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Template:Wikitionary Untermensch (German for under man, sub-man, sub-human; plural: Untermenschen) is a term that became infamous when the Nazi racial ideology used it to describe "inferior people", especially "the masses from the East," that is Jews, Gypsies, Poles along with other Slavic people like the Russians, Ukrainians[1][2][3]


Although usually considered to have been coined by the Nazis themselves, the term "under man" in the above mentioned sense was actually first used by American author Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 pamphlet The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man.[3] It was later adopted by the Nazis from that book's German version Der Kulturumsturz: Die Drohung des Untermenschen (1925).[4] The German word "Untermensch" itself had been used earlier (not in a racial sense), for example in the 1899 novel Der Stechlin by Theodor Fontane (see below). Since most writers who employ the term do not address the question of when and how the word entered the German language (and therefore do not seem to be aware of Stoddard's original term "under man"), "Untermensch" is usually back-translated into English as "sub-human." A leading Nazi attributing the concept of the East-European "under man" to Stoddard is Alfred Rosenberg who, referring to Russian communists, wrote in his Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930) that "this is the kind of human being that Lothrop Stoddard has called the 'under man.'" ["...den Lothrop Stoddard als 'Untermenschen' bezeichnete."][2] Quoting Stoddard: "The Under-Man -- the man who measures under the standards of capacity and adaptability imposed by the social order in which he lives.

However, it is possible that Stoddard constructed his "under man" as an antipode to Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch (or superman) concept. Stoddard doesn't say so explicitly, but he refers critically to the "superman" idea at the end of his book (p. 262).[3] Wordplays with Nietzsche's term seem to have been used repeatedly as early as the 19th century and, due to the German linguistic trait of being able to combine prefixes and roots almost at will in order to create new words, this development was even somewhat logical. For instance, German author Theodor Fontane contrasts the Übermensch/Untermensch word pair in chapter 33 of his novel Der Stechlin[5]As a matter of fact, even Nietzsche himself used "Untermensch" at least once in contrast to "Übermensch" in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882), however he did so in reference to semi-human creatures in mythological, naming them alongside dwarves, fairies, centaurs and so on.[6] Earlier examples of "Untermensch" include Romanticist Jean Paul using the term in his novel Hesperus (1795) in reference to an Orangutan (Chapter "8. Hundposttag").[7]

Stoddard's book-long diatribe dealt with the recent takeover of power by the Bolsheviks in Russia, arguing that that country was now ruled by the most degenerate people on the Earth. He thought that the combination of the alleged inherent racial inferiority of Russian Slavs, the idiocy (as he saw it) of a political creed that appealed to the vilest human instincts (e.g. jealousy towards the more gifted and the more affluent) and the supposed fact that the Communist Party's rank and file consisted of "born criminals" in the most conventional sense of the word necessitated a completely new term to describe this phenomenon: "the under man." In this sense, for Stoddard, the October Revolution was the battle cry for an upcoming, unavoidable clash of the civilized nations with the "masses of the east." If the white race was intent upon winning that confrontation with the "under man," so the message went, it had to turn away from ill-conceived liberal ideas and adopt drastic changes of policy instead, e.g. by introducing far-ranging eugenics programmes.[3]

The available literature on Nazi Germany would not support the claim that Stoddard's writings were more to the Nazis than a neat summary of racial, social, and political theories that already were or would soon become part and parcel of the ideology of the Nazi party.

Nazi propaganda and policy

The term "Untermensch" was utilized repeatedly in writings and speeches directed against the Jews, the most notorious example being a 1935 SS publication with the title "Der Untermensch" which contains an antisemitic tirade sometimes considered to be an extract from a speech held by Heinrich Himmler. In the pamphlet The SS as an Anti-Bolshevist Fighting Organization, Himmler wrote in 1936: We shall take care that never again in Germany, the heart of Europe, will the Jewish-Bolshevistic revolution of subhumans be able to be kindled either from within or through emissaries from without.[8][9][10]

Another example for using the term "Untermensch," this time in connection with anti-Soviet propaganda, is another brochure, again titled "Der Untermensch", edited by Himmler and distributed by the Race and Settlement Head Office. Published in 1942 after the start of Operation Barbarossa, it is around fifty pages long and consists for the most part of photos casting an extremely negative light on the enemy (see link below for the title page). 3,860,995 copies were printed in the German language. It was also translated into Greek, French, Dutch, Danish, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Czech and seven other languages. The pamphlet states the following:

Just as the night rises against the day, the light and dark are in eternal conflict. So too, is the subhuman the greatest enemy of the dominant species on earth, mankind. The subhuman is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being.

Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. Inside of this creature lies wild and unrestrained passions: an incessant need to destroy, filled with the most primitive desires, chaos and coldhearted villainy.

A subhuman and nothing more!

Not all of those, who appear human are in fact so. Woe to him who forgets it!

Historian Robert Jan van Pelt writes that for the Nazis, "it was only a small step to a rhetoric pitting the European Mensch against the Soviet Untermensch, which had come to mean a Russian in the clutches of Judeo-Bolshevism."[11]

This concept included Jews, Roma (Gypsies), non-Europeans (although the number of black Africans, for example, was too small in 1940s Europe) and some of the Slavic peoples (named as Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Serbs and Czechoslovaks).[1] The Nazis acknowledged that some of sub-humans have had ancestors of Aryan-Nordic descent-such people were to be exterminated to eliminate the leadership class among "inferior races", and racially suitable children were to be kidnapped for Germanisation. Massacres in Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and Poland, especially in Warsaw, made evident how Slavs were treated as inferior by the Germans.

However, the "Untermensch" policy toward Slavic peoples was far from consistent. The Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia, operated by Croatian fascists called Ustase, for example, exterminated tens of thousands of Serbs alongside thousands of Jews and Gypsies and a few thousand Croat political dissidents. However, as close relatives of Serbs, the Slavic Croats not only formed units within the SS and other German battalions, but were a part of the Axis alliance. In effect, Hitler's intent was to cull the numbers of Slavic peoples, who both then and now were the most numerous of the European peoples. The "Untermensch" policy made the execution of such policy more effective, by purporting "quasi-scientific" impetus, so such inconsistent application of the policy was logical, as the Nazis did not seek complete destruction of the Slavic peoples, whom they saw as a valuable source of slave labour for the post-war Reich.

Nazi anthropologists attempted to scientifically prove the inherent 'inferiority' of the Slavs. However, they were forced to gloss over their findings which consistently found that Early Slavs were dolicocephalic and fair haired, i.e. "Nordic"[12][13], not to mention the large proportion of Slavic ancestry in Hitler's native Austria. The concept of the Slavic people being "Untermensch" in particular served the Nazis as justification for their genocidal policies and especially their aggression against Poland and the Soviet Union in order to conquer Lebensraum, particularly in Ukraine. Early plans of the German Reich (summarized as Generalplan Ost) envisaged the displacement, enslavement, and elimination of no less than 50 million people who were not considered fit for Germanization from territories it wanted to conquer in Eastern Europe, Ukraine's "chornozem" (black earth) soil being a particularly desirable zone for colonization by the "Herrenvolk.".[1] See also Genocides in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe.

