To the historian and psychologist the Nazi holocaust poses questions beyond merely recording man’s inhumanity against man. Beyond the facts he looks for an answer to the motives behind the emotions, to the ‘reasoning’ beyond reasons, which made possible the active participation of tens of thousands in the crime of total murder, and of other tens of thousands to acquiesce in the ‘consensus of silence’.
In the following paper, presented at a Yad Va-Shem symposium on April 19, 1973, the thirtieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, J. L. Talmon, Professor of Modern History at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, traces the roots of the ideology that led up to Hitler's ‘Final Solution’, and comes to the conclusion that they are to be found in the whole trend of European history from its dawn throughout the ages up to the present time. By rejecting the Jewish legacy of a messianic age of equality for all there developed the cult of the personality and of an elite which divided mankind into superior and inferior races, making the latter the carriers of all evil which have to be destroyed in order to ‘save mankind’.
Never since the dawn of history had the world witnessed such a campaign of extermination as carried out by Hitler’s Germany. This was not an explosion of religious fanaticism; not a wave of pogroms, the work of incited mobs running amok or led by a ringleader; not the riots of a soldiery gone wild or drunk with victory and wine; not the fear-wrought psychosis of revolution or civil war that rises and subsides like a whirlwind. It was none of these. An entire nation was handed over by a ‘legitimate’ government to murderers organized by the authorities and trained to hunt and kill, with one single provision, that everyone, the entire nation, be murdered — men and women, old and young, healthy and sick and paralysed, everyone, without any chance of even one of those condemned to extermination escaping his fate.
After they had suffered hunger, torture, degradation and humiliation inflicted on them by their tormentors to break them down, to rob them of the last shred of human dignity, and to deprive them of any strength to resist and perhaps of any desire to live, the victims were seized by the agencies of the state and brought from the four corners of Hitlerite Europe to the death camps, to be killed, individually or in groups, by the murderers’ bullets over the graves dug by the victims themselves, or in slaughterhouses constructed especially for human beings. For the condemned there was no judge to whom to appeal for redress of injustice; no government from which to ask protection and punishment for the murders; no neighbour on whose gate to knock and ask for shelter; no God to whom to pray for mercy.
It is in all this that this last campaign of extermination differs from all the other massacres, mass killings and bloodshed perpetrated throughout history, such as the annihilation of defeated tribes in ancient times or in the African jungle, the slaughter of conquered peoples by the Mongols, the crusade of extermination against the Albigensians in the 13th century, the horrors of St Bartholomew’s Night and of the wars of religion in the 16th and the 17th centuries, the Chmielnicki pogroms in 1648, and peasants’ uprisings and their suppression in rivers of blood, even the massacres of Greeks and Armenians at the hands of the Turks at various times.
The Holocaust visited on the Jews is different from all these earlier massacres in its conscious and explicit planning, in its systematic execution, in the absence of any emotional element in the remorselessly applied decision to exterminate everyone, but everyone; in the exclusion of any possibility that someone, when his turn came to be liquidated, might escape his fate by surrendering, by joining the victors and collaborating with them, by converting to the victors’ faith, or by selling himself into slavery in order to save his life.
There is no doubt that even had the Final Solution not been formally decreed, tens of thousands of Jews would have perished in the war by the sword, from hunger, through epidemics, by all kinds of strange deaths. Millions of Jews would have suffered torments of hunger, infernal torture and all the degradation and humiliation possible at the hands of the Nazis and their helpers. I myself heard Chaim Weizmann’s sombre prediction at the beginning of the hostilities that ‘in this war, we shall lose a million Jews’. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, some time before the outbreak of the war, sounded the warning that the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe must soon expect a St Bartholomew’s Night. Yet no one thought, or could have thought, of an Auschwitz.
Are we dealing here with a regression to the most primitive barbarism or with the nihilism of a later, sophisticated generation? With the outbreak of sadism or with the rabid frenzy of a perverse idealism which offers release, legitimacy and even glamour to the instincts of aggression and cruelty? What made this unprecedented deviation from the norm possible at all? The immediate and simple answer is, Hitler. There is certainly no need, nor any reason, to belittle Hitler’s direct responsibility. Without him, the decision to proceed with the Final Solution would never have been taken. This answer is, however, entirely unsatisfactory. Hitler depended on the consent of associates who would carry out his monstrous plans; he needed hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of assistants at all levels, from the most highly-placed, sophisticated and ‘well-bred’ intimates who participated in the decision making, down to the lowliest apprentice in the arts of homicide — the sadistic killer or the mindless robot.
The deviation from the traditional, the hallowed, the almost instinctive norm enshrined in the injunction ‘Thou shalt not kill’ — nor take life without proper trial, nor kill the defenceless, nor harm the innocent — was in this case so violent and unprecedented that it is difficult to grasp how even an insane or half-sane fanatic could find it in himself not only to conceive such a plan, but to decree that ‘Thou shalt kill’ millions, an entire nation, without evoking the immediate horrified reaction, ‘Why, you must be out of your mind.’
How, we wonder, did he obtain the consent and cooperation of his closest associates, the compliance of the mass of executioners and the resigned acceptance of the very many who did not care or who were unwilling to get into trouble but who all knew, fully, partially or dimly, what was going on, and chose not to ask questions, but to look away?
Even an Oriental despot in bygone days would have shrunk from committing —indeed would not have been able even to contemplate — certain actions which would constitute an attack on established beliefs, violate certain taboos, strike a blow to deep-seated feelings or ancient traditions. In every period in history there have been things that people ‘simply will not accept’, come what may; things that are so unbearable that it is better to die than be a party to them.
Fear alone cannot explain everything, even the most arbitrary act of an unbridled tyrant is in some measure a function of the general climate, the spirit of the times, the social structure, the standard of values. For instance, the interference of the military with the political process by overthrowing the government or imposing their will by force on the nation, is utterly inconceivable in England and the United States, while it is a daily occurrence in Latin America and the Third World. In this sense one can perhaps speak of a consensus by silence, of acquiescence through indifference. Between the ruthless tyrant and the silent majority there is a quantitative difference that gradually expands into a qualitative one; this development, however does not invalidate the basic premise, the common point of departure.
Release from awe and respect, the disappearance of inhibitions against deviant acts, does not take place overnight; it is a protracted, gradual process of dialectical development. However, the transition from absence of inhibition to the actual commission of acts without precedent is not a result of structure only, but also of opportunity, of a state of emergency giving rise to storms of emotion, of a situation in which all restraint is jettisoned, of a period of danger and peril which give a certain legitimacy to acts and methods required by desperate circumstances where all other methods have failed. The sense of exceptional emergency unleashes instincts of violence and sweeps away inhibitions imposed by institutional framework, by sentiment, and by the labyrinthine workings of the subconscious mind. There is great importance in the tools and the techniques which allow such acts to be carried out with speed, efficiency and a minimum of publicity, for it is essential to confront everybody as quickly as possible with the fact that they have all become, in Goebbels’ words, accomplices in a crime for which they can expect no excuse and no pardon.
