Part II

Question 12: Was the Holocaust something that no one could have foreseen (except perhaps for Hitler’s inner circle), or was it just the natural conclusion to tendencies present in German history long before Hitler arrived on the scene?

The Holocaust is one of the most debated events in world history. The details of the happenings of this period remain a major issue, which scholars have sought to explain in different ways. Different scholars have come up with differing opinions on the holocaust creating a perfect stage for debates to continue. One of the most debated issues is the amount of knowledge that ordinary Germans knew and whether it could have helped prevent the holocaust. Walter Laquer argues that people outside Hitler’s inner circle knew little or nothing about what the holocaust was all about. He argues that most of the people were caught unawares as there was no information about what was going to happen. On the other hand, Daniel Goldhagen argues that the ordinary Germans knew what was going on and did nothing to prevent the effects of the holocaust. He argues that anti-Semitism was part of the German culture even before Hitler began the killings. In my understanding, Goldhagen’s argument is closer to the historical reality. The Holocaust was a natural conclusion to the tendencies present in German history long before Hitler became the German leader.

The history of the holocaust does not begin when the killings started, but it goes further than that. The anti-Semitic culture begun to be embedded in the German culture in nineteenth century. At this time, the forms of discrimination were not as harsh as in the twentieth century but were still there. The first example can be noted in literature and music, used to depict the need for Germany to get rid of the Jews. They were seen as a social and economic burden that Germans had to bear by force. This can be seen in the 1850 music composition by Richard Wagner, which was titled das judenthum in der music.[1] In English, this can be translated to mean ‘the jewishness in music’. In this composition, Wagner directly attacked Jewish musicians of this period. This could have been interpreted as a normal disagreement between musicians of different backgrounds but Wagner went further to condemn all Jews in the German led countries. Additionally, the culture of anti-Semitism could also be seen in literature written in the nineteenth century. Some books were used to display Jews as weak people who had to be eliminated if Germany was to be successful. An example of this can be seen in the Grimm’s Fairy Tale by the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm[2]. The stories were a reflection of how Germans felt about the Jews in this period. In this perspective, it is important to note that music and literature are a powerful representation of a society. People usually compose music and write stories in relation to their society Wagner’s compositions and the Grimm’s stories are a perfect reflection of how anti-Semitism had permeated the German culture even before the holocaust.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the discrimination against Jews became more commonplace. The German people started becoming more open about their feelings toward the Jewish people. The formation of the Volkisch movement acts as the second example. This movement was one of the major developments in anti-Semitism in Germany (Coffin and Stacey, page 167). This movement included people from different groups whose purpose was an advancement of specific beliefs and traditions. The leaders of this movement wanted all people living in German-led countries to follow their culture and traditions. The movement was hugely concerned with following even the most traditional of the German culture. The Volkisch ideologies were partly anti-Semitic as they advocated for all people to adopt the German culture (Wiesner, Ruff and Wheeler, page 156). As the years went on, the anti-Semitic ideology became more established among members of the Volkisch movement. This can be seen from one of its leader’s public comments, saying that the Jews were acting as parasites and should be eliminated from the German society. This shows the rate at which anti-Semitism was growing among the Germans. It was developing into a culture that was supported by the people and the government. In-fact, these were pre-cursors of how Germany would react to Jews in the future.

This was followed by the creation of the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1919, the third example. The formation of this party was in response to the failure of the Volkisch movement to advance the anti-Semitic ideology among the German people (Coffin and Stacey, page 243). This was an expanded party, which would see the success of the Jews elimination policy. The party leaders believed that Germans were the superior people and their orders should be followed by all other people. In the steps of the Volkisch, the National Socialist German Workers Party was largely involved in creating advancing the German traditions among other people. It was important for them that foreign people leave the German land as they were taking resources, which belonged to Germans only. The development of other fascist parties in other countries like Italy provided a basis for this party to flourish. At first, this party did not attract many people, but with time, their ideologies became more and more popular. This was coupled with Adolf Hitler’s oratorical capabilities, which pulled crowds. This was a sign of the force with which anti-Semitic beliefs were becoming popular among the German people. It was clear that if the people continued to harbor these beliefs, action against non-German people would soon take place.

