Why Hitler hated Jews
Hitler was wrong about the Jews but why he thought what he did is only a mystery if you want it to be
How do we explain Hitler’s attitudes towards the Jews? Dietrich (1988) studied Hitler’s antisemitism at great length and concluded that Hitler’s antisemitism was only a minor part of his popular appeal to Germans. One reason why that was so is the important but seldom stressed fact that there was nothing at all odd or unusual about a dislike of Jews almost anywhere in the world of the 1930s. Hitler was to a considerable degree simply voicing the conventional wisdom of his times and he was far from alone in doing so. The plain fact is that it was not just the Nazis who brought about the holocaust. To its shame, the whole world did. That part of the world under Hitler’s control in general willingly assisted in rounding up Jews while the rest of the world refused to take Jewish refugees who tried to escape —just as the world would later refuse many Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees and will in due course refuse to take other would-be refugees from other places. Racial affect is now recognized as universal in psychology textbooks (Brown, 1986) and Anti-Semitism is, sad to say, an old and widely popular European tradition. There seems to be considerable truth in the view that the Nazis just applied German thoroughness to it.
Nonetheless, Hitler was undoubtedly more than usually obsessed by the Jews. What made him so obsessed? What in particular made him BECOME antisemitic? Mein Kampf is unreliable as objective history but there can be little doubt that it is good psychological history—i.e. it records Hitler’s own history as he saw it. And what he says there is that in Linz—where he grew up—there were few Jews and he saw them at that time as no different from other Germans. So when he moved to Vienna he was horrified at the antisemitism of much of the Viennese press. As he says in Mein Kampf:
That’s a pretty odd beginning for the man who became history’s biggest antisemite, is it not? So there must have been a powerful force to bring about such a radical change. And the force concerned was nothing other than the “love” relationship that existed between Hitler and most of the Germans under his rule. As any reader of Mein Kampf should be aware, the book is largely a love-song to the German people. And that most Germans eventually returned that love is rather vividly borne out by the way they stuck with Hitler to the bitter end—long after it was at all reasonable to do so. Compare Germany 1945 with the unrest in Germany prior to the 1918 surrender, the collapse in resistance in Western Russia and Ukraine in the first year of the German invasion, the collapse of Dutch, Belgian, Danish, Norwegian, Czech and French resistance under German invasion or the collapse of Italian resistance under Allied invasion.
Both Roberts (1938) and Heiden (1939)—prewar anti-Nazi writers— portray Hitler as widely revered and popular among the Germans of their day. As Heiden (1939, p. 98) put it: “The great masses of the people did not merely put up with National Socialism. They welcomed it”. And Madden (1987) presents modern-day scholarly evidence derived from archival research to show that Nazis came from all social classes in large numbers.
That Hitler’s constantly expressed love of his people and belief in their greatness should have earned him their love and belief in return is not at all surprising but it is very unfashionable to mention it. A book recently released in Germany, however, does make some allusion to it. Excerpt from a review of it:
I am inclined to the view that Hitler’s love for his fellow Germans was sincere but, whether or not that was so, there was one huge problem with it—Germans at the start of Hitler’s political career immediately after World War I were at one-another’s throats. A civil war between the “Reds” and other Germans was a very lively possibility at the time. How could you love a people who hated one-another? How could you love a people who were NOT one people in important senses? That was a major dilemma that Hitler had to solve. And we see from Mein Kampf how he solved it:
Although he was, like most German second-rate thinkers of his time, much influenced by the ideas of Marx and Engels, Hitler despised the destructive and divisive “class war” aspect of Marx’s thinking and when he found that practically every preacher of Marxist class-war that he encountered in Vienna was a Jew, he began to see Jews as bent on the destruction of the German people he loved. So the great divisions that he saw among Germans in the anarchic conditions immediately after World War I could now be explained satisfactorily: They were the work of non-Germans—Jews. It was Jews who were creating divisions among Germans by their preaching of class war. Germans were only divided because they were being deceived by outsiders. Jews were the scapegoat for German disunity just as they have been the scapegoat for many other problems throughout history. And it may be noted that Hitler describes his conversion to antisemitism as “a great spiritual upheaval”—i.e. he abandoned his previous “cosmopolitan” (tolerant) views only with great reluctance. It was only his romantic love of his semi-imaginary German people (Volk) that brought about the big shift in his views.
In a speech delivered at the Berlin Sportpalast shortly after being appointed Chancellor on February, 1st, 1933, Hitler summed up his thinking about his German Volk with his characteristic passion as follows:
His love of his German people and his belief that they had been misled are certainly eloquently proclaimed there —and by that stage no-one doubted whom he saw as the “decadent elements”.
Sadly, however, Hitler’s anti-Jewish views actually made him unremarkable in the Germany of his day The general acquiescence in them needs no great explanation beyond a reference to the general attitudes of the times. As far as the average German knew, Hitler was just running (yawn) a Pogrom. The Russians did it all the time, didn’t they? It was Hitler’s national glorification and socialist policies that were really interesting and attractive.
The conventional account of the origins of Hitler’s animosity towards Jews is that his rejection from the Vienna Art Academy (in which Jews were prominent) embittered him. But that is not remotely what he says in Mein Kampf. He does not even mention the word “Jew” in connection with the Academy. He says that the Rector rejected him from the painting school because his main talent and interest was in architecture—a judgement with which Hitler emphatically agreed!
Finally, it might be noted that much of Hitler’s rhetoric about the Jews was based on exactly the same assumption that Leftists to this day use in talking about racial matters. The affirmative action warriors of today are fanatical about proportional representation. They constantly claim that the proportion of (say) blacks in the general population should be reflected everywhere—in every occupation and in every institution. If there is a smaller proportion of (say) blacks in banking than there is in the general population, this is taken as proof that there is discrimination against blacks in banking. Hitler used exactly the same argument about Jews. As they are in America today, Jews in prewar Germany were very much overrepresented in the top echelons of German society. So, in good Leftist fashion, Hitler took that as proof that good, ordinary Germans were being systematically excluded from such positions in society by malign Jewish machinations. If Hitler was illogical in such thinking, so are most Leftists today. And in fact complaints about Jewish over-representation in (say) top U.S. universities do rumble on at a low level among Leftists today. “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.
Brown, R.(1986) Social psychology (2nd. Ed.) N.Y.: Free Press. Harper
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