The persecution of the Jewish people in Europe during the World War II was one of the notable atrocities of Adolf Hitler. Under his regime, Nazi Germany passed and implemented anti-Semitic laws aimed at excluding European Jews from the civil society. Note that the Holocaust resulted in the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews. But why did Hitler hate the Jews? What were the reasons behind his anti-Semitic ideology?
Reasons why Adolf Hitler hated the Jews
1. Established Discriminatory Culture Against Jews in Europe Based on Christian Theology During the Middle Age and the Jewish Naturalization Process of the Modern Age
Discrimination against the Jews was already prevalent in Europe prior to World War II. Christian theology during the Middle Ages endorsed the idea that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Catholicism and Lutheranism were specifically instrumental in promoting theology-based Jewish persecution. Because of the political alliance between the churches and different states, there were laws designed to restrain the influence of Judaism in Europe while maintaining and promoting further the influence of Christianity.
Indifference towards the Jews eventually developed and expanded in Europe beyond the Middle Ages. Some government and political parties embraced and maintained a stance against the Jewish people while the common people developed hostile popular attitudes. Historian Jacob Katz explained that these negative responses stemmed not only from religious adherence but also from disdain toward the naturalization process of the Jews or the Jewish Emancipation in Europe following the Age of Enlightenment.
Take note that the term anti-Semitism was first introduced in Germany during the 1870s to describe unfavorable sentiments against the legal process of granting Jews a full citizenship status and emancipation across different parts of Europe. Northern Germany granted its Jewish inhabitants citizenship in 1869, and the unification of entire Germany in 1871 extended the principle of equal citizenship across the country. In Austria and Hungary, as well as in France, Holland, and England, the Jews had been emancipated and naturalized in much earlier dates. There political factions that opposed these developments.
Nonetheless, there was indeed a culture of discrimination against the Jews in Europe prior to World War I. This naturally served as the basic foundation for the anti-Semitic ideologies of individuals, including prominent political figures and organizations such as Hitler and the Nazi party. Simply put, such culture of discrimination both stimulated and supplemented the negative attitude of Hitler toward the Jews.
2. A View on the Superiority of the Aryan Race Based on the Völkisch Movement and Pseudoscience that Served as the Basis of German Anti-Semitism
According to the book “Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution,” the völkisch movement was a populist movement in Germany that began in the late 19th century during the rule of the German Empire. It was characterized by the celebration of the supposed uniqueness and superiority of the German language, history and culture, spirituality, and the perceived origin of the German race or more specifically, the “Aryan race.”
The movement eventually developed into a strict ideology with political objectives that centered on deepening the sense of national solidarity by appealing to a mystical notion of a unique racial blood bond shared by Germans. Note that the ideology also included specific views such as strengthening of racial hygiene by eliminating undesirable races, and the promotion of an authoritarian and militaristic state that will suppress liberal and socialist parties, as well as partisan politics.
Within the context of anti-Semitism in Germany, the völkisch movement further developed to include a view that the Jews were perpetually competing against the Aryan race for world dominion. For adherents of the movement, the Aryan race was far more superior to any other races or groups of people, including the Jews. They believe that Germany should strive to maintain racial exclusivity.
It is important to stress the fact that the völkisch movement initially lacked unity. Several social and political organizations promoted this movement. However, the creation of Nazi Party in 1920 and the beginning of Nazi Germany in 1933 under the leadership of Hitler marked the emergence of the most popular and successful völkisch movement organization, as well as the unification of the different views and their implementation into actual policies or mandates.
The 1978 book “Toward The Final Solution: A History of European Racism” by historian George L. Mosse mentioned that pseudoscientific beliefs in Europe also served as the foundation of anti-Semitism in Germany. The German anti-Semites viewed the Jewish body as physically unattractive and inferior to the Aryan body. Hence, this alleged undesirable appearance of the Jewish body was considered an evidence of moral inferiority.
Hitler shared similar views. Note that he initially did not distinguish between Jews and other Germans in terms of looks. However, he was somewhat discriminating in describing them. As explained in autobiographical book “Mein Kamp” that was first published in 1925, Hitler thought that Jews in Germany had taken a “human look” while those outside his country looked “foreign.” He also described Judaism as a “strange religion” but acknowledged that Jews were persecuted for such since the Middle Ages and as such, he refused to use religious attacks.
He eventually admitted that he started to perceive Jews different during his observations in Vienna, Austria. He said that the more he visited the place, the more he realized they were very distinguishable from the rest of humanity. Both his readings of anti-Semitic literature and observations led him to conclude that the Jews were responsible for “badness” that existed in German life and that they were the source of “filth” in German culture.
