Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Origins of Mass-Murder in Germany

Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life: Its Measure and Form By Karl Binding (Author), Alfred Hoche (Author), Cristina Modak (Translator)Publisher: Suzeteo Enterprises
Format: Paperback
Published: 1920
ISBN-10: 1936830507
Language: English
Pages: 120

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Many people do not realize that the Germans were methodically killing fellow Germans before they were killing Jews, gypsies, and dissidents. ‘Action T4’ was a medical program that quietly whisked disabled and mentally ill people for extermination. Germans of all ages were targeted. Hundreds of thousands received ‘treatment.’ Fewer people know that the philosophical foundations for the Nazi actions were laid many years earlier, even before the National Socialist party was created.

In a sober, academic discussion, professors Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche argued that there were ‘lives unworthy of life’ and for the good of society, and indeed, out of compassion for the worthless individuals, such people could be ethically killed. Binding and Hoche’s book was a turning point in German culture and served as a catalyst for the T4 program, which itself was a precursor to the Holocaust.

Perhaps the most significant passage in the history of the twentieth century—shaping the Holocaust and Second World War—appeared in 1920, from Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding:

Are there human lives which have so completely lost the attribute of legal status that their continuation has permanently lost all value, both for the bearer of that life and for society? Merely asking this question is enough to raise an uneasy feeling in anyone who is accustomed to assessing the value of individual life for the bearer and for the social whole.

It hurts him to see how wastefully we handle the most valuable lives (filled with and sustained by the strongest will to live and the greatest vital power), and how much labor power, patience, and capital investment we squander (often totally uselessly) just to preserve lives not worth living–until nature, often pitilessly late, removes the last possibility of their continuation.

Reflect simultaneously on a battlefield strewn with thousands of dead youths, or a mine in which methane gas has trapped hundreds of energetic workers; compare this with our mental hospitals, with their caring for their living inmates. One will be deeply shaken by the strident clash between the sacrifice of the finest flower of humanity in its full measure on the one side, and by the meticulous care shown to existences which are not just absolutely worthless but even of negative value, on the other.

This passage—quoted repeatedly by historians of Nazism—provided the ideological foundation of the “Euthanasia Program” that took hold in Germany in 1939. Two eminent academics—law Professor Alfred Hoche and psychiatrist Karl Bending— proposed that the state was justified in killing “life unworthy of life.”

The authors ask us to reflect upon a “battlefield strewn with thousands of dead youths,” and to compare this scene with “our mental hospitals with their caring for their living inmates.” Upon making this comparison, one will be “deeply shaken by the strident clash” between the sacrifice of the “finest flower of humanity,” on the one hand, and the “meticulous care” shown to existences which are “absolutely worthless,” on the other.

This passage contains the germ of a critique of the First World War. While the authors do not ask, “Why were millions of young German men slaughtered on the battlefield?” they pose the question, “Why were the best, most vital people (young German men) treated so miserably by the nation, while the least valuable people (incurable mental patients) are treated so well?”

The authors present their proposal for euthanasia—the destruction of life unworthy of life—based on a comparison of the two cases: “If the state is willing to kill its best people—healthy young men who contribute significantly to society without compunction or guilt, why should the state hesitate to take the lives of people who make no contribution, indeed are burdensome to society?”

The Nazi euthanasia movement had little or nothing to do with genetics or social Darwinism. Rather, it arose out of the incipient perception of what could not be uttered: that the state already was involved in a project of mass-murder. If the state killed its best and healthiest human beings (that presumably contributed substantially to society), why could it not also kill the worst or least healthy human beings (who were incapable of contributing to society)?

The Trauma of the First World War

Directly below are figures for German casualties in the First World War (reported by Robert Whalen, 1984).

Dead: 2,037,000
Wounded: 4,300,000
Missing or Prisoner: 974,977
TOTAL: 7,311,977

The First World War lasted from July 28, 1914, to November 11, 1918, four years, three months and 14 days—or 1567 days. This comes out to 4666 German casualties—or 1300 German soldiers killed—each day.

In the Iraq war, 2003-2012, approximately 5000 American soldiers died in ten years. An equivalent number of German soldiers died every three days during the First World War; and this number of deaths continued for over four years. It is nearly impossible to grasp this event—the quantity of slaughter—or to imagine the impact of the First World War on the German people.

