Working Notes on Nazi Ideology and Holocaust
But I am looking to argue somewhat differently, following, among others, Tim Snyder. My arguments are still half-formed, but it is this: That Nazi ideology was more than Antisemitism and that 'Ordinary Germans' signed up to it. Therefore, what was happening in the Eastern Front was 'ordinary', acts of war, and what was being done was 'for Germany'.
As I see it, Hitler's Antisemitism is a part of his world-view, a world-view which arose from a mishmash of Greater German ideology, and which created the basis of the Holocaust. This is not to deny persecution of the Jews had a central place in Holocaust: Hitler was undeniably judophobic and extermination of European Jews, alongside that of the Poles, the Russians, the Gypsies and the 'Asocials', is what we are concerned with. But, outside the core membership of the Nazi party, the so-called 'Ordinary Germans' did not sign up for persecution of Jews per se: Rather, they signed up for a more nebulous project of 'People's Community' and 'Living Space', and this led to their participation, approval and indirect complicity in the Holocaust project. Ian Kershaw's point - with Hitler, there would be no Holocaust - is entirely valid: However, Hitler's role in Holocaust, I would want to argue, is not mapping out a clear plan and looking after its execution (that will be Himmler, Heydrich and RSHA and the Military), but rather enabling this general consensus, without which, also, there will be no Holocaust.
What I am attempting to do, therefore, is to expand the scope of Nazi Ideology from narrow confines of Antisemitism (and particularly from Goldhagen's idea of one derived from medieval Christianity) into four connected ideas:
(a) 'People's Community' of German People, without any divisions - class, political parties or national allegiances (to Austria, for example) - something that was perfectly embodied in the days just before the Great War, in the crowd that Hitler joined into (and later, his photographer would discover him in the crowd and turn it into an iconic photo). For Hitler, this community is an 'Anti-political' idea, because it allows no division or dissent, but is perfectly united as this is made to be racially and culturally united, around pure Germanic blood and German culture.
(b) 'Antisemitism', the idea that Jews are the 'world enemy' of such a 'People's community', since they represent the weaknesses of modernity, a decidedly unheroic age. For Hitler, Jews are not just the 'Christ Killer', and 'deniers of revealation', but the fountainhead of racial weaknesses, who plant the ideas such as 'the meek will inherit the earth', and the misleading ideas of science, that the natural limitations can be overcome. The National Socialist ethic, therefore, is to root out the Jewish ethics (which sounds suspiciously like the Central Tenets of Christianity, but Hitler thought Paul corrupted the teachings of Jesus) and to establish a new ethic of Race and Struggle in its place. The 'Final Solution' comes from this 'Jewish Question' of exclusion of Jews from the People's Community.
(c) 'Living Room', which is a German geopolitical concept which predates Hitler, but Hitler made the idea his by changing what it meant. In Wilhelmine Germany, the idea represented Germany's share of Colonial Empire, a prerequisite for attaining a lifestyle comparable to the British and the French. Hitler adapted the idea but looked East, drawing inspiration from 'American West' rather than previous generations' ideas of competing with the British Empire (in collaboration with Russia). He saw in Russia 'Germany's India', imagining empty spaces for German Colonial settlement after extermination of racially inferior people.
(d) 'Struggle' and 'Culture' are two interconnected elements that make 'People's Community' possible: Struggle for resources and existence in nature, projected outside; and culture to find the common language of the community inside. For Hitler, people's community is therefore a secular entity (not bonded by religion) and it is defined by a biological, racial competition (though the conception is religious, like Islam's 'House of Islam' and 'House of War').
My idea - and it is very much work in progress - is to show how these four ideas became 'common sense' basis, over the years of Nazi rule, of a German National aspiration focused on the East, aimed at superseding the ideas of French revolution ('Jewish' ideas of universalism) and one of fulfilling Germany's historic destiny (of defending European civilisation against Asiatic barbarism). The Germans signed up to it: They were fighting in Russia so that their children don't have to; they were liquidating Jewish Children in Polish villages to avenge British bombing of German cities; they were horrified at the sight of Senegalese troops fighting for the French and wishing them to be liquidated as they should have had no place in Europe.
I am hoping to bring this together in the next few days, alongside evidences and explanations. When I started studying Holocaust, I was confronted with the sheer wantonness of the destruction and violence; I was often depressed as I immersed myself into the details. What confronted me is the sheer exceptionalism of the whole affair, something that is so difficult to understand and explain, completely antithetical to my purpose of reading history to understand the present: I was lost in the annals of victimhood, often remarking to myself that this is so exceptional that we are unlikely to ever experience it again. However, as I get into these key ideas, the world of pure communities with historical destinies, the rage against Liberalism, Modernity and Ethics, the quest for Living Standards, and of perennial struggle and culture, I started to see Holocaust as nearer to our experience, our universe of ideas and events that we are living through. Indeed, history does not repeat, unless we forget about it. I now feel happy that I made the effort.