We shall try to penetrate the ‘geological’, historical social, ideological and psychological layers from which this terrible act of hubris, the decision on the Holocaust, sprouted forth. The question that must be asked is, whether the point of departure, the core of the entire development was anti-Semitism, hatred of the Jews, and nothing else. Such a limited answer does not seem adequate to me. Even if we agree that antagonism to the Jews is an unchanging element, a primary factor, continuous and identical from Hellenistic times until today, and not merely a cluster of superstitions that erupt from time to time in waves of hostile agitation, in persecution and riots — even then we shall be obliged to recognize a multiplicity of formulations, expressions, methods of implementation, modes of incitement, types of accusation, all dependent on place, time, political and socioeconomic conditions, moral and spiritual values and psychological factors. In short, anti-Semitism may be an autonomous, or more exactly, a primary phenomenon, but in one way or another it is a function of external factors. Anti-Semitism is part of a wider context.
The whole pattern of relations between Christians and Jews has from the beginning been saturated with neurotic elements, on both sides, and it could not have been otherwise. Neurosis consists in the compulsive tendency to react disproportionately to stimuli as the result of a shattering experience at the dawn of youth. The birth of Christianity, its central mysterium and all its most decisive events tie it inextricably to Judaism.
Judaism is Christianity’s parent, but Jews are at the same time deicides, the murderers of the Messiah, of the Redeemer. Christians are mankind redeemed by Jesus, but they are also the new Israel, the heirs of the election taken away from the old Israel because it rejected God’s Messiah and thus God himself.
Murder within the family, the murder of a father or brother according to Freud, and murder as a consequence of incest in the view of various anthropologists, is the cornerstone of every culture, every order of values, every ethical system and code of behaviour (vide Cain and Abel, Oedipus, Romulus and Remus). Instincts of aggression boil up to the point of murder; the participants in the act are deeply shaken and their feeling of guilt gives birth to conscience; mourning unites the family or the tribe in the cult of the deceased relative; anxiety to prevent the recurrence of a similar crime gives birth to a system of laws, ethics and taboos; the memory of the experience inspires storytellers, poets, and artists.
How much more true is all this of the murder of God. The believers of the murdered God are full of hatred and craving for vengeance against the murderers, but they can never forget that Jesus, his mother, the apostles and the apostolic community sprang from the nation of the murderers. They cannot forget that the Old Testament and everything in it, the idea of election and the prophecy of the saviour who shall come at the end of the days, is the pre-history, the preparation of Christianity, its seedbed, a preparatory stage of the true faith that could not be skipped. Gratitude acts as a brake upon hatred, but gratitude is stifled by hostility.
We shall ignore the background of Hellenistic anti-Semitism, the hatred of a strange, alien people, avoiding contact with all other peoples and exalting itself in the belief of its uniqueness and election, a nation of ‘mankind haters’. We shall also ignore the influence of these sentiments on the final rupture between Christians and Jews, on the formation of Christian anti-Semitism and on its adoption of philosophical, ethical, social and other anti-Jewish arguments. The peculiar neurosis referred to above is wholly due to the original dichotomy contained in the affinity of Christianity to Judaism. It becomes visible not only in homicidal hostility and in the urge to persecute, but also in manifestations of a strikingly sympathetic attitude, for example, towards Zionism in its early days, in the first years after the Holocaust and in the period of the establishment of the State of Israel. This attitude stems from feelings of remorse, duty, and shame. In other words, the feelings of gentiles towards Jews are marked by an absence of balance, impartiality and ease. They gravitate between opposite poles. Amos Oz succeeded beautifully in describing the Christian’s reaction to the Jew as the expression of the worst and the best in him.
The encounter between the Jews and the Germanic and Slavic tribes in the centuries following the demise of the Roman Empire added complications to this neurosis. The new masters, ignorant uncivilized barbarians, were confronted by a people of ancient culture, incomparably higher than theirs, a people with a strange faith, mentality and customs, a race shrouded in mystery and a people descended from those who killed God.
At first sight, these people were weak and helpless, but at the same time astonishingly resourceful, vital and tenacious. In the eyes of the Church, they were a permanent reproach and challenge because of their refusal to acknowledge the Saviour and the fact that they were no longer the chosen people. Despised and outcast, they were, however, neither pagan nor infidels. One could and should persecute them, but it was forbidden to kill them, because with the sign of Cain on their foreheads they were living proof of the Church’s victory and Israel's forfeiture of election, and therefore of the truth of Christianity. Outcasts, they do not belong anywhere; ‘they cannot enter the congregation of the Lord’; the warrior class is closed to them; they are not permitted to join the guilds of artisans and merchants; they are not found among peasants or serfs; their business dealings are not considered legitimate by the god-fearing masses; and they are despised by the well-born and the well-bred. They thrive on the misfortunes of others, and the very sight of them evokes the image of Judas Iscariot and Shylock.
Then comes the 19th century, the century in which the walls of separation come tumbling down and the Jews suddenly leap on to the stage of history. And lo and behold, yesterday’s outcast is achieving phenomenal success. He climbs higher and higher, his touch is felt everywhere. Energy pent up for centuries spurts out in a torrent, sweeping away the old and changing things that had seemed as immutable as the laws of nature. He is the pariah risen to sudden pre-eminence, the slave become king.
The images of Judas and Shylock, of the crafty and deceitful Jew, of the heretic harbouring eternal hatred for the faithful -these images are so deeply ingrained that it is impossible for gentiles to believe that Jewish achievements have been attained honestly and are the proper rewards of talent, industry and hard work. The liberals are disturbed and annoyed by the obvious discrepancy between the abstract principles of the equality of man and equal opportunity on which they pride themselves and their instinctive aversion to having live Jews in their midst. The frustrated losers from the vast revolutionary changes of the 19th century, as well as those whose expectations of imminent redemption by revolution have been disappointed, are bewildered when they look around and see that the Jews who previously had no place at all in society are the chief beneficiaries of modernization. Jews fatten on other people’s losses and misfortunes and, they hasten to conclude, it is they who are responsible for them.
We must now trace the form, the stages, the circumstances and the time of the fateful transformation of the image of the Jew in the eyes of Europe, from God’s accursed, and evil breed, a harmful force, and an embarrassing problem, to the concept of the Jew as the root and incarceration of all evil in the Manichean sense, as the source of all the evils that come together to form the one pervasive and all-encompassing evil. This transformation, in its turn, was to help change the mechanism of alleged defence against the spread of the baneful Jewish influence into the idea of the necessity and the legitimacy of a plan for a Final Solution that would put an end, once and for all, to the irrepressible absolute and eternal evil. These concepts, images and plans were to help erode, weaken and finally sweep away the inhibition before a violation of ‘thou shalt not kill’ as soon as circumstances combined to produce a climate of emergency and of supreme danger.
Developments in European civilization and society at large contributed their share. These developments were not caused or occasioned by the Jews, but their edge was turned against them, directly or indirectly, for more or less objective reasons or because the gentiles affected as they were with an anti-Jewish neurosis, were bound to link them with the Jews. For the obsessive Jew-haters, of course, animosity to the Jews came first for they were always on the lookout for a pretext to magnify the evil and the danger of the Jews.