The magnitude of the trauma is suggested in the following address presented at a convention in Berlin by a disabled veteran (cited in Whalen):

A gash goes through all our lives, and that gash is the war. With a brutal hand it has torn our lives in two. Everyone here experienced it differently, but everyone sensed the demonic quality of the war. It was like some elemental catastrophe, I don’t know how else to say it, which threw the entire planet into torment.

We know and feel, that the war didn’t only have external effects. It did not just change the map of the world, it changed the soul of human beings. We ourselves cannot entirely sense the enormous impact of the war on the human spirit, because we were part of it…we who have lived through this inferno can never be free from it. It has affected all our lives.

Of course, there were protests toward the end of and after the war—and Germany was on the brink of revolution. Finally, however, patriotism, nationalism—belief in one’s country—won out. Despite the havoc and destruction wreaked upon people by their own nation, it was difficult for most people to say what was true: that the German government had been responsible for killing and mutilating millions of young men.

If the Nation Can Kill Its Best Citizens, Why Can’t It Kill Its Worst?

 Adolf Hitler came to embody German patriotism or nationalism—refusing to critique Germany (and therefore to critique war). Though death had “snatched so many dear comrades and friends from our ranks,” Hitler averred in Mein Kampf, it would have been “a sin to complain” because, after all, were they not “dying for Germany”?

Because death has occurred in the name of one’s beloved nation, it is a “sin to complain.” No matter the extent of suffering that one’s nation has caused, Hitler—like many others—refuses to say that his country is destructive, or evil; to contemplate abandoning her.

Like Hitler, Hoche and Binding are unable to critique Germany directly, posing simple questions like: “Why did my nation sacrificed the finest flower of humanity?”  “Why—during the First World War—was the battlefield strewn with thousands of dead youths?” They refuse to acknowledge the destruction wrought by their nation. Rather, they perform an oblique, indirect critique by comparing the care provided for soldiers with the care provided for mental patients. Why are the most valuable lives treated so wastefully, while the state provides excellent care for lives that are worthless?

Here lay the origins of the ideology of mass murder—arising from the wreckage of the First World War. Unable to pose the question, “Why did our nation kill its healthiest or best citizens?” Hoche and Binding declared, “If our nation can kill its healthiest or best people, why can it not also kill its unhealthiest or worst people?”

Mishima’s Negative Political Theology: Dying for the Absent Emperor

About the AuthorAkio Kimura is Professor at Kitami Institute of Technology. He received an M.A. from Sophia University (Tokyo) and another M.A. and a Ph.D. from Drew University (New Jersey). He is the author of Faulkner and Oe: The Self-Critical Imagination (University Press of America, 2007), and articles on Japanese and American literature, and on genocide, including “Genocide and the Modern Mind: Intention and Structure” (Journal of Genocide Research 5.3 [2003]).Faulkner and Oe: The Self-Critical ImaginationAuthor: Akio Kimura

Publisher: U. Press of America
Format: Paperback
Published on: 2007
ISBN-10: 0761836632
Language: English
Pages: 208

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Akio Kimura expertly investigates Oe’s feminist turn in his novels in the 1980s as a criticism of this “I” as an authoritarian first-person narrator. Oe considers this concept to be a disruptive reflection of Japanese society’s established order. Oe’s response to such a disruption is the introduction of a series of metaphors utilized in order to represent Faulkner’s individualism and the subsequent deconstruction of Japanese autocracy. Drawing on Kofman, Irigaray, and Derrida, this book explores how Faulkner’s individualism inspires Oe to juxtapose the Japanese authoritarian and the Faulknerian self-critical.

A Note from the Editors at Library of Social Science:

Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) One of the most significant Japanese authors post WW II, Mishima was a novelist, playwright and film director. He wrote about Japan’s imperial past, its heroic ideals, samurai traditions and the honor of dying for one’s country. On November 25, 1970 – following a failed coup to restore the Emperor power – Mishima killed himself following the ritual of Seppuku or disembowelment performed in public.

Hirohito (1901-1989) Emperor of Japan from 1926 to 1989. There has been debate about his role during Japan military expansion from the 1930s to 1945 and about his willingness or opposition to militarist elements of his government. After 1945, Hirohito was not prosecuted for war crimes. His imperial status changed dramatically in 1946 when he renounced the traditional divine status.

Read Akio Kimura’s complete essay on our website.

Please leave your reflections and commentary below.

