- Nazi Germany refers to the totalitarian rule of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party between 1933 and 1945. Appointed chancellor in April 1933, Hitler established his dictatorship over Germany following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg on 2 August 1934, when he took the title of Fuhrer or “leader.” Hitler immediately imposed his will over the German people by creating a police state and a network of concentration camps that served to incarcerate his political enemies as well as elements in German society that he sought to eliminate. Hitler sought to establish a racial state in Nazi Germany that distinguished between those of Aryan “blood” and non-Aryans. To that end he sought to remove Jews from German life and subsequently through the Reich Citizenship Law of 1935, defined citizenship as applying only to Germans or people of “related blood.” Through this law, the Jews were effectively removed as nationals of Germany. Nazi Germany was constructed on certain beliefs that emanated from Hitler. In addition to its racial policies, the Third Reich instituted a Euthanasia Program in 1939, which was grounded in the Fuhrer’s understanding of Darwinism, whereby he sought to “weed” out the Volk’s most unfit people. Racial hygiene became the policy whereby the handicapped, the mentally retarded, the chronically ill, and other categories of the population that were deemed “life unworthy of life” were murdered through the organization of so-called health courts, which were administered by physicians. This was not all. Anticipating the coming of war in the east, Hitler believed that one cause for Germany’s loss in World War I was the severe food shortages that had led to the demoralization of the population, and he was determined not to allow this to happen in the future. Unproductive members of society, therefore, were targeted for elimination because they ingested the nation’s food resources. The Euthanasia Program was also about reproduction. In war, the best of the Volk die in battle and the least fit survive, thus the nation is genetically weakened, and Nazi policy was to strengthen the nation’s gene pool by eliminating the unfit.The above policies, among others, were grounded in the Nazi held belief in the organic community. This concept implied that the Fuhrer was like the human brain, giving unquestioned direction to the body or nation. Early in the history of the Third Reich, the concept of the Fuhrerprinzip was implemented wherein all authority derived from the unquestioned directives of the leader. In Nazi Germany, Hitler provided direction and his subordinates were expected to unhesitatingly implement his orders. The extermination of the Jews, for example, did not require a written order from Hitler because a verbal order, even a nod, had the same authority as a document. The human body corresponding to the population of the Third Reich was defined in the expression Volksgemeinschaft or “people’s community.” The term implied the establishment in Nazi Germany of a national community based on the Aryan race. The expectation was that all institutions of German life were to be synchronized (Gleichschaltung) to conform (like the human body) to the policies of Hitler. Those who refused to adapt were targeted for concentration camps or worse.Following Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, a primary objective was to acquire “living space” (Lebensraum) in the east for the purpose of extending the ethnic boundaries of Germany with the purpose of uniting ethnic Germans into the Reich. The policy of Lebensraum was also the product of Nazi racial ideology, which held that the Slavic peoples of the east were inferior to the Aryan race. The objective was to resettle the Slavic population on the conquered territories, which stretched as far as Latvia and Estonia, and the inhabitants were to serve as a source of cheap labor for the Reich. Hitler was also obsessed with conquering the Soviet Union and destroying the base for the spread of Bolshevism, which he believed was a Jewish creation. In accordance with his theories of race, the invasions of both Poland and the Soviet Union were designed as a Volkstumkampf, or racial war, a term used by Adolf Hitler and the hierarchy of the Schutzstaffel (SS) to describe Nazi Germany’s war against the Jews, Poles, and the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe in general. The war in the east was not an ordinary war but an ethnic struggle that combined Nazi Germany’s ideological racial goals with Germany’s military and political objectives of Lebensraum, or the establishment of a German empire in Eastern Europe.The late historian Lucy Dawidowicz titled her classic history of the Holocaust The War against the Jews (1975). What she inferred was that World War II was both a conventional war fought by competing nations and also a racial war in which Nazi Germany’s objective was to murder every last Jewish man, woman, and child. It was no coincidence that with the invasion of the Soviet Union, which Hitler associated with Jewish Bolshevism, the decision was made to implement the Final Solution to the Jewish question. The deliberate genocide of the Jews was the unique crime of Nazi Germany and what separates it from previous wars in German history.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.
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