The Roots of Hitler's Hate
THE CORE of the radical anti-Semitism that justified and accompanied the Holocaust was a conspiracy theory that ascribed not inferiority, but enormous power, to what it alleged was an international Jewish conspiracy that sought the destruction of the Nazi regime and the extermination of the German population. Its key component was prefigured in the infamous forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The accomplishment of Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was to adapt elements of this conspiracy theory to explain the origins and nature of World War II, and to people its network with personalities in public life in the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States. The evidence of Nazi wartime propaganda indicates that the legend of a murderous international Jewish conspiracy, more than the biological obsessions about blood, race and sex of the Nuremberg race laws, lurked at the core of Nazi propaganda, and indeed constituted the distinctively genocidal component of Nazi ideology. The Nazis claimed that because “international Jewry” was waging a war of extermination against Germany, the Nazi regime had an obligation to “exterminate” and “annihilate” Europe’s Jews in self-defense.
It was this putrid blend of hatred and interpretation of radical anti-Semitism articulated by Hitler and his associates that justified and legitimated the leap from persecution to genocide. It drew on centuries of hatred of Jews in Christian Europe, and on six years of government-sponsored racist contempt and persecution. Added to the past disdain and contempt for features of Jews said to make them inferior to Germans was hatred fueled by fear of what the supposedly powerful Jews would do to Germany. While Southern slaveholders lived in fear of slave revolts, real and imagined, white supremacists did not present African Americans as members of a global conspiracy who were willing and able to wage war against the United States as a step on the path to black world domination. Rather, they viewed slaves as the Germans viewed the Poles and other Slavs: as intellectually inferior beings, incapable of organizing anything so massive as an international political conspiracy. Just as white supremacy and racism justified enslavement for purposes of labor, so the theory of an international Jewish conspiracy was, as Norman Cohn put it fifty years ago, the “warrant for genocide” that justified and accompanied the Final Solution.
The conspiracy theory of radical anti-Semitism was not only a bundle of hatreds and prejudices. It was the ideological framework through which the Nazi leadership interpreted (and misinterpreted) ongoing events. From the beginning to the end of the war that he and his government had launched, Hitler and his associates concluded that their paranoid fantasy of an international Jewish conspiracy was the key to contemporary history. Its distinctively genocidal component, the ideological element that called for a complete extermination of the Jewish people in Europe and everywhere on the globe, did not have its primary basis in racial biology. Rather the definition of the Jews as a race more than a religious group was decisive for making a political accusation against a supposedly real historical actor, which the Nazis called “international Jewry.”
THE NAZIS racially defined “Jewry” as a political subject, no less real than the governments of the Allied powers. “Jewry” was the power behind the scenes in “London, Moscow and Washington” and the “glue” that held together this unlikely coalition of “Jewish Bolsheviks” and “plutocrats.” On many occasions, Hitler and his associates said publicly that the Nazi regime would respond to this alleged prior act of Jewish aggression and attempted mass murder by “exterminating” and “annihilating” the “Jewish race” in Europe. From the perspective of the Nazi leadership, “the war against the Jews” was not only the Holocaust. It was also the war against Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States and their allies.