Included in the “Mein Kamp” was the view of Hitler about racial struggles for living spaces that would eventually result in Germans dominating the world. Because he eventually decided that the Jews were the weaker race, he believed that their elimination is far more human than their protection. Such elimination would provide a proper living space for the stronger race, which for Hitler, was the German people.
Hence, part of the reasons why Hitler hated the Jews, as well as one of the bases for his anti-Semitic ideology stem from an adherence to a notion of German superiority, as well the need to purify the country from undesirable races, and the need to strengthen the government and economy by removing other political parties and partisan politics. Note that the Jews were seen as a distinctive and undesirable race. Because of their established citizenship in Germany since the 1870s, some of them also occupied positions in different political parties, as well as influence in commerce.
3. Perceiving Jews as a Threat and Using Anti-Semitism for Hitler and the Nazi Party to Advance their Political Influence and Vision for Germany
The Jews were occupying significant roles or positions in the German society as an outcome of their naturalization or emancipation during the unification of Germany in 1871. According to history professor Donald L. Niewyk, before 1933, more than 61 percent of Jews with gainful employment were involved in some form of trade or commerce. Half of this percentage included those who owned small to medium size firms while about three-quarters were retailers. They also counted for 79 percent of ownership of department store businesses and about 50 percent ownership of private banks across the country. There were also Jews who practiced medicine, law, and journalism. The Jewish population in Germany had achieved a status of economic and financial independence.
With regard to politics, a great majority of German Jews leaned toward liberal politics and they dominated the left political spectrum. There were those who adhered to socialism similar to the Social Democratic parties found in Poland and Russia. Some of them were also involved radical left political movement that promoted individualism, tolerance, and laissez-faire economics. Note that there were Jewish radicals who wielded substantial influence over the intellectual and cultural life. Staunch adherents of left-wing politics often criticized the existing social and political situation of Germany.
Considering the established anti-Semitic culture in Europe based on religious views and disdain toward Jewish naturalization and emancipation, as well as the specific racial superiority ideology based on the völkisch movement and pseudoscience in Germany, it is easy to assume the emerging prominence or influence of Jews in the German society, especially in the economic and political spheres, served as another reason why Hitler and the Nazi Party hated them.
The concentration of social functions in the hands of the Jews did not appeal to anti-Semites. Furthermore, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, in their book “Why The Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism,” mentioned that anti-Semites in Germany believed that German Jews failed to satisfy their roles and responsibilities as German citizens. While Germany was promoting nationalism, the Jews pursued their own brand of nationalism. Note that radical German Jews openly criticized the German government and society. This alleged noncompliance would not appeal to the likes of Hitler who wanted to unite Germany and uphold the Germans as the dominant race in the world.
Some theories also suggested that Hitler used his established Jewish condescension to promote further his political career and the flight of the Nazi party. To be specific, another reason why he hated the Jews was a deliberate attempt to appeal to the population of German anti-Semites. The party reused anti-Semitic propaganda that blamed the Jews for their defeat in World War I. They also propagated the idea that the Jews were naturally aligned to international communism, thus appealing to the fears of local Germans toward the communist dictatorships in the Soviet Union, as well as Bavaria and Hungary. There were speculations that the Jews were working behind the scenes by controlling commerce and international relations to advance their own interest. These speculations were also used as part of anti-Semitic propaganda.
Conclusion: Why did Adolf Hitler hate the Jews?
It is interesting to note that the anti-Semitic opinions of Hitler, as well as his favorable notion about the German race and his view of the future Germany reflected the ideologies of völkisch movement and the beliefs from European pseudoscience. Essentially, his hatred toward the Jews was an extension or reapplication of völkisch ideologies and racially charged pseudoscience. His autobiography supported this fact.
There are also other assumptions or theories explaining why Hitler hated the Jews. The more obvious and universally applicable were theories about the existing anti-Semitic or discriminatory culture in Europe that can be traced from Christina theology during the Middle Ages and the Jewish emancipation of the modern age. Another assumption centered on the fact that alongside perceiving Jews as an inferior race, they were also seen as a threat due to their apparent lack of interest in embracing German national identity, thus stirring speculations that they were merely serving their own interest and promoting the notion that they would not contribute to the betterment of Germany.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Hitler, A. 192. Mein Kampf. Germany: Eher Verlag. ISBN: 978-1495333347
- Katz, J. 1980. From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN: 0-674-32507-9
- Levy, R. S. ed. 2005. Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN: 1-85109-439-3
- Mosse, G. L. 1978. Toward The Final Solution: A History of European Racism. New York: Howard Fertig. ISBN: 978-0865274280
- Niewyk, D. L. 2018. The Jews in Weimar Germany. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0765806925
- Prager, D. and Telushkin, J. 2007. Why The Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0-7432-4620-9