Why are we so obsessed with Nazis

Hitler's anti-Semitism. Why did he hate the Jews?

Anti-Semitism: a centuries-old phenomenon

Anti-Semitism is not a Hitler invention. Jews in Europe have been victims of discrimination and persecution since the Middle Ages. Religious reasons were often an excuse for this. Christians saw a deviation in the Jewish faith that must be combated. Jews were sometimes forced to convert to Christianity or were not allowed to practice certain professions.

Religion played a less important role in the nineteenth century. In their place came ideas about differences between “races” and peoples. The idea arose that Jews belonged to a different people than, for example, the Germans. Even when Jews converted to Christianity, they were considered "different" because of their ancestry.

Hitler discovers anti-Semitism

The origin of Hitler's hatred of Jews cannot be determined. He himself describes his development as an anti-Semite in Mein Kampf as the result of a long personal struggle. During the time he lived in Vienna and worked as a painter (1908-1913), his aversion to everything Jewish took shape. Most historians believe that Hitler later came up with this explanation. He wanted to give people who do not yet believe in his ideas the certainty that they would also get to this point.

What is certain is that Hitler came into contact with anti-Semitic views early on. To what extent he shares them is not known. If he already had prejudices against Jews during his time in Vienna, they are not yet part of a clearly defined worldview. One of the most loyal buyers of his pictures in Vienna is a Jew, Samuel Morgenstern.

Imaginative explanations

There are also numerous imaginative explanations about the reasons for Hitler's anti-Semitism. One of them says that he is partly of Jewish descent himself and that he was ashamed of it. Another explanation links his hatred of Jews to trauma caused by a poison gas attack during World War I. There are also theories that suggest that Hitler contracted a sexually transmitted disease from a Jewish prostitute. All of these statements are not supported by any facts.

German nationalism and anti-Semitism

What we actually know is that two Austrian politicians had a major impact on Hitler's thinking. The first, Georg Ritter von Schönerer (1842-1921), belonged to the German National Movement. He called for the German-speaking areas in Austria-Hungary to be annexed to the German Empire. He also took the view that Jews could not be full German citizens.

From the second, the Viennese mayor Karl Lueger (1844-1910), Hitler learned how anti-Semitism and social reforms could be successful. In Mein Kampf, Hitler praises Lueger as “the most powerful German mayor of all time.” When Hitler comes to power in 1933, he will put similar ideas into practice.

Hitler in the First World War

The First World War was a crucial phase in Hitler's life. The war gives his hitherto unsuccessful life a goal. In 1914 Hitler volunteered for the German army, which fought together with the Austrian monarchy against France, Great Britain and Russia. Although he is usually not deployed directly at the front, he receives an award for his bravery.

When Germany surrendered in November 1918, Hitler was in a military hospital. He sustained an eye injury in a poison gas attack in Belgium. Tied to the bed, he hears the news of the surrender and plunges into a deep crisis. He writes that "his eyes went black again", he stumbled to his bed and "buried his burning head in the blanket and pillow". "

Jews as a scapegoat for the lost war

Germany's defeat is difficult to accept for many Germans and also for Hitler. The "stab in the back legend" is making the rounds in nationalist and right-wing conservative circles. This myth says that Germany did not lose the war on the battlefield, but through “internal betrayal”. Jews, social democrats and communists are responsible for this.

The prejudices about the role of the Jews in the war had nothing to do with the facts. This was proven by a study commissioned by the German government in 1916. More than a hundred thousand German and Austrian Jews had fought for their fatherland, one of whom was Otto Frank, who took part in the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

Hitler goes into politics

After the First World War there is chaos in Germany. After the emperor abdicated, there were riots. Left groups are trying to seize power in many places. This is also the case in Munich, where the “People's Republic of Bavaria” is proclaimed during a brief revolution. This provokes a backlash from right-wing forces and bloodshed. These events made a great impression on Hitler.

At this point he is still in military service. There he discovered his oratorical talent. The army soon used him for training. Their purpose is to warn soldiers of the communist danger and to strengthen nationalist attitudes. In this position, Hitler got to know the German Workers' Party, from which the NSDAP later emerged. That is the beginning of his political career.