In Japan, Akio Kimura explains, there were two views of the emperor’s divinity during the Second World War. According to one, the Emperor was a God: the absolute and transcendental being. The second reduced the emperor to a demigod in Shinto’s polytheistic tradition, or even denied the emperor’s divinity entirely. Mishima Yukio embraced the idea of the Emperor as God.

Many Japanese, Kimura says, were shocked when Hirohito renounced his divinity after the war—because they felt they had been “deprived of the cause of war.” Mishima spoke for “those who died for the emperor believing he was God.” By killing himself, Mishima “reenacted the sacrificial death for the emperor during World War II,” and by doing so criticized Emperor Hirohito for “betraying those who had died for him believing in his divinity.” With his spectacular suicide, Mishima sought to “remind the postwar Japanese of what they had believed in during the war.”

Just as Hitler expected every German to sacrifice his life for the country, so the Japanese military government, Kimura says, “expected every Japanese to sacrifice their lives for their country” under the slogan, “ichioku sogyokusai,” which means “one hundred million broken jewels.” The people were encouraged to “keep fighting to the death.”

Many Japanese died while the government hesitated to surrender, among them the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who were sacrificed “not so much for the country as for the emperor.” Many Japanese took it for granted that they had to sacrifice their lives.

The demolition of State Shinto by the Shinto Directive at the end of the war was followed by Emperor Hirohito’s Imperial Rescript at the beginning of 1946 which—under the direction of General Headquarters—renounced the emperor’s divinity, calling it a “false conception.” Mishima thought Hirohito was “wrong in treating his divinity as fiction.”

For Mishima, the Emperor was god, and therefore did not have to say or do anything. During the war, the “emperor’s presence as God in itself was an order to die.” Mishima, it would appear, could not bear the “death of God.” He blamed Hirohito for “failing to satisfy those who died for the emperor as God.” Mishima killed himself on November 25, 1970, crying out “long live the emperor.” He disclosed, Kimura says, an emotion that had been “hidden in the depths of the psyche for many Japanese since the war ended.”

Mishima expected his death to be “proof that the emperor was actually present as God.” By virtue of his spectacular death by seppuku, Mishima sought to “revive the belief in the emperor as God” in an age when people had “begun to forget the belief they had during WWII.” Of course, for those who did not share his belief, Mishima “died in vain for a God who was no longer there.”

Demon of Disintegration: The Symbolic Meaning of the Jew

One can say “racism” or “anti-Semitism.” One might say that the Nazis were in the grip of a paranoid fantasy. However one characterizes Nazi ideology—the language used to describe it—one has to explain this belief system.

The Nazis’ actions grew out of their ideology. Nazism represented the enactment of ideological propositions. What was this Nazi ideology? What did it mean to those who embraced and promoted it? Why did it evoke such excitement?

Hitler believed—was deeply plugged into—his own ideology. Germans were impressed by his sincerity. Hitler shared his passionate conviction with his people, who responded to what he said. But what exactly was he saying?

It all begins with the idea of the German nation, Hitler’s profound identification with Germany, and his insistence that others identify as deeply as he did. The first element of Nazi ideology is quite conventional: attachment to Germany, or—dare we say—love of country.

Hitler explained: “Our love towards our people will never falter, and our faith in this Germany of ours is imperishable.” He called Deutschland ueber Alles a profession of faith, which today “fills millions with a greater strength, with that faith which is mightier than any earthly might.” Nationalism for Hitler meant willingness to act with a “boundless, all embracing love for the Volk and, if necessary, to die for it.”

According to Hitler, nationalism meant “overcoming bourgeois privatism, unconditionally equating the individual fate and the fate of the nation.” Every single German was obligated to unite with the community, and to share the common fate. The Volk, Hitler explained to the German people, is “but yourselves.”

Hitler’s totalitarianism insisted that individuals identify absolutely with the community. Not a single person was exempt from the obligation to devote one’s life to Germany, and to make enormous sacrifices in her name. There could be no exceptions.

The opposite of devotion to the community was selfish individualism. Hitler’s Official Programme, published in 1927 (Feder, 2012), put forth as its central plank: “The Common Interest before Self Interest,” stating that “The leaders of our public life all worship the same god—Individualism. Personal interest is the sole incentive.” For the Nazis, pursuit of self-interest—selfish individualism—was the primal sin.

