Katelyn Harrell The Reasons Behind Nazi Mass Murder Emerging in the late 19th century, Social Darwinism explained “the evolution of humans from monkeys and described how the fittest and strongest of the species always survive. The inferior species degenerate and are not necessary. In fact they are a threat to the higher level of creation and can be destroyed” (Supple 26). When the Nazi Party applied this theory to German society, the “fittest and strongest” were members of the Aryan race, and the “inferior species” referred to the Jews, whose influence over business, participation in politics, and hand in the economy constituted “a threat to the higher level of creation.” To this effect, anti-Semitic propaganda became the focus of German pseudosciences during the pre-war years and was intended to encourage German solidarity against the Jews as their common enemy. It is difficult, however, to understand the progression from social propaganda spouting racial theory, to the eventual murder of six million Jews. And yet race theory, at its most pervasive, convinced Nazi officials that the only answer to the “Jewish Question” lay in mass murder, the extermination of European Jews. For centuries, European countries had persecuted Jews and expelled them to other parts of the continent under the guise of various political, religious, or social reasons; but for Germany, traditional diaspora would only briefly deflect, and not eliminate, the consequences of Jewish existence. Supported by race theory, which endorsed the dominance of stronger species, the mass extermination of Jews, as well as that of other social menaces and outcasts, was seen as the only recourse to secure the economic, political, and social future of the Aryan race. Over the course of centuries, Europe witnessed numerous incidences of anti-Semitic violence in the form of political discrimination, pogroms, crippling economic oppression, and countrywide expulsions. To many, Germany’s preliminary measures against Jews seemed merely a continuance of that tradition, a nation’s personal exercise of familiar methods of anti- Harrell 2 Semitic persecution. Yet the world and many European Jews underestimated the scale of Nazi ambitions; these were no ordinary acts of discrimination, no short-term reaction to the post-war economy. The Nazi Party’s ambitions operated on a much larger scale and boasted its intention to wipe Jews from the face of the earth; and yet the decision to commit mass murder developed only progressively, and its state-of-the-art methodologies were a leap from the traditional antiSemitic framework provided by Europe’s past. Yet, as Robert Wistrich writes, “The Nazis… had no specific plan to ‘solve the Jewish question’ in 1933…the annihilations…had a largely improvisatory character and did not derive from a specific Hitler order or from a clear ‘will to exterminate’” (Wistrich 226). By 1941, the Nazis had initiated mass deportations of Jews to concentration camps and begun implementing familiar methods of abuse and execution; but the program quickly gained momentum and soon developed alternative means of killing large numbers with greater efficiency. Wistrich notes, “Once the practice of liquidation was established, it gained prominence and eventually evolved in an ad hoc manner into a comprehensive ‘program’ that was subsequently approved and sanctioned by Hitler” (226-7). The Armenian Genocide, which lasted from 1915 to 1918, had led to the deaths of between one and 1.5 million Armenians and provided Nazi Germany with ample precedent; but Hitler’s Germany developed its own trials in 1939 with its “euthanasia program,” in which “physicians of the Reich massively collaborated in using poison gas and lethal injections in the murder of 80,000 mentally and physically handicapped Germans” (224). The program’s success “convinced the Nazi leadership that mass murder was technically feasible, that ordinary men and women were willing to kill large numbers of innocent human beings, and that the bureaucracy would cooperate in such an unprecedented enterprise” (225). For some historians, the experimental attitude with which these murders were carried out indicates a specific rationale for Harrell 3 why Nazi Party members complied with orders demanding that they commit murder: Hans Mommsen suggests that “using bureaucratic and technocratic methods successfully repressed any moral inhibitions among the perpetrators, turning the death of Jews into a technical problem of killing-capacity” rather than an ethical dilemma of murder (225). The rhetoric of science instilled Nazi officials with notions of academic integrity and allowed for a clinical approach to genocide. In fact, one may argue that scientific rhetoric was the foundational idea behind many aspects of the Holocaust, including Nazi ideology and propaganda, especially those geared toward proving biological differences between the Aryan and Jewish races. Adolf Hitler believed that “all groups, races, or peoples (he used those terms interchangeably) carried within them traits that were immutably transmitted from one generation to the next. No individual could overcome the innate qualities of race” (“Victims”). Charles