Radicalization of Hitler's anti-Semitism

Against the backdrop of revolution and violence, Hitler's anti-Semitism is taking on increasingly radical forms. It is striking that he speaks out against uncontrolled pogroms (outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence) carried out “for purely emotional reasons”. Instead, he propagates an “anti-Semitism of reason.” This should be poured into laws and ultimately lead to the “removal” of the Jews.

As early as August 1920, Hitler compared the Jews with germs. He explains that you cannot fight a disease without destroying the cause. The influence of the Jews will never disappear if the perpetrator, the Jew, is not "removed from our midst". Radical views clear the way for the mass murder of the Jews in the 1940s.

Capitalism and Communism: A Jewish Conspiracy?

Hitler blames the Jews for everything that is bad in the world. Germany is weak and in decline due to the "Jewish influence". The Jews, in his view, strive for world domination using all possible means, including capitalism. Here Hitler takes up the prejudice that Jews associate with financial power and the pursuit of profit.

Hitler ignores contradictions in his thinking. He also declares communism to be a Jewish conspiracy. A large part of the communist leaders are Jews. Yet only a small fraction of the Jews are communists. In the war with the Soviet Union from 1941 onwards, the idea of ​​this “Jewish communism” will have terrible consequences. German soldiers treat the population and prisoners of war with brutal violence

Hitler's racism: not only directed against Jews

For Hitler the world is a place of constant struggle between peoples. In his view there are higher and lower standing "races". The Germans belong to the higher ranked peoples and the Jews to the lower ranked. He also applies these ideas to other ethnic groups. He sees members of Slavic peoples as inferior and destined to be ruled.

Hitler also believes that the German people can only be strong if they are “pure”. In his view, people with hereditary diseases are “pests”. This included people with a physical or mental disability, but also alcoholics and “incorrigible” criminals. After the Nazis are in power, it leads to forced sterilization and the murder of people.


The ideas that Hitler developed in the twenties remained more or less unchanged until his death in 1945. What changes, however, is that in 1933 he was given the power to implement them. In the 1930s he did everything in his power to drive the Jews in Germany out of German society. With the outbreak of war, the Nazis turn to mass murder. Almost six million Jewish men, women and children are murdered in the Holocaust.

Sources used
  • Brechtken, Magnus, The National Socialist rule 1933-1939 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2004).
  • Burleigh, Michael, The Third Reich: A New History (London: Macmillan, 2000).
  • Evans, Richard J., The Coming of the Third Reich (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004).
  • Hamann, Brigitte, Hitler’s Vienna: A Portrait of the Tyrant as a Young Man (New York, NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  • Kershaw, Ian, Hitler: Profiles in Power (Londen 1991).
  • Kershaw, Ian, Hitler, 1889-1945 (London: Allen Lane, 1998-2000).
  • Longerich Peter, Hitler: biography (Munich: Siedler, 2015).
  • Melching, Willem, Hitler: opkomst en ondergang van een Duits politicus (Amsterdam: Bakker, 2013).
  • Ullrich, Volker, Adolf Hitler biography. Volume 1: Years of Ascent, 1889-1939 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer 2013).
  1. Brigitte Hamann, Hitler’s Vienna: A Portrait of the Tyrant as a Young Man (New York, NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 356-359.
  2. "Today I see the man as the most powerful German mayor of all time, even more than before." Uit: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Munich: Franz Eher Verlag, 1943), p. 59.
  3. "... and buried the burning head in the blanket and pillow". Uit: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 223.
  4. The "Jewish Census" from 1916. German Historical Museum, Berlin. https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/erster-weltkrieg/innenpolitik/judenzaehler-1916.html [13. November 2018].
  5. "Anti-Semitism of Reason". In: Adolf Hitler, expert opinion on anti-Semitism (1919) prepared on behalf of his military superiors ’. Contained in: Maser, Werner, Hitler's letters and notes (Düsseldorf 1973).