Hitler declared:

Our aim is the dictatorship of the whole people, the community. I began to win men to the idea of an eternal national and social ideal—to subordinate one’s own interests to the interest of the whole society. There are, nevertheless, a few incurables who had never understood the happiness of belonging to this great, inspiring community.

The word “incurables” is crucial. The incurables were those diseased individuals who did not or could not embrace Hitler’s dream; who would not or could not assimilate into the National Socialist community.

Hitler theorized that civilization was based on self-sacrifice: the capacity to abandon individualism and pursuit of self-interest in the name of the larger community. The Aryan was the culture bearer par excellence. What was most strongly developed in the Aryan, Hitler said, was the self-sacrificing will to “give one’s personal labor and if necessary one’s own life for others.” He “willingly subordinates his own ego to the life of the community.”

The Jew by contrast, Hitler claimed, represented the “mightiest counterpart to the Aryan.” Whereas the Aryan willingly sacrificed himself for the community, in the Jewish people the will to self-sacrifice did not go beyond the individual’s “naked instinct of self-preservation.” The Jew completely lacked the most essential requirement of a cultured people: the “idealistic attitude.”

The following judgment by the Cologne Labor Court (January 21, 1941) denied the claim of Jewish employees to a vacation (Noakes & Pridham, 2001):

The precondition for the claim to a vacation—membership of the plant community—does not exist. A Jew cannot be a member of the plant community on account of his whole racial tendency, which is geared to forwarding his personal interests and securing economic advantages.

According to this judgment, Jews could not be members of the community on account of their proclivity toward “forwarding personal interests and securing economic advantages.” This proclivity toward selfish individualism was a racially given tendency.

Hitler claimed that Jews were unable to devote themselves to a nation. The Jews were condemned—not for their physical defects—but for their way of being in the world. Jews symbolized the inability—or refusal—to attach and devote oneself to a national community.

Hitler called Jews the “demon of disintegration” of peoples, symbol of the “unceasing destruction” of their life. Jews were a “ferment of decomposition,” meaning that the Jew “destroys and must destroy.” Jews could not help themselves. According to Hitler, Jews were driven to destroy nations.

It was therefore “beside the point,” Hitler said, whether or not any particular Jew was “decent.” It wasn’t a question of this or that Jew—because the Jew “carried within himself those characteristics which nature has given him.” The tendency—or will—to destroy nations was a biologically given characteristic.

Nazi scholarship declared (Aronsfeld, 1985) that the peculiar characteristic of Judaism was its “hostility to human society,” which is why there could be “no solution to the Jewish question.” A true understanding of Jews and Judaism “insists on their total annihilation.”

Jewish hostility toward society was expressed as selfish individualism: the refusal to abandon egoism in order to fuse with a national community. By their very nature, Jews acted to disintegrate nations. In seeking to annihilate Jews, the Nazis sought to annihilate individualism, that is, the will to abandon the nation-state.

Total Enemies: Schmitt, Arendt and Foucault

Mikkel Thorup’s complete essay appears on our website. Click here to read the complete essay. Please leave your reflections and commentary below.

Mikkel Thorup is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and the History of Ideas, University of Aarhus, Denmark. Mikkel’s specific interest is the political history of ideas, i.e., the ways in which we justify and criticize political actions, especially those actions that are morally questionable, such as political violence. He is the author of An Intellectual History of Terror (Routledge, 2012). His website can be accessed here.AN INTELLECTUAL HISTORY OF TERROR: War, Violence and the State

Author: Mikkel Thorup

Publisher: Routledge
Format: Paperback
Published on: 2012

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This book investigates terrorism and anti-terrorism as related and interacting phenomena, undertaking a simultaneous reading of terrorist and statist ideologists in order to reconstruct the ‘deadly dialogue’ between them. The main focus is on how the state and its challengers have conceptualized and legitimated themselves, defended their existence and, most importantly, their violence. In doing so, the book situates terrorism and anti-terrorism within modernity’s grander history of state, war, ideology and violence. This book will be of much interest to students of critical terrorism studies, political violence, sociology, philosophy, and Security Studies/IR in general.

Conventional Enmity vs. the “Enemy of Humanity”

Mikkel Thorup defines “conventional enmity” as the “ideal to which other enmities are measured.” This was the “great achievement of the nation-state era,” a relation of enmity between states who “recognize, fight and negotiate with each other.” The conventional enemy is recognized as an equal. Thus war is contained through international law and a “code of honor among combatants.”

