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.

One thought on “The Origin of the Second World War in Biological Fantasy

  1. raymond dominick

    The depiction of Hitler’s fantasy, seeing Germany as an organism threatened by the Jewish bacillus, is a coherent and, once it has been articulated, obvious summary of his anti-semitism. It is a very useful interpretation that avoids asking whether Hitler was sane.

    It is also clear to me that many top Nazis subscribed wholeheartedly to Hitler’s fantasy, and I’m sure many of the rank and file did too. But do you suppose that all Nazis, or all those who voted for the Nazis, shared this pathological fantasy? In other words, is this analysis of Hitler’s delusion more than one part of the explanation for his rise to power?

    And might the same be true for an explanation of the Holocaust?

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