Foundations of Holocaust: Political antisemitism, Germany/Austria, 1919-1932

“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)


Introduction: 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 fascists and communists.




Artur Dinter, “The Sin Against the Blood”, title page, Leipzig 1917


While Germany (and Austria, the “eastern” Reich and main supplier of SS volunteers) are, because of their prominence in the unfolding Final Solution to the West’s Jewish Problem the main focus in today’s article, it is important to be aware of the fact that political antisemitism did not end with the defeat of the Axis, of Germany-of-the-Holocaust.


Political antisemitism lies just below the surface of Western secular society, ever available to target its favorite scapegoat. At lower levels of social stress, as today, it surfaces as random violence; at extreme social stress, as industrial mass murder. Greece, Hungary and Ukraine all boast powerful right wing, even fascistic political parties with an antisemitic agenda. In the United States “left wing” populist antisemitism grabbed headlines during Occupy Wall Street rallies, while members of the Tea Party, holding the balance of power in Congress also express antisemitic views. 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 Alianța Antisemită (Antisemitic Alliance) and Liga Antisemită Universală (Universal Antisemitic League). These would prove to be forerunners of even more radical antisemitic movements following the “Great War.” Nor was the scurrilous “stab in the back” by the Jews proffered as excuse for failure at arms limited only to Germany. Rumania and Hungary also excused their battlefield failure on “Jewish treachery.”




“Germans, think about it!” (With the “stab in the back legend”, the myth that the German army were unconquered in the field, antisemitic propaganda blamed the breakdown of the Kaiserreich on “Jewish revolutionary forces)



Forerunners of National Socialism: Karl Leuger, 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, a Vienna citizen from 1907 to 1913, would recognize Leuger as his political inspiration, referred to him as “the greatest German mayor” in Mein Kampf.

A square in Vienna’s Ringstraße is named after Leuger, 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 Leuger, the fuehrer’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 the 1935 Nuremberg Laws established for future generations; the continuing threat of the final Final Solution to the West’s Jewish Problem.



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 9 March, 1923 Hitler attempted a putsch which resulted in the deaths of sixteen party members. Despite the seriousness of the charge, the loss of life, his trial resulted earned him but a short jail term complete with secretary and visitors. It was during this period that Hitler dictated Mein Kampf, his blueprint for a Greater Germany: Gemany free of Jews.

There is a long-running debate between two schools of Holocaust historians, the “Intentionalists” and the Functionalists, as to whether the Final Solution was “planned” or unfolded ad hoc. And while there is no single document in Hitler’s hand detailing the road to extermination, as early as his 1922 jailhouse interview with the journalist Josef Hell the future German chancellor made no bones of 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 Hitler managed to win 24 seats in the 1924 Reichstag elections. By 1929 the number of votes received was 130,000, by 1932 National Socialists won 37%, or 400,000 votes. With the support of German industry and moneyed interests, President von Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor 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 physical annihilation of the Jews? I suggest that while Hitler’s intention was always there, the actual murder of all Jews, everywhere, was unprecedented. Time was necessary not only to develop the machinery of death and disposal, but to acclimate not only Germany, but the entire “civilized world” across Europe, the Americas, wherever the Christian mythos existed, to their assigned roles. The Holocaust did not begin with Auschwitz. Industrial mass murder was preceded by face-to-face death administered by bullet. Approximately one million Jews died at the hands of “special” mobile police units called Einsatzgruppen, at whose hands one million Jews died before Auschwitz. Through British intelligence the United States was aware of the mass murder campaign to annihilate all Jews, everywhere from its outset, in 1939.




An Einsatzgruppe D member about to shoot a Jew kneeling at a mass grave in Vinnitsa,Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, in 1942. The photograph is inscribed: "The last Jew in Vinnitsa."


Prior to 1933, prior to Hitler a final solution to the Jewish Problem was outside history. Today the precedent exists. Auschwitz is its symbol. Nuremberg is its legal base.


With the terrorist act in Tel Aviv today whatever possibility of a long-term truce has likely disappeared, another sign of the ultimate power of terrorism to impose its agenda. My thoughts are with Israel.


I am leaving to go to work and hyperlinks and any tweaks to the appearance of today''s article will have to wait for tormorrow.