their festivals and beliefs kept them separate from Christian communities, enhancing distrust.
2. Pan-German Nationalism
- Hitler spoke of a Greater German Reich. “Ein Volk, ein Reich”. Living space – “lebensraum” was to be found in Eastern Europe.
- Reversal of Versailles
- Non-payment of reparations
- Social Darwinism (This theory suggests that a struggle between nations is a natural part of history.)
3. Racial Exclusiveness
- Citizenship should be restricted to racial Germans. Jews could never be citizens
- Immigration of aliens into Germany should be ended and those who entered since August 1914 should be expelled
- Strong central government
- Press and education should build up respect for the State and for a powerful nation
- Tolerated only as long as it did not threaten the State
6. Hostility to Big Business
- Belief in the importance of small proprietors, craftsmen and farmers
- Anti-large-scale capitalism and profiteers
- No real attack on private property however, which made Nazism a safer option than Communism
- The appeal to farmers, small businessmen and salaried employees was opportune. These groups had been hardest hit by the war, hyperinflation and the 1929 crisis
7. Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil)
- Belief that work on the land produces a healthy, virtuous population
- Idealisation of a “golden age”, before the onset of industrialisation, appealed to many who saw big business and urbanisation as threatening
- Many references made to “heimat” or homeland
- Marx was a Jew
- Russia was made up of Slavs and Jews
- The creation of a “peoples’ community” in which old conflicts between classes would be forgotten and people would be united in working for the national good
10. Women and the Family
- KKK – kinder, kuche, kirche. Women’s role was to look after their families and to protect the home. The Nazis spoke out against the breakdown of family values, modern youth culture and permissiveness.
- Hitler believed this had played an important role in Britain’s success
- Perpetual repetition of simple, vehement ideas
- If you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one and do not flinch from it
- Belief that the masses are swayed by emotion, not rational ideas
a. None of these ideas were new nor exclusively Nazi:
- Völkish and anti-Semitic prejudices were far from uncommon in Austria and Germany. Originating in England, the idea of sterilising the infirm and degenerate was widespread in the 1920s. Hitler’s views were neither original nor as isolated as has sometimes been suggested.
- All Nationalist parties supported the reversal of Versailles and an improvement in Germany’s world position.
- Anti-Communism was widespread
- All conservative parties supported “family values” and opposed the further emancipation of women.
b. The stress on national community and the emphasis on a broad based party designed to appeal to all classes was different. It stood in contrast to the selfish exclusiveness of many other parties
c. Nazi ideology combines reactionary ideas (backward looking) with revolutionary aspects.
Reactionary aspects included:
- “Blut und Boden”
- attitude towards women
Forward-looking ideas included:
- aspects of the Nazi social welfare scheme
- stress on the importance of technology
An ideology based at root on racial purification, however, must ultimately be seen as backward. The forward-looking elements of Nazism were employed for the furtherance of Aryan superiority. They too, therefore, became tools of a reactionary regime
d. How attractive was Hitler’s ideology? Did Germans vote for the Nazis because of their ideas – or simply in reaction to the crisis of 1929-1933?
Here are some views of different historians:
On the one hand:
1. “Pressures were so severe that they were prepared to grasp
at straws.” Overy
3. “There is now considerable evidence to suggest that Nazi policies
and propaganda reflected many of the aspirations of large sections of
the populace.” Welch.
The interpretation is important and, as usual, is a loaded issue. How far did the Germans vote for Hitler because they liked what he said? How far did they do so out of a negative reaction to the other parties? In other words, how “guilty” were they?