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Section: Antisemitism

Nazi racial ideas and antisemitism

Part of a German antisemitic poster from 1920, depicting the caricature of an Aryan woman and Jewish man
Part of a German antisemitic poster from 1920, depicting the caricature of an Aryan woman and Jewish man © 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power in January 1933. Very quickly the Nazis used the antisemitism apparent within certain sections of the German population to systematically impose their antisemitic policies on the whole population of Germany. In 1938 the Nazis began to invade neighbouring countries and developed their antisemitism across Europe.

Who was Adolf Hitler?

Adolf Hitler as a child
Adolf Hitler as a child

Adolf Hitler was born in Austria in 1889. Orphaned by the age of sixteen, he went to Vienna, the capital city of Austria. He had planned to become an artist but was unsuccessful. When World War One began, he joined the German army, becoming a corporal. At the end of the war he went back to Munich in Germany. He was very angry that Germany had lost the war. He blamed the German government for signing the Treaty of Versailles; he blamed the communists and he blamed the Jews. This was called the ‘stab in the back’ legend. The German Workers’ Party, later called the Nazi Party, was a small party whose views were very similar to those of Adolf Hitler. Hitler joined it in 1920 and soon became the leader. He was a brilliant speaker and attracted support from other right-wing extremists. In 1923 he unsuccessfully attempted to take power in Munich – this is known as the Beer Hall Putsch. He was imprisoned and during that time wrote a book called ‘Mein Kampf’, which means ‘My Struggle’. It outlined his beliefs. These included that communism and the Jews were the enemies of Germany, and that Germany would only be strong if the Aryans ruled. Hitler believed only in blood and race. He was totally anti-democratic – he wanted to be the Führer with total power in Germany. As the economy worsened in Germany, many wanted a strong leader to solve their problems. Hitler seemed to give them simple, clear solutions. Many of the ruling group in Germany were afraid of communism and saw Hitler as an ally in fighting it. They helped him to take power. In 1933 Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.

How did the First World War affect Hitler's ideas?

Adolf Hitler (front row far left) pictured as a soldier during the First World War
Adolf Hitler (front row far left) pictured as a soldier during the First World War © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Hitler was convinced that Germany ought to be a supremely powerful nation and therefore could not believe that losing the war could be Germany’s fault. His view was that somebody must have betrayed Germany. Following the First World War, the victorious Allies forced Germany to pay huge amounts of money and goods in compensation.

The Treaty of Versailles also took away German lands. Hitler along with many others felt that Germany was being treated unfairly. The newly elected German government (the Weimar Government) faced enormous problems. Unhappy people wanted a leader who could make Germany strong again. Hitler firmly believed that he could be this man.

How did German culture affect Hitler's ideas?

Modern Germany had not been created until 1871. In the 19th and early 20th centuries strong nationalist ideas had developed. Many right-wing Germans believed that the German people were the ‘master race’. At the end of the First World War there was extreme poverty and unrest in Germany. The huge loss of life in the war had made some people think that life was cheap and others to feel there was nothing to lose. Certain trends in cultural and social life were frightening to many ordinary people, who had grown up in a culture that looked down on anything self-indulgent. Hitler hoped to win the support of such people, and so he promised to clean up Germany and to return it to a tradition of order led by a political ‘strong man’.

What were Hitler's ideas?

Hitler believed that the ‘Aryan’ people and Germany was destined to rule the world. He also felt that democracy and workers’ rights would disrupt society. He thought Germans should have enough ‘living space’ and that only people of German or Aryan blood should live in Germany. He believed that no non-Germans should have any say in Germany. He did not believe that Jews could be Germans. Hitler believed that communism was a huge threat to Germany and should be destroyed. He thought that communism was a Jewish invention and that was another reason why he hated the Jews. He also wanted to rid Germany of the mentally and physically disabled, because they were seen as imperfect and also a drain on the resources of the ‘master race’. Hitler wanted to create a generation of young ‘Aryans’ who were physically fit and totally obedient. He planned to create a new Germany that would rule the world for a thousand years.

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How did the Nazis gain power?

How did the Nazis gain power?