One must not put racist Manichean anti-Semitism on the same level as manifestations of hatred of the Jews throughout the generations, however great the cumulative influence of the latter in preparing minds for accepting the theory of race. Oppressive medieval edicts limiting the rights of Jews as blasphemers of the living God, enemies of Jesus and the Christian nations, exploiters and even murderers of Christian children, poisoners of wells, carriers of the poison of heresy even after their baptism, as in Spain after the expulsion; the refusal, at the beginning of the Emancipation, to grant Jews equal rights because they were a nation within the nation, an alien element; the charges levelled, after equal rights had been granted, against the cosmopolitan Jews for their debilitating and perverting influence on the nation, its religion, tradition and national spirit; the propaganda of the Christian Social Party in Germany and Austria against the threat of Jewish infiltration into key positions in public life, and the disproportionate Jewish share of the national capital; the agitation about Jews controlling the stock exchange and corrupting officials and politicians during the great financial-parliamentary scandals in France, for instance, the Panama scandal-all these manifestations can still be regarded as gentile ‘defence’ reflexes.
It may be argued that this latter-day notion of the Jew as the embodiment of evil in the Manichean sense was only a new version of an ancient motif, belief in the Devil or in witchcraft. In both cases there appears the fear of an omnipotent and omnipresent power, a master of cunning impossible to locate but whose hand is felt in everything. I however am inclined to place emphasis on the explicitly modern character of these Manichean ideas, which led to the Jews being stamped as a hopeless evil that must be exterminated and caused the revulsion against killing to dissolve.
As a result of the vast structural and spiritual changes in European society after the French Revolution, the Jews became the target and the victims of a sort of neo-Manicheism from both flanks, the Right and the Left. Despite the individualism, the pluralism, and mobility that characterize modern society, it has become, both in theory and in practice a single, cohesive, interconnected entity containing many elements. Its blood circulates throughout the body without skipping a single part. Not as in the old society, poor in means of communication, where individuals and groups, social classes and entire regions were able to maintain a largely independent and separate existence, with the king as the principal symbol and embodiment of national unity.
It is not by chance that counter-revolutionary romantic ideology, especially in Germany, echoed the famous slogan, ‘La République, une et indivisible,’ with the philosophy of an organic state or society, which despite the ancient label of Standestaat (corporate state) was wholly dissimilar to the class society of the Middle Ages.
With the increasing consolidation and unification of society the idea took hold that there is a factor of one kind that secures society’s health, vigour, prosperity, harmony and justice, while some other single factor works as a poison to distort, corrupt and dissolve the bonds of society. There were those who, frightened by the vertiginous changes, and outraged by what they regarded as the putrescent consuming society, kept their eyes fixed on some idealized image of the past. Others brought up in an ardent faith in progress and in humanity’s destined achievement of a free, harmonious and just society, were gripped by an impatient and exasperated hatred of that power which stood in the way and impeded the leap from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from bondage to freedom.
The 18th century philosophers, such as Voltaire and Diderot, had placed the responsibility for this on intolerance, superstition and the priests; the Jacobins warmed against aristocrats and their fellow-travellers; socialists denounced the bourgeoisie and capitalism; but for the champions of the idealized past, it was the French Jacobin Revolution which spawned the heresies of atheism, materialism, rebellion and anarchy eating away at society and corrupting it.
What characterizes such patterns of thought is the concept of abstract powers, ideas, desires, interests and processes being embodied in entire groups of people, and the condemnation of these groups as guilty, sinful and conspiratorial merely because they exist. In other words, there are entire classes of people whose very existence is objectively a crime and who must therefore be cut out of society’s body like a diseased limb. The question of individual guilt or responsibility, of the subjective good character of the individual is irrelevant—it is neither here nor there.
An extreme manifestation of this type of thinking was the indiscriminate ‘absolute terror’ of the anarchists of the late 19th century, who not only shed the blood of kings, presidents and ministers and their families, but spread death in theatres, concert halls and other places of entertainment and out in the crowded streets. Their contention was that the whole of society was guilty and rotten; that all were accomplices in the evil and responsible for the reign of overweening pride meriting punishment by death or by suffering pain at the deaths of their children, their brothers and their relatives, because none of them showed mercy for the suffering of the innocent who had been struck down by fate or damned by God.
Throughout the 19th century we hear ominous sounds such as these heralding trouble for the Jews. They are heard both from the Left and from the Right. The Fourierist socialist Toussenel writes a complete book entitled ‘Juifs, rois de lepoque’ (Jews, the Kings of Our Time). Karl Marx produces in two separate pamphlets, his far better known —and far more shocking — definition of the Jews, variously, as the embodiment of the rule of Mammon; the bearers of the ‘cash nexus’; the bedrock of the entire capitalist system; and finally, the fount of the poison that consumes money-mad bourgeois society, which has regard only for price and cares nothing for value. The liberation of mankind is liberation from the Jews. Similarly, the German guardians of the traditional German virtues—resourcefulness, fidelity and honesty — identify the egoistic and rapacious laissez faire doctrines of the Manchester School with the Jews.
Germany’s solid national distinctiveness disintegrates increasingly under the impact of Jewish ideas, imported from France — cosmopolitan ideas about the unity of mankind, an eternal natural law, the rights of the individual, the equality of all men and popular sovereignty. This is what the German Romantics were arguing at the beginning of the 19th century. At its end the French anti-Semite Charles Maurras will be exclaiming bitterly that the viruses of Protestantism and Kantian philosophy were imported to France from Germany by the Jews in their attempt to break down the instinctive and traditional resistance of Catholic France to the infiltration of the alien Jewish element. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the racist prophet and Hitler's mentor, was to call the 19th century ‘the century of the Jews’. I have had occasion to quote the breathtaking prediction of Friedrich Nietzsche whose own attitude to the Jews was highly ambivalent, but whose hatred for anti-Semitic vulgarity is beyond doubt. This prediction was not motivated by anti-Jewish intention. The Jews of Europe had reached their Rubicon, and the 20th century will decide their fate, for ‘either they will become masters of Europe or they will lose it’, proclaims Nietzsche.
‘I have never yet met a German who was favourably inclined to the Jews,’ wrote Nietzsche elsewhere, ‘and however decided the repudiation of actual anti-Semitism may be on the part of all prudent and political men, this prudence and policy is not perhaps directed against the nature of the sentiment itself, but only against its dangerous excess, and especially against the distasteful and infamous expression of this excess of sentiment — on this point we must not deceive ourselves. That Germany has amply sufficient Jews, that the German stomach, the German blood, has difficulty (and will long have difficulty) in disposing only of this quantity of “Jew” — as the Italian, the Frenchman, and the Englishman have done by means of a stronger digestion — that is the unmistakable declaration and language of a general instinct, to which one must listen and according to which one must act. Let no more Jews come in! And shut the door especially towards the East and towards Austria): Thus commands the instinct of a people whose nature is still feeble and uncertain, so that it could be easily wiped out, easily extinguished, by a stronger race.
‘The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe; they know how to succeed even under the worst conditions (in fact better than under favourable ones), by means of virtues of some sort, which one would like nowadays to label as vices — owing above all to a resolute faith which does not need to be ashamed before “modern ideas”… It is certain that the Jews, if they desired — or if they were driven to it, as anti-Semites seem to wish — could now have the ascendency, nay, literally the supremacy, over Europe.’
In the light of what the future held in store, it is a shock to read Nietzsche’s expressed desire for a fusion of the Jews with the Prussian nobility to create a new ruling caste for Europe.