The fourth example is the religious leaders, who also bore a significant part in the increased abhorrence towards the Jews. Martin Luther is a clear representation of this form of hatred towards the Jews. Born in Germany in the period 1483, Luther spearheaded a revolutionary thought in religion as he opposed the Catholic movement by his institution of the Protestant movement. Being a Christian, Luther had a great detestation for the Jewish people for their role in the execution of Christ, the central figure in his religion (Falk, page 37-38). He referred to the Jews as devils and the vilest of God’s adversaries for their rejection and orchestration of Christ’s demise. His teachings were backed up by Biblical passages, which were regarded as a reliable foundation for the views. For instance, his general reference of the Jewish people as brute individuals was based on Christ’s words that equated them to an offspring of vipers, as noted in the Gospels. Although some individuals believe that Luther’s words were wrongly interpreted, the influence it had on the fuelling of Semitic hatred was very huge. The interpretation view is rejected by many, as Luther did not use parables but direct phrases of his hatred for the Jews. One notable example is given regarding baptism for Jews; Luther claimed that to conduct baptism, he would tie a millstone on the individual and toss him into a river. Truly, this is a reflection of his abhorrence.

Scholars and the education fraternity also contributed to Jewish hatred as the fifth example. Hahn Gunter was born in the year 1891. He was a renowned university lecturer in the anthropology field and most notably in his works were his racial theories (Wegner, page129). Gunter argued that the human race was consisted of stratifications that were clearly indicated by culture descents. In Europe, the professor held that only six races were fit to be termed as ‘pure’ and thereby justified for existence. The Jews did not even fit any profile in Gunter’s classification and they were regarded as the worst of all human races and the direct opposite of what the Nordic (most dignified) race represented. These theories were trained to pupils in universities and colleges and the result was a widespread hatred for the Jews. Gunter created a chart in which he compared characterizations of the different races. The Jews were termed as evil and crafty people thought out the analysis.

Political authorities and powers contributed to the holocaust. They are the sixth example. The Der Sturmer, which translates to The Attacker, was a tabloid heavily used in Germany to rally against the Jews. Cartoons used in the tabloid depicted Jews as horrific creatures and violent individual actively participating in occult practices as human sacrifices and other hideous practices. The tabloid’s slogan just like the newspaper was printed in Germany as Die Juden sind unser Ungluck! (DeCoste and Bernard, page 269). That when translated in English read, ‘The Jews are our misfortune!’ These favored Jewish killings. In this view, Goldhagen is correct in his view that the holocaust was only a conclusion to what had been started years ago. From the nineteenth century, it was clear that the Germans did not approve of Jews in their countries. Through the years, this culture was popularized by different people. From this analysis, it is evident that the holocaust was a foreseeable event that resulted from the Germans’ anti-Semitic culture.


Works Cited:

Coffin, Judith and Robert Stacey. Western Civilizations: Their History & their culture. New York, NY: W W Norton & Co Inc, 2007.

DeCoste, F. C. and Bernard Schwartz. The Holocaust’s ghost: writings on art, politics, law, and education. Alberta: University of Alberta, 2000.

Falk, Avner. Anti-semitism: a history and psychoanalysis of contemporary hatred. Goleta: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. Hitler’s willing Executioners: ordinary Germans and the holocaust. Vancouver: Vintage Books, 1997.

Wegner, Gregory. Anti-semitism and schooling under the Third Reich. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Wiesner, Merry, Julius Ruff and William Bruce Wheeler. Discovering the Western past: a look at the evidence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007.



[1] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s willing Executioners: ordinary Germans and the holocaust. (Vancouver: Vintage Books, 1997), 255.


[2] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s willing Executioners: ordinary Germans and the holocaust. (Vancouver: Vintage Books, 1997), 259.


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