The persecution of the Jewish people in Europe during the Second World War was one of the most infamous and well-documented atrocities of Adolf Hitler. His totalitarian regime over the Greater German Reich or Nazi Germany passed and implemented antisemitic laws that excluded European Jews from participating in the civil society. The highlight of his antisemitic ideology was The Holocaust. It involved the systematic mass murder or genocide of about six million Jews across German-occupied Europe. Understanding extreme and violent antisemitism under the Nazi regime and the ideological foundation of the systematic dehumanization of the Jewish population in Nazi Germany requires an exact understanding of why Hitler hated the Jews and the basis for or reasons behind his antisemitic stance.
Explainer: What are the Reasons Why Adolf Hitler Hated the Jews?
1. Established Discriminatory Culture Against Jews in Europe Based on Christian Theology During the Middle Ages and the Jewish Naturalization Process of the Modern Age
Widespread negative sentiments and overall prejudice against the Jewish population and people of Jewish descent had existed in Europe long before the outbreak of the Second World War. For example, during the Middle Ages, Christian theology propagated the notion that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.
The Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran Church were pivotal in promoting Jewish persecution based on theological grounds. These churches used their influence to convince European states to implement laws designed to restrain the influence of Judaism in Europe and maintain and promote further the influence of Catholicism and Lutheranism.
Jews often faced legal restrictions that limited their rights and opportunities. They were barred from certain professions and roles. This resulted in most of them focusing on lending and financial activities as a means of livelihood. Some Jewish communities were segregated from the rest while others were expelled from their neighborhoods.
It is also important to highlight the fact that nationalist sentiments had been brewing in Europe since the Middle Ages and had gained further traction before and after the First World War. This also transpired alongside the influence of the Roman Catholic Church as a force that provided a shared religious and cultural foundation or common identities.
The longstanding persecution of various Jewish populations in Europe changed beginning in the 18th century. The Jewish Emancipation movement gained momentum and prominence during the Age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment challenged the traditional practices in Europe and it also involved promoting equal rights regardless of background.
However, despite the changing landscape that seemed to favor the Jews, the fact remains that sentiments against the Jewish people were pervasive. The bias toward these people both were systematic and had strong cultural underpinning. It was impossible to change the mindset of several people and groups over the course of a few decades.
German journalist and political agitator Wilhelm Marr introduced antisemitism as a concept in 1879 to describe the discrimination against and aggression toward the Jews. This coincided with the emergence of anti-Jewish sentiments across Europe that opposed granting the Jews full citizenship status, equal civil rights, and further emancipation.
Northern Germany had already granted its Jewish population citizenship in 1869. The principle of equal citizenship extended further across the unified German nation-state beginning in 1871. The respective Jewish populations in Austria and Hungary, as well as in France, Holland, and England had been emancipated and natural in much earlier dates.
Several political factions opposed this development. This fueled the existing and pervasive culture of discrimination against the Jews in Europe during the 19th century which further served as the basic foundation of antisemitic ideologies that became prominent during the Second World War. Hitler grew up in this sociocultural climate.
2. A View on the Superiority of the Aryan Race Based on the Völkisch Movement and Pseudoscientific Dogmas that Served as the Basis of German Antisemitism
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 the supposed Aryan race.
It later developed into a mystical albeit strict ideology with nationalistic, ethnocentric, and xenophobic political objectives. Some of its views include strengthening racial hygiene by eliminating undesirable races, the promotion of an authoritarian and militaristic state, and suppression of liberal and socialist parties and partisan politics.
The movement developed further to include an antisemitic view that the Jews were competing against the Aryan race for world domination. Adherents believed that the Aryan race was far more superior to other races or groups of people and that Germany should strive to maintain racial exclusivity. This meant eliminating Jewish inhabitants.
It is worth mentioning that the movement was disorganized at first. There were different political factions that adhered to its tenets. The creation of the Nazi Party in 1920 and the beginning of Nazi Germany in 1933 under the leadership of Hitler, however, marked the emergence of the most popular, influential, organized, and successful völkisch movement.
The movement was not the sole ideology that influenced antisemitism in Germany and the hatred of Hitler toward the Jews. Historian George L. Mosse mentioned that pseudoscientific dogmas in Europe viewed the Jewish people as unattractive and inferior to the Aryan race. These qualities were regarded as proof of their supposed moral inferiority.
Hitler did not distinguish between Jews and other Germans in terms of appearance at the onset. He said in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kamp that the Jews in Germany looked more human while those outside his country looked foreign. He also acknowledged that the Jewish people had been experiencing hardships and persecution since the Middle Ages.