Cultural aftermath

The racist thesis of Untermensch found its way into English vocabulary as the term sub-human to describe real or alleged inhuman treatment of people.[14][15]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe" (HTML). Northeastern University. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rosenberg, Alfred (1930) (in German). Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine Wertung der seelischgeistigen Gestaltungskämpfe unserer Zeit [The Myth of the Twentieth Century]. Munich: Hoheneichen-Verlag. p. 214.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Stoddard, Lothrop (1922). The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  4. Losurdo, Domenico; translated by Marella & Jon Morris (2004). "Toward a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism" (PDF, 0.2 MB). Historical Materialism (Brill) 12 (2): 25–55, here p. 50. doi:10.1163/1569206041551663. ISSN 1465-4466.
  5. Fontane, Theodor (1898). "Der Stechlin: 33. Kapitel" (in German). Der Stechlin [The Stechlin]. ISBN 9783866402584.,+Theodor/Romane/Der+Stechlin/Hochzeit/33.+Kapitel. "Jetzt hat man statt des wirklichen Menschen den sogenannten Übermenschen etabliert; eigentlich gibt es aber bloß noch Untermenschen, und mitunter sind es gerade die, die man durchaus zu einem ›Über‹ machen will. (Nowadays instead of a genuine good man, they've set up that they call the 'super-man.' But in actuality there aren't anything but sub-men any more. And now and then they're the very ones they're trying so hard to make into a 'super.') [From the translation by William L. Zwiebel]"
  6. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1882). "Kapitel 143: Größter Nutzen des Polytheismus" (in German). Die fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science]. 3rd book. Chemnitz: Ernst Schmeitzner.,+Friedrich/Die+fr%C3%B6hliche+Wissenschaft/Drittes+Buch/143.+Gr%C3%B6%C3%9Fter+Nutzen+des+Polytheismus. "Die Erfindung von Göttern, Heroen und Übermenschen aller Art, sowie von Neben- und Untermenschen, von Zwergen, Feen, Zentauren, Satyrn, Dämonen und Teufeln war die unschätzbare Vorübung zur Rechtfertigung der Selbstsucht und Selbstherrlichkeit des einzelnen [...]. (The invention of gods, heroes, and overmen of all kinds, as well as near-men and undermen, of dwarfs, fairies, centaurs, satyrs, demons and devils was the inestimable preliminary exercise for the justification of the egoism and sovereignty of the individual [...]) [From the translation by Walter Kaufmann]"
  7. Jean Paul (1795). "8. Hundposttag" (in German). Hesperus oder 45 Hundposttage. "Obgleich Leute aus der großen und größten Welt, wie der Unter-Mensch, der Urangutang, im 25sten Jahre ausgelebt und ausgestorben haben – vielleicht sind deswegen die Könige in manchen Ländern schon im 14ten Jahre mündig –, so hatte doch Jenner sein Leben nicht so weit zurückdatiert und war wirklich älter als mancher Jüngling. (Although people from the great world and the greatest have, like the sub-man, the orang-outang, lived out and died out in their twenty-fifth year, — for which reason, perhaps, in many countries kings are placed under guardianship as early as their fourteenth, — nevertheless January had not ante-dated his life so far, and was really older than many a youth.) [From the translation by Charles T. Brooks]"
  8. Himmler, Heinrich (1936 or 1937) (in German). Die Schutzstaffel als antibolschewistische Kampforganisation [The SS as an Anti-bolshevist Fighting Organization]. Munich: Franz Eher Nachfolger. "Wir werden dafür sorgen, daß niemals mehr in Deutschland, dem Herzen Europas, von innen oder durch Emissäre von außen her die jüdisch-bolschewistische Revolution des Untermenschen entfacht werden kann."
  9. Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality (1946). "Chapter XV: Criminality of Groups and Organizations – 5. Die Schutzstaffeln" (PDF, 46.2 MB). Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Volume II. Washington, D.C.: USGPO. p. 220. OCLC 315871222.
  10. Stein, Stuart D (8 January 1999). "The Schutzstaffeln (SS) – The Nuremberg Charges, Part I" (HTML). Web Genocide Documentation Centre. University of the West of England. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  11. Pelt, Robert-Jan van (January 1994). "Auschwitz: From Architect's Promise to Inmate's Perdition". Modernism/Modernity 1 (1): 80–120, here p. 97. doi:10.1353/mod.1994.0013. ISSN 1071-6068.
  12. Curta, Florin (August 2002). "From Kossina to Bromley. Ethnogenesis in Slavic Archaeology". In Gillett, Andrew. On Barbarian identity: critical approaches to ethnicity in the early Middle Ages. Studies in the early Middle Ages. Volume 4. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. p. 201–218, here p. 206. ISBN 9782503511689. "... the local Slavs of the prehistoric period, as seen from the archaeological evidence, were fair haired people with elongated skulls"
  13. Coon, Carleton S (1939). "Chapter VI, section 7 "Iron Age Peoples"". The Races of Europe. New York: The Macmillan Company. "The evidence of literary sources makes the Slavs of nordic stature and pigmentation, that of osteology makes them the same in the metrical and morphological sense."
  14. Weingartner, James J (February 1992). "Trophies of War: U.S. Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941–1945". Pacific Historical Review 61 (1): 53–67, here p. 55. ISSN 0030-8684.
  15. Ferguson, Niall (April 2004). "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat". War in History 11 (2): 148–192, here p. 182. doi:10.1191/0968344504wh291oa (inactive 2010-07-10). ISSN 0968-3445.

External links

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