Nazism developed several theories concerning races. The Nazis claimed to scientifically measure a strict hierarchy among "human race"; at the top was the master race, the "Aryan race", narrowly defined by the Nazis as being identical with the Nordic race, followed by lesser races.
Slavs were a Nordic race like the Germans. However, because of the military interests of the Nazi government, the following propaganda was created: At the bottom of this hierarchy were "parasitic" races (of non-Aryan/European origin) or "Untermenschen" ("sub-humans"), which were perceived to be dangerous to society. In Nazi literature, the term "under man" ('Untermensch') was applied to the Slavs, especially including Russians, Serbs (from South Slavic group), and ethnic Poles. Nazi ideology viewed Slavs as a racially inferior group, who were fit for enslavement, or even extermination. About 2 million non-Jewish ethnic Poles were killed by Nazi Germany. Lowest of all in the Nazi racial policy were Gypsies and Jews, who were both eventually deemed to be "Lebensunwertes Leben" ("Life unworthy of life") and to be exterminated during the Holocaust (see Raul Hilberg's description of the various phases of the Holocaust). Not to be forgotten, Hitler did have people of Jewish descent working for him. Coined as mischling (or 'Half-Jews'), they were often employed in the Wehrmacht, although they were not allowed to be soldiers after 1940. One mischling, Werner Goldberg, was even called "The Ideal German Soldier" by German newspapers.
Richard Walther Darré, Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture from 1933 to 1942, popularized the expression "Blut und Boden" ("Blood and Soil"), one of the many terms of the Nazi glossary ideologically used to enforce popular racism in the German population.
It was the catastrophe of losing the First World War with its devastating economic consequences which set the stage for racism to take root as one means of apportioning blame for Germany's misfortune. It was such latent popular racism that the Nazis exploited in their propaganda.
Philosophers and other theoreticians participated in the elaboration of Nazi ideology. The relationship between Heidegger and Nazism has remained a controversial subject in the history of philosophy, even today. According to the philosopher Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger said of Spinoza that he was "ein Fremdkörper in der Philosophie", a "foreign body in philosophy" – Faye notes that Fremdkörper was a term which belonged to the Nazi glossaryCite error: Closing
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Rosenberg argued that the Nordic race had evolved in a now-lost landmass, Atlantis, off the coast of North Western Europe, and had migrated through Scandinavia and northern Europe, expanding further south, and as far as Iran and India where it founded the Aryan cultures of Zoroastrianism and Hinduism. Like Madison Grant and others, he argued that the entrepreneurial energy of the Nordics had "degenerated" when they mixed with "inferior" peoples.
With the rise of Hitler, Nordic theory became the norm within German culture. In some cases the "Nordic" concept became an almost abstract ideal rather than a mere racial category. Hermann Gauch wrote in 1933 that the fact that "birds can be taught to talk better than other animals is explained by the fact that their mouths are Nordic in structure." He further claimed that in humans, "the shape of the Nordic gum allows a superior movement of the tongue, which is the reason why Nordic talking and singing are richer."
Such views were extreme, but more mainstream Nordic theory was institutionalized. Hans F. K. Günther, who joined the Nazi Party in 1932, was praised as a pioneer in racial thinking, a shining light of Nordic theory. Most official Nazi comments on the Nordic Race were based on Günther's works, and Alfred Rosenberg presented Günther with a medal for his work in anthropology.
Fischer and Lenz were also appointed to senior positions overseeing the policy of Racial Hygiene. The Nazi state used such ideas about the differences between European races as part of their various discriminatory and coercive policies which culminated in the Holocaust. Ironically, in Grant's first edition of his popular book The Passing of the Great Race he classified the Germans as being primarily Nordic, but in his second edition, published after the USA had entered WWI, he had re-classified the now enemy power as being dominated by "inferior" Alpines, a tradition evident in the work of Harvard Professor of Anthropology Carlton Coon's work, The Races of Europe.
Günther's work stated that the Germans are definitely not a fully Nordic people, and divided them into Western (Mediterranean), Nordic, Eastern (Alpine), East Baltic and Dinaric races. He also stated that European Jews belonged in certain proportion to the same races as Germans did, including the Nordic race. Hitler himself was later to downplay the importance of Nordicism in public for this very reason. The simplistic tripartite model of Grant which divided Europeans into only Alpine, Mediterranean, and Nordic, Günther did not use, and erroneously placed most of the population of Hitler's Germany in the Alpine category, especially after the Anschluss. This has been used to downplay the Nordic presence in Germany.