The “total enemy,” on the other hand, is one whose status is “derived from being rather than action.” In racism, for example, one “exists before one acts,” thus making one’s qualification as an enemy “something one bears as a body” (Zygmunt Bauman).

Thorup discusses Carl Schmitt’s idea of the “enemy of humanity,” where the concept of enemy is “lifted from the concrete confrontation.” The aim of war is no longer to defeat a “present and actual enemy.” The battlefield is no longer geographically contained, and the duration of the war no longer temporary. Rather, the enemy is conceived as a global threat, and the war aim suddenly “concerns the whole world and is of global significance.”

Absolute enmity, Thorup says, is the “radicalization of real enmity,” where the goal is no longer concrete and limited, but “pervasive and universal.” Absolute enmity is enacted by “world aggressive actors fighting for an abstract notion of justice.” The goal is the “liberation of mankind.”

Hannah Arendt: Enmity Derived
from Being Rather than Action

Thorup examines the thinking of Hannah Arendt, who distinguished between the “real enemy,” on the one hand—who is held responsible for concrete actions or constitutes a concrete threat—and the “objective enemy,” on the other, where enmity is derived “from being rather than from actions.” The latter form of enmity generates a “pervasive hatred of everybody and everything.”

The constraints of real enmity reside in “making persons or groups responsible for specific actions.” Totalitarianism, however, defined enemies ideologically, independently of what they actually had done. Arendt observes that Jews in Nazi Germany and descendants of the ruling class in Soviet Russia were “not really suspected of any hostile action.” They had been declared enemies of the regime “in accordance with its ideology.”

With totalitarianism, we witness the “decline of real enmity based on the perception of real provocation.” The enemy is “no longer he or she that threatens one’s existence.” Rather, totalitarian states do not have enemies in the sense of opponents, but as “enemies till death.”

Thorup notes that Arendt “fails to explain the destructive drive of totalitarianism.” The limits of her argument derive from her “conception of the modern state as a guardian of life.” Committed to a view of the nation-state as beneficent, Arendt ultimately can only “look at the killing machines with horror.”

Foucault: Biopolitical Enmity

Thorup builds upon Robert Lifton, and especially Michael Foucault, to provide deeper insight into the dynamics of totalitarian mass murder. In The Nazi Doctors (1988), Lifton writes about “killing as a therapeutic imperative.” In the Nazi case, war ceased to be primarily outward and contained, but became “inward and permanent.”

The line between friend and enemy is drawn with “biological rather than political criteria.” War is not confrontation against an armed threat, but rather against a “pollutant,” an invisible threat coming “not from any open enemies, but from hidden carriers. Illness rather than opposition becomes the problem.”

In biopolitical enmity, the enemy is “named in biological and psychological terms,” and is “found within the social body.” The line “between an inside and an outside” becomes the “abnormal threatening the health of the community.” Racism means “permanent purification.”

Life and killing, according to this conception, are not in opposition. Rather, the death of the other—of the bad or inferior race—will “make life in general healthier and purer.” This is the meaning of “total war”: not to reach a modus vivendi with the enemy, but to eliminate him. Foucault explains in Society Must be Defended (2003):

The enemies who have to be done away with are not adversaries in the political sense; they are threats, either external or internal, to the population. In the biopower system, killing is acceptable only if it results not in a victory over political adversaries, but in the elimination of the biological threat.

Destroying Life to Enhance Life

Thorup observes that it is not only the sheer enormity of the killings which confounds us, but the “near complete disconnect between danger and enmity which the totalitarian enemy exhibits.” The traditional concept of the enemy is that of someone “out to get us.” Often the enemies of totalitarian regimes, however, have done nothing to justify the fate meted out to them.

Foucault calls totalitarian extermination “vital massacres”—vital because the perpetuators believe they are “destroying life to enhance life.” Through Foucault, Thorup says, we begin to see what totalitarian planners were thinking: how it came to be that one could “kill on an industrial scale while singing the praises of vital life.”

Yet—having realized that totalitarian thinkers believed that the destruction of life enhanced life—do we really understand why they embraced and perpetuated such a belief? What was the logic—or rather the psycho-logic—connecting the destruction and enhancement of life?