The dictator later admitted that he started to perceive Jews as distinguishable from the rest of the human race. Both his readings of antisemitic literature and observations while traveling led him to conclude that the Jewish people were responsible for the “badness” that existed in German life and that they were the source of “filth” in German culture.
Included in his autobiography was his opinion about the racial struggles for scarce and limited living spaces. Nevertheless, because he later embraced the idea that the Jews were the inferior race, he believed that their elimination would be far more benevolent than their protection because it would provide living spaces for the superior German race.
Hence, part of the reasons why Hitler hated the Jews, and a basis for his antisemitic stance stemmed from an adherence to the notion of German superiority, the supposed obligation to remove undesirable races, and the need to strengthen the government and entire social landscape by removing other political parties and partisan politics.
It is important to underscore the fact that the Jews had been integrated into the German social landscape and the rest of the European landscape prior to the rise of Hitler in power. Some of these people occupied positions in different political parties and facets of governance. Others had held remarkable influence in commerce or economic activities.
3. Perceiving Jews as a Threat and Using Antisemitism for Hitler and the Nazi Party to Advance their Political Influence and Vision for Germany
The Jews held substantial roles and positions in German society. History professor Donald L. Niewyk mentioned that more than 61 percent of them were involved in some form of trade or commerce before 1933. Half of this number included those who owned small-to-medium-sized businesses and about three-quarters were retailers and traders.
Jews also accounted for 79 percent of ownership of department store businesses and about 50 percent of ownership of private banks across the country. Some were involved in professions such as medicine, law, and journalism. The Jews in Germany had achieved economic status and financial independence as a result of their naturalization.
A large proportion of German Jews also leaned toward liberal politics. There were those who adhered to socialism and were involved in radical left-wing politics that promoted individualism, tolerance, and laissez-faire economics. Some wielded influence over the German intellectual and cultural life and were critical of the existing sociopolitical situation.
It is safe to assume that the emerging prominence and influence of Jews in Germany were seen as a threat. Remember that there was an established antisemitic sentiment in Europe. There was also a resentment toward the emancipation of the Jewish population and a disdain toward Judaism. These became the groundwork for Hitler and the Nazi Party.
The concentration of social functions in the hands of the Jews did not appeal to some people. Furthermore, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, in their book “Why The Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism,” mentioned that antisemites in Germany believed that German Jews failed to fulfill their roles and responsibilities as German citizens.
Germany was also promoting nationalism around this time. The Jews, on the other hand, pursued their own brand of nationalism. The radical German Jews were also critical of the government and its leadership. These alleged noncompliance would not appeal to Hitler who wanted to unite his country 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. This argues that the reason why he hated the Jews centered on a deliberate attempt to appeal to the population of antisemites and the general population by painting the Jews as the common enemy.
The Nazi Party specially used various antisemitic propaganda. It reused the unfounded notion that the Jews were the reason Germany lost in the First World War. The party also propagated the idea that Jews were aligned with international communism to appeal to the fears of communist dictatorships in countries such as the Soviet Union.
Other damning speculations and conspiracy theories were disseminated and became a common topic that pervaded the public discourse. The Jewish population was speculated to be working behind the scenes to control commerce and international relations to advance their interest. This propaganda fueled further the resentment toward the Jews.
Conclusion and Takeaway: Why Did Adolf Hitler Hate the Jews?
It is interesting to note that the antisemitic disposition and opinions of Adolf Hitler, his favorable notion about the German race, and his aspirational vision about the future of Germany reflected the ideologies of the völkisch movement and the dogmas of European pseudoscience. His hatred toward the Jews was an application of his adherence to the völkisch ideologies and the pseudoscientific dogmas. This was explained in his autobiographical manifesto.
There are also other assumptions or theories explaining the actual reasons Hitler hated the Jews and had maintained a strong antisemitic stance. The more obvious ones were the theories about the impact of the existing and pervasive antisemitic culture in Europe that can be traced from Christian theology during the Middle Ages. The Jewish Emancipation in the 18th century had fueled further the existing resentment toward the Jews. Hitler grew up in an environment that predisposed him to harbor negative views about the Jewish people.
Another assumption that attempts to explain the reason why Hitler disdained the Jews centered on a supposed performative political maneuver. The propaganda of the Nazi Party painted the Jewish people as a threat or a common enemy that threatens the German people, the national identity of Germany, and other facets of German socioeconomic life. The Jews were used as a scapegoat that Hitler used to appeal to the greater German population.
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