“Antisemitism based purely on emotion will find its ultimate expression in pogroms… antisemitism based on reason must lead to the organized, legal campaign… It’s ultimate, unshakeable goal must, however, be the elimination of the Jews” (from Hitler’s 1919 Gemlich letter)
Although political antisemitism in Germany reached its zenith with the 1932 electoral victory of National Socialism, even that “secular-pagan” party recognized its ideological roots in Christian anti-Judaism, its inspirational godfather as Martin Luther. How deeply antisemitism permeates Western society and culture can be judged by the speed with which it entered politics, was reflected in academia and the arts. In his 1850 essay, Jewishness in Music, German composer Richard Wagner describes Jews as “alien” and “harmful” to German culture. In the ever-popular 1812 children’s tales of the brothers Grimm the Jews are represented as villains and demons. Political economist and social philosopher Karl Marx, son of a Lutheran convert, wrote On the Jewish Question in 1843. Whether or not he used the term “Jew” as an antisemitic slur or simply an economic symbol remains a matter of controversy. What is not in doubt is its use by antisemites of the left and right, antisemitism/anti-Zionism in the lexicon of liberals and conservatives; pogrom and genocide its instrument by populists, fascists and communists.
Germany (and Austria, the “eastern” Reich and main source of SS volunteers) represent the latest active effort at solving the West’s eternal Jewish Problem. Its persistence is explained by the fact that antisemitism, not generally visible, lies just below the surface of Western consciousness. Its “invisibility provides comfort to both Jew and Christian: provides Christians reassurance “innocence,” while providing Jews that the appearance of “innocence” surrounding them a false sense of security, that the future somehow will not repeat the past.
Germany provides a case study of a secular and culturally advanced society, declared by its own Jews “exceptional” in tolerance, could almost instantly turn from a model of rational modernity into frightened behemoth capable of transforming “science” into “superstition,” people into ash.
Many countries of the West today have experienced dramatic political change. Extreme right wing parties have returned to Ukraine, Hungary, Austria and Greece. Italy recently provided a “party” with little political agenda and headed by a popular comedian enough seats to serve as “swing” vote over critical economic decisions; while in the United States a fringe party of similar amateurs serves the same role as the Italian party regarding the economy. Worldwide,
“a Jewish Agency study made headlines earlier this year for calling 2009 the worst year for anti-Semitism since the end of World War II.”
In the 19th century antisemitic politics mirrored popular sentiment within their respective countries. In 1881 an influential advisor to Czar Alexander III provided the czar with this formula for solving Russia’s Jewish Problem: one third of Russia’s Jews would be forced to emigrate; one third would be forced to convert; and one third would forced to die (Grosser and Halperin, p. 222).
In Rumania several antisemitic parties emerged including the Alliance Antijuive Universelle, the Aliana Antisemită (Antisemitic Alliance) and Liga Antisemită Universală (Universal Antisemitic League). These would prove to be forerunners of even more radical antisemitic movements following the First World War. Nor was the scurrilous “stab in the back” by “the Jews” proffered as excuse for “losing the war” limited to Germany. Rumania and Hungary also blamed their battlefield failures on “Jewish treachery.”
Forerunners of National Socialism: Karl Lueger, one of Vienna’s most poplar mayors, was an exemplar of populist antisemitism. In a speech to the Christian Socialist Workers Association in 1889 he promised to liberate Austrian Christians:
“Here in our Austrian fatherland the situation is such that the Jews [control] the greater part of the press…, high finance is in Jewish hands, and in this respect the Jews operate a terrorism of a kind that could hardly be worse. For us, in Austria, it is a matter of liberating Christian people from the hegemony of Jewry.”
Decades later Hitler would recognize Lueger as his political inspiration, refer to him as “the greatest German mayor” in Mein Kampf.
