»Weltanschauung« and the Holocaust

by spaceinvaderjoe

So, I haven’t produced content for this blog in quite a while. This was mainly due to the fact that I had to write an important paper about the »Weltanschauung« of Nazi perpetrators and how this mix of ideological-inspired views pertaining to an imaginary »Jewish question« and its supposed solution was conveyed to men joining the SS and participating in the Einsatzgruppen-murders in the Soviet Union.

To give a short summary:
»Weltanschauung« is more than a general world view or an ideology an individual embraces. »Weltanschauung« is all the views of an individual concerning the world and the place of men in the world. For the men (and in this case it was only men) who planed and participated directly in the Holocaust by shooting approx. 900.000 (which is the conservative estimate. The highest estimate is about 1,35 Million) Jews in the Soviet Union a specific »Weltanschauung« was a very important factor.

The vast majority of the men of the so-called Reich Security Main Office (Reichsicherheitshauptamt, RSHA – the institution which was most directly involved in the Holocaust for their bureaucrats planned deportation, organized persecution, were often in important positions in occupied countries, and lead the Einsatzgruppen – the Nazi death squads – in the Soviet Union and Poland) were born between 1900 and 1910 and had studied in the Weimar Republic. Several revered authors postulate that because they experienced World War I not on the battlefield but at home, they started to embrace the glorified ideal of the soldier fighting in a necessarily cold-hearted manner that never allowed compromise and demanded to put the ideal before the individual.
This ideal mixed with the anti-Semitic ideology they picked up during their time at university – universities in the Weimar Republic were a hot-bed for the extreme right wing »völkische« movement – is what made them believe in a »Jewish-question«, basically a scenario in which Jews just by their mere existence threatened the racial purity of the German people and without the racial purity the German people would go under in the eternal struggle of the »Völker«. At the same time, the ideals of non-compromise, cold-heartedness, and putting the idea before the individual lead to what they saw as a solution to this imaginary problem: A policy that aimed at social totality, e.g. excluding Jews from society, forcing them to emigrate and in the end, extermination.

This »Weltanschauung« was a major factor for the radicalization of the regime and also offered these men a psychological frame of reference in which they could kill Jews but still see themselves as moral human beings for in their perception they were only doing what was necessary for the sake of the German people and history.
Analyzing the ideological education for their subordinated in the SS can show that they recognized how important such a frame of reference was. The orders of what should be taught and how it should be taught were to emphasize the historical necessity of their actions. Also, one aim of their ideological training was to create camaraderie among the men carrying out the killings since it was the camaraderie among these men that created a social dynamic where basically peer-pressure lead to participation in the killing actions despite the fact that everybody had been given the choice not to participate. This kind of camaraderie – in the sense of an elite community carrying out this highly important task – was also a central idea in the »Weltanschauung« of the highly ideological men in the SS, also inspired by their student time in small »völkische Bünde« and shows the importance of closely examining these connections when we as historians try to approach a sense of understanding (not in the sense of excusing but rather being able to comprehend their actions from the historical context) with the perpetrators of the Holocaust.