The Origin of the Second World War in Biological Fantasy

My research on Germany has focused on the biological fantasy that was the source of the Holocaust (see Koenigsberg, 2009). Yet I’ve long been haunted by a phrase in Hitler’s Second Book (2006), in which he spoke of the danger of an “inundation by disease bacilli which have their breeding ground in Russia.” Citing this passage, Andreas Hillgruber (1981) states that for Hitler the conquest of Russia was “inextricably linked with the extermination of these ‘bacilli,’ the Jews.”

In Hitler’s conception, Jews gained dominance over Russia with the Bolshevik revolution, thereby becoming the center from which a “global danger radiated,” threatening the Aryan race. Bolshevism meant the “consummate rule of Jewry.” The racist component of Hitler’s thought, Hilgruber concludes, was so closely interwoven with the central political element of his program, the conquest of Russia, that “Russia’s defeat and the extermination of the Jews were—in theory as later in practice—inseparable for him.”

In The Jewish Enemy, Jeffrey Herf (2010) demonstrates that the same paranoid fantasy that generated the Holocaust was the source of the Second World War. He concludes that it is time to reach “a more inclusive understanding of the ‘war against the Jew,’” one in which “World War II plays a critical role.”

Andre Mineau (2012) has begun to explore the link between the Nazi’s biological fantasy and the Second World War. Operation Barbarossa, he says, was conceived as the “ultimate venture into social hygiene,” whose goal was “total health.” War against the Soviet Union was a “large-scale sanitary operation” that sought to “eliminate threats and sources of disease,” the “most lethal one being Jews.” Operation Barbarossa was an “anti-biotic operation” performing an “immunity function,” controlling the “spread of infectious disease.” Thus, Barbarossa would be the “war of the Holocaust.”

We may begin to explore the hypothesis that the Holocaust and Operation Barbarossa were two sides of the same coin, each driven by the determination to destroy “Jewish-Bolshevik bacteria” in order to save Germany and Western civilization. Thus, genocide and warfare sprang from the same source.

To facilitate research on the origin of Nazi mass murder in biological fantasy, I present a summary of my understanding below—based on over 40 years of research.


I examine ideological statements as manifest content revealing latent meaning, focusing upon specific words, phrases, images and metaphors bound to the central terms of an ideology (e.g., in the case of Nazism, terms like “the German people”, “the Jew”, etc.). My book, Hitler’s Ideology (1975), presents recurring images and metaphors contained within Hitler’s writings and speeches to reconstruct the central fantasy that was Nazism’s source.

Hitler’s ideology revolved around the idea of Germany as an actual body, or “living organism.” The Jew was identified as a force within this body working toward its destruction. Hitler continually referred to the Jew as a force of disintegration or decomposition; a cause of Germany’s disease (bacteria or virus); and as a “parasite on the body of the people.” The nature of these recurring images and metaphors reveals the fantasies contained within Nazi ideology.

Ideologies constitute a modus operandi for the expression of shared fantasies. Nazi ideology was like a shared waking dream, powerful enough to give rise to a social movement and shape the course of history. Hitler, deeply plugged into the Nazi fantasy, had the skill to convey this fantasy to the German people.


At the heart of Hitler’s vision lay his conception of Germany as an organism. “My movement,” Hitler declared, “encompasses every aspect of the entire Volk. It conceives of Germany as a corporate body, as a single organism.” According to Hitler there could be no such thing as “non-responsibility in this organic being, not a single cell which is not responsible, by its very existence, for the welfare and wellbeing of the whole.” Thus, in Hitler’s view, there could not be “the least amount of room for apolitical people.”

This conception lay at the heart of Nazi totalitarianism. For if the nation is a single organism and each individual a cell, no individual can escape this organism, each individual is responsible for the health of the organism, and the health of each individual impacts the health of the entire organism.

Each individual is either a healthy cell contributing to the functioning of the whole, or a malignant cell acting to destroy the nation. As we shall observe, Jews were conceived as pathogenic cells—bacteria or viruses—the source of disease within the body politic. The fantasy of Jews as bacteria or viruses generated the Final Solution, whose purpose was to destroy these pathogenic cells, thus saving the life of Germany.


