The Holocaust is a fundamental event for our understanding of Western civilization, the nation-state, modern bureaucratic society as well as human nature. It refers to the premeditated mass murder of millions of innocent civilians. Driven by a racist ideology that viewed Jews as “parasitic vermin” that could only be eradicated, the Nazis staged genocide on an unprecedented scale. They condemned all the Jews of Europe to death: the sick and the healthy, the rich and the poor, the Orthodox and the converts to Christianity, the old and the young, and even infants.
About two out of three Jews living in Europe before the war were killed in the Holocaust. By the end of World War II in 1945, six million European Jews had disappeared, including more than one million children. However, these statistics can be confusing, as most of those who survived lived in parts of Europe not occupied by Germany during the war: eastern Soviet Union, Great Britain, Bulgaria and neutral states such as Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden. Tens of thousands of Jews also survived in German-occupied Europe because they were in hiding, or prisoners in concentration camps until liberation. The Germans and their collaborators did not
Much has been written about what happened during the Holocaust period about where, when and how the Nazis carried out their murderous plan. However, to understand their motivations, one must first examine and grasp the theoretical underpinnings that led them to develop such plans in the first place. Analyzing the doctrine of Nazi racial ideology can partly explain this implacable determination to physically eliminate all the Jews of Europe.
NAZI RACIAL IDEOLOGY
It was Adolf Hitler, the Führer (leader) of the Nazi Party, who formulated and expressed the ideas known as Nazi ideology. He considered himself a deep thinker, convinced that he had found the key to understanding an extraordinarily complex world. The characteristics, attitudes, skills and behaviors were, according to him, determined by the racial origins of each; all groups, races or peoples (he used these words interchangeably) bore within them traits that were passed down immutably from generation to generation. No one could escape the intrinsic qualities of the race. All the history of humanity could be explained by the racial struggle.
In formulating their racial ideology, Hitler and the Nazis drew on the doctrines of German Social Darwinism of the late 19th century. They believed, like proponents of Social Darwinism before them, that human beings could be collectively classified as “races”, each of which possessed distinctive characteristics passed down genetically from the appearance of the first humans in prehistoric times. . This transmission concerned not only appearance or physical structure, but also shaped inner life, way of thinking, creative and organizational abilities, intelligence, taste and appreciation of culture, physical strength and military prowess.
The Nazis also adopted the Social Darwinist position on evolution and the “survival of the fittest.” The survival of a breed then depended on its ability to reproduce and multiply, on the accumulation of land to accommodate and feed this growing population, and on the attention paid to maintaining the purity of its genetic heritage, thus preserving the unique “racial” characteristics that “nature” had given him in order to fight for his survival. Since all the “races” wanted to develop, and that the place on earth was limited, this struggle “naturally” resulted in violent conquests and military confrontations. Therefore, war (even constant war) was part of nature as well as part of the human condition.
To define the notion of race, social Darwinism associated stereotypes, both positive and negative, with the appearance, behavior and culture of ethnic groups. These were supposedly immutable and rooted in biological heredity. Time could not change them, and neither environment, nor intellectual development, nor socialization exerted any influence on them. For the Nazis, the assimilation of a member of a certain race to another culture or ethnic group was impossible, because the original genetic traits could not be modified: they could only degenerate by a supposed “racial mixture” .
THE GROUPS CONCERNED
The Nazis defined the Jews as a “race”. For them, the Jewish religion had no reason to exist; they explained a whole range of negative stereotypes about Jews and “Jewish” behavior by an unchanged biological heritage that had caused the “Jewish race” (and other races) to fight for their survival by developing themselves at the expense of others.
While elevating the Jewish people as the primary “enemy,” the Nazi ideological concept of race targeted other groups in the process of persecution, incarceration, and annihilation—gypsies, disabled, Poles, prisoners of Soviet warfare and Afro-Germans. Also identified as enemies and security threats were political dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and “outsiders”, either because they consciously opposed the regime or because some aspect of their behavior did not did not correspond to the Nazi perception of social norms. All non-conformists and all so-called racial threats in the country were then to be eliminated through a continued purge of German society.
As for the superior races, they had not only the right, but also the obligation to subject, even to exterminate, the inferior peoples. For the Nazis, this race struggle was in accordance with the law of nature. They took a strategic view of the dominant German race controlling subjugated peoples, notably the Slavs and those they called Asians (i.e. the peoples living in Soviet Central Asia and the Muslim populations of the Caucasus region ), which they considered inherently inferior. For propaganda purposes, the Nazis frequently presented this strategic vision as a crusade to save Western civilization from these “Eastern” or “Asian” barbarians and their Jewish leaders and organizers.
