Adolf Hitler is often viewed as the poster-child of anti-Semitism. But to understand why this is so we should look at why Hitler created so many anti-Semitic laws. I believe that Hitler created many anti-Semitic laws because, as Paul Johnson notes, anti-Semitism 'was to him a complete explanation of the world'.
In other words, Hitler made laws that expressed his concept of the world. By the 1920s, Europe, Russia and the United States had seen the spread of the Protocols of Zion. These Protocols were said to be the blueprint of the Jewish plot to take control of the world. Anti-Semitism in Europe, Russia, and the United States was a natural reaction to the Protocols. So it is no surprise to find that the Nazis under Hitler made anti-Semitic laws 'the centre and end of their programme (though they varied the emphasis according to their audience).'
This paper will examine how Hitler's laws in Nazi Germany were anti-Semitic because it served his purposes to reflect the anti-Semitism that was in the culture at the time, and it also expressed the worldview he held.
The Meaning of Anti-Semitism
First, we must examine what is meant by anti-Semitism and then we will be able to see why Hitler's laws were anti-Semitic. As Sebastian Haffner shows, anti-Semitism had many aspects. For example, there was 'social anti-Semitism' in which 'Jews were hated as money-lenders.'
Then there was also 'religious anti-Semitism,' which called not for extermination but for conversion. There was also a kind of economic anti-Semitism: in the Weimar Republic, Jews had 'even formed something like a second aristocracy…[which] earned them…envy and dislike.'
When Hitler rose in the ranks of politics, he appealed to the popular sentiment of the times. The popular sentiment was distrustful of Jews and also saw Jews as contrary to the Christian spirit. Hitler's laws simply tried to institutionalize this spirit
However, Hitler was no Christian himself, as 'his handling of the Christian Churches clearly revealed.'
Hitler's ideal man was not Christ or Christian but Germanic and Aryan. Hitler was a Romantic. He incorporated pagan mythology into his propaganda. He used Germanic traditions and folk stories and heroes to build his campaign. He drew on Germanic history to get the people inspired. He did not want a Christian leader. He wanted to be the leader himself. That meant he had to win popular support and get rid of the competition. This is another reason Germany enacted anti-Semitic laws. The Third Reich wanted to be in charge. According to Roderick Stackelberg, 'Jews became the primary victims of Nazi persecution in the Third Reich…[because the Third Reich held a] conspiracy theory, according to which Jews controlled the German economy, society, and culture under the "Weimar system." Nazi anti-Semitism exploited popular feelings of envy, especially in the depression.'
Hitler's anti-Semitic laws were created to bring the German people to his side. He was courting the public.
The First Laws
Indeed, as early as 1933, the Nazis were attempting to 'remove Jews from public life.'
This was done by the Enabling Act of 1933 and the Civil Service Law of 1933, which 'removed from public employment all persons of "non-Aryan descent," define as persons with one or more Jewish parents or grandparents.'
These anti-Semitic laws were put into place to help rebuild a sense of Germanic pride. The Nazis were a party of national pride. That meant that they had to cultivate a national spirit. They had to grow a sense of unity in the German people. They had to do this because since World War I, the Germans had been especially humiliated in the eyes of the Western powers.
In fact, the Treaty of Versailles essentially and unfairly destroyed Germany and set the stage for Hitler to create his platform of revenge. The Western powers had placed the blame for the war on Germany and put a debt on it that it could not possibly repay. President Woodrow Wilson had been obsessed with his League of Nations idea -- a concept that would eventually evolve into the United Nations. But all that happened at the end of World War I was a kind of cease fire. The Allied powers made Germany pay -- and in doing so they wiped out the last Catholic nation. A generation of men had been lost in the European war -- but the madness that caused it all had not been cured -- only suppressed. Germany would seek to rebuild itself and its pride: 'Many Germans, especially members of the army, believed that Germany had not lost the war on the battlefield…These people felt that Germany, the army and all those who had lost their lives in the war had been betrayed by traitors at home who had undermined the soldiers at the front.'
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the can of warms was re-opened again, and Hitler had called the Allied Powers into account. The cards were re-dealt -- and Hitler had drawn up a new set of rules.
The new set of rules, of course, was designed to make Aryans feel superior. That is why 'a decree in Februarky 1934 made Aryan descent a prerequisite for service in the Werhmacht…Jews were forbidden to own farmland or deal in livestock.'
Even in universities, 'after July 1934 Jewish law students were no longer permitted to take the qualifying exams for a career in law.'
Hitler's aim was to make it clear that the Aryan race was the greatest race in the world and that the Jewish people were not to participate in it. In fact, the Jewish people would be a kind of scapegoat. Hitler promoted this concept as early as 1927 when he said in a speech, 'We see before us the Aryan race which is manifestly the bearer of all culture, the true representative of all humanity…All great composers from Beethoven to Richard Wagner are Aryans…Man owes everything that is of any importance to the principle of struggle and to one race which has carried itself forward successfully.'
In fact, Hitler had written as far back as 1919 that anti-Semitism 'must lead to the systematic legal fight.'
Anti-Semitism, according to Hitler himself, was a legal battle. The anti-Semitic laws were a part of the foundation of the new Germany that Hitler wanted to lead after World War I.
The Cultural Inspiration for Hitler and His Laws
Richard Wagner was perhaps the greatest cultural inspiration for Hitler. Hitler admired Wagner's music very much. Wagner had been very popular in Germany with his operas which were based on the Germanic mythology. Wagner was the perfect cultural hero for Hitler. His work was incredibly more dramatic and heavier than anything composed by Mozart. But then the Germanic culture had altered very much in the century that passed between Mozart and Wagner. It is no surprise to find that Hitler leaned more to Wagner, considering that he was more revolutionary.
But there was more behind Hitler's ideas than Romantic Music. There was also a philosophy. The Romantic/Enlightenment philosophy of Rousseau had spread across Europe and attacked the foundations of Christian authority. This is one reason Hitler was not a supporter of the Church. The Church might have prayed for the conversion of the Jew, but it had no plan to exterminate them. The fall of Church authority in Eastern Europe was part of the reason why Wagner came into being. New forms of music were sought to reflect the changes in society, changes that were indeed dramatic since Western civilization had been undergoing revolution since the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. Hitler, it might be said, was a production of all of these forces. He was the German ego given total control. Hitler also had no belief in Christ.
Antonin Dvorak (composer of the New World Symphony and a devout Czech Catholic) said of Brahms and his unbelief: 'Such a man, such a fine soul -- and he believes in nothing!' Brahms did not believe in God, and Wagner wrote operas about pagan mythology. Hitler incorporated these pagan myths into his concept of the Aryan. For Hitler, the Aryan race was the chose race, just like the Jews were the chosen people according to their own religion. Hitler was substituting a new religion in Germany and it was the religion of the Aryan man. This was all part of the Romantic spirit that was very popular in Europe at the time and it helped inspire Hitler to make his anti-Semitic laws.
As Stephen Heiner's interview with Richard Williamson points out, music plays a significant role in the lives and attitudes of men and their culture: 'Without Beethoven during my adolescent years, I'm not sure I would be a Catholic today. Mozart also greatly helped, and Wagner provided an extra religious dimension. Wagner appealed to Hitler precisely because his operas offer a religious dimension without the Faith, in other words, substitute redemption….'
Here we see that Hitler was inspired by this new spirit that…