‘That they are not working and planning for that end is equally certain,’ he admitted. ‘Meanwhile, they rather wish and desire, even somewhat importunely, to be insorbed and absorbed by Europe; they long to be finally settled, authorized, and respected somewhere, and wish to put an end to the nomadic life, to the “wandering Jew”; and one should certainly take account of this impulse and tendency, and make advances to it (it possibly betokens a mitigation of the Jewish instincts); for which purpose it would perhaps be useful and fair to banish the anti-Semitic bawlers out of the country.
‘One should make advances with all prudence, and with selection, pretty much as the English nobility do. It stands to reason that the more powerful and strongly marked types of new Germanism could enter into relation with the Jews with the least hesitation, for instance, the nobleman officer from the Prussian border: it would be interesting in many ways to see whether the genius for money and patience (and especially some intellect and intellectuality — sadly lacking in the place referred to) could not in addition be annexed and trained to the hereditary art of commanding and obeying—for both of which the country in question has now a classic reputation. But here it is expedient to break off my festal discourse and my sprightly Teutonomania: for I have already reached my serious topic, the “European problem” as I understand it, the rearing of a new ruling caste for Europe.’
Writing in a vicious tone reeking of hatred and patrician disdain, Nietzsche’s older friend and colleague, the Swiss historian, Jacob Burckhardt, had even earlier uttered dark threats against the Jews. The nations of Europe, he declared would no longer tolerate Jewish interference in their affairs and one night there would arise a storm which would rob the Jews of all their conquests: their control of the press, their domination of the judicial system, and so on.
At about the same time, the Frenchman, Drumont, preached a solution of France’s social problem at the expense of the Jews by the confiscation of the wealth which he alleged to be derived from exploitation, robbery and usurpation that had given rise to the social problem in the first place. This retribution would not only provide compensation for past injustice; it would also make Jewish property available for distribution among the French victims of Jewish exploitation and for financing national investments, public works and a system of social reform.
It could of course be argued that all this talk — along with the blood-thirsty sermons of such German Jew-haters of the time such as Marr, who coined the word ‘anti-Semitism’ and Dühring, the influential pseudo-socialist philosopher who provoked Engels to write his famous ‘Anti-Dühring’ — was still nothing but empty rhetoric and propaganda however vicious and vitriolic. It is one thing to say that the Jews were fated to play a despicable, harmful, even disastrous role in society. It is quite another thing to advocate a doctrine of racial determinism which seeks to settle the fate and destiny of nations from the beginning to the end of time, and legitimizes bloodshed and the taking of life.
Some of this was, however, advocated by — of all people — the populist socialists, Proudhon and Bakunin. In their teachings they went beyond the basic premises of rationality which deny any collective biological determinism and acknowledge the supremacy of reason, and the power of education and social engineering. They proceeded to a glorification of the existential situation, primary instincts, historical roots and the like, though not, in terms, the purity of blood.
Proudhon jotted down some notes on the subject:
‘The Jews: Write an article against this race which poisons everything by butting in everywhere without linking up with any nation; demand their expulsion from France, except for Jews married to Frenchwomen; liquidate the synagogues; deny them any kind of employment, work for the abolition of their religious practices. Not for nothing did the Christians call them God-killers. The Jew is the enemy of mankind, this race must be sent back to Asia or else be exterminated… whether by fire or by assimilation or by expulsion, the Jew must disappear… the older ones who cannot bear any more children may still be tolerated. There is a task before me.. What the Middle Ages loathed by instinct, I loathe upon reflection and irrevocably.’
Darwinism brought down one of the strongest barriers protecting ‘thou shalt not kill’. For this reason alone, its great diffusion and enormous influence make it a turning point in the history of mankind. Darwinism deprived man of his uniqueness in the order of creation. Man was no longer created by God; he did not emerge from the womb of nature ex nihilo, a final and completed product with a soul that elevates him above other creatures, all creation his footstool. Man no longer enjoyed a direct and special relation with his all-merciful heavenly Father, who spreads the canopy of His peace over man and accompanies him in all his ways, provides him with sustenance, sees into his heart, rewards him for keeping His Commandments, punishes the sinners or visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children.
Not any longer. Nature, it turns out, is not benevolent, it does not take care of everyone, and most important, it does not take care of the crown of creation, man himself. There is no Providence to look after man; nor can one speak of Nature as having been planned by a Creator or by some cosmic intelligence. The universe was not wrought by God, nor is it the handiwork of abstract reason. There is no order in the universe, no plan, no harmony, that could prove the concern of a Creator. Rather, it is characterized by confusion and contradiction, by waste and antagonism and by the struggle of all against all.
Such ordered harmony as does strike the eye and provoke wonder and gratitude — because it seems to indicate the possibility of progress and harmony — is in fact only the product of a struggle for existence, paid for in blood, pain, and suffering. There is no end to this desperate struggle in which the strong, the fit and the talented rule the roost, while the weak, the botched, the unfit and the inefficient bow themselves out or else become the tools of those with greater vitality, and the instruments of their will. The notion of the sanctity of life therefore has no meaning. The whole earth, man’s battleground, is strewn with the corpses of creatures that have been obliterated because they could not adapt to or resist their betters.
Now, if mankind is not distinctive, it becomes difficult to speak of the unity of mankind. If there is no soul, then there is no reason either, for reason is the only quality that distinguishes man from the rest of the animal kingdom. Reason is but one of the tools evolved in the course of the struggle for existence, a particular expression of animal vitality.
It also becomes impossible to acknowledge objective morality, for the only purpose of morality is to safeguard existence by cementing the unity of the race in its struggle against rivals and enemies. In a Nature ‘red in tooth and claw’, the sanctity of life is a contradiction in terms. Not only are the weak doomed to die, but the progress of the universe virtually demands their extinction or extermination, so that the fittest shall survive to employ the power that Nature has given them for the conquest of Nature.
We know full well the moral boost Darwinism gave the ‘robber barons’ in the United States during the early ‘storm and stress’ period of rampaging American capitalism — a time when ‘jungle’ was the only word for relations between workers and employers. And we know the rationalization Darwinism provided for imperialism — nay, more, it was a hymn of praise —in its heyday at the end of the last century, especially for the Anglo-American variety. Although one cannot equate Darwinism with racist theory, it would be impossible to imagine racism without Darwin. And I am speaking here not of an indirect affinity but of a direct connection.
In the ‘Descent of Man’ Darwin writes: ‘With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to smallpox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.
‘No one who has attended to the breeding of animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man… Care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.’
Darwin states this more explicitly in a letter of July 3, 1881, where he writes: ‘Looking at the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.’
The idea of natural selection brought Darwin to an elitist and authoritarian view of society and the state. Thus, in his Origin of Species he writes: ‘I regard pure democracy as visionary as a country peopled by one invariable species. This with me is no question of what is good or bad, but of what must ever be, and I do hold that a government must always eventually get into the hands of an individual, or a family, or a class, or there is no truth in natural selection.
The doctrine of racism, especially its German version, represents a fusion of German Romanticism and the science of biology, mainly in its Darwinist form. Neither Herder, who coined the virtually untranslatable expression Eigentiimlichkeit, nor the other German thinkers who spread the idea of Volkgeist, had at first any intention of going beyond the realms of language, literature, religion, aesthetics, folklore or historical research. However, even during the Napoleonic period, the cult of exclusive German identity, personified in the ancient German hero Arminius, who rebelled against cosmopolitan Rome, spilled over into the domain of political ideas and the relations between nations.