THE BREED DEFINED BY THE GROUP
For Hitler and the other leaders of the Nazi Party, the ultimate value of a human being lay not in his individuality, but in his belonging to a group defined on racial grounds. The ultimate goal of a racial group was to ensure its own survival. Most people agree that humans have an individual survival instinct but, according to Hitler, there was a collective survival instinct based on membership in a group, people or race (these words being used interchangeably). For the Nazis, this collective instinct necessarily involved the preservation of the purity of the “race” and territorial fights against their “racial” enemies.
According to Hitler and others, it was important to retain this racial purity. Over time, mixing with other races could only lead to the degradation and degeneration of a race to the point of losing its own characteristics and its ability to defend itself effectively, thus seeing itself condemned to extinction. Hitler insisted on the importance of territory, necessary to accommodate the growing population of a race. According to him, without new territories to house its rapidly expanding population, a race was doomed to stagnate and then disappear.
Moreover, the Nazis started from the postulate that there is a qualitative hierarchy of races, where these were not equal. Hitler was convinced that the Germans were part of a superior racial group which he called “Aryans”. The German “Aryan” race was superior to all others, and this biological superiority destined the Germans to rule a vast empire throughout Eastern Europe.
THE “ARYAN” RACE
Hitler, however, called for distrust, for the German “Aryan” race was threatened with dissolution, from within as well as from without. The domestic threat lay in intermarriage between “Aryan” Germans and members of fundamentally inferior races, such as Jews, Gypsies, Africans, and Slavs. The offspring of these marriages would alter the superior characteristics of German blood and thus weaken the race in its struggle for survival against other races.
On the other hand, the German state in the interwar period had further weakened the German “Aryan” race by tolerating procreation with people whom the Nazis considered to be genetically inferior and having a harmful influence on the purity of the whole race. physically or mentally handicapped, career criminals and other repeat offenders, as well as people who compulsively engaged in behavior that the Nazis considered “deviant”, such as the homeless, women of supposedly promiscuous morals, people constantly changing jobs or alcoholics.
The German “Aryan” race was also threatened with dissolution from without because, according to Hitler, the Weimar Republic was losing the territorial and demographic war against the “inferior” Slavic and Asiatic races. In this war, the “Jewish race” had perfected its traditional socialist instrument—Soviet communism—to mobilize the Slavic people, who alone would have been unable to do so, and to make the Germans believe that the artificial apparatus of class conflict prevailed over the natural instinct of racial struggle. According to Hitler, the lack of living space reduced the birth rate among Germans to a dangerously low level. To make matters worse, the
Hitler asserted that if Germany wished to survive, it had to break the enemy encirclement of the country and colonize the vast Slavic territories to the east. The conquest of the east would provide Germany with the space it needed to greatly expand its population: land with the resources to feed its inhabitants as well as the means to fulfill its biological destiny as a superior race enjoying the appropriate status. of world power.
ELIMINATION OF RACIAL ENEMIES
Hitler and the Nazi Party defined their racial enemies clearly and unequivocally: the Jewish people remained the main enemy, whether inside or outside Germany. Their supposedly racial and inferior genetic heritage was at the root of capitalist and communist systems of exploitation. In their quest for expansion, the Jews had promoted and used these systems of government and state organization, including constitutions, proclamations of equal rights, and international peace, to shake the racial consciousness of the superior races — such as than the German race — and allow the dilution of superior blood by assimilation and intermarriage.
Jews used the tools they controlled or could manipulate, such as the media, parliamentary democracy (with an emphasis on individual rights), and international organizations dedicated to the peaceful reconciliation of national disputes, to advance their biological expansion with the goal of becoming a world power. According to Hitler, if Germany did not act firmly against the Jews, at home and abroad, the hordes of Slavs and barbaric Asians that the Jews had succeeded in mobilizing would annihilate the “Aryan” race. ” German.
For Hitler, government intervention with the aim of separating the races, encouraging the reproduction of people with “better” characteristics, preventing the reproduction of those with “inferior” characteristics, and preparing the wars of expansion had brought the German nation back in tune with its natural and biological survival instinct. Furthermore, this system fostered a “natural” race consciousness among the German people, which the Jews sought to suppress with parliamentary democracy, international cooperation agreements, and class conflict. By virtue of their racial superiority, the Germans had the right and the duty, according to Hitler, to take the eastern territories from the Jews and their Slavic and “Asiatic” puppets. Hitler insisted that in doing so, the Germans were only following their natural instincts. To definitively defeat and dominate the Slavs, the German leaders had to annihilate the dominant classes of the region as well as the Jews, the only “race” capable of bringing together the inferior races in a brutal Bolshevik-Communist doctrine (biological ideology specific to the people Jewish).
In order to eliminate this pernicious doctrine, dangerous to the survival of the German people, it was necessary to eliminate the people who were basically its standard bearer. Hitler was convinced that this was the natural course of things. Ultimately, his war program and genocide flowed from what he saw as an equation: the German “Aryans” had to expand and dominate; this process therefore required the elimination of all racial threats, and more particularly of the Jews, failing which the German people themselves risked extinction.