Darwin’s teachings in regards to race, which came to be known as “Social Darwinism,” encouraged the idea that people of a certain race demonstrated unique characteristics that were passed on through subsequent generations. To justify the application of racial theory, Jews were regarded not as members of a religion or cultural tradition but, inaccurately, as a race. In Nazi ideology, these inherited traits not only related to “appearance and physical structure, but also shaped internal mental life, ways of thinking, creative and organizational abilities, intelligence, taste and appreciation of culture, physical strength, and military prowess” (“Victims”). This belief raised Germans, or Aryans, to a powerful position, one of superior intellect, ability, and moral fiber. Jews, conversely, were regarded as uniformly morally corrupt, physically repulsive with characteristic large noses and fleshy lips, and vulnerable to nonconformist social and political ideas, such as communism and socialism. According to this belief, one’s racial identity was permanent: “For the Nazis, Harrell 4 assimilation of a member of one race into another culture or ethnic group was impossible because the original inherited traits could not change: they could only degenerate through socalled race-mixing” (“Victims”). If Jews were merely expelled from Germany and sent to other parts of Europe, the threat of interracial marriage and breeding would continue to exist; only in death would Jews and other minorities be rendered incapable of contaminating Aryan racial purity. Survival of the Fittest, another component of Darwinism, became a popular and attractive theory during the 1930s. It not only justified the dominance of the Aryan race, but also validated the subjugation, and perhaps extermination, of the Jews. Darwin spoke of natural selection, or the process by which organisms best suited to their environment would survive and reproduce while weaker organisms would be winnowed out due to an ability to adapt. The Nazi Party instigated its own method of selection by choosing groups – Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and many others – that they believed to be inferior and reducing them to an environment in which few humans could survive, in the ghettoes and concentration camps. Oberleutnant Helmut Mann agreed with the use of such areas to separate the Jewish disease from German citizens; he reported, “Isolating them from the rest of the population seems imperative… The elimination of the Jews is… the key to the total political and economic pacification of the region” (Knopp 11). By quarantining such groups from civilization, the Germans were able to eliminate competition during their takeover of Eastern Europe. Lebensraum sought the creation of a nation fit for “physically perfect and genetically German people” (Dwork 280); “Since each ‘race’ sought to expand, and since the space on the earth was finite, the struggle for survival resulted ‘naturally’ in violent conquest and military confrontation. Hence, war -- even constant war -- was a part of nature, a part of the human condition” (“Victims”). Because the Nazis defined Jews as a race Harrell 5 rather than a religious or cultural group, they believed this same natural instinct to expand and dominate “‘drove the “Jewish race,’ like other races, to struggle to survive by expansion at the expense of other races” (“Victims”). This alleged plot, deemed “the Jewish Conspiracy,” justified the literal elimination of the competition, mass murder under the guise of racial and national security. General Major von Bechtolsheim expressed the pervasiveness of this belief in a report made on October 10, 1941: In the event of a successful Bolshevist invasion of Europe, the Jews would have wiped out absolutely everything German, [which points to] a very clear and unambiguous solution, and that is, especially here in the east, the complete annihilation of our enemies. These enemies are, however, no longer human beings in the European cultural sense, but animals who from an early age have been brought up and trained as criminals. And as such they must be eradicated. (Knopp 5) Racial tension elevated quickly in Germany, moving from persecution to imprisonment and finally to deportation and annihilation. The Nazi government “sought to eliminate domestic nonconformists and so-called racial threats through a perpetual self-purge of German society” (“Victims”). Saul Friedländer writes, “Volkstumskampf did not mean mere military victory and political domination; it aimed at destruction of the vital sinews of the enemy national-racial community; in other words it implied mass murder” (Friedländer 13). The Nazi Party did not regard the murder of Jews as a German attack on its own citizens, but rather as the justified and necessary annihilation of a national threat. This same rhetoric was used in Nazi reports that were intended to outline and explain the implementation of the Final Solution. Marion Kaplan writes, “In 1941, probably in late spring, Harrell 6 the Nazis decided upon the ‘Final Solution,’ the annihilation of European Jewry… By the fall, the Nazis set into motion the extermination of Jews in all