Before long, there sprang up a whole school of thought — led by the jurist Savigny — which repudiated the idea of a natural law based on universal human reason and moral perception. In its place, this ‘historical’ school posited the laws of nations against a background of natural and geographical factors, national character, specific traditions, Volkgeist, local customs and ancient myths. In short, a complete Weltanschauung was formulated on the basis of the rejection of the unity of mankind in so far as such unity is founded on universal reason, morality and law.
The racist doctrine constituted a spurious scientific systemization of these theories, and they paved the way for Auschwitz. Blood, the biological prerequisite of our existence, became a substance which determines every aspect and manifestation of personality, from the structure of the skull to the minutest results of scientific research and the finest nuances of artistic expression, to say nothing of emotional predilections, character traits and patterns of behaviour.
This implies that society — the community, the race or the tribe — possesses an immeasurably higher degree of reality than the individual, who has no existence apart from — nor any prospect of escaping — this all-determining, all-embracing reality. Thus scientism reaches back into the dark recesses of the most distant past and, in the case of Richard Wagner, is invested with the hypnotic halo of spellbinding religious symbolism.
Ancient legends, myths and symbols are like hieroglyphs, whose decipherment lays bare the primordial life of the soul, mode of existence and pattern of conduct. Monumental in their pristine simplicity, they assert themselves continuously anew, in one variation or another.
These primeval patterns, which spell the integrity of the soul and the immediacy, the intensity of original experience, must be protected against the pernicious intrusion of bad alien blood, against the analytical intellectualism that disrupts, debilitates, distorts and destroys original, intuitive and instinctive truth.
This primordial purity, integrity, rootedness and uniqueness fed on the apocalyptic fears that were widespread at the end of the 19th century, and found its own expression in the obsessive interest in the mystery of the decline of civilizations, the downfall of empires such as ancient Rome, and eclipse of great powers and the death of nations.
The mystery seemed to have been resolved, however. It was the result of the admixture of alien blood which helped to weaken the authentic instinct of survival and undermine the sense of pre-intellectual assurance.
And who is the alien but the Jew, who lies in wait for the nations of Europe, at once an outsider and an insider, foreign and familiar, preaching a system of universal values — the primacy of abstract reason, of a pure, universal morality and of the unity of mankind — and scorning the voice of the blood and of primordial instincts.
He himself, meanwhile, manifests an impregnable racial distinctiveness. A rationalist cosmopolitan, he clings to his exclusive heritage and preserves the purity of his own race. Though he may marry off his daughter to princes and counts so as to corrupt their blood, he remains for ever a nation apart, although he is dispersed among the nations.
All history, to be exact, is but a series of incessant conflicts between the races, the chronicle of the rise and fall of racial entities imbued with their own authentic ideas and principles of survival. It is not the mode of production, but rather changes in the composition of human blood, that provide the motive force of history. And wars are waged not over universal truth, equal justice or abstract ideas, but for self-assertion through the accumulation of power, the demonstration of power, the exercise of power, the deployment of power.
Was this cult of power and vitality a revolutionary innovation? In some measure, it is true, this has been the way of the world from time immemorial. The way of the world, perhaps, but not its conviction — the kind of conviction one would be prepared to express in public, or even to oneself, without feeling uncomfortable, without any pricks of conscience. For beside-or, rather, against — the primordial urge, had stood the system of Judeo-Christian ethics, preaching humility, meekness, reciprocity, love of man, regard for others, abstinence, asceticism, the need for truth, the claims of justice and the virtue of equality.
Then came Nietzsche, the mad apostle of naked and unvarnished truth, and proceeded to rip off all the veils of schizophrenia, hypocrisy, deceit and self-hatred that beset the dichotomy between the pagan heritage on the one side and Jewish ethics on the other, and to expose the unbridgeable gulf which separates Rome and Jerusalem.
Nietzsche hailed the Will to Power as the primary, authentic and noble urge, and condemned the ethic of asceticism as an invention of weaklings, a conspiracy of misfits and a bit of priestly chicanery designed to emasculate the strong, foster their feelings of guilt, arrest their native powers and defeat them by guile and trickery.
The Jews, according to Nietzsche, are that nation of priests that sired slave morality. All that has been done against the ‘aristocrats’, the ‘tyrants’, the ‘Masters’, the ‘mighty’ is nothing in comparison to what the Jews did to them. The Jews avenged themselves on their victorious enemies by radically inverting all their values, a most spiritual act of vengeance.
‘Yet the method was only appropriate to a nation of priests. to a nation of the most jealously nursed priestly vengefulness. It was the Jews who in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good-aristocratic-beautiful-happy-loved by the gods), dared with frightening consistency to suggest the contrary equation, and indeed to maintain with the furious hatred of the underprivileged (the hatred of impotence) this contrary equation, namely that the wretched alone are the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the ugly are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them alone is salvation.
‘But you, on the other hand, you aristocrats, you men of power, you are to all eternity the evil, the horrible, the covetous, the insatiate, the godless; eternally also shall you be the unblessed, the cursed, the damned! We know who has fallen heir to this Jewish inversion of values. In the context of the monstrous and inordinately fateful initiative which the Jews have exhibited in connection with this most fundamental of all declarations of war, I remember the passage which came to my pen on another occasion — that it was, in fact, with the Jews that the revolt of the slaves begins in the sphere of morals; that revolt which has behind it a history of two millennia, and which we have lost sight of today simply because it has triumphed so completely.’
The heirs to and followers of the Jewish legacy are the Christians, the French revolutionaries, the liberals, the democrats, the socialists — indeed, every movement of social rebellion and liberation throughout history. The war between Rome and Jerusalem has been going on for 2,000 years. But now at last, says Nietzsche, the war is reaching a stage of ultimate confrontation.
‘Which of them has been temporarily victorious, Rome or Judea? There is no shadow of doubt. Just consider to whom in Rome itself you nowadays bow down, as though before the quintessence of all the highest values. And not only in Rome, but over almost half the world, everywhere where man has been tamed or is about to be tamed — to three Jews, as we know, and one Jewess (to Jesus of Nazareth, to Peter the fisherman, to Paul the tentmaker, and to the mother of the aforesaid Jesus, named Mary). This is very remarkable: Rome is undoubtedly defeated. At any rate there took place in the Renaissance a brilliantly sinister revival of the classical ideal, of the aristocratic valuation of all things. Rome herself, like a man waking up from a trance, stirred beneath the burden of the new Judaized Rome that had been built over her, which presented the appearance of an ecumenical synagogue and was called the church!
‘But immediately Judea triumphed again, thanks to that fundamentally popular (German and English) movement of revenge, which is called the Reformation, and taking into account its inevitable corollary, the restoration of the Church — the restoration also of the ancient graveyard peace of classical Rome, Judea proved yet once more victorious over the classical idea in the French Revolution, and in a sense which was even more crucial and even more profound. The last political aristocracy that existed in Europe, that of the French 17th and 18th centuries, broke into pieces beneath the instincts of a resentful populace — never had the world heard a greater jubilation, a more uproarious enthusiasm.