If the first part of Hitler’s ideology was his conception of Germany as an organism, the second—the source of all that followed—was his belief that the nation was suffering from a potentially fatal disease. From the earliest days of National Socialism, Hitler was haunted by the specter of a disease within the body politic that could lead to the death and disappearance of the German nation. The essence of his role as political leader, Hitler believed, was first to diagnosis or disclose the cause of Germany’s illness, and second to act to cure it.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated that it would be a mistake to believe that ordinary politicians—who were content to “tinker around on the national body”— were bad or malevolent men. Their activity, however, was condemned to sterility because the best of them “saw at most the forms of our general disease and tried to combat them, but blindly ignored the virus.” Ordinary politicians did not dig deeply enough; they were unable or unwilling to comprehend the cause of Germany’s disease.

Hitler, by contrast, staked his leadership on his capacity to diagnosis and cure Germany’s illness. People would follow a political leader, he believed, who “profoundly recognizes the distress of his people,” who works to attain the “ultimate clarity with regard to the nature of the disease,” and then “seriously tries to cure it.”

Every distress, Hitler said, has “some root or other.” It was not enough for the Government to issue emergency regulations—”doctoring around on the circumference of the distress and trying from time to time to lance the cancerous ulcer.” It was necessary to “penetrate to the seat of the inflammation—to the cause.” If the irritating cause was not discovered and removed, “no cure is possible.”

Hitler identified the Jew as the source of Germany’s disease: a pathogenic organism whose continuing presence within the nation would lead to its demise. To cure Germany’s disease, it was necessary to eliminate the Jew from within the body politic. The Nazi movement was conceived as a struggle of life against death: between the healthy German organism and the viral Jewish element.


From the beginning of his career, Hitler’s ideology was framed by this “either-or” conception of political action. “The future of Germany,” Hitler declared, means “the annihilation of Marxism.” Either the “racial tuberculosis” would thrive and Germany would die out, or it would be “cut out of the Volk body” and Germany would thrive.

Either Germany—or the German people “through their despicable cowardice”—would “sink”; or Germans would “dare to enter on the fight against death and rise up against the fate that has been planned for us.” A momentous struggle would ensue to determine “which is stronger: the spirit of international Jewry or the will of Germany.”

The image of the Jew as virus or bacteria was present in the minds of leading Nazis as the killing process unfolded in 1942 and 1943. In February 1942, Hitler proclaimed that the “discovery of the Jewish virus” was one of the “greatest revolutions the world has seen.” The struggle in which the Nazis were engaged, Hitler said, was similar to that “waged by Pasteur and Koch in the last century. How many diseases must owe their origins to the Jewish virus? Only when we have eliminated the Jews will we regain our health.”

On March 27, 1942, Goebbels wrote in his diary that the “procedure” was “pretty barbaric” and “not to be described here in detail.” Goebbels reflected that “not much will remain of the Jews.” Nonetheless, such actions were unavoidable, given the inevitable “life-and-death struggle between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus.” In a famous speech delivered to SS leaders and army generals in 1943, Himmler claimed that Germany had “the moral right, the duty towards our people to destroy this people that wanted to destroy us.”

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.” By February 4, 1945, when the war clearly was lost, in a note dictated to Martin Bormann, Hitler declared that National Socialism had “tackled the Jewish problem by action and not by words.” This had been an essential “process of disinfection.” Hitler had remained true to his earliest ambition: “We have lanced the Jewish abscess and the world of the future will be eternally grateful to us.”


Nazism was based on a shared fantasy that was projected into the political arena. This fantasy revolved around the idea that Germany was an enormous body (politic) suffering from a disease that could prove fatal. Jews were identified as pathogenic cells—the source of the nation’s disease. Genocide was undertaken to destroy this pathogen.

By virtue of being transformed into a societal discourse, energies and passions bound to shared fantasies are released for action. The ideology transforms latent desires and fantasies into a collective will to act. The will to act is generated by the wish to actualize or bring into reality the fantasy contained within the ideology. The role of the leader is to promote an ideological fantasy, and to devise a program allowing these fantasies to transform into reality.

The Nazi ideology, of course, makes no sense. Jews were not bacteria and exterminating Jews would not save the nation. Nevertheless, the Holocaust occurred. Apparently, people bought into this strange fantasy—which in turn generated an equally strange social institution. The death camps, gas chambers and crematoria were constructed on the idea that if Germany were to survive, Jewish bacteria had to be destroyed.

Of course, identifying or uncovering this Nazi fantasy is just the beginning. The next step is to ascertain or interpret the meaning of this fantasy.