Political antisemitism in Austria-Germany, 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 the Gemlich letter, 1919)
Introduction: Although political antisemitism in Germany reached its nadir with the 1932 electoral victory of National Socialism, even the Nazis referred to 15th century theologian, Martin Luther as their inspiration for Holocaust. How deeply antisemitism permeated the culture of the West 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’s, the son of convert gather, wrote his, On the Jewish Question in 1843. Whether or not his “Jew” in the text was intended as an antisemitic slur or simply an economic symbol is still a matter of controversy. What is not in doubt is its use by antisemites of the left and right, antisemitism/anti-Zionism by liberals and conservatives, genocide by fascists and communists.
Artur Dinter, “The Sin Against the Blood”, title page, Leipzig 1917
While Germany (and Austria, part of the extended “Reich”) are the main focus in today’s article, it is important to keep in mind that political antisemitism was and is a universal Western phenomenon and not limited to Germany-of-the-Holocaust.
Antisemitic parties mirrored popular sentiment within their respective countries, a sentiment that often spilled over into acts of violence. In 1881 an advisor to Czar Alexander III devised a 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 die (Grosser and Halperin, p. 222). Rumania birthed several antisemitic parties including the Alliance Antijuive Universelle, the Alianța Antisemită (Antisemitic Alliance) and Liga Antisemită Universală (Universal Antisemitic League). These would be the forerunners of even more radical antisemitic movements that appeared following the Great War. Not was the scurrilous “stab in the back” rumor an excuse for failure of arms in Germany; Rumania and Hungary also blamed “Jewish treachery” for their defeat in war.
“Germans, think about it!”
A postcard, around 1923. Wealthy Jews sit in the background.
Forerunners of National Socialism: Karl Leuger, Mayor of Vienna from 1897, was an exemplar of populist antisemitism. An example of his rhetorical skill, and his venomous message is excerpted from a speech he delivered in 1889 to the Christian Socialist Workers Association: “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.
In Vienna, Lueger has a square and a section of the Ringstraße named after him, and at least two statues were erected in his honour. Submitting to de-Nazification after the war Vienna renamed Nazi-era streets to their former names. But in the case of Leuger, who inspired Hitler, his tributes remain.
While antisemitic parties appeared in most countries of the West, the one that would mark the threat forever of Jewish presence in the Diaspora was the National Socialist German Workers Party, (NASDAP). And I refer not only to that party’s Endlösung, the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem, but to the “legal foundation and precedent it set for future generations.
The Nazi Party had its beginnings 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 a Germany judenrein, absent of Jews.
On March 9, 1923, Hitler led the party in what became known as the Munich Beerhall Putsch, an attempt to overthrow the government. Sixteen party members were killed and Hitler, tried and convicted spent only a few months in jail. It was during this time that he wrote Mein Kampf, his blueprint for Germany, and the Jews.
The Nazis first ran for political office in 1924 and garnered 24 seats in the Reichstag. The party grew to 130,000 in 1929, to 400,000 by 1932. In the November, 1932 elections they won 37% of the vote. Hitler had the backing of the countries industrial and moneyed interests and on January 30, 1933 President Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor.  on The Nazis increased their seats in the Reichstag to 288.
Hitler made known his lethal intentions towards the Jews both in Mein Kampf, and in a jailhouse interview he gave to the journalist, Josef Hell, in 1922. But he and Nazi Party leaders understood that there was a great leap between forcing Jews out of the labor market making employment available for the Herrenvolk, and outright annihilation. It would be eight years of gradual elimination of German Jews from civil society to the goal of National Socialism, Auschwitz and the nearly successful annihilation of all Jews, everywhere.
Other writings in this Series:
4. Sources of Christian Doubt: The Quest for the Historical Jesus