‘Indeed, there took place in the midst of it the most monstrous and unexpected phenomenon; the ancient ideal itself swept before the eyes and conscience of humanity with all its life and with unheard-of splendour. And in opposition to resentment’s lying war-cry of the prerogative of the most, in opposition to the will to lowliness, abasement, and equalization, the will to a retrogression and twilight of humanity, there rang out once again, stronger, simpler, more penetrating than ever, the terrible and enchanting counter-war-cry of the prerogative of the few! Like a final signpost to other ways there appeared Napoleon, the most unique and violent anachronism that ever existed, and in him the incarnate problem of the aristocratic ideal itself — consider well what a problem it is: Napoleon, that synthesis of Monster and Superman.’
The issue could not have been more clearly stated. On one side, there is the idea that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed with equal rights and proper universal reason. On the other side, and as a direct consequence of the denial of these same truths, there is the doctrine which claims that life in this world is worthless and meaningless except in so far as it consists in the self-realization of the elite of the strong and the powerful — a workshop for superior specimens who employ the common people as mere slavish instruments of their own will.
All religions and movements originating in Judaism have drawn their inspiration from the Messianic vision — a vision of ultimate universal reconciliation when all shall become one true community, when nation shall not lift up sword against nation and when justice shall rule the world.
Nietzsche, however, rejects this vision with angry contempt; to his mind, it is nothing but a consolation for the meek and the cowardly - the virus of infirmity and helplessness. Instead, he conjures up the vision of an eternal war that fortifies the strong, assures natural selection, and advances the select few. Racist theoreticians hastened to avail themselves of this gift of this convention-demolishing philosopher; champions of elitist inequality found in it ample support for the cult of personality.
‘The universal degeneracy of mankind,’ writes Nietzsche, ‘to the level of the “man of the future” — as idealized by the socialistic fools and shallow-pates — this degeneracy and dwarfing of man to an absolutely gregarious animal (or as they call it, to a man of “free society”), this brutalizing of man into a pigmy with equal rights and claims, is undoubtedly possible! He who has thought out this possibility to its ultimate conclusion knows another loathing unknown to the rest of mankind — and perhaps also a new mission!’ In other words, a war of annihilation against socialist egalitarianism.
All these trends of thought combined to remove the remaining barriers around the commandment, ‘thou shalt not kill’. The racist doctrine forbade contact with any Jews as the carriers of a deadly poison — going as far as Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s ban on the reading of any literature written by Jews. It closed for Jews all avenues of escape from collective determinism, and assigned a cosmic dimension and a crucial metaphysical and historical significance to the confrontation — nay, the unbridgeable Manichean antagonism — between Jewry and the world, i.e. the Aryan race.
If one assumes that the distinctiveness and the cohesion of a race provide the vital impulse of its culture, then it follows that the anti-race characteristics of the Jews, as well as their cunning and their materialism, must devitalize the primal instinct of race by means of an abstract intellectualism that sows doubts, saps self-assurance and desecrates hallowed symbols. This it does with the help of an egotistic individualism that disrupts social unity, with the help of a pacifism that puts the warriors’ vigilance to sleep, and through the manipulation of capitalism and socialism — both of them cosmopolitan forces that split the nation up into embattled factions.
Anti-Semitism was elevated to the rank of a substitute for or, more exactly, an antidote to, scientific socialism. Jewish financial capitalism became the exploiting class; blood replaced the modes of production as the key to history; the struggle over the seizure of power by the Jews took the place of class warfare; and liberation from the Jewish yoke was presented as the victory of a classless, nationalist society — a covenant of brothers.
When one of his disciples objected that anti-Semitism did not amount to a political programme, Charles Maurras replied:
‘One of these days it will be shown that, on the contrary, it is as a function of the anti-Semitic programme that all the rest of nationalist and monarchist programmes will be able to pass from conception to execution.’
Similarly Hitler was to declare:
‘We are confronted with a (Jewish) question, without the solution of which all the efforts to awaken Germany and bring it back to life shall be in vain… This is a vital question for entire mankind since the fate of all non-Jewish peoples depends on its solution.’
The great role played by Jewish Marxists in the reinterpretation of the socialist canon — by tying up the success of revolutionary socialism with the looming confrontation between world imperialism and the world proletariat, especially in the nationally oppressed and socially exploited colonial countries — was seized upon by Hitler, following the Bolshevik revolution and the establishment of the Comintern, as positive proof of a global, satanic conspiracy to destroy the native national elites and thus to bring about the ruin of all gentile peoples. This, he claimed, had been the traditional Jewish strategy ‘from Moses to Lenin’, finding its expression both in the ancient prophets of Israel, and in the new Jewish revolutionaries who incited the rabble against the elites, and provoked the inferior races to war against the superior races — all to insure world dominion for the Jews, as is written in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’
Cosmological lucubrations, nightmarish visions, provocative and inflammatory rhetoric — all these combined to remove ancient inhibitions, to break down existing barriers, to awaken dormant instincts and cravings. They were forged into forces of terrifying efficacy under the impact of mighty historical events: the First World War, the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil wars that followed them.
The bloody frenzy of the years 1914–18 threw humanity into a state of confusion without any precedent. First the war, then the inflation that followed it, and finally the great crisis of 1929 —which was widely regarded as the harbinger of the collapse of Western civilization — destroyed all sense of cohesion, continuity, certainty and confidence. Age-old moral constraints were swept away in the desperate rage which seized millions of people. Sacrosanct commandments and prohibitions were turned upside down by a false and distorted idealism — the violation of a precept became its fulfilment.
Defeated Germany developed the psychosis of a ‘nation under siege’ threatened by the whole world, with the Jews as the insidious agents of that world conspiracy inside Germany itself. For by spreading their liberal-cosmopolitan-pacifist propaganda, by working inside the Socialist opposition parties, by preaching defeatism, and by degrading the symbolic national myths, the Jews stuck a knife in the back of the fighting German people. No sooner has the Reich collapsed than they appear — these vultures preying on a corpse —as the new rulers and the chief spokesmen of reconciliation with the West and observance of the Versailles Treaty — in other words, of capitulation and slavery.
Even a humanist such as Thomas Mann, married to a Jewish woman, in his famous speech of reconciliation with the Democratic Republic, exhorted German youth to ‘take the wind out of the sails of the clever young Jews’ who were pushing to the head of the line. General Hans van Seeckt virtual dictator of Germany in the early days of the Weimar Republic, a conservative, aristocratic officer of the old school, would say that despite differences in background, mentality and viewpoint he was able to find a common language with Ebert, Scheidemann and Noske; but in no circumstances could he talk to the Jewish journalists of the Berliner Tageblatt and the Vossische Zeitung such as Theodor Wolff and George Berhard, for he was convinced that they never said what they thought.
Dr Friedrich Thieme, a principal assistant of Karl Legien, leader of the Socialist trade union movement in the Weimar Republic, wrote of the well-known Jewish publicist, Maximilian Harden, in the journal of the movement: ‘The German people is honour bound to reject this leper. German people, you cannot sink so low as to have any truck with this Judas Iscariot… German people, do your duty!’
Even deeper was the abhorrence felt in all strata of German society for the Jewish satirical writer, Kurt Tucholsky, who certainly went to extremes in his virulent lampoons on the national mythology, German patriotic slogans, Prussian militarism and the Teutonic mentality.
