Passage #1: “A Process of Disinfection”
“National Socialism has tackled the Jewish problem by action and not by words. It has risen in opposition to the Jewish determination to dominate the world; it has attacked them everywhere and in every sphere of activity; it has flung them out of the positions they have usurped; it has pursued them in every direction, determined to purge the German world of the Jewish poison. For us, this has been an essential process of disinfection, which we have prosecuted to its ultimate limit and without which we should ourselves have been asphyxiated and destroyed.”
Passage #2: “A Life and Death Struggle”
“With the success of the operation in Germany, there was a good chance of extending it further afield. This was, in fact, inevitable, for good health normally triumphs over disease. Quick to realize the danger, the Jews decided to stake their all in the life and death struggle which they launched against us. National Socialism had to be destroyed, whatever the cost and even if the whole world were destroyed in the process.”
Passage # 3 “We Have Lanced the Jewish Abscess”
“On the eve of war, I gave the Jews one final warning. I told them that, if they precipitated another war, they would not be spared and that I would exterminate the vermin throughout Europe, and this time once and for all. Well, we have lanced the Jewish abscess; and the world of the future will be eternally grateful to us.”
Nazism as a Collective Fantasy
One might say that the Nazis lived within a paranoid fantasy, or were deluded. Alternatively, one could argue that Nazi ideas and actions represented a form of “enemy creation”—an extreme case of politics as usual.
However one characterizes Nazism, the important task is to understand the meaning—for Hitler, and for the people who embraced it—of the source ideology that led to monumental suffering, death and destruction. I view Nazism from the perspective of a fantasy that was conveyed and promoted by Hitler, and that came to be espoused by many Germans.
Lee Harris writes (2002):
What happens when it is not an individual who is caught up in his fantasy world, but an entire group — a sect, or a people, or even a nation? There is no doubt that for most of history such large-scale collective fantasies appear on the world stage under the guise of religion. With the French Revolution there would be eruptions of a new kind of collective fantasy in which political ideology replaced religious mythology. In this way it provided a new, and quite dangerous, outlet for the fantasy needs of large groups of men and women — a full-fledged fantasy ideology.
Nazi ideology was a collective fantasy. What were the nature, structure and shape of those fantasies that—projected into the world—came to define Nazi ideology?
What was the meaning of Hitler’s ideology—for Hitler himself, other Nazis and the German people? How are we to account for the appeal of Hitler’s ideas?
Robert Pois (1986) says that Hitler was the most popular political leader of the 20th century. Why were the Germans so excited when Hitler spoke? What did he say that caused people to rise to their feet and scream, “Heil Hitler”?
Extermination as the Fulfillment of Hitler’s Dream
People evoke “anti-Semitism” as if this is an explanation. However, as Hannah Arendt remarked, “Anti-Semitism explains everything and therefore nothing.” The question is: Why were anti-Semitic ideas so profoundly meaningful to Hitler and for many other Germans? What role did “the Jew” play within the discourse of nationalism that Hitler promoted? What did the Jew symbolize within Hitler’s psychic economy?
In Hitler’s Ideology (1975) and Nations Have the Right to Kill (2009), I show how Hitler’s ideas were enacted in genocide and warfare. In this essay, I turn to an analysis of the “endgame”: Hitler’s thoughts as the Second World War began to wind down. The passages on the right are taken from The Political Testament of Adolf Hitler, recorded by Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann during the period of February-April 1945. This document crystalizes many elements of Hitler’s thought. Did Hitler change his mind about anything at the end—when it was clear that the war was lost? Apparently not.
Passage #1 may be read as a summation of Hitler’s “life work.” He states that National Socialism had tackled the Jewish problem “by action and not by words.” From the start of his career, Hitler promised that he would be a different kind of politician. While ordinary politicians, as Hitler put it in Mein Kampf, “tinkered around on the national body,” he would work to attain the “ultimate clarity with regard to the nature of the disease,” and then “seriously try to cure it.”
The Final Solution represented the fulfillment of Hitler’s dream. National Socialism had risen “in opposition to the Jewish determination to dominate the world,” had attacked Jews “everywhere in every sphere of activity,” had “flung them out of the positions they had usurped” and had “pursued them in every direction.”
The objective of Hitler’s fantastic, fanatic project was to “purge the German world of the Jewish poison.” This was, essentially, a process of “disinfection,” which the Nazis “prosecuted to its ultimate limit.” Had the Nazis not undertaken this project, Germans would have been “asphyxiated and destroyed.”
Either Germany will destroy the Jews, or the Jews will destroy Germany
The Final Solution was not a carefully considered project of ethnic cleansing. Rather, in Hitler’s mind, he was engaged in an existential struggle of “life against death.” Early in his career, Hitler said: “Either this racial poison, the mass tuberculosis, grows in our people, and Germany dies of an infected lung, or it is eliminated, and Germany can then thrive.” Hitler maintained this “either-or” position to the end: Either Jews would be destroyed, and Germany would survive; or the Jew would triumph, and Germany would be destroyed.
According to Hitler’s fantasy, Germany could survive only if every single Jew in the world was destroyed. We imagine that Hitler strove to “conquer the world.” Yet in 40 years of studying Hitler’s writings and speeches, I have never come across “conquer” or “conquest”. In Hitler’s imagination, Germany was the weak, oppressed party—with Jews the omnipotent oppressor.
Repeatedly, Hitler speaks of the Second World War as a “life and death struggle.” He states that the German people were faced with a “struggle for their existence or their annihilation.” The question was whether Germany had the “will to remain in existence,” or would be destroyed. Yet even if Germany were defeated, the Second World War, Hitler claimed, would go down in history as the “most glorious and heroic manifestation of the struggle for existence of a nation.”
