The Roots of Hitler's Hate

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem April 24, 2006. Israel marks the annual memorial day commemorating the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust of World War II on Monday. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen

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.

May-June 2018

From his famous prophecy about the war and Jews on January 30, 1939, to his last will written in the Berlin bunker in April 1945, Hitler himself was key to the conspiracy narrative. In the years following World War I, Hitler denounced the Jews as alien to the German nation, and the cause of Germany’s problems from defeat to depression. Between 1920 and 1939, often in the most vicious terms, he called for the “removal of the Jews from the midst of our people.” Before 1939, Hitler paraded his violent hatred of the Jews and his determination to banish them from public life, the professions and the economy, deprive them of German citizenship and then, with force if need be, extrude them from Germany. Yet from January 1933 to January 1939, through six years of escalating anti-Semitic persecution, he did not declare his intention to exterminate the Jews of Europe. He first did so on January 30, 1939, when, in a speech to the Reichstag, he publicly threatened to “exterminate” all the Jews of Europe if “international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe” provoked a world war—the very same war, in fact, that he at that moment was planning to unleash.

Hitler publicly repeated the genocidal prophecy on at least seven different occasions between January 30, 1939 and February 24, 1943. He was clear and blunt, not euphemistic or vague, regarding this threat. As if to underscore the link in his own mind between the war and his policies toward the Jews, on January 30, 1941, he erroneously dated the first utterance of the prophecy as September 1, 1939, the day he began the invasion of Poland.

In the November 16, 1941 issue of the weekly journal Das Reich, Goebbels published “Die Juden sind schuld” (The Jews Are Guilty). By then, according to leading historians of Holocaust decisionmaking, Hitler had ordered Himmler to expand the mass shootings of Jews that took place on the eastern front in summer and early fall 1941 into a continental program of genocide against the Jews of Europe. The text marks the first time that a leading official of the Nazi regime publicly announced the “extermination” (Vernichtung) of European Jewry. The if-then, hypothetical structure of Hitler’s famous prophecy of January 1939 gave way to an assertion of ongoing action. Three weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Goebbels said that the historical guilt of world Jewry for the outbreak and expansion of this war had been so extensively demonstrated that there was no need to waste any more words about it. They had “wanted their war,” and now they had it. Goebbels describes an active subject, “international Jewry,” on the offensive against an innocent, victimized German object. Goebbels puts it as follows:

“By unleashing this war, world Jewry completely misjudged the forces at its disposal. Now it is suffering a gradual process of annihilation which it had intended for us and which it would have unleashed against us without hesitation if it had the power to do so. It is now perishing as a result of its own law: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. In this historical dispute every Jew is our enemy, whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or scrapes out his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows the trumpets of war in New York or Washington. Due to their birth and race, all Jews belong to an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany. They wish for its defeat and annihilation and do everything in their power to help to bring it about.”

The Jews had started the war. They were “now” undergoing a “gradual process of extermination,” one they had originally intended to inflict on Germany.

Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin on April 30, 1945. On April 29, he had written his “Political Testament.” He wrote that it was “not true that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939. It was desired and launched exclusively by those international statesmen who were either of Jewish origin or who worked for Jewish interests.” The “truly guilty party of this murderous battle is Jewry!” To the end, he persisted in the paranoid logic of innocence, irresponsibility and projection. The logical conclusion of Hitler’s conspiracy theory was that international Jewry, in the form of the anti-Hitler coalition, had won the Second World War.

Like the traditions of white racism towards blacks, Nazi attitudes towards the peoples of eastern Europe, Poland and the Soviet Union rested on notions of racial superiority. But here again, it was a racism not based on color but on inferiorities said to emerge from membership in particular nations and ethnicities. Yet the goal of Lebensraum in the east was territory that was cleared of much of its native population. Those who remained would be colonial subjects dominated by Germans who settled in the east. Had the Nazis won the Second World War, they had plans to classify many millions more of the citizens of eastern Europe as “excess eaters.” The massive death toll on the eastern front, and the horrific toll of death and suffering in the history of African American enslavement, illustrate how conventional racism, juxtaposing superior against inferior peoples, which fueled both phenomena, had deadly consequences.