There is no stronger testimony to the consent by silence and indifference — more than that, the readiness to welcome the ‘thou shalt kill’ measures when the time comes — than the following extract from an article which appeared in 1921 in Die Neue Zeit, the official ideological organ of the German Social Democratic Party, on the penetration of ‘Ostjuden’ into Germany:
‘East German Jews are mainly a proletarian population, sunk in squalor and wretched poverty, on the lowest rung of business morality… they are unable to enter industry… they are unfit for work on the soil. The great majority of them lack any sense of order or cleanliness; their clothes are full of stains and holes, their houses are unbelievably filthy… The memory of the Jews of Eastern Europe will remain one of the most nauseating experiences in the minds of our soldiers.’
In the same spirit, a Socialist member of the Reichstag declared during a debate on smuggling offences: ‘This gang (of Jewish smugglers) does not deserve to live. These parasites... must be wiped off the face of the earth.’
And now, to quote Lord Keynes, appears a lunatic who declares that he ‘hears voices from on high’, which are in fact but the echoes of phrases he has read in the brochures of some vulgar popularizers of racist theories. But this lunatic has no longer any inhibitions whatsoever about drawing the most extreme conclusions from these theories and putting them into practice.
‘Even if there had never been a synagogue, or a Jewish school, or the Bible, the Jewish spirit would still exist and exert its influence. It has been there from the beginning, and there is no Jew, not a single one, who does not personify it.’ Thus declares Hitler in the famous dialogue with his mentor, Dietrich Eckart. There is therefore no alternative to the physical annihilation of this ‘flesh and blood’ substance.
Hitler’s angry, violent, fanaticism sweeps along the mass of the impoverished and rudderless middle-class. Put to shame by the well-to-do and the well-bred, fearful of being assimilated into the proletariat, the middle-class is left with only one single — but most cherished — asset: its German blood. The members of this class yearn for a strong hand to lead them, and at the same time they long for the power and the glory of treading on other nations.
Meanwhile, the German intelligentsia, their minds deformed by theories of mighty primordial forces gushing forth from the depths of the collective soul, are deeply stirred and prostrate themselves before this expression of elemental forces — this colossal natural phenomenon, this veritable volcano, the epitome of their hopes and aspirations, the quintessence of the Nordic spirit. As such, he is above the law, and above all moral codes; a man such as he cannot be held to account for the violation of legal rules and regulations.
And thus it came about, as Ernst Nolte has observed, that Hitler was greeted in 1933 with shouts of joy by Germany’s leading philosopher, best playwright, greatest jurist and foremost composer. But long before Hitler, the Jew had become for most Germans an enemy and an outcast, and an embarrassment even for liberals and socialists.
It would be impossible to exaggerate the contribution of the Bolshevik Revolution to the collapse of moral barriers and to the process of man’s brutalization throughout the world. The Russian civil war, the GPU terror, the physical liquidation of entire social classes during collectivization and industrialization, the hideous show trials, the mass purges, the slave-labour camps, the bloody, lawless dictatorship — all these provided an example, a challenge and a licence.
After the first terrorist attempts on the lives of Lenin and the two Jews, Uritski and Volodarski — incidentally, at the hands of Jews — Zinoviev, also a Jew, and then at the peak of his career as secretary-general of the Comintern, declared: ‘We shall liquidate not only individuals, but entire classes.’
It was Zinoviev who, in a four-hour speech at an historic congress of the German Communist Party, led the German comrades down a path that was eventually to serve as a springboard for Hitler's leap to power. Zinoviev’s humiliating and bitter end came in 1936 when, early one morning, the odious man was dragged, screaming and kicking, to his execution in a GPU cellar.
To the new nation-states of Eastern Europe, reborn after a prolonged period of subjection, the victory of Bolshevism seemed not only a danger to their feudal and capitalist classes; it was an even greater threat to their national distinctiveness and political independence — their sole possession — than their traditional enemy Czarist Russia.
The Jewish leaders of the revolutionary régime in Russia and the Jewish Communists in their own countries were identified in their eyes with the Jewish masses who inhabited their cities and towns. These they had come to regard not as God’s creatures, people who had lived among them for more than a thousand years, but as an alien growth, a vicious exploiter, a punishment from heaven. They were searching the whole time for some way of getting rid of the Jews, waiting for someone to save them from this mass of strangers blocking the road to a national and social cohesion, to genuine self-expression.
Poland’s National Democrats, for example, insisted that the most dangerous of the four Powers that had divided Poland among them was still around. It was the most dangerous precisely because it was not an army of occupation, like Russia, Germany and Austria, but was settled in Poland and could not be uprooted. Thus the Jews became the Trojan horse of the world conspiracy headed by Poland’s age-old enemy, which was now scheming to devour the infant state minutes after its rebirth.
No wonder, then, that the Polish Ambassador to Berlin, Jozef Lipski, could applaud Hitler after hearing from him of his Madagascar plan, and declare that for such a noble service — the removal of the Jews from Poland — the Polish people would raise a monument to the Fuehrer in Warsaw. No wonder, either, that at the time of Auschwitz, the Polish underground press was capable of thanking Providence for solving a most difficult problem for the Polish people in a way that nobody could have imagined previously.
But for this Polish attitude—and without the participation of Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Lettish and Bielorussian auxiliaries — the Nazi campaign of extermination could not have been carried through; nor without the systematic dehumanization of the Jews in the minds of millions of Germans.
To them, the Jew had become, as Hitler wrote to Eckart: ‘a parasitic growth over the whole earth, sometimes creeping, sometimes leaping… sucking… at first the bursting abundance, finally the dried-up sap. No people in the world, not even Attila’s race of murderers, would allow him (the Jew) to remain alive if it could suddenly see him for what he is, what he desires; screaming with horror, it would strangle him the very next instant.’
However, there were two other necessary preconditions without which the Final Solution would never have been ordered or executed. One was the war with the Soviet Union; the other, modern technology. Only in the frenzy of an Armageddon for the rich lands of the Ukraine, coveted by the rapidly expanding master race — in the mood of a crusade for the extermination of the Communist monster, personified by the Jews and other inferior races — was it possible for the ancient cry of the First Crusade to be sounded again across a gulf of eight centuries. Since one must travel thousands of miles to kill the infidel, one should start by discharging this sacred duty at home.
After the war, neo-Nazis of all types put forward the claim that the gas chambers had been merely the 20th-century version of the guillotine — a more effective, speedy and humane instrument for killing people. Although the Einsatztruppen (Extermination Squads) carried out mass murders, using machine guns and other weapons of death, it is inconceivable that they would have been able to complete the Final Solution by this method alone. It is extremely doubtful whether they would have been able to stand the psychological strain for any length of time, even though the arch-murderers, Himmler and Globocnik, kept praising the fervent idealism and steadfast loyalty of their subordinates who, wading knee-deep in rivers of blood and climbing over pyramids of corpses, persevered fearlessly with their sacred mission on behalf of the fatherland, the nation and the race.
The historian who, perhaps unconsciously, seeks to punish himself because he neither perished in Auschwitz, nor endured hunger and torture in the bunkers, nor witnessed the death agonies of his dear ones, nor froze as a partisan in the forests of Bielorussia, nor fell in action during the Warsaw ghetto revolt — such an historian buries himself for years under piles of papers and books which represent his own personal valley of the shadow of death, and asks himself: What is the meaning of history’s greatest horror within the scheme of universal history — what is its sense, its purpose, its logic?