What one sees or perceives does not necessarily convey reality (the sun does not revolve around the earth). Whatever the Second World War looks like to the outside observer, this is not what it felt like in Hitler’s mind. He was possessed by a paranoid fantasy: Jews sought to dominate the world, to destroy Germany and Western civilization. This fantasy was the source of the reality that Hitler brought into being.
“Diseased Bacilli have their Breeding Ground in Russia”
Passage #2 reveals—again—the dialectic between paranoia on the one hand, and aggression on the other. Hitler states that with the “success of the operation in Germany,” there was a good chance of “extending it further afield.” Hitler appears to be saying that—having rid Germany of its Jews—he now sought to expand his accomplishment by seeking out and killing Jews in Poland and Eastern Europe. This extension of the killing was inevitable because “good health normally triumphs over disease.”
In Hitler’s Ideology, I found that Hitler’s fantasy revolved around the idea of Germany as an organism, and the Jew as a virus or bacillus that was the source of the nation’s disease. Robert J. Lifton’s book, The Nazi Doctors (1986) extended this hypothesis, providing evidence that the fantasy driving Hitler’s thinking drove that of other Nazis as well.
Lifton spent several years interviewing 29 men who had been significantly involved at high levels with Nazi medicine, reconstructing the deep-structure of Nazi ideology. The central fantasy he uncovered was that of the German nation as an organism that could succumb to an illness.
Lifton cites Dr. Johann S., who spoke about being “doctor to the Volkskorper” (“national body” or “people’s body”). National Socialism, Dr. Johann S. said, was a movement rather than a party, constantly growing and changing according to the “health” requirements of the people’s body. “Just as a body may succumb to illness,” the doctor declared, so “the Volkskorper could do the same.”
When Lifton asked another doctor, Fritz Klein, how he could reconcile the concentration camps with his Hippocratic Oath to save lives, he replied, “Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life. And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.”
Lifton mentioned this phrase “gangrenous appendix” to another Nazi, Dr. B., who quickly answered that his overall feeling—and that of other Nazi doctors—was that “whether you want to call it an appendix or not, it must be extirpated” (ausgerottet, meaning also “exterminated”, “destroyed”, or “eradicated”).”
Perhaps Hitler waged war against the Soviet Union for the same reason that he authorized the killing of mental patients and initiated the Final Solution. In the name of the German people’s “health,” he sought to destroy “inferior races” that were the carriers of disease. He sought to prevent the inundation of “disease bacilli which at the moment have their breeding ground in Russia” (see Hilgruber, 1981).
Hitler as Robert Koch: Genocide as Immunology
On the evening of July 10, 1941 (several weeks after Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, which occurred on June 22), Hitler declared at his table (see Hitler’s Table Talks: 1941-1944):
I feel I am like Robert Koch in politics. He discovered the bacillus and thereby ushered medical science onto new paths. I discovered the Jew as the bacillus and the fermenting agent of all social decomposition.
On February 22, 1942, the following statement was recorded:
This is one of the greatest revolutions there has ever been in the world. The Jew will be identified! The same fight that Pasteur and Koch had to fight must be led by us today. Innumerable sicknesses have their origin in one bacillus: the Jew! We will get well when we eliminate the Jew.
So there it is: Hitler conceived of warfare within the framework of medicine (see my online publication “Genocide as Immunology”): as a researcher or doctor who had discovered the source of Germany’s suffering—the “Jewish bacillus”—and who was determined to destroy it.
Operation Barbarossa, Andre Mineau says (2012), was the ultimate fulfillment of the Nazi ideology of health, a “large-scale and multifaceted sanitary operation in the sick and evil world of Untermenschen.” Barbarossa was the Nazis’ attempt at “eliminating threats and sources of disease, the most lethal one being Jewry.” Confronted with the pervasiveness of biological evil, Nazism was the “politics of hypochondria.”
Curing the Disease: “The World will be Eternally Grateful”
Returning to Passage #2: Hitler states that he sought to destroy the Jewish bacillus in the name of “good health”—which normally triumphs over disease. However, when the Jews realized what he was up to (“realized the danger”), they decided to “stake their all in the life and death struggle which they launched against us.” When the Jews understood he aspired to kill them (in the name of good health), they then began the Second World War: the Jews were determined to destroy National Socialism “whatever the cost and even if the whole world were destroyed in the process.”
We’ve noted that early in his career Hitler insisted that it was insufficient for politicians to “doctor around on the circumference of the distress” without acting to “lance the cancerous ulcer.” On February 4, 1945, when it was clear that Germany had lost the war, Hitler declared (see Passage #3) that National Socialism had “lanced the Jewish abscess,” and that the world of the future would be “eternally grateful to us.”
Hitler remained “true to himself” from the beginning of his political career to its conclusion. His main objective—the basis of everything he did—was to cure the disease from which he believed his nation was suffering so that “Germany would live.” The cause of Germany’s disease, according to Hitler, was the Jewish bacteria or virus or cancer or parasite.
Reading Passage #3, it feels again that we are in the domain of psychosis, a step beyond delusion or paranoid fantasy: Hitler’s belief that the world would be “eternally grateful” for the Nazis’ operation of mass murder; and his conception of the killing of millions of people as “lancing an abscess.”
Even in the face of this evidence—the truth—one has a tendency to declare, “I don’t believe it.” Well, it’s hard to believe that there are billions of galaxies in the universe, each with billions of stars.