|to the right meant slave labor; to the left, the gas chambers|
Yehuda Bauer, Raul Hilberg and Lucy Dawidowicz maintained that from the Middle Ages onward, German society and culture were suffused with anti-Semitism and there was a direct link from medieval pogroms to the Nazi death camps of the 1940s.
Hans Küng has written that "Nazi anti-Judaism was the work of godless, anti-Christian criminals. But it would not have been possible without the almost two thousand years' pre-history of 'Christian' anti-Judaism..."
The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in
Germany and of the so-called Völkisch movement, which as developed by such völkisch thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde, presented a pseudo-scientific, biologically based racism that saw Jews as a "race" locked into mortal combat with the "Aryan" race for world domination. Austria-Hungary
Völkisch anti-Semitism, though drawing upon stereotypes from Christian anti-Semitism, differed from the latter in that Jews were considered to be a "race" rather than a religion.
In 1895, one of the völkisch leaders, Hermann Ahlwardt in a speech before the Reichstag called Jews "predators" and "choera bacilli" who should be "exterminated" for the good of the German people.
In his best-selling 1912 book Wenn ich der Kaiser wär (If I were the Kaiser), Heinrich Class, the leader of one of the more powerful völkisch groups, the Alldeutscher Verband urged that all German Jews be stripped of their German citizenship and be reduced to Fremdenrecht (alien status).
Class went on to urge in Wenn ich der Kaiser wär that Jews be totally excluded from all aspects of German life, with Class recommending that Jews be forbidden to own land, hold public office, and to participate in journalism, banking, and the liberal professions.
Class defined Jews as anyone, regardless of their religion, whose grand-parents or parents were Jews in 1871.
The British historian of modern
Germany, Richard J. Evans wrote that during the Imperial period in German history, völkisch and scientific racist ideas had become very common and accepted in many quarters in . Germany
Through the völkisch parties suffered a crushing defeat in the 1912 Reichstag elections, being all but wiped out, this had less to do with the unpopularity of völkisch anti-Semitism and was more due to mainstream German political parties incorporating aspects of völkisch anti-Semitism into their platforms, which helps to explain why Nazi völkisch anti-Semitism created so little objection during the Weimar Republic. The National Socialist German Workers' Party was founded in 1919 as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, and accordingly took over the völkisch anti-Semitism.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries had seen tremendous scientific and technological change together with in
the growth of the welfare state, which had created widespread hopes both within the government and in society that “utopia” was at hand and soon all social problems could be solved. Germany
At the same time, owning to the great prestige of science, a scientific racist, Social Darwinist worldview which declared some people to be more biologically “valuable” than others was common amongst German elites.
The historian Detlev Peukert declared that the Shoah was not the result solely of anti-Semitism, but was instead the a product of the “cumulative radicalization” in which “numerous smaller currents” fed into the “broad current” that led to genocide.
After the First World War, the pre-war mood of optimism gave way to disillusionment as German bureaucrats found social problems to more insolvable than at first thought, which in turn guided by the prevailing Social Darwinist values led them to place increasing emphasis on saving the biologically “fit” while the biologically “unfit” were to be written off.
Thus by the time the Nazis had come to power in 1933, a huge boast was given to the already existing tendency in German social policy to save the racially “valuable” while seeking to rid society of the racially “unvaluable” .
The Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler came to power in
Germany on January 30, 1933, and the persecution and exodus of 's 525,000 Jews began almost immediately. In Mein Kampf (1925), Hitler had been open about his hatred of Jews, and gave ample warning of his intention to drive them from Germany 's political, intellectual, and cultural life. He did not write that he would attempt to exterminate them, but he is reported to have been more explicit in private. As early as 1922, he allegedly told Major Joseph Hell, at the time a journalist: Germany
(Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows – at the Marienplatz in
, for example – as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.) Munich