Why Adolf Hitler hated Jews
Adolf Hitler greets members of the NSDAP in Weimar
Bundesarchiv, Bild BA_102-10541
It is difficult to pinpoint one single trigger for Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) antisemitism, but three key reasons can be identified: the anti-Jewish climate in pre-war Vienna, Germany’s defeat in the First World War and Hitler’s belief that some races were superior and others inferior.
Antisemitism in Vienna
Many historians point to Hitler’s years in Vienna as having shaped him. Between 1908 and 1913 the young Hitler unsuccessfully tried to set himself up as an artist there. The city had a large Jewish community just before the First World War (1914-1918) – nearly 9% of the two million residents were Jewish – but the social climate was openly antisemitic. With an outspoken anti-Jewish mayor (Karl Lueger) and many anti-Jewish newspapers and magazines there was no restriction on antisemitism, and Hitler was strongly influenced by this.
The defeat of Germany in the First World War also had a great impact on Hitler’s world view and political beliefs. Hitler was a soldier and – like many other German soldiers – found it hard to accept the defeat of the German Empire. Many nationalists and conservatives believed that Germany had not lost the war on the battlefield but due to betrayal from within, by a ‘stab in the back’. Socialists, communists and particularly Jews were blamed, even though more than 100,000 German and Austrian Jews had served in the war and 12,000 had been killed.
National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP)
After the war, Hitler joined a new extreme rightwing party, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), quickly becoming its strongman because he could inspire people with his speeches. He noticed that propaganda against Jews and Bolsheviks (often mentioned together) struck a chord with audiences and voters. He claimed Jews were not only responsible for the unfair German defeat but were also blocking Germany’s recovery.
Opposition to the Weimar Republic
Germany was made to pay heavily for the war: the Treaty of Versailles (1919) set out that Germany had to give up large areas of land and pay painfully high reparations to the allied victors. Politically and economically the country had been in deep crisis for years. Hitler and his party were so fiercely opposed to the new Weimar Republic, as it was called, that in 1923 they tried to seize power. The coup failed and Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison.
Hitler and other defendants after their trial, april 1924
Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00344 / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Hitler only served 10 months of his jail sentence, during which time he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The book is full of anti-Jewish passages and theories about the superiority of the German (Germanic) race. Hitler expresses his support for race theories and more “Lebensraum” (living space) for the German people. The German race had to strive for mastery in Europe or face annihilation. Therefore, people with disabilities, or with divergent sexual orientation or of a different race had to be removed from the population. According to this racial doctrine, Jews were an inferior race that was poisoning Germany and so did not belong in the community.
There were more outspoken and even fiercer antisemites than Adolf Hitler during the 1920s and 1930s, but his clever speeches, peppered with anti-Jewish remarks, his ability to organise and his nationalistic fervour made him an attractive alternative for many German voters after the economic crash of 1929. He acquired loyal followers who did not shrink from violence. After Hitler and the NSDAP came to power in 1933, they successfully put their ideas into practice.
SA members march through a German town.
Unknown location, 1930-1932.
Collection Willem Arends.