The Nazis defined Jews as a “race.” Regarding the Jewish religion as irrelevant, the Nazis attributed a wide variety of negative stereotypes about Jews and “Jewish” behavior to an unchanging biologically determined heritage that drove the “Jewish race,” like other races, to struggle to survive by expansion at the expense of other races.
While it classified Jews as the priority “enemy,” the Nazi ideological concept of race targeted other groups for persecution, imprisonment, and annihilation, including Roma (Gypsies), people with disabilities, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, and Afro-Germans. The Nazis also identified political dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and so-called asocials as enemies and security risks either because they consciously opposed the Nazi regime or some aspect of their behavior did not fit Nazi perceptions of social norms. They sought to eliminate domestic non-conformists and so-called racial threats through a perpetual self-purge of German society.
The Nazis believed that superior races had not just the right but the obligation to subdue and even exterminate inferior ones. They believed that this struggle of races was consistent with the law of nature. The Nazis pursued a strategic vision of a dominant German race ruling subject peoples, especially the Slavs and the so-called Asiatics (by which they meant the peoples of Soviet Central Asia and the Muslim populations of the Caucasus region), whom they judged to be innately inferior. For purposes of propaganda, the Nazis often framed this strategic vision in terms of a crusade to save western civilization from these “eastern” or “Asiatic” barbarians and their Jewish leaders and organizers.
THE RACIALLY DEFINED COLLECTIVE
For Hitler and other leaders of Nazi movement, the ultimate value of a human being lay not in his or her individuality, but in his or her membership in a racially defined collective group. The ultimate purpose of a racial collective was to ensure its own survival. Most people would agree that humans have an individual instinct for survival, but Hitler went on to assume a collective instinct for survival centered on membership in a group, a people, or a race (using these terms interchangeably). For the Nazis, this collective instinct for survival always involved safeguarding the purity of the “race” and the struggle with competing “races” for territory.
Maintaining race purity was important, according to Hitler and others, because mixing with other races would over time led to bastardization and degeneration of a race to the point where it lost its distinguishing characteristics and, in effect, lost the capacity to effectively defend itself, thus becoming doomed to extinction. Territory was vital, Hitler insisted, because the expanding population of a race required it. Without new territory to support an expanding population, Hitler believed the race would ultimately stagnate and face eventual disappearance.
The Nazis also postulated the idea of a qualitative hierarchy of races, in which not all races were equal. Hitler believed that Germans were members of a superior group of races that he called “Aryan.” The German “Aryan” race was gifted above all other races, Hitler asserted, with this biological superiority destining the Germans to rule a vast empire across Eastern Europe.
THE "ARYAN" RACE
But, Hitler warned, the German “Aryan” race was threatened by dissolution from within and without. The internal threat lurked in intermarriages between “Aryan” Germans and members of inherently inferior races: Jews, Roma, Africans, and Slavs. The offspring of these marriages were said to dilute the superior characteristics reflected in German blood, thus weakening the race in its struggle against other races for survival.
The interwar German state further weakened the German “Aryan” race by tolerating procreation among people whom the Nazis considered genetically degenerate and a harmful influence on the hygiene of the race as a whole: people with physical and mental disabilities, habitual or career criminals, and persons who compulsively engaged in socially “deviant behavior” as the Nazis perceived it, including homeless people, allegedly promiscuous women, people unable to hold a job, or alcoholics, among others.
The German “Aryan” race was also threatened with dissolution from without, because, according to Hitler, the Weimar Republic was losing the competition for land and population to the “inferior” Slavic and Asiatic races. In this competition, the “Jewish race” had refined its traditional Socialist tool -- Soviet communism -- to mobilize the otherwise incapable Slavs and to deceive Germans into thinking that the artificial device of class conflict overrode the natural instinct of racial struggle. Hitler believed that the lack of living space suppressed the birthrate among Germans to dangerously low levels. To make matters worse, Germany had lost World War I and had been forced by the Treaty of Versailles to give up thousands of miles of valuable land to its neighbors.
To survive, Hitler contended, Germany must break the encirclement of the country by its enemies and conquer vast territories in the east from the Slavs. The conquest of the east would provide Germany with the space required to vastly expand its population, with the resources to feed that population, and with the means to realize the biological destiny of being a master race with the appropriate status of a world power.
ELIMINATION OF RACIAL ENEMIES
Hitler and the Nazi party outlined their racial enemies in clear and unequivocal terms. For Hitler and the Nazis, the Jews represented a priority enemy both within and outside Germany. Their allegedly racial and inferior genetic makeup spawned the exploitative systems of capitalism and communism. In their drive to expand, the Jews promoted and used these systems of government and state organization, including constitutions, proclamations of equal rights, and international peace, to undermine the race-consciousness of superior races -- like the German race -- and to make possible the dilution of superior blood through assimilation and intermarriage.
The Jews used tools which were under their control or subject to their manipulation -- the media, parliamentary democracy with its stress on individual rights, and international organizations dedicated to peaceful reconciliation of national conflicts -- to advance their biologically driven expansion to world power. If Germany did not act decisively against the Jews both at home and abroad, Hitler contended, the hordes of subhuman, uncivilized Slavs and Asiatics that the Jews could mobilize would sweep away the “Aryan” German race.
For Hitler, government intervention to segregate the races, to promote the reproduction of those with the “best” characteristics, to prevent the reproduction of those with inferior characteristics, and to prepare for wars of expansion brought the German nation in line with its natural, biologically determined instinct to survive. In addition it fostered a “natural” race consciousness among the German people, a consciousness that the Jews sought to suppress through parliamentary democracy, international agreements on cooperation, and class conflict. By virtue of their racial superiority, Germans had the right and the duty, Hitler believed, to seize territory in the east from Slavs, “Asiatics,” and their Jewish puppet masters. By pursuing these aims, Hitler insisted, Germans followed their own natural instincts. To defeat and dominate the Slavs permanently, the German masters had to annihilate the leadership classes of the region and the Jews, who were the only “race” capable of organizing the inferior races through a brutalizing Bolshevik-Communist doctrine that was a biologically fixed “Jewish” ideology.
To eliminate this pernicious doctrine, dangerous to German survival, one had to eliminate the people who were by nature its standard-bearers. Hitler believed that this was the way nature worked. In the end, Hitler's program of war and genocide stemmed from what he saw as an equation: "Aryan" Germans would have to expand and dominate, a process requiring the elimination of all racial threats -- especially the Jews -- or else they would face extinction themselves.