of German-occupied Europe” (Kaplan 179). The Nazi Party spent a considerable amount of time and effort posing Jews as Germany’s enemy in the national Rassenkampf, or race war. Jewish men were persecuted for a number of supposed reasons: “extermination was first aimed at Jews as carriers of the Soviet system, then at Jews as potential partisans and finally as hostile elements living in territories ultimately destined for Germany colonization” (Friedländer 237). The purpose for their elimination became generalized to accommodate the increasingly large-scale death camp operations. The relationship that Germany had with European Jews was “defined as a deadly struggle of men not just against men – such as in traditional military war, but also, and particularly against women as mothers” (Crew 132-3). In the 1940s, women still occupied a sheltered position in society, and Jewish women were spared, at least initially, from most public violence. Once deportations to concentration camps began, however, women, and especially pregnant women, were among the first to be murdered. Additionally, compulsory abortions, Nazi experiments with X-ray sterilization, genital mutilation, and coerced ovariectomies developed as alternative, experimental means of destroying Jewish motherhood. Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS, explained the logic behind the executions: We came to the question: what about the women and children? I have decided to find a clear solution here too. In fact I did not regard myself as justified in exterminating the men – let us say killing them or having them killed – while letting avengers in the shape of children… grow up. The difficult decision had to be taken to make these people disappear from the face of the earth. (Ringelheim 345) Harrell 7 Himmler’s speech does not merely suggest an attack on Jews. He directly targets women, not only because they are Jewish, but because of their ability to produce Jewish children. As the speech continues, he refers repeatedly to a larger racial conflict to show that Nazi actions against Jews in general, and Jewish women specifically, were necessary and for the future benefit of the German people. When explaining the necessity of ordering that women as well as children be terminated, Himmler added, “Believe you me, that order was not so easy to give or so simple to carry out as it was logically thought out… But we must constantly recognize that we are engaged in a primitive, primordial natural race struggle” (Crew 132). In 1941, Himmler had written in a letter to Rudolph Hess, lieutenant colonel of the SS, “The Jews are the sworn enemy of the German people and must be eradicated. Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now during the war, without exception. If we cannot now obliterate the biological basis of Jewry, the Jews will one day destroy the German people” (Supple 147). Indeed, the liquidation of European Jews, and their obliteration of their future, became a government priority and developed with disturbing efficiency in the next three years. The alleged reason behind the murder of Jewish women and children indicates that the government now truly operated under the belief that in destroying subsequent generations of Jews, the Nazi Party was securing a healthier German future. Still, it is morally impossible to understand the pervasiveness of that belief, the extremism of Nazi anti-Semitism and belief in racial inferiority, or to grasp the shocking efficiency with which Nazi officials and soldiers disposed of six million Jews, five thousand members of other perceived enemies of the state, and tortured millions more. It all comes down to a belief in the Aryan right to rule, the right to subject those of lesser strength, aptitude, and worth to a life befitting of their condition. Adolf Hitler, Nazi officials, and many German citizens ascribed to the notion that the German people Harrell were destined to occupy a dominant position in the world and that their success depended upon the scourging of inferior peoples, not merely upon their dispersal or oppression, but upon their complete annihilation. 8 Harrell 9 Works Cited Crew, David F. Nazism and German Society, 1933-1945. London: Routledge, 1994. Print. Dwork, Deborah, and Robert Jan van Pelt. Holocaust: a History. London: Norton, 2002. Print. Friedländer, Saul. The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007. Print. Kaplan, Marion A. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford UP, 1998. Print. Knopp, Guido. Hitler's Holocaust. Stroud: Sutton, 2001. Print. Ringelheim, Joan. “The Split Between Gender and the Holocaust.” Women in the Holocaust. Ed. Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman. London: Yale UP, 1998. 340-350. Print. Supple, Carrie. From Prejudice to Genocide: Learning about the Holocaust. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham, 1993. Print. “Victims of the Nazi Era: Nazi Racial Ideology.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 6 Jan. 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <http://www.ushmm.org>. Wistrich, Robert S. Hitler and the Holocaust. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001. Print.