Could the Holocaust be the conclusive proof that history moves by no law, offers no lesson, and serves no purpose? That it is merely a succession of irrational accidents, insipid banalities and gratuitous horrors? The mere inclination to accept this point of view suggests a surrender to the mentality of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. After all, they ended up where they did partly as a result of their desperate denial of a final station of redemption in history.
This heresy of theirs gave birth to the cult of power and vitality for their own sake, as a substitute for the search for truth and justice. Because they ceased to believe in eternal verities, they were ensnared by a perverted, murderous idealism which gave them absolute belief in their own superiority and in everyone else’s inferiority. This is the kind of idealism that unleashes the beast in man, and turns high-flown ideas into a mere rationalization of the urge to murder.
In parenthesis, let us not disregard the modern technocratic philosophy which finds satisfaction in a job well done, and hails the challenge of solving a scientific or technical problem, regardless of the nature of the eventual uses to which they might be put.
As Aristotle wrote in his ‘Treatise on Government’:
‘In this particular man differs from other animals, that he alone has a perception of good and evil, of just and unjust, and it is a participation of these common sentiments which forms a family and a city… for as by the completion of it man is the most excellent of all living beings, so without law and justice he would be the worst of all, for nothing is so difficult to subdue as injustice in arms: but these arms man is born with, namely, prudence and valour, which he may apply to the most opposite purposes, for he who abuses them will be the most wicked, the most cruel, the most lustful, and most gluttonous being imaginable.’
The Holocaust put an end to over a thousand years of Jewish history in Central and Eastern Europe. It solved the entire Jewish problem — a product of special historical conditions — in that region. Are we then to conclude that every diaspora is similarly doomed? I find it difficult to accept this thesis when I think of the downfall of great powers, and of the disasters that have befallen so many nations, states and cultures in the course of history.
I recall, for example, the Tartar invasion early in the 13th century, which enslaved Russia and cut it off from all contact with Europe for more than 300 years; the extinction of the entire Czech social and intellectual elite for several generations following the battle of the White Mountain in 1620; the years of the Polish ‘flood’ in the middle of the 17th century — Chmielnicki’s uprising and the Swedish invasion, which put an end to Poland’s urban culture — not to mention the period of partitions which wiped Poland off the map of Europe; the horrors of the Thirty Years War, which turned a large part of Germany into wasteland and sent entire regions back to cannibalism; the bloody history of the Armenians and the Irish, and the destruction of the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, Serbia and the other Balkan states, by the Ottoman conquerors.
True, none of these catastrophes ended in the total physical annihilation of a whole people; but it is entirely possible that this is the end that still awaits many races and nations — maybe all of them. And the Jews will then prove to have been not the last, but the first victim of this new experiment.
Some people profess to see the Holocaust as an ineluctable stage in Jewish history — the labour pains of national rebirth, so to speak, or the price of redemption. One hears this kind of interpretation from extreme nationalists as well as from certain extremely religious Jews.
This I shall never be able to understand. I shall never be able to believe in a Guardian of Israel who claims the lives of a million children as the price of national revival. One must not confuse a metaphysical and theological question with historical and empirical statements about the role of Jewish despair after Auschwitz, the guilt feelings of the Christian world, and the fluid situation at the end of the war aiding the restoration of Jewish statehood in modern Israel. There is, of course, unparalleled grandeur in the explosion of Jewish energies and the display of an inconquerable will to live on the morrow of the most horrible blood-letting and deepest degradation and wretchedness that any people has ever experienced —in the struggle for independent Jewish nationhood.
Did those million die a martyr’s death for the Sanctification of the Name? A great many of them were killed without ever having had this feeling. Did they, then, die in vain, more of the innumerable victims of man’s bestiality throughout history?
Was the Holocaust nothing but an act of degradation which can only arouse searing pain and endless horror? Or was there, perhaps, beyond the unbelievable indignity, some terrible majesty and magnificence to the Holocaust? By this I do not mean only the manifestations of heroism and courage in the Warsaw ghetto revolt and the struggle of the Jewish partisans.
Rather do I mean that in the vast perspective of history, the Holocaust assumes the grandiose dimensions of a confrontation between the two diametrically opposed world views about which Nietzsche spoke: between morality and paganism; between the sanctity of life and the cult of warfare; between the equality of all men and the supremacy of the select few; between the search for truth and the display of vitality; between the quest for justice and the discharge of instinctive impulses; between the vision of a genuine society of equals and the prospect of a society of masters lording it over slaves.
In these times of population explosion and racial struggles, when we have at our disposal all the means necessary to ensure either a Golden Age for all or destruction of all, the future of mankind seems to depend on a choice between two alternatives: either the establishment of a genuine world community, or the outbreak of Armageddon over world domination and the rule of the strong over the weak. In other words, the awesome question is, has Auschwitz become an eternal warning, or merely the first station on the road to the extermination of all races and the suicide of humanity?
It would perhaps be appropriate to conclude with Nietzsche himself. In ‘The Genealogy of Morals’ he says:
‘Let us come to a conclusion. The two opposing values, “good and bad”, “good and evil”, have fought a dreadful, thousand-year fight in the world, and though indubitably the second value has been for a long time in the preponderance, there are not wanting places where the fortune of the fight is still indecisive. It can almost be said that in the meanwhile the fight reaches a higher and higher level, and that in the meanwhile it has become more and more intense, and always more and more psychological; so that nowadays there is perhaps no more decisive mark of the higher nature, of the more psychological nature, than to be in that sense self-contradictory, and to be actually still a battleground for those two opposites.
‘The symbol of this fight, written in a writing which has remained worthy of perusal throughout the course of history up to the present time, is called “Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome.” Hitherto there has been no greater event than that fight, the putting of that question, that deadly antagonism. Rome found in the Jew the incarnation of the unnatural, as though it were its diametrically opposed monstrosity, and in Rome the Jew was held to be convicted of hatred of the whole human race, and rightly so in so far as it is right to link the wellbeing and the future of the human race to the unconditional mastery of the aristocratic values, of the Roman values.’
Nietzsche goes on to describe the long-drawn-out struggle between Judea and Rome, with its climax in the French Revolution. Hinting that the battle between the aristocratic ideal of Rome and the democratic-socialist egalitarian vision of Judea is still going on, he adds:
‘Was it therewith over? Was that greatest of all antithesis of ideals thereby relegated ad acta for all time? Or only postponed, postponed for a long time? May there not take place at some time or other a much more awful, much more carefully prepared flaring up of the old conflagration? Further! Should not one wish that consummation with all one’s strength? — Will it one’s self? Demand it one’s self? He who at this juncture begins, like my readers, to reflect, to think further, will have difficulty in coming quickly to a conclusion.’
As to himself — Nietzsche continues in his oracular style — he has ‘ground enough to come to a conclusion, taking it for granted that for some time past what I mean has been sufficiently clear, what I exactly mean by that dangerous motto which is inscribed on the body of my last book, Beyond Good and Evil (Vorspieleiner Philosphie der Zukunft) — at any rate that is not the same as “Beyond Good and Bad”.’ Nietzsche would certainly have been shocked to learn that one day he would be officially celebrated as the prophet of the Third Reich.
On the eve of his squalid suicide in the Berlin bunker Hitler still had enough spirit (or madness) in him to claim the world’s ‘eternal gratitude’ for National Socialism: ‘For having eliminated the Jews from Germany and Central Europe... who wanted war and engineered it.’
Terrible and bloody are the ironies of History.