A square in Vienna’s Ringstraße is named after Lueger, and at least two statues were erected in his honor. Submitting to de-Nazification after the war Vienna was forced to return Nazi-era streets to their former names. But in the case of Lueger, the Führer’s inspiration, the tributes remain.
While antisemitic parties emerged in most countries of the West, the one that continues to symbolize antisemitism as threat to the physical existence of the Jewish people is the National Socialist German Workers Party, (NASDAP). And I refer not only to that party’s Endlösung, the Final Solution to the West’s Jewish Problem, but to the legal precedent which the 1935 Nuremberg Laws established for future generations in pursuit of their own Final Solution.
The Nazi Party had its roots in a series of nationalist parties that grew out of the First World War. The most influential of these was the German Workers Party (DAP) headed by Anton Drexler, a nationalist and antisemite. Anti-communist and anti-socialist, the party advocated a unified German national community, the Herrenvolk (“master race”). Article 4 of its platform called for Germany judenrein, absent of Jews.
On March 9, 1923 Hitler attempted a putsch which resulted in the deaths of sixteen party members. Despite the seriousness of the charge and loss of life, his trial resulted in short jail term, complete with secretary and visitors. It was during this period that Hitler dictated Mein Kampf, his blueprint for a Greater Germany, a Germany free of Jews.
There is a long-running debate between two major schools of Holocaust historians, the Intentionalists and the Functionalists, as to whether the Final Solution unfolded according to a plan, or evolved as by a “crooked road.” And while there is no single document in Hitler’s hand detailing the planned extermination program, as early as his 1922 jailhouse interview with the journalist Josef Hell the future German chancellor was left no doubt regarding his intentions:
“Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows – at the Marienplatz in Munic, for example – as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; the will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.”
Changing tactics from putsch to ballot in 1924 Hitler managed to win 24 seats in the Reichstag. By 1929 National Socialism received 130,000 votes and by 1932, 400.000 or 37% of votes cast. With the support of German industry and moneyed interests, Hitler was named chancellor by President von Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, further increasing Nazi seats in the Reichstag to 288.
Thus began the slow but persistent unfolding of the Final Solution. Why the delay between Hitler taking power and the start of the murder campaign? I suggest that while Hitler’s intention to murder the Jews was always there, his intention for a final solution to the Jewish Problem, the extermination of all Jews, everywhere, was unprecedented and needed time to develop “support” at home (active) and abroad (passive). Time was also needed to develop the technical means to achieve the solution, the machinery of death and disposal.
The Holocaust did not begin with Auschwitz. Industrial mass murder was preceded by face-to-face murder administered by bullet. “Special” mobile police units called Einsatzgruppen were already engaged in mass murder following the Wehrmacht across Poland in 1939. More than one million Jews perished by bullet before Zyklon-B was chosen as weapon of choice, and Auschwitz opened its gates.
It is likely the Holocaust would not have happened, at least not approaching the six million Jews murdered, had Germany not had the willing participation of European nations from Greece to Norway. And even with the full and enthusiastic support of its European helpers, Germany still would not have achieved anything near its six million Jewish victims had Christendom’s “Free World” not permitted the Holocaust to unfold as all but silent bystanders. Following the lead of the United States most countries of the West closed their borders to Jews fleeing the murder campaign. The passive compliance of the United States, Britain and those countries looking to them for leadership in refuge were also complicit in the Final Solution.
Afterword: Arguments persist that the Holocaust unfolded out of sight of the world until news reached the “Allies” in 1941-2. with the opening of Auschwitz. In fact the United States was regularly informed by British intelligence of Einzatsgruppen rounding up and massacring Jews soon after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. That was two years before Auschwitz became the dawn of industrial mass murder, and Auschwitz opened its gates. Prior to 1933, prior to Hitler, a final solution to the West’s Jewish Problem was unprecedented in history. Today, with the Nuremberg Laws for legal precedent, and Auschwitz as model and symbol the next and final Final Solution is no longer unprecedented, unthinkable.