J. Kaup led a movement opposed to Günther. Kaup took the view that a German nation, all of whose citizens belonged to a "German race" in a populationist sense, offered a more convenient sociotechnical tool than Günther's concept of an ideal Nordic type to which only a very few Germans could belong. Nazi legislation identifying the ethnic and "racial" affinities of the Jews reflects the populationist concept of race. Discrimination was not restricted to Jews who belonged to the "Semitic-Oriental-Armenoid" and/or "Nubian-African/Negroid" races, but was directed against all members of the Jewish ethnic population.
The German Jewish journalist Kurt Caro (1905–1979) who emigrated to Paris in 1933 and served in the British army from 1943, published a book under the pseudonym Manuel Humbert unmasking Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in which he stated the following racial composition of the Jewish population of Central Europe: 23.8% Lapponid race, 21.5% Nordic race, 20.3% Armenoid race, 18.4% Mediterranean race, 16.0% Oriental race.
By 1939 Hitler had abandoned Nordicist rhetoric in favour of the idea that the German people as a whole were united by distinct "spiritual" qualities. Nevertheless, Nazi eugenics policies continued to favor Nordics over Alpines and other racial groups, particularly during the war when decisions were being made about the incorporation of conquered peoples into the Reich. The Lebensborn program sought to extend the Nordic race. In 1942 Hitler stated in private,
I shall have no peace of mind until I have planted a seed of Nordic blood wherever the population stand in need of regeneration. If at the time of the migrations, while the great racial currents were exercising their influence, our people received so varied a share of attributes, these latter blossomed to their full value only because of the presence of the Nordic racial nucleus.
Hitler and Himmler planned to use the SS as the basis for the racial "regeneration" of Europe following the final victory of Nazism. The SS was to be a racial elite chosen on the basis of "pure" Nordic qualities.
Addressing officers of the SS-Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler" Himmler stated:
The ultimate aim for those 11 years during which I have been the Reichsfuehrer SS has been invariably the same: to create an order of good blood which is able to serve Germany; which unfailingly and without sparing itself can be made use of because the greatest losses can do no harm to the vitality of this order, the vitality of these men, because they will always be replaced; to create an order which will spread the idea of Nordic blood so far that we will attract all Nordic blood in the world, take away the blood from our adversaries, absorb it so that never again, looking at it from the viewpoint of grand policy, Nordic blood, in great quantities and to an extent worth mentioning, will fight against us.
Propaganda and implementation of racial theories
Nazis developed an elaborate system of propaganda to diffuse these theories. Nazi architecture, for example, was used to create the "new order" and improve the "Aryan race." Sports were also seen by the Nazis as a way to "regenerate the race." The Hitler Youth, founded in 1922, had among its basic motivations the training of future "Aryan supermen" and future soldiers who would faithfully fight for the Third Reich.
Cinema was also used to promote racist theories, under the direction of Joseph Goebbels' Propagandaministerium. The Hygiene Museum, in Dresden, diffused racial theories. A 1934 poster of the museum shows a man with distinctly African features and reads, "If this man had been sterilized there would not have been born ... 12 hereditarily diseased." According to the current director Klaus Voegel, "The Hygiene Museum was not a criminal institute in the sense that people were killed here," but "it helped to shape the idea of which lives were worthy and which were worthless."
Nazi racial theories soon translated into legislation, most notably with the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and the July 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. The Action T4 euthanasia programme, in which the Kraft durch Freude (KdF, literally "Strength Through Joy") youth organisation participated, targeted people accused of representing a danger of "degeneration" towards the "Deutsche Volk."
The Nazi régime also implemented a vast bureaucratic apparatus for making "racial determinations," the ancestral proofs of Aryan descent (Ariernachweis) or "German blood" (Deutschblütigkeitserklärung). Probably the vast majority of the population made such a proof during the course of the Third Reich.
During World War II, Germanization efforts were carried out in eastern Europe to cull those of "German blood" there. This started with the classification of people into the Volksliste. Those selected were either sent for Germanization, or killed to prevent "German blood" being used against the Nazis. In regions of Poland, Poles deemed unfit were evicted to make room for Baltic Germans induced to emigrate after the pact with the USSR. "Racially valuable" children were also abducted from their parents to be Germanized.
Western countries, such as France, were treated less roughly because they were viewed as racially superior to the Poles, though not as good as full Germans; a complex of racial categories was boiled down by the average German to mean "East is bad and West is acceptable." Still, extensive racial classification was practiced in France, for future uses.
- Nazi eugenics
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